Monthly Movie Roundup – January 2015

AmericanSniperAmerican Sniper (2015)

I knew very little about this film apart from it involving Bradley Cooper, a war and some good reviews.  This worked to the advantage of the film’s narrative – from our introduction to Chris Kyle to all the action of the second and third acts, a sense of tragedy lingered, permeated, sometimes gripped scenes.  Every positive beat was laced with a sense of dread; we just knew something would fuck up, but we just couldn’t settle on where it would be.

It is precisely because of this that the film’s ending proved a highly effective gambit: it led us to believe Kyle had finally gotten his shit sorted and eased our biggest fears before abruptly answering all earlier foreshadowing.  Even worse, the reveal (for those of us who didn’t know anyway) that everything was based on true events – substituting dramatisation with real footage – added a cruel, helpless sense of gravity to everything we’d seen earlier.  It’s amazing how just a few scenes of poor-quality video can change the entire viewing experience of an otherwise typical feature film.

BotFAThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The saddest thing about this part of The Hobbit trilogy was how, within its first 20 minutes, it did away with the bulk of plot threads from its first two instalments.  (Of course, the fact that The Hobbit story took up the same amount of screen time as the whole Lord Of The Rings epic is another thing altogether.)

Overlooking that, though, BotFA was wonderful; its titular Battle was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen and one of the most entertaining parts of an already entertaining Middle Earth franchise.  Stunning cinematography, set design, visual effects and choreography melded together with some very amusing bonus beats provided by Wargs and dwarves.  Anyone who missed this (and Guardians of the Galaxy for that matter) has absolutely no claim to a robust 2014 at the movies.  And me, I was  happy to have Elrond show up and deliver a killer one-liner that I could punctuate with “Mr Anderson!”while watching.

UnbrokenUnbroken (2015)

This is another one to file under “went without knowing what it’s all about”.  Unlike American Sniper though, I can’t say I enjoyed this one at all.

But I can see the earnest intentions Angelina Jolie had in making it, so I’ll be as nice as I can.  Unbroken rolls at half the pace of Sniper, with about half the thrill as well.  It’s too obvious from the onset that Louis Zamperini ends up as a POW, so there’s a lot less gripping foreshadowing and a lot more waiting to see when it all happens.  And that’s the film’s biggest problem.  It stumbles from one scene to another, each too long than it should be and each reiterating similar messages about Zamperini’s unrelenting determination and values.

Perhaps being let down by some directorial inexperience, the film would have benefited from some shrewd storytelling in the editing room to let the message arc across the whole narrative rather than let scenes play out as long as they did.  My biggest takeaway was seeing the effects that 28 days in strong sunlight can have on the skin.

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[SONG OF THE WEEK] Caracal – Welcome The Ironists

I haven’t had time to post here in a month, but I need to take time to share this video.

I am so damn proud of Caracal and how far they’ve come since they first burst onto the scene and every damn time I’ve seen them perform it’s been mesmerising; my favourite still being their headline set at Baybeats.  They’re pretty much the band most other contemporary local bands wish they could be like.

And with this video they’ve taken it to a whole other level.  Exquisitely shot, the way it’s edited makes its song function more like the soundtrack to a short film than a music video, and while this may hamper the listening experience of the song per se, I say fuck it.  Buy the CD if you wanna listen to the song.  Watch the video to witness another step forward for Singaporean music.

[SONG OF THE WEEK] The Starting Line – Best Of Me

A colleague and I spent the whole week trading YouTube links to music videos from the early 2000s, and this one stood out.  It’s the kind of song that you never immediately think of, but once you remember it it just hits you as one of those tracks that was always wedged into your favourite playlists back then.

For me, it’s evocative of the days I started getting into bands and trying to discover new artists, and making new friends in the process.  Every time I listen to it, every word comes back and I’m within touching distance of a time that was both essential to who I’d become and trivial in the grand scheme of things – it’s an odd feeling.

 

Monthly Movie Roundup – October 2014

DraculaUntoldDracula Untold (2014)

It’s interesting how vampire movies in the past used to be all about campy vampires with creepy eyes lingering in the darkness, but the concept nowadays has gotten entrenched enough in mainstream consciousness that it can be used as a framework to tell more kinds of stories with.  Dracula Untold, with a name that immediately suggests the former, is delightfully in the latter.

More an action movie than anything else, Dracula Untold has benefited from some pretty strong casting decisions – Luke Evans relishing his chance to finally take the lead in a big movie and Charles Dance channeling the menace of Tywin Lannister into a much more sinister fiend are enough to carry the movie – everyone else just needed to not fuck up.  The story was compelling, the battle sequences taking reference from the best of LotR and GoT, the music adequate.  I would never call this one of the best movies of the year, but it was a pretty damn solid effort anyway.

RurouniKenshin_TheLegendEndsRurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)

If there’s just one thing I took away from this movie, it’s that the police force here is probably the worst police force I’ve ever seen in a movie.

