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IMDb member since August 2000
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Reviews

Ratatouille
(2007)

85th best movie of all time? Gimme a break...
Geez, IMDb has become incredibly unreliable. There used to be a time that a high rating for a movie meant something. Nowadays it's pretty much standard fare for anything that's popular. This movie, while I can see why many would like it, is average at best. Too many people with undiscerning taste coming in here and giving 10s to every movie they watch.

As fort he movie: Predictable, formulaic American/Hollywood approach to animation. Not very funny either (I think I gave a minor chuckle once). I'd give it a 3 or 4, but given all the 10s given by people who probably don't even watch many movies outside the Hollywood establishment.

Oh a cute little rat! He acts like people! He talks! He has emotion! He loves his family! Give that baby a 10! And let's give American accents to all the main characters, so that the movie doesn't feel like it's really set in France.

King Kong
(2005)

About 90 minutes too long
I have nothing against long movies. But if you're going to go to 3 hours, you better have 3 hours of material. This movie lacks the emotion of the original. The acting ranges from mediocre to horrible (Kong was the best performance of the bunch). Peter Jackson's obsession with dinosaurs, special effects, and drawn out action scenes leaves him little time (despite 3 hours) to develop the characters, create real emotional bonds where we care about them (did anyone care whether Adrien Brody or "Jimmy" got killed?). What was the point of Jimmy? Either use the story or drop it! The only characters given ample time to develop were Jack Black's (and his over-acting was too comical to be taken seriously) and Naomi Watts (who was unable to move beyond a very mediocre performance - see Fay Wray's original performance for real terror acting).

Every action scene went on far too long. They were all too implausible to be enjoyable. A film like this requires suspension of disbelief, but you want to believe that the characters are really in danger and somehow manage to escape. What Jackson did is have characters enter a situation that they could never survive (for example being stampeded by hundreds of giant dinosaurs) and then when it was all over, they pick themselves off the ground and dust themselves off. What?

The first hour is good, but it's all downhill after that. 4 points for a good buildup, but -2 for taking 2 hours to ruin it.

Rock Star: INXS
(2005)

worst reality show yet
As hard as it is for me to believe, with all of the awful reality shows out there over the past few years, this one has to take over the top spot for worst one yet. I am still wondering if this was actually just a spoof done by the SCTV gang. If Andy Kaufmann were still alive I'd be sure he was behind this. Can a rock band stoop any lower than has INXS to do such a shameful thing as this? The premise is simple and moronic. Audition a bunch of karaoke rejects to become the new lead singer of INXS, to take the place of Michael Hutchence (who committed suicide in 1997). Eight years and no hits later, the band commit the ultimate act of patheticness by subjecting themselves to auditioning a bunch of talentless wannabes to be the new lead singer of a band that is 20 years past its prime. So they trot all of these awful singers (I thought American Idol had its share of doozies) who do atrocious renditions of just about every classic (and predictable) rock song imaginable. And then they cut to the INXS band members who are seriously discussing the merits of each of these candidates. You could see better (and more original) rock performers at just about any night club in any city in the world.

It has all the usual uncreative elements of every other reality show. Lame reality participants, lame interviews, lame host/emcee, lame "judging" of performances, and the lame booting of one participant at the end of each show. Can these shows get any more predictable? It's clearly a publicity stunt on the part of the band; a last gasp of hope at rekindling their lost stardom before they are finally buried into oblivion. Michael Hutchence, if he had any shred of dignity when alive, has to be rolling over in his grave. Not that INXS were ever a great band, but I had no idea they were this pathetic. If INXS are at all representative of what rock and roll has become, this show would be the final proof that rock and roll is once and for all, dead.

Zatôichi
(2003)

Delightfully perfect
What a fantastic return to form for Japanese director and creative renaissance man, Takeshi Kitano. Zatoichi excels because of its break with conventions, mixing humour, dance, slapstick, and theatre with an otherwise tense and violent plot. This film breaks the art-house tradition by going for the jugular with its entertainment value, yet it never stoops to the level of Hollywood triteness. Some may complain about how this Zatoichi isn't consistent with the original Zatoichi, but that was done by design. Kitano set out to create his own story, his own character, and his own version - simply using the legend of Zatoichi as the most basic blueprint from which to start. He deserves credit for creating something new and innovative, even when working with an old story. The dance scene at the end is phenomenal and very directly (and intentionally) reminds movie goers that you are there to be entertained. The best film I've seen this year and among Kitano's best, and that's saying a lot.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
(2001)

It's the casting, stupid
First let me say that I really enjoyed this film. But...

