Friday, January 25, 2013


Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan

Cinema 11, SM Megamall

Everyone thought that this bestseller (I never read it but certainly knew about the story) by Yann Martel was unfilmable. Yet I think the word 'impossible' doesn't exist in Ang Lee's vocabulary.   His adaptation of "Life of Pi" is lyrical, beautiful, deeply poignant and unlike anything you have ever seen before.  

Most of the movie centers around an Indian boy named Pi (Suraj Sharma) who finds himself on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.  They are the only survivors of a shipwreck which killed everyone on board included Pi's parents and his brother.

An adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) living in present day Montreal recounts his amazing story to a writer who hopes to make it the subject of his next book. Seen through vivid flashbacks, Pi narrates his ordeal quite eloquently. Weaving out a tale that is both incredible and quite incredulous.

The special effects used throughout the movie are fantastic. I couldn't tell where the real animals ended and the CGI creatures began, whether it was at the zoo, aboard the lifeboat or during an astonishing scene involving a whale.  

The greatest drawing point for me was the fierce Bengal tiger. The intensity of his stare, his every nuances were quite compelling to watch.  It's a whole new realm of performance.  Richard Parker despite being a carnivorous animal, made us care so deeply about his fate.

If you could bring yourself to set aside the story’s ambiguous theological concerns, I'd say that "Life of Pi" is quite a masterpiece.  Although I'd admit it is quite difficult to ignore especially during the last part of the film as numerous questions go unanswered.  But kudos goes to Ang Lee for crafting a spectacular movie with so much depth, a visual treat for both the mind and the soul.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


This year’s festival features different faces of Chinese society.   It will run from February 1 - 10, 2013 at the Shangri-la Plaza Mall.

Free Admission on a first come, first served basis.

The films for this year include "Piano in a Factory", "Storm Warriors", "Golden Times", "Jasmine Women", "2Become1", and "Space Dream". 

For more information, please call Ateneo de Manila University Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies at (632) 426-6001 locals 5208, 5209, 5280 and 5284.

For tickets, please call Shang Cineplex at (63 2) 633-2227.
Screening schedule:

February 1, 2013
2Become1 - 12:30PM
Piano in a Factory - 3:00PM
Storm Warriors - 5:30PM
Jasmine Women - 8:00PM

February 2, 2013
Piano in a Factory - 12:30PM
Space Dream - 3:00PM
Golden Times - 5:30PM
Storm Warriors - 8:00PM

February 3, 2013
Space Dream - 12:30PM
2Become1 - 3:00PM
Jasmine Women - 5:30PM
Piano in a Factory - 8:00PM

February 4, 2013
Storm Warriors - 12:30PM
Golden Times - 3:00PM
2Become1 - 5:30PM
Space Dream - 8:00PM

February 5, 2013
Golden Times - 12:30PM
Jasmine Women - 8:00PM

February 6, 2013
Storm Warriors - 12:30PM
2Become1 - 3:00PM
Piano in a Factory - 5:30PM
Golden Times - 8:00PM

February 7, 2013
Jasmine Women - 12:30PM
Golden Times - 3:00PM
Space Dream - 5:30PM
2Become1 - 8:00PM

February 8, 2012
2Become1 - 12:30PM
Jasmine Women - 3:00PM
Piano in a Factory - 5:30PM
Space Dream - 8:00PM

February 9, 2013
Storm Warriors - 12:30PM
Space Dream - 3:00PM
2 Become 1 - 5:30PM
Golden Times - 8:00PM

February 10, 2013
Golden Times - 12:30PM
Storm Warriors - 3:00PM
Jasmine Women - 5:30PM
Piano in a Factory - 8:00PM

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Jessica Chastain,  Jason Clarke,
Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong

"The Greatest Manhunt in History"

Cinema 4, Trinoma Mall

This riveting story about the manhunt for Bin Laden opens with a blank screen then you hear the actual audio tapes from people who were in the WTC Towers on September 11, 2001. Quite a chilling effect, as for a few seconds we are reminded of that harrowing moment. 

