Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No children. No future. No hope

CHILDREN OF MEN (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

First, the trailer doesn't do justice to this one heck of a film.

Set in a dystopian future when no child has been born for 18 years for unknown reasons. Humankind are facing a risk of its own extinction, resulting to the crumbling of societies and nations falling into anarchy. The surviving populations are forced to migrate to fellow wealthy countries, in hope to seek refuge. In London, a woman bears the sole hope for the human survival.

Right off the bat, Children Of Men is an astounding technical virtuosity. From the detailed set pieces, cinematography to the expertly choreographed thriller scenes. It's just astonishing to look at. Combined with Alfonso Cuaron's (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Y Tu Mama Tambien) exceptional directorial skills, this sci-fi thriller is just gripping from start to end. The introduction scene explains it well enough already. And I'll be damned if anyone wasn't caught off guard with the 'surprise' in that scene. Cuaron captures the chaotic dystopian vision really well by sticking to a more 'realistic' and gritty feel; being not too 'futuristic'(flying cars, etc), with minimal CGI effects to accompany it. It's technically a marvel that I couldn't help but strike the question: "How did they do that?". The mood and atmosphere is all around depressing befitting the apocalyptic world, but Cuaron manages to insert little touches of dry humor in the film to balance it.

Amazingly, despite the film being set in the future, one would experience a sense of deja vu as the story progresses. The holocaust, dictatorship, revolusionists, terrorism, etc. Much of it is a depiction of the current state of the world. To an extent that some of the images could may well be taken off straight from the news. Conclusively the film acts as a metaphor to the consequences of our current actions, the destruction that we would bring to our future generation, our children. Where in this case, there would be no children at all. The Muslims and immigrants are discriminated, and kept in a prison-like refugee camp under the oppressive regime; much like the World War II holocaust. Revolutionist marches, terrorist attacks, bombings, and military raids add to the chaos that engulf this horrific, haunting end-of-the-world vision. It's ironic that despite facing extinction, human beings still continue to strive on violence and killing each other.

The reason for this 'infertility' phenomenon however, is never actually explained throughout the movie, but it didn't detract anything as far as the story and narrative themes are concerned. Instead of presenting a 'large scale' scope, Cuaron centers the film's plot; revolving around the main protagonist, Theo (Clive Owen), and his unexpected journey in helping the child-bearer to safety. Almost all the events that occur, the going-ons of this dystopian world, are kept in the background. Some would criticize this choice, that it results to underdevelopment. But to me, this is what makes the movie superior than most of its kind; particularly the recent V For Vendetta which has basically similar social commentary elements. Unlike the latter, Children Of Men doesn't resort to bludgeoning our heads with its liberalistic preachings. Instead, the 'realization', subtly but effectively builds up through visual means, making us learn and feel for ourselves the point that the film is getting across. The movie puts us right in the middle of it all, and the familiar events that transpire made it all the more relatable to us now. I was emotionally invested without the movie forcing us to. And the
thought that this chaotic world would probably come close to happening considering the current predicament, is terrifying.

Performance-wise, there is nothing much to shout about, or anything to complain either. The stand-out performance would be Michael Caine as Jasper, an ageing hippie. I first thought that Clive Owen was 'droning' a little bit earlier on in the film, although that probably fits his character as a world-weary, cynical bureucrat. However, as the story progresses and his character is plunged into more complex circumstances, we'd get to see the different dimensions of the character: an everyman whose unwittingly burdened with the responsibilty of protecting humankind's only hope. This may be typical for some, but the strengths of the film is not much about characters (as do 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't about a character). It's the idea that is stunningly original, and the equally excellent execution that made this film as spectacular as it is.

With that said, I regard Children Of Men to be the best film of the year. It would be kinda hard for any other film to top it off. And it would feel right at home standing alongside such sci-fi/dystopian classics as A Clockwork Orange and Blade Runner.

My Verdict: 4.5/5

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BORAT: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006)

 without a shred of doubt the FUNNIEST shit I've seen in years. And also amongst the sharpest 'satire' film I've ever seen(mainly poking fun on the U,S and A). Yes it's offensive, it's crude, but it got me rolling on the floor crying.

Want a little taste of Borat Sagdiyev?

"Jak sie masz? My name Borat. I like you. I like sex. Is nice!"

Enough said.

My Verdict: 4.5/5

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (Jonathan Dayton, 2006)

A funny, quirky and heartwarming road movie. A great film debut.

My Verdict: 4/5

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


CINTA (Kabir Bhatia, 2006)

Melodramatik, manipulatif, dan penuh dengan klise. Tapi, aneh, aku suka filem ini. That's no easy feat, sebab aku generally tak suka filem-filem 'tearjerker' macam ni. But in this case, ia berjaya buat aku hampir menangis. Filem 'Cinta' ni ada satu 'jiwa' yang tersendiri (itu yang jadi nadi pd satu2 filem), atau satu 'charm' yang mampu menutup prejudis aku terhadap elemen2 tipikal filem romantik macam ni. Ia buat aku lupa pada 'logik' dan lubang-lubang plot, lupa pada jalan cerita yang dah di'recycle' berbilang kali, and just enjoy the show. Ia lebih kepada 'guilty pleasure'. Ya mungkin ramai akan mengatakan filem ini ciplak filem-filem stail 'ensemble' Hollywood macam Crash dan terutamanya Love Actually. Tapi sekurang-kurangnya, filem Cinta dihasilkan dengan 'classy' sekali. Dengan skrip yang kuat, menjadikannya 'segar' dan ada identitinya sendiri. Aku tak malu mau rekemen filem ini kepada orang lain. Aku berbangga filem ini wujud. Walaupun sebuah filem komersial, ia masih tak meninggalkan elemen2 penting yang menjadikan filem ini satu hasil seni.