I know Juliet Taylor is credited with casting Woody Allen movies, but my hunch is that it is the man himself who has the last say. And somebody needs to tell Woody that he is mis-casting his films into mediocrity! In particular, it is his casting of women characters that is abysmal (surprise! surprise!)

It's been said a million times before, but Woody Allen playing the comic, but still romantic lead to actresses as young as Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, and Elizabeth Berkley just comes off as laughable. Is his ego so fragile that he cannot cast a more believable (and usually better) actress in these roles? It's either that, or cast himself out and put in someone around age 40 in the male lead role (see "Celebrity" to see that this is the lesser of the alternatives).

He did the same thing in his most recent film, "HOllywood Ending", where Tea Leoni plays opposite him in the lead. It's not just the age of these actresses (though that is part of it, he is anywhere from 25 to 45 years older than these women), but also they just don't "look" the part. If you MUST pick a younger actress, must she also be blonde and glamourous looking?

I can't help but think that "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" would have been a much better film (and funnier too!) if he had cast someone like Julie Kavner or Tracy Ullman (still younger than Woody, but less glamourous actresses with infinitely more comic talent - see Small Time Crooks and Don't Drink the Water to see how it can work). Either that or pick someone really close to his age - does he have something against 50+ actresses?? There are plenty of talented and available women out there. They are surely more talented than the ones he is casting now, and they fit the roles infinitely better.

Woody, grow up already, you look silly being told by a beautiful woman of 29 that she'll be your date only if you give her a wedding ring to go with it. A line like that either comes from an aging spinster desperate to get hitched, or made only to a gorgeous sexy and charismatic man.

The Era of Vampires
(2003)

Giving away the farm right from the start
Although Tsui Hark did not direct this film, he did produce it and he wrote the screenplay. And "Era of Vampire" reminded me a lot of Hark's last film, "Time and Tide". The two films had nothing in common in terms of plot, but both movies tried to cover up their weak scripts with frenetic action sequences, cacaphonic noise, and Baz-Luhrmannesque editing.

The film starts off interestingly enough, diving right into an action sequence involving the first of many appearances of the monster, in this case it is a vampire/zombie. Rule #1 broken: in a horror flick, never show the monster, and certainly don't show it in the first 5 minutes of your movie. I guess he might have been able to get away with breaking this rule, had the monster become increasingly frightening over the course of the film. But in fact, the action from the first sequence was not only as thrilling as the rest that followed, but it was also far superior to the anti-climactic final showdown.

Director, Wellson Chin, also does a good job of putting over the human characters after the initial opening battle. In particular, a scene that brings one of the four warriors face-to-face (literally) with his love interest was very cleverly executed.

But after these two initial scenes, the film steadily goes downhill. The story meanders about, providing little fodder for suspense, thrill or engagement. Each action scene seems like a repetition of the ones that preceded it. By the time you get to the final showdown, you've lost alot of interest. And instead of re-engage the audience with a finale that brings in something new, we're treated to just another scene, like all the others. You get the sense that the film is trying to appeal to the West, capitalizing on the success of the flying martial artists in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". But unlike action films from Hollywood, this film's final showdown is a huge, anti-climactic letdown.

Where most films save their best for last, "The Era of Vampire" gave it all away in the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately, they forgot they had another 90 minutes to fill. 3/10

Dah
(2002)

9 times out of 10, it works... not a bad ratio!
The front-page review of this film simply doesn't do this marvelous film justice. Renowned Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami takes an innovative approach at giving us a very deep glimpse not only into the life of mother and child, but also into Iran, its society and the situation of women transitioning to a more assertive role in society (however, I don't think one should be confused that the issues women face in Iran are not relevant to women elsewhere in the world, including the West).

The film has two fixed camera angles, one giving us a view of the driver-side and the other a view of the passenger side of an automobile. The driver is a mother who has left her husband and now resides with her new lover (she is the common thread in all ten "episodes"). Each sequence places a different person in the passenger seat, with particular emphasis on her son (who rides in four of the 10 scenes, if I'm not mistaken).

It is this mother-son relationship that is at the crux of the film, and for good reason. The performances of these two characters was nothing short of amazing. The boy in particular, with every eye-twitch, frown, smile, and outburst was able to convey a frighteningly realistic portrayal of a boy who is all at once obstinate, angry, disrespectful, and immature, yet still sweet and somewhat an innocent victim of the situation. He is unforgiving to his mother for walking out on him and "breaking up the family" and is reluctant to accept any explanation his mother offers. They trade barbs and though the love is there, you can see the seeds already planted in the young adolescent of a society that subordinates women to their male partners. Here, it is so profound that even a pre-teen lectures his mother on right and wrong.

