Thursday, October 27, 2011

Air Doll (2009)

A heartwrenchingly beautiful urban fairytale, Air Doll seeks to answer what it is to be human. Hirokazu Kore-Eda directs the film adapted from the manga of the same title with sensitivity and precision. Reminiscent of Hollywood films such as Splash, MannequinBlade Runner, Real Life Doll and even Pinnocchio, Air Doll pushes the boundaries of relationships with inanimate objects whilst exploring the desperate isolation of our empty urban existence.

Middle-aged Hideo is a waiter who dotes on a lifesize sex doll he keeps at home as his wife.  He dresses her, takes her out for walks ( in a wheelchair) and talks to her over dinner; highlighting not only his isolation and loneliness, but of his disconnection with other humans and society.

Bae Doo-Na portrays Nozomis , the sex doll, granted life with an whimsical, fae like presence, delighting in the adventure before her. Her child like wonderment is fresh and endearing.  She explores downtown Tokyo, observing the masses but returns every evening to take her place as the complacent plastic wife.

Although seeing a young lady wandering the streets in the middle of the day in a skimpy maids outfit may raise eyebrows within most western societies, the Japanese tend to be very open with eccentricities without highlighting or commenting on them.

Despite Bae being naked a great deal of time, the film does not come across as crass or pornographic. It presents questions about the role of women within society through Nozomis belief that her only function is to provide sexual pleasure. However, morality is not highlighted within the film and appears to be skirted around neatly.

The main plot follows Nozomi taking on a job at a nearby video shop and the blossoming love she develops with a co-worker.  After her owner/ husband replaces her with a new plastic sex doll, she seeks her designer, shocked to find that she is a “low rent model.”

Secondary characters encountered throughout the film all search for connection.

Of particular note, the transformation scene is beautifully shot, where the doll creeps slowly out of bed, squeaking its plastic way down to a window and gradually turning to soft skin.

The climax had the opportunity of being incredibly touching, but like the air doll, whimpers as the hot air escapes slowly.

The film leaves the viewer saddened at the human condition of isolation. It swaps quickly from cynical to mystical and at nearly two hours long, may drag for many. Its definitely one of those ‘foreign films’ that needs to be on your list, if not only for Bae Doo-Na’s huge eyes and half smile.

Theatrical Poster Via Wiki

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Lorax - Halloween Pumpkin template AND teaser on new film!

What better way to celebrate Halloween than to create a Lorax O’ Lantern for all to see?

"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" remains one of my favourite books, its message transversing time and becoming more chilling as I get older.  I was delighted to find out that its being made into an animated movie with the likes of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift as voices. As part of their lead up to its release in March next year, they have created a fun - and free- carving template for Halloween.

Use this free pumpkin carving template and bring The Lorax to life on your front step. Make sure you are following The Lorax on Facebook and if you decide to use the template share your creation there!

In case you’ve not heard of this masterful childrens story, "The Lorax" , written by Dr. Seuss' is a classic tale of a forest creature who shares the enduring power of hope. It warns humanity of the dangers of its destructive and mindless direction its currently taking.

The animated adventure follows the journey of a boy as he searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it, he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.

Danny DeVito will lend his vocal talents to the iconic title character of the Lorax, while Ed Helms will voice the enigmatic Once-ler. Also bringing their talents to the film are global superstars Zac Efron as Ted, the idealistic young boy who searches for the Lorax, and Taylor Swift as Ashley, the girl of Ted's dreams. Rob Riggle will play financial king O'Hare, and beloved actress Betty White will portray Ted's wise Grammy Norma.

"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" is the third feature created by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment ("Despicable Me," "Hop") - and its in 3D-CGI. I can’t wait!!

Details about the film 

Release Date              March 2, 2012

Studio                         Universal Pictures

Starring                      Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle and Betty White

Directed By                 Chris Renaud

Screenplay By            Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Produced By               Chris Meledandri, Janet Healey, Audrey Geisel

Friday, September 9, 2011

[Taste of Asia] Ip Man (2008)

In an environment where movie goers are bored with excessive wire work and tired of seeing martial arts favourites Jackie Chan and Jet Li explode - albeit brilliantly - again onto the screen, Ip Man presents as a refreshing and exciting change of course in Hong Kong film.

Ip Man has won a score of various awards, including the Golden Horse Award (the Chinese equivalent of the Oscars) for best action choreography. It is a semi - biographical film loosely based around Bruce Lees Master and his early years. The intention of the producers was to break the story into three segments, exploring social influences and the development of the character and legend; this being the first in the series.