Next scene takes us to a remote location and our senses are jarred with graphic scenes of torture.  The main tormentor, a CIA operative called Dan is trying to extract information from a detainee using several EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques) like waterboarding, white noise, sleep deprivation, humiliation.

Dan tells Maya (Jessica Chastain), a newly assigned CIA agent "It's not always this intense".  She replies she is fine although she is visibly shaken.  She is tougher than she lets on as her reputation as 'a killer' does prove later on in the film just how driven and dead set she is in her relentless pursuit.

The story is seen through Maya's point of view. The character is based on a real CIA agent whose identity has never been divulged. When the director Kathryn Bigelow was interviewed on several talk shows, she refused to volunteer any information on her source.  The same is true for Maya -  no back story on whether she is married or where she is from.  It is probably for the best as it kept the viewers focused on the manhunt and not on the personal life of the agents involved.

The plot spans through 10 years of covert operations in remote parts of the globe to the posh offices of the CIA HQ in Washington. Every minute details from phone calls, emails to chat room chatter is carefully scrutinized using the best communication technology.  As well as any information gained 'illegally' through questionable means.  

I disagree that "Zero Dark Thirty" glorified torture. The disturbing scenes were authentically portrayed and quite graphic.   Yet, the film clearly points out that the end doesn't necessarily justify the means as acts of terrorism still prevailed like the bombing of a bus in London as well as the attack on the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan - despite the use of torture to obtain information.

It is  a long movie but there were no dull moments.  When the well planned raid on Bin Laden's hideout finally does happen, the film shifts up a gear in the last 30 minutes.  Mostly shot in the dark without any music added for dramatic effect, the tense shoot-outs viewed through infra-red goggles kept me on the edge of my seat.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is the military term that refers to 30 minutes past midnight. The time the raid on that compound in Pakistan began.  A well executed film that seeks to pay tribute to the men and women who risk their lives to make our world a safer place to live in.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried,
Samantha Banks, Helena Bonham Carter

Palace, IFC Cinema 2 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong - It was the first day of 2013 and for want of something to do, I suggested we watch the most hyped film "Les Miserables".   The 6pm screening was fully booked so we settled for the 7:10pm showing even though our seats were in the very front row.

My sister and I are big fans of the musical. We saw it 3 times when it was staged in Singapore, years ago. We know all the songs, bought the CDs and the souvenir items.  So I was really eager to see how it would unfold in its film version.

I do remember watching another film starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean in the late 1990s but it wasn't a musical.  I also saw the French film version with the late Jean Paul Belmondo impressively cast as Jean Valjean that wasn't a musical either which was shown once on TV 5 Monde (The French  TV Channel).

Jean Valjean is usually portrayed by an older man who is known for his robust strength and stamina so seeing Hugh Jackman as prisoner 24601 didn't really register well with me. The Aussie actor is my age for Pete's sake!

The film directed by Tom Hooper had all the grand making of an epic. The set design were magnificent and it really took you back to the French Revolution era. The costumes, the squalid surroundings were also authentic. The extreme close up of the main characters as they sang their hearts out was a nice touch.

But sad to say, even though I tried my best to like the film, it did not live up to my expectations. It is without a doubt a delicate procedure to turn a much loved staged musical into a film.   What may seem poetic on the stage came out rather silly or trivial in the film.  For instance, the young revolutionaries hiding behind the barricades and fighting the entire French army don't seem like heroes so much as spoiled brats getting slaughtered for no good reason.  Plus the barricades itself was too thinly assembled it didn't pose much of a threat, did it?

The pacing of the songs were too fast. They didn't evoke their contemplative state. The actors did a good job in memorizing all those songs and then singing them live during each take. But for some, (ehem Russell Crowe) you would notice that he was very consciously aware of singing the songs well instead of putting up an emotionally charged performance. Sure he can carry a tune but he did not sing from his heart.  On the other side of the spectrum, Hugh Jackman sang every note with heartfelt poignancy.  Not necessarily a good thing either because he had a tendency to over-sing the tunes, for lack of a better word.

In conclusion, "Les Miserables" was an OK film.  I was glad to hear the familiar songs but unfortunately, I wasn't overwhelmed by it. 

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