23:59

You would think that a film about the myriad ghost stories that have circulated about Pulau Tekong Camp over the decades would write itself. Of course, the reality is something else altogether. To the credit of director Gilbert Chan and the production team behind 23:59, they have done a good job in conveying the gist and feel of what those timeworn Tekong ghost stories were all about. In fact, for the first half of the movie – with the numerous ‘flashbacks’ of stories – the narrative is rather compelling. However, when the film has to finally tell the story of the era it is set in (1983), then the narrative somewhat falls apart.

Which is a pity because everybody involved in this film has certainly done their utmost to maintain the suspension of disbelief long enough even for the most cynical viewer to ignore the gaping plot flaws that crop up towards the end of the film. The performances are consistent throughout and even veteran comedian Mark Lee gets to deliver choice lines that will have anyone who has ever served NS rolling in their seats.

Which brings me to the point that the film has been well primed for a bigger audience base that one would have thought. Certainly NS men (past and present) will definitely find the storyline intriguing but at the screening I attended, there were many young girls (probably between 12 – 15 years old) who enjoyed the film for the scares and there was a palpable communal vibe throughout – a shared group experience.

Adult viewers (and horror fans) might have hoped for gorier depictions but that would have affected the PG-13 rating and at NC-16, the filmmakers would have lost a sizable chunk of its audience. However, the film makes up for its lack of serious gore with good utilization of sound design to deliver the shocks to the system. Ultimately, it’s a solid Singaporean film that many will be able to relate to in one way or another. Check out the trailer below.

23:59 is showing at a cinema near you right now.

TATSUMI

The usual caveat applies when I review any of Ric’s work. You know the drill, I have known film maker Eric Khoo for more than two decades now. We met in 1990 when we were assigned by BigO magazine to work together on comic strips – Ric was to draw and I was to write. We did do quite a few strips under the ‘Ric and Roach’ byline in the 90s and it was all great fun. Ric would of course go on to be an acclaimed director, a pioneer in his field in Singapore and he was gracious enough to allow me to write music for some of his wonderful films. So take note of our associations as you read this review, if you must.

Tatsumi (the film) is a loving tribute to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, widely recognised as the artist responsible for pioneering gekiga (‘dramatic pictures’) style of alternative comics in Japan from the late 50s onwards. If you can imagine what comic books were like in the Western world in the 60s (mainly juvenile fare), then Tatsumi’s adult-oriented work was surely miles ahead of its time. The film is based on two sources – Tatsumi’s autobiographical Drifting Life and five of his gekiga short stories viz. Hell, Beloved Monkey, Just A Man, Occupied and Good Bye – and both are expertly woven together to form one coherent narrative.

Certainly, any astute member of the audience will note that the tone of Drifting Life and the short stories are very different. The stories are extremely dark and reveal the harsh realities of the human condition. Also, they strip away the artifice of modern living to bare the ugliness that is often buried beneath what most may consider mundane and routine. What this highlights is the critical difference between an artist and his work. It’s clear from Drifting Life that Tatsumi himself is a gentle, humble soul who’s sole ambition was to draw manga but on his own terms. His short stories indicate that he was successful in doing exactly that.

It’s hard not to derive these understandings of Tatsumi even from a superficial viewing of the film – Ric and his talented collaborators have indeed done justice to Tatsumi’s unassuming genius. The animation is tastefully done, based directly on Tatsumi’s artwork and the voice acting by Tetsuya Bessho is often breath-taking (even though I don’t understand a word of Japanese!).

Sound designer (and OP bassist) Kazz stated in his speech at the premiere that Tatsumi was authentic Japanese anime even though it was made outside of Japan. And certainly, nobody watching Tatsumi will ever doubt that strong sense of authencity. So naturally, I highly recommend that you watch Tatsumi when it screens at a cinema near you. For my Singaporean readers, Tatsumi opens on 15th September at GV Vivocity and GV Plaza. Do not miss it!