 The film is set in the 1930s in the town of Foshan - a hub of Chinese Martial Arts competition and schools. Viewers are introduced to an unassuming Ip Man, who is both independently wealthy and masterful in the Wing Chun style, preferring to spend his days training and socialising with friends. After the brutalisation of the Japanese, Ip Man's family’s wealth is torn from them and he witnesses racial hatred, nationalistic strife, and warfare. The Martial Arts have been dishonoured, with masters forced to fight for food or for the release of their family members. The Chinese people are portrayed as downtrodden and taken advantage of while the film showcases some of the horrors Japanese occupation had upon the culture.

Although previously restrained when faced with these realities, when Ip Man is forced to fight he is enraged, battling with a fury which piques the interests of the Japanese General. Obviously more fights ensue resulting in a the addition of firearms and Ip Man being shot in the final scenes. (Its quietly revealed that he escapes to Hong Kong and introduces the setting for the next film in the series.)

  Ip Man is an entertaining explosive classic martial arts movie, complete with all the favourite movements such as flying drop kicks and finger jabs (which are missing from modern marital arts movies.) Donnie Yen plays Ip Man brilliantly, going to the extremes of modelling the eating patterns ( one meal a day) and harsh training regime in order to portray the legend as closely as he could muster. The magnificent action sequences are choreographed by the legendary Sammo Hung; utilising Ip Man's descendants and film footage as pure sources in order to gain authenticity.

 The solid character development of Ip Man is matched with ( as far as this reviewers knowledge) empathetic historical background research; making the film of interest to both purist martial artists and those who are seeking a different perspective on the impact of Japanese Occupation in the late 30's.

 Theatrical Poster via Wiki

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ip Man 2 : Legend of a Grandmaster. (2010)

Ip Man 2 continues the legendary story of one of the most venerated masters of Wing Chun. It is the highly anticipated sequel to Wilson Yip's 2008 Yip Man biopic. Although known in the West as Bruce Lees Master, Ip Man is one of Chinese Martial Arts most highly regarded practitioners. The film focuses on the time of the second Sino-Japanese War, where Ip Man struggled as a young man to find his place amongst the Martial Arts Schools and founding his own students.

With the devastation for the Japanese occupation of China, Ip Man's family have lost all their wealth. After relocating to Hong Kong, Ip Man opens a Wing Chung School and is immediately challenged by local Hung Fist master named Hung Jan-nam. On top of this aggression, the occupying British aren’t too happy about the presence of his school and hire a handful of toughened fighters to try and expel or frighten him out of the country. The film broadly comments on chauvinism as well as imperialism, portraying the realities of Chinese suffering by the British, as well as Western perceptions towards Asian Martial Arts.

The movie explores the movements and tenets behind the martial arts technique mastered by Ip Man. Many tiny moments expound the gentleness and beauty of spirit Ip Man possessed. From his gentle manner, kindness towards those less fortunate and his refusal to beg or chase money, Ip Man is portrayed reverently.

Its difficult to choose a favourite scene. Donnie Yen is a martial arts action star of impeccable pedigree, an actor of considerable power and focus with a calm, ferociousness which chills even the most disengaged viewer. The multiple actions scenes are orchestrated with precision, perfection and breathtaking timing. Its gratifying to notice too that most of the fight scenes rely more on skill than wirework.

If you are expecting Bruce Lee to appear in the film, then don’t get your hopes up too high. Although originally the script was intended to focus on the relationship between Ip and his most famed discipline, permissions and film rights had not reached a stage of negotiations before filming began, so it was decided to portray Bruce as a child at the end of the film ( and leave it open for yet another sequel) The film is all about Ip Man settling down into Hong Kong (the first hour) and defending the honour of the Chinese - again - (the second hour).

Ip Man 2 is an engrossing drama commenting on the society norms of the 40s and 50s as well as being a dynamic martial-arts flick.

Theatrical Poster Via Wiki

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Malay Chronicles - Bloodlines (2011)

The blurb informs potential viewers that it is loosely based on the Malasian 16th Century document “Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa”, a collection of stories surrounding Merong Mahawangsa, a direct descendant of Alexander the Great. Amongst his battles and deeds of glory journeying him from Rome to Asia, he allegedly founded the Kingdom of Langkasuka and ruled as the first Hindi King. For those who don’t know, the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is traditionally a verbal recollection told from generation to generation, so its expected that there are mystical elements which may not be logical or historically correct.

The Malay Chronicles - Bloodlines is an epic fantasy romance, liberally sprinkled with marital arts action, things blowing up, gallons of blood gushing from sword wounds and plenty of slow motion screams of angst in the pouring rain.