The mother bounces back and forth between defending herself to accepting blame, showing the cracks of guilt that clearly lie beneath her composed and beautiful surface. And it's a beauty that her son can't recognize: she's a sexy passionate woman with needs of not just a mother but also as a lover and a liver; but like all children he can only see her as an adult and a mother.

The other key character involves a friend who desperately seeks a life partner, but finds herself unsuccessful at every turn. Most recently, a man she has been seeing tells her that he cannot marry her because he does not love her. She coyly reveals from under her veil that in her grief she has shaved her head completely. This act is astonishing not because it is defiant but because it is terribly charming. She can't offer an explanation as to why she has done it, but no explanation is necessary. Who hasn't at some time when an ego has been made fragile by rejection, sought to change hair, clothing, face, self? And it is with this scene, with veil pulled back, that the woman's beauty is uncovered, not because we see her hair or her bald head, but because of the insight the shaving act gives to her character, and her innocent embarrassment brings a smile to her tear-stained face that lights up the screen.

I give the film a 9 and not a 10 because of one sequence involving a conversation with a prostitute in the passenger seat. Presumably the driver has given a ride to hitch-hiker, leading to an intelligent conversation/debate about the world's oldest profession. But this scene seemed a little out-of-place, contrived, and added little to the more general theme of the rest of the film. This one slip-up notwithstanding, "Ten" is a creative and wonderful experience for film lovers who seek something out of the ordinary. And it has a final scene which punctuates the film perfectly.

Killerdeului suda
(2001)

awful
What a terrible film. It tries to be funny... it's not. It tries to be touching... it's not. It tries to be an action film.... it fails. This film is all over the place and nothing works. The editing is possibly the worst I've ever seen, and the plot is ludicrous. The acting isn't particularly bad, but basically you have what could be a Korean boy-band trying to pass themselves off as a 4-man professional assassin organization. I sat there dumbfounded as people all around me were laughing at the most inane attempts at humour. Total dud.

Kazoku shinema
(1998)

In the tradition of "This is Spinal Tap"
This is a self-reflexive narrative movie about a filmmaker who wants to make a 'reality' docu-drama about a (relatively) typical family in Japan. He has convinced a former porn actress to volunteer her family to be the subjects, and they half-willingly go along. The film follows the film crew's shooting of the film in which all of the family's dirty past is uncovered through a variety of emotionally charged "half-scripted, half ad-libbed" scenes.

Of course it is all fiction, but the premise of it being filmed as a documentary is actually pretty convincing and entertaining. You almost begin to feel that the characters are in real life really who they are portraying in the film. Although the film centers on the non-pornstar daughter as the main protagonist, it is the characters of the mother and father who really steal the show. You can't help but feel both pity and disgust for the two of them as each of their faults are unabashedly thrown out on the table and exposed for everyone to see. Yet their past mistakes are revealed in a way that also exposes their humanity. As these selfish individuals grow old, it perhaps becomes easier to try to forgive them and hope that the future will be better.

The film probably teeters a little too much on the melodramatic in certain scenes, but even as a fake reality show, it's a lot more entertaining, interesting and realistic than all of those reality shows we are presently being bombarded with. (7/10)

The Score
(2001)

Of scores, heists and eleven frat boys
In a period of about two weeks I've watched three heist movies, and this one is the best. Not that "The Score" is a great movie; it's a good movie, entertaining with competent direction, enjoyable dialogue and solid acting. Some have commented about the slowness of the film and the lackluster performance of DeNiro. I disagree on both counts. The slow pace was perfectly suited to building up suspense on a psychological level. One of my favorite scenes in the film is of DeNiro hanging upside down for what seems like an eternity, wrapped in his thief garb and sweating profusely. He doesn't say a word, but you can see in his eyes that he is thinking "I need to pull out". (I actually wish he had pulled out - that would be an interesting twist on the genre).

Marlon Brando playing the flamboyant aging backer was effective and the scene of he and DeNiro in Brando's master bathroom was one of the best moments of the film. It was in scenes like these where I really felt that DeNiro, however, proved his mettle as a great actor. He doesn't ever wave his hands or raise his voice. He just has a way of turning out a phrase and making it come out believable. Here he is tempted to back out of the plan, but caves into a desperate plea; again I think the film would have taken a more interesting route had he backed out and the story could have gone on from there.