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ROBIN GIBB DVD

ROBIN GIBB IN CONCERT WITH THE DANISH NATIONAL CONCERT ORCHESTRA

Few years ago, I caught Robin Gibb live in Singapore and was rather bemused that he decided to let a backing singer handle the lead vocals of Bee Gees songs that were originally sung by his brother Barry. Apparently, Robin himself noticed that anomaly as well and from this live recording, it’s clear that he has remedied that completely.

So in this concert (set in the idyllic surroundings of Ledreborg Castle in Denmark), Robin takes care of lead vocals of every song on the setlist. Which in itself is also hit or miss. I mean, well and good if its songs like I Started A Joke, Saved By the Bell or Massachusetts, all of which were originally sung by him but it’s a really off-putting to hear Robin try his hand at To Love Somebody or How Deep Is Your Love, when you’re expecting Barry’s sultry tenor.

Well, I suppose what I am saying is that in ideal circumstances, Bee Gees fans would rather see Barry and Robin sing these timeless tunes together but in the absence of that, this will have to do.

Buy Robin Gibb: In Concert at Amazon

SHERYL CROW

SHERYL CROW Miles From Memphis: Live At The Pantages Theatre DVD (Eagle Vision)

This concert video was taken from Crow’s tour in support of her retro-soul project 100 Miles From Memphis. As is often the case where artists undertake a change in musical direction, this also signals a re-interpretation of old material in the ‘new’ sound as well. Therefore, A Change Would Do You Good and Everyday is a Winding Road take on funkier tones. Even Crow’s signature tune – All I Wanna Do – is given the Stax-Motown treatment.

Crow is in splendid voice throughout, backed by a crack band of musicians which provide the necessary soul authenticity to pull off Crow’s soul venture. At the very end, I Shall Believe is delivered in a vintage gospel blues piano ballad style that simply brings the house down.

This DVD is essential viewing for all Crow fans and also lovers of that special soul/R&B era.

Buy Miles From Memphis Live at the Pantages Theatre at Amazon

PEARL JAM TWENTY

(Press release)

In celebration of their 20th anniversary, legendary alternative rock band Pearl Jam, will make their big screen debut on 20th September worldwide with the release of PEARL JAM TWENTY. The film will open internationally in select theatres for one night only and Golden Village is proud to be the cinema of choice to screen the title in Singapore.

Directed by Academy Awardwinning filmmaker and music journalist Cameron Crowe, PEARL JAM TWENTY is a captivating documentary which centres around the iconic American grunge band, Pearl Jam. Scheduled to premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in September, the film chronicles the years leading up to the band’s formation, the chaos that ensued soon after their rise to mega-stardom, their step back from the limelight, and the creation of a trusted circle that would surround them, giving way to a work culture that would sustain them until today.

“We put so much into the film – moments, pieces of footage shot by band members, audio snippets, visual bursts, new and old interviews – many different formats, all meant to present an emotional scrapbook of what it felt like to be a member of the band on this twenty-year journey,” said Crowe. “The richness of the footage made our path very clear – just tell the story of the band and let the music guide us. It was a joy to make this film, and we’re thrilled share it with the fans.”

Told in big themes and bold colours with blistering sound, the film gives fans and audiences an intimate first glimpse into Pearl Jam’s journey culled from more than1,200 hours of rarely and never-before-seen footage over 24 hours of recent interviews with the band, as well as live footage of their spellbinding concert performances.This theatrical release is the definitive portrait of Pearl Jam: part concert film, part intimate insider-hang, part testimonial to the power of music and uncompromising artists.

PEARL JAM TWENTY celebrates the freedom that allows the band to make music without losing themselves, their fans, or the music lovers they have always been. Fans in Singapore should not miss the opportunity to catch the one-night-only theatrical release of this great alternative rock band.

Tickets for PEARL JAM TWENTY are now on sale – priced at S$18 for GV Movie Club Members and S$20 for the public.

