Fifty Shades Darker – Here We Go Again

Two years have passed since I have written my thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey. How time flies. It is funny that whenever I talk about Fifty Shades in public, people either not that comfortable talking about it or some give me that weird look.

Fifty Shades Darker

Truth be told, as comfortable as Dakota Johnson going naked in the show, I have no problem talking about it in public.

I think First Shades Darker is artistically done. Think on this. This show could have gone wrong in so many different ways. It could have been so awkward to watch. Even if it was as “good” as the previous installation – whereby good or bad is totally subjective of course – it would have been acceptable for me.

Fortunately, this one is better.

  • The character Christian Grey played by Jamie Dornan is more relatable this time around. More human. Less weird. Indeed, Anna Steele played by Dakota Johnson is changing him for the better. Thank goodness.
  • Jamie is more buffed up this time. Wow, his muscle. I am inspired to work out. With the beard and all, he looks like a real man! I always thought that he was kind of vampire-ish in the last movie.
  • I don’t think Dakota is the prettiest actress in Hollywood. But her being so comfortable with her body … there is something very empowering about it. As though she has developed this aura of command.
  • The chemistry between the two has become much better than before, which is understandably so from a storytelling perspective.

In short, I love Fifty Shades Darker, though I still have no clue as in what gets darker in this installment. I am looking forward to Fifty Shades Free.

The Pill – Love the Dialog and Drama

The Pill is a 2011 American romantic comedy film starring Rachel Boston and Noah Bean.

I chanced upon this 2011 movie while exploring movies over Netflix that have Rachel McAdams in it (somehow, Rachel Boston appears as a ‘close match’).  I was intrigued by the synopsis and since I enjoy watching romantic comedy genre, why not give it a go?  The story is incredibly straightforward.  A man (Noah Bean) and a woman (Rachel Boston) has a one-night-stand.  In the following morning, the man is concerned that the woman may become pregnant and insists that she should take a morning after pill.  At the pharmacy counter, the man discovers that one pill has to be taken immediately while another, 12 hours later.  So, he has to find a way to hang out with the woman he barely knows for half a day making sure that she will take the pill.  And she has no clue that there is a second pill to be taken.  Meanwhile, the woman just comes out of a long relationship and the man actually has a live-in girlfriend to go home to.

I like The Pill because the film focuses on the drama and the dialog.  There is plenty of acting involved while the rest like backdrop, effect, and soundtrack is kept to the minimal.  It reminds of films like Before Sunrise whereby the actors keep on talking throughout the movie.  Everything is stripped to basic excepts character development.  Love it.  It is a lighthearted sort of movie and is not as unbelievable as some of the bigger budget Hollywood romance comedy.  It simply presents the possibility of falling in love.

Tapas And The 8th Spanish Film Festival Here In Singapore

Tapas (2005) A Spanish Film

Cynthia and I were invited for the opening of the 8th Spanish Film Festival at The Arts House Singapore.  Before the main movie Tapas (2005), a 18 minutes short animation called Tadeo Jones (2007) was played.  Now that I have watched the animation.  It does sound like a reference to the Western version of Indiana Jones.

The main character Tadeo was at home when from his window, he saw a cute dog being thrown into a garage by a delivery man, together with boxes after boxes of mysterious packages.  Feeling the urge to save the dog, Tadeo ventured into the house and discovered a bizarre cult in the mist of an animal sacrificial ritual set in a quasi-Egyptian backdrop.  Not the sort of top quality animation as you would expect from a Hollywood movie of the same era.  The story is entertaining nonetheless.

Tapas (2005) is a mix of characters with individual plots that intertwined with one another.  In a Barcelona suburb, a wife of a self-centered restaurant owner cannot take his husband’s unrealistic demand anymore and has decided to quit being a chef.  And quit being his wife while she is at it.  Meanwhile, a Chinese chef who knows kung fu is happy to take up the job vacancy (and the abuse).  He is in Spain because he wants to be with his love.  A lady who sells chickpeas – among other cooking ingredients – has been in a separation for two years and now being in a cyber relationship with a man from Argentina.  Two young teenagers work at the same supermarket.  One of them is obsessed with Bruce Lee and girls of different nationalities while the other one has fallen in love with the chickpea lady.  Finally, there is an old couple with the woman selling drugs to the young and the man dying of lung cancer.