Ed Norton is a decent but highly over-rated actor. I'm not sure why so many were so captivated by his performance in this film; I'm assuming it was his "retarded" act, but I still don't see what was so wonderful about it. He plays his role well enough, and nothing more to say about it. Angela Bassett's character as the token girlfriend was a complete waste and was almost as lame a female character as Julia Roberts' character in "Ocean's 11". I think we need some smart women to make movies in Hollywood, cause the guys are living in 1950.

I liked the scene at the park... nice tension. I didn't like the computer-geek hacker. He seemed like a character out of "Ocean's 11" and totally out-of-place in this more serious film. If only "Ocean's 11" had one or two good characters like this geek, it might have been a tolerable film.

That brings me to the inevitable comparison with the other "score" films ("Ocean's 11" and "Heist") and why "The Score is much better than both of the others. "Heist", like "the Score" had a core of good veteran actors that keeps your interest. But it also stars two horribly cast young performers that simply cannot keep up with the likes of Gene Hackman. David Mamet's dialogue is so self-consciously trying to be cool, but only comes off as corny 90% of the time. As far as "Ocean's 11" is concerned, there's not much to say about that monstrosity. It is the movie equivalent of a frat party, and like all frat parties, I can't imagine anyone but the members of that frat enjoying it. What a waste and insult. Hard to believe that Steven Soderbergh could make a remake of a bad film that's even worse than the original.

See "The Score" and enjoy the ride, but even though you have good performances from greats like DeNiro and Brando, don't expect this to be a classic film. It follows many conventional formulas of heist movies, it has the requisite twist at the end, and the actual job is full of holes. But it's entertaining in its convention and done well, and with modest expectations, it delivers. (7/10)

A Sharp Pencil
(2001)

Get out the eraser
Director Gallen Mei was quoted in the Singapore Straits Times as wanting his film to appeal to the "hip crowd". Maybe it has something to do with Singapore, but if this movie is hip, i'd hate to see what the nerd crowd is like. This film is jaw-droppingly bad, from the inane script full of fartsy cliches to a completely laughable plot.

Our two heroes are a rich good-looking 20-something guy who is bored and his pretty young female counterpart who is also bored. The two deal with their boredom by committing petty crimes like spray-painting rolls royce's and stealing dresses from clothing stores. They meet and fall in love (is that what happened between them?), each drawn to the other's "rebel" nature. And in Bonnie & Clyde fashion, they decide to pull off one last "rush" (their most daring yet) before moving to the Bahamas to have their baby.

This movie tries desperately to be cool, and like the awkward kid who buys the hippest clothes and uses the latest catch-phrases, its attempts at coolness just shine a spotlight on how ultimately uncool it is. Never are we convinced that the main character is either the son of a wealthy and important man, nor that he is a wild relentless rebel in search of adventure. Their escalation of crimes is a joke, going from stealing a coke in a 7-11, immediately to robbing a bank. Though he has his reasons, when he suggests that for their next crime they kidnap a government minister, the gal's response is something like, "interesting,... well, ok, why not?" The plot was rather ridiculous, but it was the dialogue that had numerous people in the cinema laughing at its corniness.

The newspapers in Singapore reported that the film had a homosexual theme, but really all it has is a psychotic homicidal gay character, so once again a Singaporean film portrays its gay characters as psychos.

Amazingly, the Singapore censorship board found reason to cut out a scene from the film that involved a run-in with the law and god only knows how that scene could have been so offensive as to require removal, but this is probably the only time that I've been happy that they cut something out of a movie, if for no other reason than that it shortened the film's length.

Spinning Gasing
(2000)

Spinning... out of control
This was the first feature film for just about everyone involved, including director Teck Tan, so they deserve credit for pulling it off. But this film was awkward in its direction, preachy in its style, exaggerated in its acting, and overly politically correct. The plot was all over the place, preventing any aspect of it from developing well. Gangsters get involved in the story, though i'm not sure what their presence added to the movie other than making the film even more unrealistic. They could have been completely left out and the film would have been better as a result.

The plot is about a young ethnic Chinese Malaysian who returns to his home country after studying in the West. His studies have brought him back with the skills he thinks he needs to fulfill his dream of managing a rock band and taking them to the top of Malaysian charts (a rather juvenile premise). The beginning of the film hints at conflict with his traditional father, but once the gangsters get involved this part of the story is dropped unceremoniously.