For more information, please visit www.gv.com.sg

I AM DAVID SPARKLE

(Press release)

October 2008: Homegrown post-rock band, I Am David Sparkle, becomes Singapore’s third band – and the only one that year – to receive an invitation to the world’s leading music industry event, the SXSW® Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas.Fast forward to the present: The journey that started from that experience is still continuing, and I Am David Sparkle celebrates it at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) with the debut of “Ignore All Detour Signs”, the only Singapore-made feature-length music documentary to be showcased at SIFF 2011.

The self-funded production is the work of two first-time filmmakers, Helmi Ali and Razin Ramzi, whose passion for music led them to capture the best of the band’s colourful journey to SXSW and back — from the roughest of the raw to the most jubilant heights of revelry.

You are warmly invited to be amongst the first to watch the journey unfold. Please join us at the premiere of “Ignore All Detour Signs”, and share in one band’s passion and belief in their art, which triumphed over the trials and helped to make them one of few who can say they’ve “done it at SXSW”.

24th Singapore International Film Festival | Singapore Panorama: “Ignore All Detour Signs”A music documentary by Helmi Ali & Razin Ramzi | 24th September 2011, 9.30pm, Sinema | Duration: 55 mins

More info at SIFF site. Check out the trailer below.

DEEP PURPLE

DEEP PURPLE Phoenix Rising DVD (Eagle Vision)

Eagle Rock has been paying attention to the lesser known aspects of legendary British hard rockers, Deep Purple. Having recently re-issued the first three albums of the original lineup, Eagle Rock has now released (through Eagle Vision) Phoenix Rising: The Untold Story of Deep Purple Mark IV. This covers the brief period during which founding member Ritchie Blackmore had left Purple to form Rainbow and guitarist Tommy Bolin was brought in to fill Blackmore’s considerable void.

This DVD basically covers features a 30 minute previously unreleased live concert video filmed at the Budokan Hall in 1975 and a 80 minute documentary basically chronicling the numerous problems that beset this lineup of Deep Purple, including drug problems (bassist Glenn Hughes and Bolin) and especially a disastrous tour of Indonesia.

The live concert video is really purely for historical purposes as the quality (sound and vision) is rather poor, especially when compared to Mark II’s triumphant Made in Japan LP. Equally so is the documentary which feature in-depth interviews with keyboardist Jon Lord and Hughes where the focus is very much on the excesses of 70s rock. Both of these videos will probably only interest diehard Mark IV fans.

I guess Eagle Vision themselves sensed that what was on offer was a little light and so what does make the DVD intriguing are the two collectible booklets reproducing an original Deep Purple 1976 magazine and rare photos as well as original vintage Purple articles. Again, for fans only.

Buy Phoenix Rising at Amazon

GEEK OUT! CAPTAIN AMERICA

Making a superhero movie is a fine balancing act. How to satisfy the comic book geeks without being incomprehensible to the general movie-going public? So far, I think The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk and maybe Spider-Man 2, did a grand job in hitting that middle ground, the rest have been either too faithful to the comic book (Watchmen) or not faithful at all (the X-movies).

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DRIVE

This one looks like a cool crime drama, very Euro in tone with award-winning Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn at the helm and a stellar cast including Ryan Gosling (above), Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks, Check out the trailer below, I really dug that classical piece at the end.

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GEEK OUT! GREEN LANTERN

It’s been a long time since a second tier DC Comics character has been given a feature film adaptation and so much has been riding on this Green Lantern movie for Warners. With the recent successes of the Marvel film adaptations, Warners need a DC comic book movie hit. And despite the critical mauling that this movie has been universally receiving, I will stick out my neck to predict that Green Lantern will be a box office hit.

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GEEK OUT! X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Well, considering that director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kickass) signed on with X-Men: First Class only in May last year, it’s amazing that he has managed to put together probably the best X-Men movie so far in the franchise. In fact, I will be bold enough to declare that X-Men: First Class is probably the best superhero team movie ever! Not that that is a grand achievement in itself when you consider that the only real competitors (other than the first X-Men trilogy) are the two truly awful Fantastic Four flicks.