This film is raw, as in, there is little attractive about the characters and their living conditions.  Yet, it feels so real.  Ordinary people going about with their ordinary life dealing with real life challenges while learning from them.  Of all the sub-plots, I enjoy the story of the old couple the best.  It is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

The 8th Spanish Film Festival is starting from now till the end of the month.  Every day at 19.30.  Admission is free and the location is at The Arts House.  Check out their website for further information.

8th Spanish Film Festival in Singapore

A Royal Affair – A Danish Film Of A Mad King, A Lonely Queen, And A Visionary Physician

A Danish movie

The title says it all.  Set in the 18th century, Danish King Christian VII was mentally unwell.  Caroline Mathilde from Great Britain was married to Christian at the age of 15 and became queen.  German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee had attended the king’s sickness.  In the mist of it, he had become the king’s trusted friend and later on, an affair with the young and lonely queen.  As the king’s close friend, the physician played an essential part in shaping the country’s policies, which until now, had been mostly ruled by the Council due to the king’s sickness.  As the queen’s lover, the physician risked throwing away the political progress he had gained, which was ultimately the progress of the country.

I love watching European films inspired by historical events.  The plot is less formulaic than, say, a Hollywood movie.  European filmmakers tend to take their time in giving the film a treatment it deserves.  A Royal Affair is a 137 minutes long movie.  The story is engaging so much so that I wish the ending could have been expanded in some ways, rather than a paragraph of words or two on the screen.  The cinematography is beautiful.  Each frame’s composition is an art.  The music score is good too.  It goes well with the plot’s development.

Mads Mikkelsen’s role and the fact that he can act is a surprise to me.  He is often seen in Western movies as a villain (like many foreign artists come to think on it).  In A Royal Affair, he could well be a hero of the country.  He has a set of visionary policies based on his freethinking ideals.  Unfortunately, he was ahead of his time.  His policies were  implemented only by the next generation.  This prompted TK and I to reflect upon our local political atmosphere. We joked that the reason why A Royal Affair is being rated M18 in Singapore  is due to its anti-establishment sentiment.  There is very little blood and gore, equally little sex.  The most I would rate is a NC16.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander looks really young in this movie.  Having read the history, I can understand why.  It is pretty hard to act mentally unstable.  All credit to Mikkel Følsgaard’s boyish performance.  He is funny to watch but not without inducing a sense of pity from the audience.  At times, I could feel the king’s internal struggle as he threaded between the line that separate sanity from insanity.

Royal affair is a messy business.  But at least, for this historical story, there was something good coming out from it.

The Grandmaster – A Film On The Life Stories Of Yip Man And Gong Er

An art house type of movie

To fully appreciate this Chinese movie, you probably need to understand the language, the culture, as well as the martial arts within.  It is not unusual for the olden day Chinese to speak in metaphors.  My dad still does too.  The English subtitles can be quite misleading at times.  What if you don’t understand Chinese but you are curious about The Grandmaster?  I suppose even if you can only get the essence of it, it may still be worthwhile provided that you enjoy watching art house type of movies or you are a fan of the leading actor and actress.

The backdrop is enticing.  A story told from Yip Man’s perspective (he who was Bruce Lee’s teacher).  From Yip Man’s age of 40 till his old age.  Upon the then-grandmaster’s retirement, while the northern China’s grandmaster title was given to Ma San, it was of the old grandmaster’s wish to pass the southern China title to a southerner.  Hence the introduction of Yip Man.

Tony Leung is quite possible one of the best actors I have seen.  He truly can act with just his eyes.  That heighten alertness in face of a real challenge, confidence with a hint of playfulness during a friendly duet, that moment of being mesmerized by the opposite sex, pain and despair, heartache and resignation, or simply that pair of weary eyes having seen too much in life.  It is a real treat to see him act as Yip Man.  This movie has provided him much opportunity to shine.

Zhang Ziyi plays the role of Gong Er, the daughter of the then-grandmaster.  While the range of emotion given is not as wide as Yip Man’s role, Zhang Ziyi has certainly chilled me with her coldness, pained me with her rare tenderness.  Her acting too is convincing.