The story is set in 20 AD with opening scenes informing the viewer of the political and social unrest occurring in both the great Roman Empire and in Chinas Han Dynasty. Political players decide to unite the two empires through a marriage of convenience that will take place in South East Asia. Of course, both young people (Marcus and Meng )are duty bound to bide to the wishes of their rulers and vow to uphold their part, however much they are appalled by the barbarism of their new partner.

After adventures on the seas (where they pick up Merong from a Goa market place), advance parties set up camp and begin to prepare for the wedding. Marcus and Meng, desperate for freedom, find one another beside a stream and discover that they have alot in common.

Pirates kidnap the Chinese Princess and demand ransom. This brings Merong into the forefront to fight for her freedom. There are alot of large scale fight scenes, wizened old men prophesying, sorcery and bloodshed. Most of the army on both sides die on the beach or in the mud, allowing over dramatic cries of revenge (usually done on bent knee in the rain) Its a little predictable but well wort the ride.

The film is a mix of English and Ancient Malay (with subtitles) which is quite jarring and odd in many places. Its credited to be the first Malaysian language feature to be released on the Blu-ray format. From a country who normally churns out horror or comedy films, this was an ambitious project to take on.

Despite this, its a simple story with big fight sequences, blood, swords, sorcery and martial arts. If you are looking for a movie to suit everyone in your group, it doesn’t get better than this. You may not be intellectually challenged as a result of watching the movie, but there are plenty of fight scenes which will make up for this loss. Boosted by use of CGI special effects, though not as sophisticated as many Hollywood Movies, it will suit many genre lovers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Directed by Chen Kaige, Farewell My Concubine is a visual and emotional masterpiece thoroughly deserving of its many international film awards and nominations, winning its section at the Cannes Film Festival. The films costumes, sets and props are as lavish and ornate as the operas it portrays.

The film spans nearly 60 years, following two orphans, taken in by the Peking Opera and trained as lead performers. Their upbringing and training is far from idealic. Through often gruelling and traumatising events, their friendship is pockmarked with dramatic conflicts and emotional reconciliations.  Although the opera have a range of performances, these two specialise in specific roles, their stage acts often mirroring their personal lives.

Farewell my Concubine is a political melodrama, with themes focusing on the meaning of unconditional love. Though the main characters are essentially heterosexual, it has veiled homosexual themes as the delicate Dieyi specializes in female roles and the gutsy Xiaolou plays noble warriors and kings. Conflicts arise as the friends mature, falling in love; with one ultimately marrying a woman.

The film deals with the political events surrounding the time it was set, but its main focus explores the friendship of two people as they grow and develop together under harsh settings. The film is neatly separated into book-like chapters. Each part represents a different time in Chinese history as it follows the lives of the characters. Beginning in the 1920s with the Chinese Warlords, it winds through to the Cultural Revolution, the Japanese invasion with the Communist takeover as an integral part to the plot.

Although the film is nearly three hours long, the film flows with little interruption, mesmerising the senses.

Whilst moviemakers in Hollywood struggle to retell old storylines, Chinese film makers are keen to make films on the countless untold stories their country has kept hidden. However, their progress is hindered by the administration involved with governmental approval of scripts. The film evokes a world that most Westerners has little real understanding of, or connection to; allowing us a small peep under the sturdy curtains which still surround much of China.

 Farewell My Concubine won a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival (1993), as well as Best Foreign Language Film from the Golden Globes(1994) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association(1993).  Gong Li won a Best Supporting Actress Award from the New York Film Critics Circle (1993). Sadly, the film received little acclaim in its own country. Because of its depiction of the Cultural Revolution, and its frank look at homosexuality, the movie was banned, the actors shunned and the film only released after heavy editing.

Farewell My Concubine is able to remain an intimate touching story of epic proportions. A brilliant addition to any foreign film buffs collection.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Once a Thief (1991)

John Woo took a breather from his normal bloody thrillers to make this questionable romantic action comedy in 1991. The story focuses on three orphans who grew up under the tutelage of wealthy crime boss and a kindly police officer and train as thieves.

The film opens with a scene of the three swearing that the heist they are about to undertake will be their last. With a myriad of high tech thieving methods, they steal prized paintings around Europe. Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung play the siblings with a light hearted but serious intensity portraying some of the tougher assignments that the thieves must have had to undertake along the way. There is a constant reminder of the theft of a mysterious "cursed" painting and how its obsession affects the trio, which moves the plot along in a number of places.

Their crime boss father double crosses them with a painting, so they decide to pay him back. As you can expect from Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung, there is gunfights, punch ups and plenty of slapstick comedy. Its hard to say if it was just me , or if Chow Yun-Fat does not fully engage in a romantic role. In some of the scenes where he was meant to be tender and caring, it appeared he’d rather be slicing something up with a machete or kicking some serious butt. Perhaps its just me?