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MTV MOVIE AWARDS 2011

The MTV Movie Awards show is notorious for its outrageousness – as the above picture perfectly illustrates. Obviously aimed at your average American teen, the awards gives you a good indication of what is popular amongst American teens. Thus, infantile gags and the Twilight saga rule (not necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you!). Still, it is a fascinating glimpse as to what currently shapes our popular culture and often it is not a pretty sight!

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GEEK OUT! GREEN LANTERN

Of all the movies slated for release this summer blockbuster season, the one which seemed to lack the necessary geek credibility was Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds. The first trailer did not help this perception as it played more like a comedy (think: Batman & Robin) than a dark epic superhero drama (think: The Dark Knight). But since then, Warners has taken great pains to address that imbalance with a second trailer which has certainly raised the expectations amongst the geek community.

With the movie release coming up very soon and perhaps concerned about public perception (non-geek), a third (and final) trailer has been released – narrated by GL Toma Re (as voiced by the excellent Geoffrey Rush), this trailer gives the requisite background into the GL universe so that neophytes may also understand what Green Lantern is all about. Take a look and you will be convinced that the Green Lantern movie will be a superhero action-adventure to look forward to.

GEEK OUT! X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

This, for me, is the superhero movie of the summer, mainly because of what I have seen of Michael Fassbinder’s Magneto in the trailers. In addition, I am also putting a certain amount of faith in director Matthew Vaughn’s ability to make this work (but since his competition is the risible X-Men 3 and Wolverine movies, it will not be difficult).

Fox has issued four trailers focusing on the very subject matter of the film – the first class of mutants tutored by Professor X and Magneto viz. Banshee, Mystique, Beast and Havok. Whilst all look intriguing, it only serves to emphasize that the film deviates too much from the comic book to make it an absolute winner.

This is obviously an attempt to link this prequel with the X-Men trilogy in the eyes of movie-goers. Therefore, we get a Havok who is older than Cyclops, a different Angel, a young Banshee and a Mystique that was formerly an X-Man! Only the Beast remains from the original comic book team.

Of course, only geeks like me – who grew up loving the original X-Men – will be pissed off and bothered about this whilst watching the film.

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GEEK OUT! THOR

The best compliment I can bestow upon Thor is that I was expecting more when it ended. The two-hour duration whizzed past so quickly that it actually felt short. Kudos to director Kenneth Branagh for bringing to life a comic book super-hero story that seems almost unfilmable.

Brilliantly interweaving two stories – one, in Asgard and the other on Midgard (i.e. Earth!) – Thor is delivered almost naturally for a movie that involves Norse deities. There’s not a single moment where you begin to feel that the concept is silly or corny – in line with other Marvel stories, the believability quotient is always high. No mean feat.

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GEEK OUT! SOURCE CODE

SOURCE CODE Directed by Duncan Jones

It’s nigh impossible to escape the influence of iconoclastic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick on modern day sci-fi movie making. Already this year, we have actually had one (subpar) Dick adaptation (The Adjustment Bureau) and one superficially Dick-inspired fantasy (Zack Synder’s critically lambasted Sucker Punch). However, it may well be Duncan Jones’ superlative Source Code that takes the prize for the most faithful Dickian film creation in 2011!

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GEEK OUT! V1K1

V1K1: A TECHNO FAIRY TALE Directed by Tzang Merwyn Tong

After the screening of this short film, director Tzang remarked to me that imagination has no budget constraints. Or something like that! Produced in conjunction with ITE College West, a group of dedicated thespians and intelligent special effects personnel, Tzang has delivered a sci-fi/fantasy narrative that works even on a minuscule budget. Chief amongst its many achievements is the amount of plotlines, nuances and tangents into its brief time frame.

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GEEK OUT! COWBOYS AND ALIENS

Based on the comic book of the same name, Cowboys and Aliens has released its second theatrical trailer. It’s always exciting to see a sci-fi alien encounter story within other historical contexts, and that for me is the main draw (pun intended) for this Jon Favreau-helmed action thriller. And it’s got Harrison Ford in it as well. Check it out.

Opens 29th July 2011.