The martial art scenes are pretty impressive.  With modern technology and the extreme slow motion close-up playback, the action is exciting to watch.  But here lies the problem.  The director Wong Kar-wai has cast this film in an art house setting (like his last movie My Blueberry Nights).  Take away the breathtaking action and the engaging acting is a series of artistic shots such as water peddles and street scenery, Buddha statues and candles.  The gaps can be extremely slow.  I found myself wanting to see the next action or acting scene and skip the excessive artistic frames.

One good example is the character Yixiantian “The Razor”.  The film has devoted quite a bit of airtime to develop The Rezor.  He has absolutely zero contribution to the main story except that one interaction he has with Gong Er on a train.  Even that does not materialize into anything.  The story goes on telling more about The Razor – humorous I must say – whereby taking all in, I wouldn’t miss a thing if the director has decided to cut this character away.  Maybe I am missing something significant here.  I don’t know.

Also, the resolution between Yip Man and his wife (played by a Korean actress Song Hye-kyo) appears to be fuzzy.  Is it because there is a lack of real life documentation of his marriage?  Or is it the director’s intention to have us thinking?  I thought for a bit.  Then I gave up.

Another of his movie that is low in entertainment but probably high in artistic value.

Les Miserables – A Musical On Screen

I love this musical!

Les Misérables is one of my favorite musicals.  I have listened to it for decades.  I know every track by heart as well as the lyrics within.  Tracks like I Dreamed a DreamThe ConfrontationCastle on a Cloud, and Do You Hear the People Sing – they move me every time I listen to them.  My friends told me that I should have watched the musical while I was studying in UK.  True.  But alas.  Back then, every penny counted.  Luxury was something for the future.  So, in short, I did not have the chance to visualize this musical, till yesterday when we watched Les Misérable, with the usual Movie Review Squad and two of our friends from Google+.  It was two men and three ladies.  The girls cried profoundly during the show.  I cried a little, inside.  TK cried for a totally different reason: Russell Crowe.

This movie stays more or less faithful to the original musical score.  To that end, I have enjoyed the delivery thoroughly because I am so familiar with the music.  On the flip side, since I have an exceptionally high expectation on how Javert, Valjean, Fantine, and Cosette should sound like, I feel somewhat let down by the fact that not all the actors in Les Misérables can sing musical scores.

Russell Crowe has played a stunningly convincing stern looking police inspector.  Almost as convincing as Geoffrey Rush in the 1998 film adaptation of the same musical.  Sadly, Russel Crowe is also the weakest singer among all.  I cringed uncomfortably whenever he sings.  Huge Jackman, on the other hand, has done a much better job as Valjean thanks to his experience in theater.  Combined that with his acting skill, some scenes are pretty powerful.  Amanda Seyfried takes up the role of the most loved character Cosette.  She has sung in the movie Mamma Mia!  She sings OK in Les Misérables.  Not spectacular but OK.

Anne Hathaway’s performance is a surprise to me.  I Dreamed a Dream and Fantine’s Death: Come to Me are so moving and I have enjoyed every moment of her acting.  She deserves to be recognized, especially for her act in I Dreamed a Dream.  Definitely the highlight of the entire film.

During the movie, I observed that actors’ lips match perfectly with the singing as though it was recorded live.  I read later on that the singing was indeed recorded live and the orchestral tracks were added as a post-production activity.  This would mean that the actors have to act and sing perfectly in one take for each song.  Pretty amazing.

After watching Les Misérables, one question I have is: Do we need movie stars for a musical film?  Or would real theater actors from this very musical do a much better job?  I suppose in a film format, star power and acting is as important as singing, if not more.  Many of the scenes that move me emotionally are performed by the movie stars.  It is a trade off I guess.

All in all, I am happy that finally, I get to put all the musical notes and lyrics that I have learned by heart all these years into faces and scenes, visually speaking.

So We Have Finally Watched Pitch Perfect (And It Is Good!)

It all started with one of my friends in Google+ and his YouTube sharing of Anna Kendrick’s live performance in the David Letterman show.  I remember Anna in the Twilight Saga.  I had no idea that she can perform a cappella while playing with a cup.  And she looks so socially awkward in front of the public.  Adorable!