The film tries to take advantage of Malaysia's wondrously diverse ethnic mix, but unfortunately the manner in which these aspects were put to film either seemed terribly contrived or downright preachy. There is a pretty scene of Malay women doing a beautiful traditional dance on a beach, but the way the vision is integrated into the plot seems forced and unnatural.

The acting came off as somewhat amateurish, and the male lead was particularly unconvincing. The female Malay lead was a notable exception leaving the most positive mark. The film also has an openly gay character, and though he is a bit of a caricature, he provides some of the funnier moments in the film. But the movie was just barely a notch above a typical local television soap drama. Sadly, this film, which is not in the least offensive, has been banned in Malaysia. 3/10

Cheongchun
(2000)

Coming-of-age drama tiptoes on the edge of melodrama
Plum Blossom is primarily about two schoolmates, Se-in and Jay-ho, and their transformation to manhood from the naivete associated with the late teens. Jay-ho is at first very shy about sex, but after his first very emotionally draining experience, he comes to treat sex in a very physical and emotionless manner. Se-in, on the other hand, falls in love with an older woman and seems incapable of accepting the reality that there can be no relationship between the two; his love for the woman pre-empts any deep feelings from developing with any other girls his age.

Within this basic premise, the film follows the two young men from high school to college, and it follows their exploits and heartbreaks along the way. The movie manages to tell a pretty fascinating story about two very realistic, albeit different, guys. As their friendship deepens, a very tight, and genuinely touching bond develops between the two. Their closeness is so believable that there are many moments you almost expect them (or even root for them) to start making love to one another rather than the women they have such little emotional regard for. In fact, there is a homo-erotic undercurrent running throughout the film, both in terms of the relationship between the two males and in the way their bodies are sensually filmed. Se-in even at one point states to his friend that they are essentially one person living in two separate bodies.

There is a point about 15 minutes before the end where I think the movie would have been better off stopping. Instead it continues on to a more dramatic climax, which I think took away a bit of the film's charm. Nevertheless, Plum Blossom is an intriguing and different take on the growing up theme and is well worth checking out.

Minazuki
(1999)

Japanese movies are weird! (but I love 'em)
"Minazuki" is a dark gangster-like love-story cum road-movie riddled with bizarre but fascinating characters. At times it's over-the-top, but thoroughly engaging and with a nice dose of humanity to offset the at-times extreme sex and violence.

The story is about a man whose wife has left him. His brother-in-law (i.e., the wife's brother) affectionately tries to help the jilted man out of his depression, bringing him into a multitude of dangerous, questionable, and usually violent situations. The man befriends a prostitute and they seem to fall in love while they hit the road with the brother-in-law in search of the missing wife. Once they find her, we discover even more perversity.

Despite all the weirdness and violence, there is something very likable about the movie and about all of its characters. The movie has style and at least you can say that the film is not predictable, which is a good thing.

En face
(2000)

Stylistically goofy film falls apart at the end
The blurb I had read about "en face" said it was supposed to be a love story about intense passion, so I was surprised when it actually was more of a suspense/thriller. But once I settled into the chair and started getting into the story, I was happy to switch my expectation gears. The story is about an amourous, but poor couple that inherits (from a complete stranger) the equivalent of a "haunted mansion" in the heart of Paris' Montmartre district. The house isn't really haunted, but it's creepy and the maid who works there is even creepier (in classic haunted house style, part of the terms of the inheritance are that the maid must be kept on, or they will lose the house).

The manner in which the maid is filmed and costumed make her out to be too much of a charicature to be taken too seriously. Yet this stylistic quibble aside, I was gradually being drawn into the plot and was looking forward to what I hoped would be a dramatic, but interesting climax. I knew I wasn't watching a great movie, but was hopeful that it would still be entertaining enough to warrant the price of admission.

Unfortunately the ending pretty much blew it with an overly baffling turn of events riddled with annoying music and incessant cuts and edits. It made little sense and there were so many holes and unanswered questions in the plot that I left the cinema with one of those "what the...?" expressions on my face. The film suffered from the writer's (or director's) desire to make a final statement about love, rather than just create a believable finale. Not good, but not horrible either (5/10)

Tian guo ni zi
(1994)

A wonderfully unspectacular film from China
This was a very good movie about a son who suspects that his mother may have had a hand in the death of his father ten years earlier. It's unclear if he is driven by his conscience or revenge (I think even the character doesn't know why), but he decides to go to the police to report his suspicion.

The film is told with the effective use of flashbacks as the young man relays the details of his father's death to the stoic police chief. There are numerous twists and turns in the plot leaving the final outcome difficult to guess. It moves along slowly, unraveling little pieces of the puzzle, so it will require a little patience. The film poses interesting moral questions without heavy-handedly coming down on any side.