 

TATSUMI

Singapore film-maker Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi (based on the life and short stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi) will be the 13th animated feature to premiere at Cannes Official Selection!

This 95 minute animated feature in Japanese explores the life of the father of Gekiga (dramatic pictures) inspired by his autobiography, A Drifting Life. It also showcases some of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s most important stories written in the early seventies such as Hell, Beloved Monkey, Just A Man, Occupied and Goodbye.

LET ME IN

If you watched Let Me In without knowing anything whatsoever about the original Swedish film, you’d definitely walk out of the cinema hugely impressed and touched. However, if like me, you have seen Let the Right One In, you’d be scratching your head as to why this remake needed to exist at all.

Of course, I was expecting the worst – Hollywood remakes of non-US films tend to sentimentalize and smoothen the rough edges – but in this case, director Matt Reeves has created a faithful adaptation of the original source material. In terms of tone and atmosphere, it is almost identical to the original. The winter wasteland, the stark horror and the understated acting, for instance.

What Reeves does amp up slightly is the romance between the lead characters Abby (Chloe Morentz) and Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and also, makes it emphatically clear that Abby’s ‘father’ (Richard Jenkins) is actually Abby’s companion (in the same way that Owen will become at the end). IN the process, making the movie more definitely, the passing of the torch – so to speak – from the ‘father’ to Owen.

Other than that, there are no surprises whatsoever and anyone has seen the original will find nothing new in Let Me In. So I ask again – what was the point of this exercise? Hurm.

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LISTENING BOOTH – ARTHUR ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD

I never liked the original Arthur movie starring the late Dudley Moore and never quite understood it’s popularity and the soundtrack contained one of the worst songs ever written by the great Burt Bacharach, not helped by Christopher Cross’ awful falsetto as well. So it seemed to make perfect sense to me when it was announced that a remake would be produced with the over-rated Russell Brand reprising Moore’s role. Ugh.

But… if Ben Gibbard’s contribution to the soundtrack – a wistful Springsteen channeling slow rocker called When the Sun Goes Down – is any indication, then at least the music on the film is going to be worth checking out. Listen for yourself…

Ben Gibbard – When the Sun Goes Down by WaterTowerMusic

 

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SUCKER PUNCH

VARIOUS ARTISTS Sucker Punch Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (WaterTower)

If you’ve read my review of the film itself, you’d be aware that I believe despite scathing reviews the movie has instead received, it is the ultimate geek movie and this extends to the excellent music featured on the fantasy scenes, where Baby Doll and team embark on their quests to obtain the items required for their escape.

Through unique cover versions and intriguing remixes, the producers behind this dazzling soundtrack album have really put together a music geek’s wet dream. From the opening expository sequence scored to Emily Browning’s excellent rendition of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), it’s clear that Snyder and company have brought their superior tastes to bear. Along with exciting new treatments of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, Stooges’ Search & Destroy, Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, Pixies’ Where Is My Mind and the Smiths’ Asleep, the remixes of Bjork’s Army of Me and Queen’s I Want It All/We Will Rock Out truly stand out.

Throbbing, sweaty and edgy, these songs remain in-your-face to perfectly complement the wild action sequences that Snyder has expertly together. But even without the visual elements there is no denying the power of the music itself. Even at the end, Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug slithers it’s slinky self through our synapses courtesy of Oliver Issac and Carla Guigino! Magnificient!!

Both film and soundtrack album are essential. But you knew that.

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GEEK OUT! CYCLOPS

I read a lot of super-hero comic books growing up in the 60s and one of my favorite characters was the X-Man, Cyclops. You know, the guy who could shoot red laser beams from his eyes, functioned as team leader (in the absence of the crippled Professor X), hooked up with the only girl (Marvel Girl, natch aka Jean Grey) in the team and possessed all the qualities that I looked up to as a young pre-teen child.

Of course, in the subsequent years, Cyclops’ life got a whole lot more complicated and his character has been revised to such an unrecognizable extent (as with most comic book super-heroes) that I have lost all interest in him (and super-hero comic books in general).

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