Category Archives: Movies 电影

The Tree of Life

Once in a while, you get an artistic film like The Tree of Life that almost drives you out of the cinema half-way through and makes you wonder why you didn’t buy tickets to Friends with Benefits instead. To be completely honest, if I watched this on DVD, I probably would never sit through it.

But to watch it in the cinema was quite an experience. A half hour into the movie, I heard people fidgeting in their seats, turned and saw the man next to me look at his mobile phone, and about forty-five minutes into it, a quiet snore emerged from somewhere, then a soft sigh. As for me, I was desperately trying to figure what was going on.

The Tree of Life is like an art-cum-national-geographic documentary, layered in between a dramatic plot of a family who has lost a child, all the while moving in a slow, non-linear fashion. There is little dialogue and hardly any climax and if you want to know the plot, it is best you refer here.

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There are several voice-overs throughout the film that will fly by you if you don’t pay attention. As you watch merging organisms, erupting volcanoes, orbiting planets unravel their mystery right before your eyes in slow-motion, someone whispers a thought and leaves you thinking if that is meant to coincide with what you’re about to see.

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I am not one of those people who would look at art and then lavish you with technical jargon, history and explain in depth the psyche of the artist when he was doing this painting or that sculpture. Yet I do appreciate art in every form, however little I may understand it.

My first thought after about ten minutes was how someone can shoot a series of random things, put them together and win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. But by the end of the film, I realised that I can’t take a straightforward approach with this uncompromising film.

There is nothing random at all what director Terrence Malick did. What may seem random to us, the viewer, is probably driven by a very strong artistic influence and his personal stake in a story like that. Which is to say, if anyone tries to simply imitate what he does, it would be like replicating the physical appearance of something, without actually understanding that it is the inner workings that has contributed to how it eventually looks.

The story does have a cycle. The family deals with the news of a dead child, the mother questions God and why bad things happen to good people, then you get some sort of an answer midway into the film, catch a glimpse into the life of this family over the years, and by the end of the film, you understand that all that arrangement was to allow you to grasp the essence and fundamental concept of the tree of life. I think that quite completes the journey.

For an actor, it would be a rather daunting task, yet the most rewarding, to hold a script that has so few words. I wouldn’t say it’s empowering, because at the end of the day, it is the director’s overall vision and his call on what he would like his actors to project, that would tie in beautifully with his other visuals.

In local television, we are so used to telling stories with words that leaves us with hardly any quiet moments to just not say or do anything. Then I watch a film, that tells a story with cinematically stunning visuals of nature (not sure if they were shot live or digitally re-created) and MTV-like shots of the actors that might not seem to make any sense when put together. Somewhere along the way, I found myself trying to seek reconciliation.

When they aren’t using words, these actors in The Tree of Life have so much emotions and inner dialogue in each of these beautifully composed shots that they are essentially “doing something” even though it seemed like nothing at all. This to me is the highest form of acting, where the idea of “acting” completely eludes the audience.

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This begets the next question: What did the director tell them before each shot?

The way it is shot with the actors seems to come off almost voyeuristic. Especially with the young actors, it almost felt like the camera was trained of them the whole time, allowing them to be uninhibitedly natural. I’m guessing, they might have been told what the emotional requirements of the scene were, or perhaps, told to imagine a time or maybe even told a story, whatever it was, the director must have been very clear what emotions he wanted from them for the scene, and he captured it in the most raw and uncomplicated manner while still maintaining an aesthetic quality to it.

Having said that, The Tree of Life has indeed given me a lot to think about, not just in terms of the underlying themes of life and death but also in understanding myself and my craft.

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地震之后的感想

好久没有用中文发表文章,不过觉得要谈这部电影,还是用中文比较贴切。

我对这部电影的认识是从电影院播放的一段很短,但是很震撼的预告片。

记得当时看了预告片之后,就开始对这部电影很感兴趣。

前几天被邀请观赏《唐山大地震》的首映会之后,只能说这预告片并没有透露这部电影细腻的故事描述和演员精湛的演出。

电影结束后,大家都是红着眼眶踏出戏院。它并不煽情,但它很诚恳,很真实,也让我认识到人是如何面付悲伤。

有位同事认为本地的导演们应该看这部电影,才不会要求我们在演绎悲伤时,做一些夸张的动作或表情。我呢,则在想,电影或许和电视的演绎方式不能相同。

当观众在毫无干扰的情况下,望着这么大的银幕,演员内敛的演出当然能有效的表现出来。演员更不能有太大的动作或太夸张的表情,要不然就会令观众反感。

但是如果是电视剧,家里尽管有再大的电视机,还是免不了杂音和干扰。广告本身就是一种干扰。那这么一来,要是演员太内敛的话,是不是观众就感受不到我们的情感呢?在说,有多少人是坐下来,目不转睛地从头看到尾?每个演员都内敛的话,会不会导致观众跟不上剧情,因此觉得很闷呢?