The performances are worthy all around, but especially Gaowa Siqin, as the mother. Definitely recommended, especially if you are a fan of Chinese films. It doesn't have the pizazz and magnificence of some of Zhang Yimou's work, but it's engaging little story makes it well worth checking out.

Moulin Rouge!
(2001)

i just don't get it
This mess of a film might have been tolerable had it just been a farcical fairy tale of absurdity. But that whole sappy love story was beyond pathetic. I just don't understand how anyone can think this film compares to great musicals or great films. Rocky Horror Picture Show blows this movie away in terms of plot, music, choreography and characters... and its not like Rocky Horror is that great. moulin rouge is sentimental blither. the original music was god-awful. a few of the remakes were done in a fun sort of way, but nothing too outstanding. this was as bad as "chocolat" but more annoying with all the obnoxious camera movements and other trickery. 2 out of 10.

Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang
(1974)

An emotional and moral powerhouse
Mario O'Hara is one of the best-kept secrets in cinema. From the Philippines, he has made a quiet reputation of making some of the most bitingly poignant social commentary films over the last few decades. Starting as an actor, this film predates his directorial debut, but marks his first film as a screen-writer. He is also one of the stars of the film.

The film is set in a relatively small Philipino village, where Catholicism rules. The film, as the title suggests, explicitly plays up on the Christian adage that one should not judge one's neighbor, but makes the somewhat obvious case that human beings, however pious they might claim to be, rarely follow that advice.

The story essentially follows three main characters: Kuala (who plays the town "nut", essentially a homeless woman who seemingly suffers from schizophrenia, psychosis or some other mental illness - it's only as the story unravels that we are made to understand her situation more clearly), Bertong (the town leper who has been fully marginalized by the village - this is the role played by Mario O'Hara), and Junior (an adolescent and son of a prominent family in the village).

In a way Junior, played by a young Christopher De Leon (who apparently has gone on to become a huge TV star as an adult in the Philippines) is the star of the show. He is at the center of the story, a witness to the sickness of the so-called normal society he is a part of: his boorish father proudly cheats on his mother, his materialistic mother screams incessantly, his immature friends play pranks on Kuala, his fickle girlfriends drop him without explanation...

Increasingly feeling an exile from his own society he seeks refuge and identification with the marginalized characters. Junior defies orders to stay away from the town kook and leper. But in the end he finds himself helpless to affect inevitable events.

This film is an emotionally-charged and stinging commentary on the evils of humanity, the kind of humanity that each and every one of us are capable of, or at the very least, we turn our heads and ignore, preferring not to think of such unpleasantries. The three lead actors playing Kuala, Berton, and Junior are excellent and the supporting cast keeps up with them at every step. It's also worth noting the beautiful direction provided by Lino Brocka.

This obscure film is an undiscovered classic and if you ever are given the opportunity to see it, take advantage of it.

Little Senegal
(2000)

Touching and engaging multi-layered story.
The background of this film is complicated enough: it's an Algerian-French-German co-production of a story about a man in Senegal who works as a tour guide at a historical site where slaves were taken to America. He soon heads across the Atlantic himself in an effort to trace his own family's history in America. His search, which is handled with grace and poise, eventually lands him in New York City.

*possible minor spoilers* There he bunks with a nephew and tracks down the whereabouts of a woman who he has uncovered to be a somewhat distant cousin. He is reluctant to immediately tell the woman of their relationship, but rather takes a job as a helper at her street newsstand. The film then focuses on the very realistic and heartwarming relationship that develops between the two, first as boss-to-employee, then as friend-to-friend, then as lover-to-lover, and finally as cousin-to-cousin. The beauty with which their friendship cum romance develops is so real and understandable that it matters not that they might be distant relatives. This film is as much a statement about our sometimes "boxed" views of love as it is about anything else.

But there-in lies the films beauty... it is about so much more. Intertwined with the basic plotline are stories involving family, childhood, drug use, living in the streets, parental responsibilities, societally (and male)-imposed roles for women, within-race racism, death, honor, dignity, and ceremony. When the film ends you will feel like you have witnessed a special accomplishment, a truly rare treat. The acting is at times ever-so-slightly awkward, but if anything, it adds to the charm of the film as well as to its realism. The two leads (Sotigui Kouyate and Sharon Hope) are outstanding, and Rachid Bouchareb deserves accolades for directing and co-writing one of the most memorable films of the year so far.