Aku rasa semua penonton tahu dan akui, sinematografi filem ini cantik. Memang cantik(walaupun tak membawa byk makna), dengan shot2 ala-iklan/MTV-style. Suntingan filem ini sangat baik, menjadikan pergerakan cerita dari satu segmen ke segmen lebih 'seamless' dan 'natural'. Background muzik yg mmg 'kena', walaupun ada setengah2 scene lebih baik kalau takde muzik. Aku juga puji sang direktor, yang pandai mencampurkan scene2 sedih dgn lawak2 yang 'sudden' dan bersahaja. Tapi klise2 yang dah sebati dalam filem romantik ini tetap ada. Iaitu 'over-dramatization'. Contoh: Bila part sedih, mesti hujan. Ada juga scene2 yang memanipulasi muzik 'mellow' untuk 'menyuruh' penonton rasa sedih. Dan banyak juga scene2 yg 'cringe-inducing'. Contoh: part dinner Eizlan dan Fasha. Yang dah tengok tau.

Bagi aku kisah yang terbaik, yang betul2 'mengangkat' filem ini, adalah kisah Rahim Razali dan Fatimah Abu Bakar. 'Chemistry' yang sangat kuat antara dua pelakon ini. Sesuatu yang susah nak jumpa dalam filem Malaysia. Dua pelakon ini yang paling, paling hebat antara semua. Aku tabik.

Pierre Andre Dan Amani. Pierre Andre memang pandai berlakon jadi dirinya sendiri. Syabas. Walaupun Amani taklah 'entirely believable' sebagai budak kampung (tengok pakaian/appearance dah tau), tapi sekurang-kurangnya dia bawa satu 'karakter' lain. And she's candy for the eyes.

Rashidi Ishak dan Rita Rudaini. Walaupun mungkin orang kata dia kayu, tapi Rashidi bawa watak yang memerlukan dia bergerak dengan 'seminima' mungkin(which equals to 'kayu'). Seorang yang sangat romantik, tapi 'restraint'. Tak menzahirkan perasaannya. Rita Rudaini pulak, yang uniknya, dia tak jadi satu watak 'jahat'. Biasanya dalam cerita2 Melayu watak2 isteri curang sebegini pasti akan diringkaskan sebagai 'jahat' oleh sang direktor. Tapi ini tidak, cara penyampaian sang direktor(dan juga sang pelakon) tak membuatkan kita rasa benci pada watak itu, sebab kita tau, dia juga terasa bersalah.

Nanu dan Que Haidar. Nanu memang pelakon yang berpotensi, sejak aku tengok dia dalam PHSM II lagi. Ada 'complexity' yg dia bawak pada wataknya. Dan speech 'kematian' tu memang kuat impaknya.

Yang paling lemah, kisah Eizlan dan Fasha. 'Fairy tale' yang tipikal. Fasha memang tak reti berlakon. Eizlan bawak watak yang biasa dia bawak. Nothing special. Kebanyakan scene2 yang 'menjelikkan' ada dlm segmen ni.

Boleh ke nak dikatakan filem Kabir Bahtia ini filem cinta Melayu moden(atau lebih tepat, Malaysia) yg terhebat setakat ni? A resounding 'yes'. Inilah filem cinta yang kita tunggu-tunggu. That's not saying much considering the competition. Tapi yang penting, ia telah memberi satu 'nafas' baru dalam filem Malaysia. Membuktikan yang filem komersial tak semestinya wajib ada Saiful Apek, ada sound effect bodoh, ada guling-guling dalam taman, dan tak semestinya murahan.

My Verdict: 4/5 ---- Untuk sebuah filem Malaysia 3.5/5 ---- Secara international

VOLVER (Pedro Almodovar, 2006)

One of my most anticipated films this year. Volver celebrates the return (Ironically the title itself means 'The Return') collaboration of director Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz, both at the peak of their powers. With Cruz giving her best performance to date worthy of an Oscar, Almodovar has made a fascinating tale which 'celebrates' women: their hardships, sufferings, sacrifices, and love. It appreciates the troubles that these women have endured whenever they have men in their lives. There is no other film director whose fascination towards women is as apparent as Almodovar.

But the 'soul' of Volver, that elevated the film into greater lengths, is Penelope Cruz herself. She's downright gorgeous, and has finally proven herself as a great actress after strings of Hollywood duds. She's just a pure joy to watch; and I *do* mean in terms of her performance. Plus, the scene were Raimunda singing (although obviously dubbed, but her expressions more than makes up for it), is one of the most affecting and heartwrenching scene in any film this year.

Although the film may be a little light offering from Almodovar, and most probably it's his most 'mainstream' type of film. But with his usual 'trademark' use of bright colours on every frame(particularly red) and layered storytelling, this is still an Almodovar film. And you'll know there is something extraordinary in an Almodovar film.

My Verdict: 4.5/5

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