你们有什么见解?

我想就是因为这点,让某些演员和导演意见不和。也没有谁对谁错,因为都是希望能把最好的呈现给大家。不过,我个人觉得演员忠于自己人物的情感是很重要的,因为只要我们脑子里有一丝情感上的不平衡,就真的很难有说服力。这种内敛的表演方式有时在导演的小荧光屏上是感受不到的,那怎么办?太夸张会很假,内敛的演出导演有时又感受不到,那什么才能称得上是自然,真实的演出呢?是否可以在电视剧的其他制作方面下手,比如音效、剪辑等,来取得平衡呢?

当然我们不能混淆内敛和木訥。我们也不能否定一部好的电视剧或电影是多方面的结晶。

所以演艺一直都很吸引我,因为它是个很灵活的艺术,没有对没有错,有开始但没有终点。

希望大家能给《唐山大地震》一个机会,感受我们在新加坡没有机会遇到的天灾,所留下的疮痍不是到处可见的废墟,而是心灵上无法弥补的裂痕。

09.09.09

今天是9月9日2009年 。除了很多新人选择在这一天注册之外呢,也是这部动画片的上映日期。 新加坡好像没有把这部动画片带进来,不过让我们大家一块欣赏吧!

Today is 09.09.2009, and I found an animated movie that is scheduled to be released today, not in Singapore though, but looks pretty interesting. Check it out!

Watching Moon

MOON starring Sam Rockwell

MOON starring Sam Rockwell. Click to read my latest review.

The Elephant Man

Movie Poster

I feel an incredible need to write about this after watching it on DVD, before it fades in my memory. The Elephant Man is an old 1980 black and white movie that tells the true story of John Merrick, a severely deformed man in 19th Century London.

The immaculate detail and labourious task of researching and replicating the appearance of the Elephant Man, in a time where prosthetic make-up was in its primitive stages ought to grant it an Academy Award for Best Make-Up but that was in an era where the category wasn’t even set up yet.

The movie really doesn’t escalate into anything dramatic and pretty much hinges on the life of John Merrick, first as a circus freak, and then taken under the care of Frederick Treves (played by Anthony Hopkins) at the London Hospital. What was deeply thought-provoking was the fact that how sometimes we all have a self-centredness that renders what we assume is objective and valuable ironically the opposite. How we think advocating change would bring good to others, when really, it only serves our own purpose because the view is from within. Treves questioned if he was no different from the circus manager, because his good intentions only serve to draw greater attention to John Merrick, albeit they come from a different class of people. The fact that the Elephant Man remained a perverted representation of the human form, only housed in a legitimate vicinity, was a painful reminder to me that this was a man whose fate had been pretty much sealed the moment he was born.

John Merrick suffered immense cruelty from people who made use of him for the wrong reasons, constantly mocked at and frightened of others as much as they are of him. For me, the tear-jerking moment was when he was invited to have tea at Treves’ house with his wife, and the Elephant Man said to her that he wished his mother was there to see him with such wonderful friends, that perhaps she would love him for who he is upon seeing that, because he had tried so hard to be good. The desire for his mother’s acceptance is so untainted and pure, like a child, that my maternal instincts kicked in, developing a sort of imaginary love for this child trapped in a monstrous body.

He only wished that he could sleep lying down.

An act that we’ve all taken for granted was one that would kill him.

Can anyone imagine what’s it like to be him?

No.

No way anyone would even come close to understand what it’s like to be ridiculed, ill-treated, viewed with fear and scorn, and the physical discomfort (even this word is an understatement) of having an engorged skull, a displaced bone and wisdom tooth resulting in an inability to move the jaw, breathing issues, skin problems and a list of other physical inconveniences.

This story marks the triumph of human dignity over all the hatred, prejudice, ignorance and fear.

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Watching behind-the-scenes interviews was highly enlightening because I feel a sense of victory for the team when they discuss in retrospect the initial problems, fears, concerns faced from the time the script was born, to pitching the story, casting, make-up, choice of shooting in black and white and so on. What was particularly interesting was their explanation for shooting in original black and white. It helped to set the old Victorian mood, and indeed gave the set a sort of character and aged-ness that was endearing. The other reason was to ease the gangrenous appearance of the make-up for the Elephant Man because it was believed that what some would find repulsive and unacceptable in colour would be less so in black and white.

It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor's face.
It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor’s face.

They borrowed the one and only cast model of the original Elephant Man from the museum for the make-up artiste to work his mold and create parts for the actor. It was a huge challenge creating something that was as close to the real thing as possible, and it made me realise that when you really put your heart, mind and soul into something, anything can be done. The human will is extremely powerful and more often than not we fail to exercise it to its fullest potential.

The actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

John Hurt is the actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

I have a lot of respect for John Hurt, the actor who played The Elephant Man, for sitting through 12 hours of make-up and then going on set to deliver his performance. For us, 12-hours is a full working day. For him, the day has just started. The commitment and passion he put in for the role is immensely inspiring and for all that is worth, he is totally unrecognisable and convincing as John Merrick.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning. Anthony Hopkins plays the surgeon Frederick Treves.

Finally, I’ve never been a fan of Anthony Hopkins because he is most memorable to me as Hannibal Lecter and I don’t really like intelligent, psychotic serial killers. But after watching this old movie, my ignorance is replaced with a new found admiration. He is very engaging, handsome, charming and unpretentious in his role as Frederick Treves. His eyes are so telling, he really doesn’t need to say anything.

Watch the trailer again and see how his eyes reflect disbelief, horror, sympathy and love upon first laying eyes on The Elephant Man.

Ballet & me

It’s ballet week for me! First, it was “Anna Karenina” put up by the National Finnish Ballet as part of the Arts Festival, and then it was the Japanese movie “Dance Subaru!”. I’ve always wished my mother enrolled me in ballet during my childhood years because I thought it’s so pretty to be able to dance. The common reason I was given then was that I will end up with thunder thighs and calves when I stop dancing. I guess looking at some real-life examples, it seems true to some extent, but it still hasn’t prevented me from wishing.

Now that I’m in my adult years, learning ballet would require time commitment, which I am unable to fork out, so I guess I’ll have to contend with living out my childhood dream through the ballet put up by the professionals.

Ticket to Arts Fest "Anna Karenina"

Ticket to Arts Fest "Anna Karenina"

The tragic Russian love story based on the novel written by Leo Tolstoy.

The tragic Russian love story based on the novel written by Leo Tolstoy.

I’ve never watched a ballet performance before so I may not understand the choreography and jargon for ballet. Because I am familiar with the story, I pretty much could understand what is going on. With no dialogue, a lot is deduced from the body language of the dancers, and the emotions on their faces.

I had my first encounter with “Anna Karenina” when I was in secondary school, (if my memory didn’t fail me). We were watching this movie in class for some reason, and I found it quite fascinating, even though I couldn’t quite understand the nuances totally at that time. Then I came across the book and bought it because I was familiar with the name, but it was a thick book and very difficult to read because the language was translated from Russian and it was weird. It took me several years to finally finish it. To put it simply, the story is about a married woman who was torn between two men in a time and place where the morals and societal boundaries were firmly in place. In defending her right to love, she is forced to give up her position in society and her son. After which, she grew increasingly paranoid that the the man she chose and loved was no longer attracted to her the way he was before. The culmination of incidents left her in a state of confusion and saw her ending her life tragically.

To present such an emotionally nuanced story through ballet didn’t quite work for me that night. Don’t get me wrong, the dance was brilliant, but it simply wasn’t the best way to tell the story. Petia Ilieva played Anna and she danced beautifully, but it was hard to feel the complexity of the emotional struggle through someone so distant (even though I was fifth row from the front). For someone who might not have read the book or watched the movie, the choreography does give the audience an idea of the dynamics of her relationship with the men. When Anna was romancing Count Vronsky (performed by Nicholas Ziegler), both Illieva and Ziegler would wrap around each other effortlessly, moving like a single body, limbs displayed in long, languid movements. When it came to Anna and her husband, Illieva still moved with much grace and fluidity, but such moments were short and often interrupted by her struggle to get away.

The tragic ending didn’t have as much impact as it does on film, but the solo sequence by Illieva was tormenting and made believable the need to end her life the way she did.

DVD of the movie that I watched many years ago when I was a student.

DVD of the movie that I watched many years ago when I was a student.

There was a table outside the theatre that was encouraging members of the public to be premium members of the National Library Board with a promotion of being able to borrow unlimited DVDs for a 2 week period, extended also to existing members. I signed up on the spot and borrowed 5 titles, with the original “Anna Karenina” I watched many years ago amongst the pile! I hope to share my reviews on them soon.

The movie Dance Subaru! currently showing at Cathay.

The movie Dance Subaru! currently showing at Cathay.

Dance Subaru! on the other hand was a little disappointing.The predictable plot of a young girl who had a passion for dancing, yet was unable to receive proper training due to familial objections, motivated by the common dream shared with a loved one who did not live long enough to see the dream fulfilled and finally going against all odds to realise her dream would be forgivable, if there was more dancing. Good dancing that is. DBSK made a cameo appearance, which fell flat because it did nothing to move the story along. The female lead Meisa Kuroki who plays Subaru is pretty but perhaps a little too cool to interest me beyond Act 2. The girl who played young Subaru was more interesting to watch, and danced better too. Sure, Subaru is an arrogant rebel but to share the same dream of ballet with her mother and brother, both of whom she lost to the same type of cancer at a young age and then growing up in a cabaret, where ballet dancers perform strip tease, I would think there would be more underneath that steely exterior that drives the need for her to prove herself and achieve her dream.