I hope the film gets distribution in the U.S.

Sanam
(2000)

A visual experience.
In almost documentary-like style, director Rafi Pitts weaves for the viewer a fable-like story that starts with a young boy (Issa) witnessing his father's death at the hands of horsemen in the rural hills of Iran. Connecting immediately to social ills of Iran, the father's death forces his mother (Sanam) and he to abandon their home and move in with an aunt. There, the two resume a hard life working in the fields.

Sanam is desperate to provide a life and future for her son, but not desperate enough to take the easiest way out - by remarrying. While Sanam is painfully aware of the faults of her son's father, she struggles with Iranian authorities to bring justice to the killers and to seek financial security for herself and her son.

The boy can only feel vengeful about his father's murder. He becomes obsessed with with the horse that he insists belonged to his father, that others insist the father had stolen. The scenes of Issa arguing with the shepherd are priceless.

It's a simple story but the cinematography is brilliant and beautiful and the shots of life in the village are painfully good at capturing the hard life the people are enduring. The cast is solid from top to bottom, but the star of the show is clearly the young boy who plays the role with a maturity rarely seen in a boy of 10 years. His eyes, his face, his skin are all perfectly cast, and in fact the boy was literally found by the director after an exhaustive search in the rural villages of iran. His portrayal was so realistic and believable that it was hard not to feel genuine sympathy for not only the character, but even the actor. If anything, he was almost too real... (9/10)

The Perfect Son
(2000)

Pleasant and interesting, if not spectacular (possible spoilers)
The Perfect Son is a story about two 30-something brothers, one who is seemingly "perfect" and the other who is basically a screw-up, frequently landing himself in drug rehab centers. After the death of their father, the two are brought together after a long absence and the usual sibling rivalry resurfaces. It isn't until the "perfect" brother makes the startling revelation that he has AIDS that the irresponsible younger brother finally makes a move to get his life in order, and take some responsibility.

The movie does a nice job of chronicling the younger brother's "comeback", though it may seem a bit far-fetched at times (beating drug addiction is never so easy). What makes the film more tender is the treatment of AIDS, a topic that has become somewhat passe in cinema over the last 5-10 years. And also the development of an almost sweet relationship between the two formerly feuding brothers is very believable and well-done. The two main actors were both very competent, if not terribly charismatic.

A solid first feature effort from director and writer Leonard Farlinger whose own brother died of AIDS. The ending is nicely done as well.

Chocolat
(2000)

european film for americans who can't handle a real european film
This movie was a dud. The acting was awful, nearly from top to bottom and that includes Juliette Binoche. Only Judi Densch was good. Johnny Depp was useless, both his performance and the character. There was zero chemistry between he and Binoche. Did anyone care that they were making love on the boat? Did anyone care when he left? Did anyone care when he returned? I didn't even care when the boats went up in flames, it was all so contrived.

This was a film with an identity crisis. Half of it wanted to be a cute and charming farcical comedy, and the other half wanted to be a deep and moving drama. It did neither well (it probably would have been better had it gone the farce way). All of the characters were stereotypical and cliched charicatures. This film had no soul; it was the Disney of movies, the McDonalds of European film and the fact that it got an Oscar nomination is a testament to how corrupt the Oscars are and how the only thing that really matters is how much lobbying the studio does and whether the film is an "oscar kind of film". Do these people even watch the movies they nominate and vote for?

I won't even go into the accents other than to say that despite some humourous scenes in the film, the varied and ridiculous accents in the film were the funniest thing in the movie (unintended of course). The dialogue was inane. Boy did this movie blow!

Ye ben
(2000)

provocative, confusing, overly ambitious, and mesmerizing
"Fleeing by Night" is far from a perfect film, but it is the most enthralling thing I have seen on the big screen in months. It's a movie that I have been thinking about and re-thinking about since I left the cinema, and isn't that what a good film does to its viewer?

The backdrop of the film is pre-war, pre-Japanese-invasion China, a young woman, Ing'er, is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who, among other enterprises, runs an opera house. She is captivated by and admires from a distance the talent and beauty of the star of the troupe, Lin Chung. We learn that Lin Chung has a rare, special talent for Chinese opera that makes him an instant success on stage. We also learn very early on that he is a tortured soul having been orphaned as a baby and raised by his "master", the leader of the opera troupe. So, despite his countless admirers, his life is one without identity, working essentially as a slave in a circus act. His relationship with his troupe leader most closely resembles that of a prostitute-pimp relationship.