Our dear friend TK has watched Skyfall.  I sort of regretted not attending the blogger event that showcase a full private home theater setup playing Skyfall.  In any case, Cynthia and I can watch that 007 show with no babes and gadgets later (so I’ve been told).  We really wanted to watch Pitch Perfect.  So, the three of us watched that on late Friday.

This movie lasted for 110 minutes.  I couldn’t feel that.  The story ends so soon.  I want more!  I don’t even like GLEE.  But this one is hilarious.  The core set of all-female a cappella group comprises of a team of unique characters.  All bizarre in their own ways.  One called herself Fat Amy who totally embraces her physical appearance.  A girl who looks like a man.  An uptight leader who tends to puke a big way under stress.  A rather voluptuous girl.  A co-leader with a throat problem.  A Japanese girl who whispers all the time, even when she performs.  And finally, the socially awkward Anna Kendrick.

The plot is predictable.  What makes this movie exception are the lines and the songs.  I like it that the scriptwriter has given each of the core team member an equal character development opportunity.  To quote Cynthia, “I really love this show!”  If you have the chance, check out the soundtrack too.  It is amazing what artists can do with their mouths making sound, beats, and all.  I mean, you really have to be pitch perfect in order to pull those stunts.

If you are into Spanish, Cynthia has written a post in her website.

Step Up Revolution – Orgasmic!

Are you a fan of dance entertainment?  Are a fan of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)?  Are you in love with Kathryn McCormick of SYTYCD?  Well, if you do, you ain’t going to get a better treat than this.  Step Up Revolution got my heart racing inside the theater.  I so wanted to step up and move my body.  I have drooled watching Kathryn on screen.  Cynthia too.  So I guess that was fair play.

Now, before you rush out and buy a ticket to watch this orgasmic dance movie, there is something you must know.  Story-wise, there is nothing to cheer about.  Still, the plot seems to be better than what I have expected.  A bit cheesy?  Yes.  A bit over the top?  Certainly.  But the feel good factor is there.

Also, key acting scenes are pretty awkward to watch.  I suppose great dancers aren’t necessarily great actors.  One scene, I can tell that it was baked from many takes so much so that it was rather disturbing to watch.  That, or the film editor has done a not too good enough job.

These are the only two criticisms I have on Step Up Revolution.  For those who are new to SYTYCD, contestants are expected to dance a variety of genres.  Also, due to the show’s voting system, contestants are naturally likable, supremely entertaining.  They tease the audience with all sorts of appeals they have.  Some of the dancers in this movie come from SYTYCD.   Hence, you can imagine how sizzling hot this movie is.

The story of Step Up Revolution is based on the flash mob concept.  What these passionate dancers can do is truly amazing.  Each dance scene is unique, choreographed with a special theme in mind.  What Kathryn can do on screen reminds me of how gifted she and the rest of the SYTYCD contestants are.  One may say that if you have seen one Step Up, you have seen it all.  True.  However, I don’t mind getting entertained over and over again.

Magic Mike – Tastefully Done

There are two types of audience for the male strippers movie Magic Mike, I think.  The ones who like to stare at men’s near naked body down to their bare butts.  Or men who bring their girlfriends or wives to watch this film hoping to get them horny.  I, on the record, have vehemently said no to this movie.  But Cynthia insisted and kept on saying the magic word ‘Magic Mike’ every morning.  Magic Mike, Magic Mike, Magic Mike.  I gave in, on the condition that my buddy TK would agree to watch a male strippers show.  It was almost a flawless plan.  No way he would agree to it.  Except, TK had no idea what Magic Mike was and eagerly said yes, a tad too fast on Whatsapp.  The rest was history.

In the opening sense, when the perfectly oiled body of Matthew McConaughey came on stage and danced in front of a house full of cheering girl and as he slowly peeled away pieces of his costume one by one leaving only the – I presume – buffed up crotch garment on, I almost fainted.  STOP, right there!  Fortunately he left that essential piece of clothes on, like Adam and Eve and the hanging green leaves.