Again, the music score can be unsettling, but the set ups for the burglaries easily make up for that.

Once a Thief is an exhilarating action-packed film with plenty of comedy and shades of sappy romance. It's got everything - suspense, gun-fights and laughs. A passable heist movie which could be used as an introduction to Woos other works - or simply because you love Chow Yun-Fat. The pair always deliver an entertaining film, and although not on the same level as some of the later ones, its once not to pass up ether.

Theatrical Poster via Wiki

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin Wooden Men is a typical Hong Kong Martial Arts Movie which cobbles thin storylines and questionable acting to some awesome kick but action.

The music swings between twee and chinese ‘action music’ most westerners find discordant. With dreadful dubbing and poor quality film, its a movie best fast forwarded through to the action scenes.
In saying all of this, I am a huge fan of Jackie Chan. He is an immensely talented man and martial artist; regardless to the quality of the movie, he is fun to watch.

Shaolin Wooden Men comes from his early career and it is a bit of a rude shock to revisit it and see just how young he looks. Jackie has an unmistakable style, great timing, and ability to do some impressive things with both his body and surrounding props. He manages to meld the slapstick and serious in a way no other action actor is able to.

Shaolin Wooden Men focuses on the journey of Little Mute, an orphan taken in by the Shaolin Monks after his father was murdered by a unknown fighter. Since the day he witnessed his fathers death, he refuses to speak. Little Mute works hard to learn the skills from the monks, but is constantly taunted by his fellow students.

Although he has a tough time in his training, he is taken in by two monks with differing styles.One teaches him a graceful and subtle style, the other is a prisoner of the monks. Little Mute works hard to mesh the styles together to enable him to pass the test of the Shaolin Wooden Men, a series of 108 wooden men who block the path of any new monk.

Once he passed the test, Little Mute leaves the monastery to search for his fathers killer and break his vow of silence.

The copy of Shaolin Wooden Men I was able to get a hold of was badly degraded and had crackly, monotone dubbing. Though perhaps a little unfair to pass judgement on this experience, its poor dialogue and bad music made the film a trial to endure in so many spots. What saves it is Jackie Chans presence, skill and martial arts ability. Turn the sound down and enjoy his mastery.

Theatrical poster via Wiki

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Staring Bruce Lee and John Saxon, this Hong Kong film was Lee’s final movie. It was released six days after his death.

Its significance goes beyond the tragic death of its star. Enter the Dragon was the first Chinese Martial Arts film to have been produced by a major Hollywood studio. Jackie Chan was a member of the stunt team for the film, with his appearance launching his career. Bruce Lee drafted and revised most of the script, having directed the opening monastery fight scene. It was also deemed to be culturally significant within China and entered the National Film registry for preservation in 2004.

Enter the Dragon is rated as one of the most popular martial arts films despite its thin plot and questionable acting. Through Bruce Lees prowess as a martial artist and choreographer, the audience are entranced by the beauty of the moving body and the deadly actions it can perform. Its on the essential viewing list for all martial artists as it doesn't focus just on Wing Chun; but rather reveres all styles.

The plot follows Bruce Lees character, a martial arts expert, who has been convinced to capture drug dealers competing in a major Martial Arts Competition. His quest to bring justice to the renegade Shaloin monk with the removable hand is just an excuse for Lee to showcase the best martial arts fight scenes and battles almost constantly occurring throughout the film.

Forty years on and its still stands as a classic Marital Arts film. Don’t watch it for the acting, unless you are into kitsch, predicable dialogue. Its sexist, racist attitudes were mainstream for the day, but can appear as grating or uncomfortable in modern times. Its a nice introduction to Bruce Lee's personal philosophy for life and as a showcase for the beauty of China.

This film carries a warning.  If you’ve not taken up a martial arts before, it will make you want to visit some clubs and join up on the spot.

Photo via Wiki

Monday, June 20, 2011

Red Cliff ( 2008 )

Red Cliff story centers on the battle fought in China's Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.) Directed by John Woo, this is the first in the paired films, introducing viewers to the origins of the great war.

An estimated US$80 million was budgeted for Red Cliff, making it (to date) the most expensive Asian film produced.

Red Cliff is visually breathtaking on the scale of Hollywoods  cinematographic greats, compared by some to Lord of the Rings in set up.

From the film maker who produced some of the most ultra violent crime thrillers, which influenced the later part of the last century, this movie comes as a breath of fresh and exciting air.  John Woo has returned to his origins with this traditional story of Chinese history, marking his place as one of the great directors of epic military battles.