Things get interesting when Shaodung returns home from America, a young cellist who has been promised Ing'er as a wife. At first, bored and uninterested in the opera, he has one of those life-transforming moments when he hears (and sees) Lin Chung on the stage. The two young men finally meet, and despite some awkward early moments, the chemistry between them is undeniable and unavoidable.

Unlike most movies, this film climaxes about 2/3 into it in a scene in a car when the two men's affections for one another are tested. Due to fear, jealousy, shame, and hurt feelings, their window of opportunity is tragically missed. From there the film takes one tragic turn after another over-ambitiously trying to incorporate just about every tragedy imaginable: rape, murder, family scandal, foreign invasion, war, disease, prison, ... you name it. Although the film suffers for this, surprisingly when it all comes to an end, it doesn't feel as contrived as it could have had it been in less competent hands.

The film certainly has some flaws: First, it isn't until the Japanese invasion that you have a clear sense for what era the film is supposed to be taking place. It is somewhat obvious that it is set somewhere in the past, but there was a failure to truly capture that in the scenery, the characters, and costume design (unlike Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love", for example). Second, despite the stereotypically tragic nature of the tale, the treatment of homosexuality was generally sympathetic. That is, with the exception of one horrible scene which was totally unnecessary and will make every gay and lesbian person cringe and sigh, "Oh, no, not again." And lastly, the narrative sequence at the end that carries us through the entire lives of the characters was somewhat awkward, though again, it was handled about as well as one could handle this technique.

In sum, "Fleeing by Night" is definitely a film to be seen by all; it's another brilliant example of Chinese cinema that is increasingly cornering the market on good sentimental tragedy-romances. Though not perfect, it's an amazing achievement and without doubt one of 2000's best movies.

Fan yi cho
(2000)

Film's corniness overshadows Kanehiro's angelic beauty
Hong Kong heartthrob Takeshi Kanehiro plays an angel with a broken wing in this bizarre romance directed by Ip Kam-Hung. He lands in the garden of Athena, a heartbroken young woman who has given up on love after the death of her previous lover. She works as an aromatherapy instructor by day and cries into her exclusive diet of ramen noodle soup by night, sending helium balloons into the sky in hopes that they reach her deceased lover in heaven.

Her unwelcoming persona turns off 'Angel' so he spends most of his time hanging out with her neighbor, Chow Chow, a flamboyant homosexual played entertainingly by Eason Chan. Although Angel assures Chow Chow that in heaven all love is treated equally, the pathetic manner in which the Chow Chow character is portrayed hardly makes 'Lavender' a film that deserves praise for positive gay representation.

Director Ip treats the audience to endless shots of Kanehiro's pretty face and body, and I must admit that he does a good job at seeming really angelic. But the main plot involves Angel's attempts at helping Athena to break out of her love funk. The problem is that much of this part was very corny and cliched, and Kelly Chan's constant crying and annoying tantrums made sympathizing with her character a bit difficult. I'm not sure it was her fault, because the script didn't leave her much to work with.

The most redeeming performances came from Eason Chan as Chow Chow and a small role for Cheng Pei-Pei (who played the evil Jade Fox in 'Crouching Tiger') as an aging woman trying desperately to hold on to her youth.

The actual main plot, involving the relationship between Angel and Athena just got to be a bit too sentimental and cliched in parts, and even downright corny in others. For example, Angel develops some strange fascination with shoes (I still don't know why) and when Athena throws his favorite pair of shoes away Angel embarks on a mission to find those shoes at any cost, in the middle of a monsoon. I think this illogical part of the plot was simply thrown in to allow for a cliched reuniting in the rain.

But by far the strangest moment in the film is when Athena comes face to face with a big black bull standing in an open field next to a tree full of balloons. Once again her tears (of joy?) start flowing as she realizes that the bull is the reincarnation of her dead lover (no, I'm not kidding). During this very touching moment layered in sentimental music, I honestly could not control myself from bursting out into out-loud laughter. The problem is that it wasn't supposed to be funny. (5 out of 10)

The Bachelor
(1999)

This movie is a ZERO
One of the worst movies I've ever had the displeasure of sitting through. It astounds me that anybody with any integrity would even participate in such an awful project. Misogyny and outdated stereotypes aside, the movie was unfunny, unromantic, poorly acted, boring, etc. etc. etc. I don't care how cute Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zelleweger are, this movie is a disgrace to filmmaking and my only astonishment is how people like Hal Holbrook, Ed Asner, Peter Ustinov, and James Cromwell got duped into participating in this! These talented people must really be hard-up for parts, which is sad.

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