To my surprise, I enjoyed watching Magic Mike.  The story is original.  McConaughey plays Dallas who runs a male strip club.  One day, Mike (Channing Tatum) introduces Adam, a 19 years old teenage heartthrob played by Alex Pettyfer to the business.  Dallas dubs Adam as The Kid and Adam is an immediate success.  Money, women, and a sense of freedom – to a slacker like Adam who has thrown away his football scholarship, this new lifestyle is irresistible.  I can sense that Mike can see a younger version of him in Adam whenever he looks at Adam.

Meanwhile, there is another side of Mike who sees being a male stripper is only a mean to an end.  But to what end?  It is one man’s journey to finding his worth.  Meeting Adam’s sister  Brooke (Cody Horn) may have awaken something within him.  Dallas’s club is going big hitting Miami.  Adam being the new kid in the block has now become Dallas’s new favorite threatening Mike as Dallas’s right hand man.  What is Mike going to do?

Channing Tatum plays a charming character.  Not only on stage, but also off the stage.  I know he can dance.  It is good to see that he can act convincingly as well.  I also happen to enjoy Cody Horn’s acting.  So innocent and pure.  Matthew McConaughey has a commanding presence that is a major contributor to the theme of this show.  There is a lot of entertainment on stage.  Some of the dance sequences are hilarious.  There are a fair bit of sex scenes too.  But like the stripping act, they are tastefully done.  Magic Mike is way more than stripping.  You would end up liking every single characters, like I do.  I also like how the filmmakers handle the film’s ending.

Now, if there was a film called Magic Maggie with female strippers and all, I wonder how that would work out.

House Of Pleasures (Or House of Tolerance) – A Fine Balance Between Art And What Could Have Been Otherwise

Speechless I was at the end of this French movie.  What could I possibly write in order to share my experience with my readers here.  The entire entry could well be summed up in two words: C’est tragique.  Too much to process after the show, my mind just went blank.  House of Pleasures does not glorify prostitution, which is good.  With a group of actresses who are naked or semi-naked most of the time, strange to say, there is nothing erotic about this movie either.  Is it seductive?  Yes.  The costume is beautiful and some scenes are tantalizing.  But there is also enough grotesque and fear that darkens the overall mood.  In this tragic setting, the camaraderie within the group of prostitutes under the same roof is what holding the story together.  Sex is transformed into a pure monetary transaction.  The preparation and after the act routines add much realism to the profession.  And because of that, fantasy and eroticism is diminished leaving behind what it is seen through the eyes of the prostitutes on a day-to-day basis.  House of Pleasures is a movie told from the prostitutes’ perspective.  To them, there is no pleasure about the business.  It is what they do in order to make a living.

The year is 1899.  At the turn of the century, what future does it lie for the brothels that are specially catered for the French aristocracy and the high society?  In this particular brothel run by Marie-France – a single mother with two kids – the courtesans are hygienically cleaned and seductively dressed.  Every evening, inside a luxurious living room, wealthy clients mangle with the girls.  This scene almost viewed like a high society party with free flow of champagnes and cigarettes.  Someone is playing the piano.  Girls entertaining the guys.  There is laughter and small talk.  Some clients like what they see and the business is concluded in the bedrooms upstairs.  Some stay in the house till eight in the morning when the ‘commerce’ hours are long over.  There is this illusion of love.   Most girls dream to have their debt paid fully one day and be free.  The prospect of marriage at the end of their career is non-existence, and the girls know it.  The threat of deadly diseases is real, and it persists throughout the movie.  Each client has his fetish.  Some are deadlier than others.  This bets the questions of: If sex can be paid by money, what else can money buy?  One girl is brutally disfigured by a client she grew to trust.  The landlord’s decision to increase rent threatens the very survival of this brothel.  What can Marie-France do?  Close down the business and sell the girls’ debt to other brothels?  What is going to happen to the prostitutes we as an audience have made a connection with in this two hours long movie?

House of Pleasures has an open ending.  While the backdrop of the movie is set in 1899 and 1900, there is a short clip showing modern day street prostitution.  Perhaps, that is the answer.  The world’s oldest profession never ends.

I have my respect to the director Bertrand Bonello.  This movie could have been watched like a porn movie and it is not.  Because the rest of the film is so much more engaging than the sterile sex scenes within.  The continuous shooting and split screen methods blend the different themes and concepts into one, resulting in a holistic story of: This is prostitution.