He handles the intriguing plot poetically, unfolding the nuances of the battle between intellect and muscle as they pit against each other. Although loosely based on an ancient Chinese story, recounting the events which lead to the destruction of the Han dynasty, the films plot follows a popular war movie set up with the good guys being outnumbered by the bad guys and how they scheme to get out of their predicament.

Westerners may miss many of the subtleties; given the story of the battle is engrained into the myths and culture of the Chinese. There is a voice over narration which assists in identifying key characters and events, though this may be more of a distraction than assistance.

There were a few scenes (the Political intrigue) which may have not translated well into English, dragging somewhat.

The full two films are apparently over five hours long, though this is available at the moment as a bootleg version and one I have not been able to secure. Get the biggest screen you can to watch this, as the battle scenes need it.

Theatrical Poster via Wiki

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mabel’s Labels

One of the most frustrating (and costly) things about children attending playgroups, daycare or school is the amount of things that leave home but never make it back. Mabel’s Labels is a Canadian label company created by mothers who were not happy with the durability, quality and range of labels available.  As a result of their superior products and superb customer service they won a PTPA Seal of Approval.

The range offers innovative personalised labels for babies, kids and grown ups. Choices include sticky labels for shoes, iron-on labels for clothing, dishwasher-safe labels for sippy cups and drink bottles, bag tags for diaper bags and backpacks, allergy and kosher aware labels for products and name stickers for stationary and books.

All labels can be personalised with a name and a picture icon – chosen from a huge array of cute and funky designs.

Mabels labels can be purchased online and in a variety of cost saving packs. They also encourage community groups to use their products for fundraisers.

Mabels Labels generously sent me the Colourful Essentials combo pack to review. 

This included
30 Sticky Labels
70 Tag Mates
12 Shoe Labels
2 Teeny Tags

Product Pros
One of the first things I noticed was the detail and thought that went into the packaging. Double sealed in plastic wrap, my labels arrived by mail in a downpour, but were perfect when opened.

My son tested his shoe labels with a trek around the wet parklands with no noticeable issues or labels worse for the wear. The labels are dishwasher/microwave safe, waterproof and UV resistant and work as promised, too, with labels as bright and attached to the items as they were before going in to be washed.
Colours are eye catching and the icon designs were unique and appealing; ensuring that no-one else would have the same.

The product is made from a super durable plastic, which has a little flexibility and stretch in it but thin enough not to form a bump on the item its stuck to. The materials are far superior in quality than any other label I have used in the past.

Product Cons
One of the product pros is also a con. Once a label is stuck onto a surface, it is extremely difficult to shift. Ensure that the label is straight and in the exact spot before committing it to the site.
The sticker page for the smaller labels (tag mates) has the labels printed and cut very close together. This meant that it was sometimes a little difficult to prize one off the backing sheet and away from the others.
Mabel’s Labels are affordable, adorable and durable, making a great personalised gift for school or sporting activities. These bestselling products are extremely versatile and long-lasting and ensures all your children’s belongings make it home safely.

Annie would like to thank Mabel’s Labels Company for supplying those fabulous labels to review.  Their products can be viewed and purchase here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fists of Fury (1972)

A classic Bruce Lee movie, the plot focuses on a students journey fighting to defend the honour of the Chinese people and bring justice to those who causes his masters death. Unlike those around him, Lees character confronts the racist harassment head on with his incredible mastery of martial arts. The films infamy stems from the nanchaku fight scene, as this was the first time Lee was filmed using his trademark fighting tools.

Along side Bruce Lee are Nora Miao and James Tien, but a little known fact is that Jackie Chan worked as a stunt double for a few characters. Lee’s eye for detail, timing and the conviction of the stunt people undertaking the physically demanding fight scenes are testament to the quality of the team Bruce Lee worked with to produce the movies.

The film is set in Shanghai in the early 20th century, where Lee’s character witnesses and is subjected to racist taunts and attacks. Bruce Lees incredible martial arts skills are showcased throughout the film,including his weaponry and effortless flying kicks. Although the majority of the film was shot in studios, the staging is fairly convincing with elements of beautiful cinematography through the lighting and detailed elements. Sadly it is let down in a number of scenes with very cheap sets and unfortunate camera angles. The characters are very two dimensional, with wooden dialogue, possibly made worse with the bad dubbing. Dated and jarring music is used to move the audience through the scene and although some of the sound effects might be distracting, the little flaws it does contain should be overlooked for its stunning action fighting.

With the universal theme of relationships between people and the mess misunderstandings can take people, the messages in the film have not tarnished over the 37 years since it was released. For sheer ‘kick buttery’ this is a must see film.