However, the lessons in this movie are valuable. It teaches perseverance and emphasises the need for performers to achieve a clear state of mind that is highly charged for optimal performance; the importance of being consciously aware of the people and emotions around us (i.e. message in the air) and keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Unfortunately, the story which is primarily character driven needs someone with dance steps to wow if their goal was to make an impressive Asian dance movie. After a while, it began to feel a little contrived to hear the rest of the cast complimenting Subaru for her great dancing when there wasn’t much to see. What she lacked in the technical department, she was supposed to make up for it emotionally, but lest for the last act, the rest were just too bland for my liking.

But don’t take my word for it, watch it and tell me what you think. 🙂

Clint Eastwood and his Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood
不知道大家看了这部电影吗?

Gran Torino Trailer

我看了这部电影后,感触很深,对 Clint Eastwood 有更崇高的尊敬。如果你们看了预告片,可能会觉得电影的主题很沉重。种族歧视,帮派斗争,围绕着一个寂寞,气愤的老人,世界的问题已经够烦了,还要看这样的电影来消遣啊?这部电影确实让我哭笑不得。它的奥妙在于电影拍摄得细腻却不失节奏。Clint Eastwood 导演并不会浪费时间把他的人物内心的痛慢慢的表现出来,而是点到为止。但这样的呈现方法还是非常有感染力,也让结局更悲哀。人物的言行举止,小动作,镜头的拍摄,让大家充分的了解这位人物,话不需要很多,但还是能认识他。让我十分敬佩的是Clint Eastwood 能把听起来很“废话”的台词演绎得那么的贴切和逼真。表面上好像不可能从一个对世界有这么多怨恨的老人家口中说出的话,由他说竟然不会让我觉得别扭。我想这是演员都应该练成的功力。不是没个剧本都会有完美的台词,但这应该就是有功力的演员和没经验的演员的不同。或许正是因为一些话很出乎预料,所以为人物制造了另一种性格的特点。

这部电影看完之后,感觉Clint Eastwood 所饰演的 Walt Kowalski是一个我认识的朋友,感觉好像真的参与了他人生的那短短的一部分,非常扣人也让我在落幕后,哭了许久,一直无法抽离。就连晚上也做了梦。

这部电影是那么的有影响力。希望大家会支持 Clint Eastwood 的这部作品。

Gran Torino is probably the best movie I’ve watched in the past couple of months.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie seems to contain very dark and heavy themes of racism and gang activity set in a messed-up neighbourhood, centred around an old, grouchy man. Not exactly the kind of movie to take the mind off the many problems facing the world right now. But you’d be surprised that there are a few laughs in the movie.

Clint Eastwood is so convincing as Walt Kowalski (a Korean War veteran), that he makes the most ridiculous dialogue ring with depth. Pain is written all over his face and immediately you know this is a man who’s seen death, who’s gone through life tough and lonely. Every step he takes seem to ache with old injury, and you could almost feel it through the ankles to his lower back. And yet he displays incredible grit and strength in the face of young terror, pointing his make-belief gun at the kids holding real guns and throwing them off with the ridiculous gesture, when really he would be easily outnumbered in a fist-fight. Director Clint Eastwood wasted no time in milking poignant moments, allowing just one tear to be shed while his face was half hidden in shadow. It was enough. He tells stories by building characters, not through the dialogue nor the action. Every prop was placed for a reason, a reason that furthers the story, that forms the character’s inner feelings, thoughts and behaviour. It isn’t there just to provide foreground or create visual depth. It speaks of the characters and it tells their story.

The plot is enriching, and the main characters go through a journey, be it redemption, enlightenment or character building. It tells of the irony of life, that nothing is forever. Prejudices formed could change, allies become enemies, fear becomes strength. Death is never far away.

By the end of the movie, Walt was almost like the friend I knew, whose wife died before he did and whose experience in Korea made him the man he was — angry, jaded and distrusting. I saw his walls crumble slowly, I saw the glint in his eye when he made friends and taught the boy how to be a man, brought him shopping for tools on his first job and offered to lend him his prized Gran Torino to bring the girl out on a date. I saw the fire in his eyes when he knew the people he cared about were bullied, I saw weakness when his heart ached. The true strength and sacrifice he displayed in the face of danger arose from the need to protect the people who trusted him.

I cried and mourned way after the movie ended, because his spirit was so real, I felt a part of me left when the credits rolled.

Watch it and you’ll know what I mean.