It may be because I wasn’t a fan of the anime, but I was satisfied with the way the director dealt with pacing; I know plenty of fans were disappointed with things that were glossed over or adapted, but from a non-invested point of view it all worked.  What cannot be disputed though is the standard of action scenes – breathtaking fight choreography was only enhanced by fluid, single-take and obviously well-rehearsed camera movements.  I may not have agreed with the nitty-gritty writing aspects of the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, but I will never deny that they’re all highly enjoyable ways to spend your time and money.

SpiritedAwaySpirited Away (2001)

There’s a long list of movies from years past that I’m waiting to watch, and Spirited Away isn’t on it.

I got to it at the behest of my anime-crazy wife, and on a disc imprinted with Studio Ghibli’s new parent, Walt Disney.  Watching the film, I can see why they purchased the collection – it’s rife with the abstract aesthetic sensibilities of Fantasia, as richly animated as The Lion King and wielding an impressively mature, poignant and unpredictable edge to its story unlike any Disney film addressing the same audience.  The last time I felt this way, it was when I started rediscovering old Batman stories and realising just how advanced the writing in DC comics were compared to my beloved Marvel ones.  Hayao Miyazaki puts an incredible amount of care into the worlds he crafts, and shows an equal amount of respect to his audiences, and it’s something that should not be taken for granted.

[SONG OF THE WEEK] OneRepublic – Something I Need

This is one of those songs I just happened to be listening to randomly before it became an earworm.

What first stood out to me was the final line – I love it when songwriters subvert motifs they’ve been using throughout a song by just changing a word or two, and I think this song was a brilliant example of this.  It’s a really interesting piece because Ryan Tedder managed to at once conclude the song with an element of catharsis, enhance the message of the lyrics and provide a thinking point for listeners, all with one subtle play on words (and those of you who know my writing know I love my wordplays).

Singing along to it was a natural progression, as was paying attention to the verses, and before long this whole piece was really resonating with me: I asked myself again (because it’s a question you obviously consider when you start dating and consider engagement), if I could only live once and die once, Diane is the one I want to do it with, and the answer was an immediate yes.  Again.

“And I had the week that came from hell
And yes I know that you could tell
But you’re like the net under the ledge
When I go flying off the edge
You go flying off as well”

There’ve been so many weeks of hell I’ve endured in my career  – so many times I came home to a knowing Diane who was my safety net, and so many times she plummeted with me when my frustration took its toll.

“If we got nothing we got us”

It was particularly after we’d purchased our flat and literally watched our CPF balances drop to 0 with the pressing of a few keys, sat in the middle of the empty living room and breathed it all in before the contractors moved in that we really felt this.  We had nothing, but we had us, and everything else was going to go upwards.

There was a night last week I was finishing up a bunch of work at home, listening to this song on repeat.  Went to bed at 3am with the last line still echoing in my head and I looked at Diane, remembered the times she kept me from losing my mind, then looked around at the flat we filled with ourselves after that day we emptied our accounts out.  And I had the happiest sleep I’d had in a while.

8 Really Fun Songs With Peoples’ Names In Them

What started as a desperate attempt at some drinking-session entertainment with my cousins last night turned into an infectiously fun drinking game: take turns to sing a song lyric that has a person’s name in it, and if you’re stumped, you drink.  Pretty simple, wickedly fun, and my mind’s been working in the background ever since – I’m still coming up with titles.

Based on all the sing-alongs that ensued – and I should say we were all too busy to even need a forfeit – I’ve come up with an exhaustive, well-researched (read: white wines, collective memory and drunken chorusing) list of the 8 most fun songs that have peoples’ names in them.  Try playing this the next time you get bored over drinks and see how many others you come up with!

8. Astroninja – The Bukkake Udon Song

Name featured: Julia

Granted, there’s probably a very minute section of your social circle that might’ve ever heard this song, but that’s all the more reason it should be talked about, isn’t it!  The Bukkake Udon song was the lead single from a way-too-short-lived supergroup of highly talented Singaporean musicians.   It’s got catchy lyrics, a memorable synth riff and a trippin’ video inspired by NewGrounds.com.  About time you discovered this, really.

Tip: Use this as your gambit after everyone’s exhausted all the easy ones.

7. Deadeye Dick – New Age Girl

Name featured: Mary Moon

This is the kind of song that most people in the group aren’t going to be thinking of straight away, but it’ll just take one person to sing it before everyone else joins in, and it will earworm you for days afterward.  Weeks even.

Tip: Mary mooooooooon, she’s a vegetariaaaaan…

6. Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger

Name featured: Sally

I’ve been in 8 bands since I started playing music 11 years ago: a pop-punk band, four rock bands, a church music ensemble, a glam-rock band and a funk-pop band, and this song’s been on the setlists of all but two of them.  It’s the kind of song you can play with a lot of confidence in most shows (provided you can actually play decently, of course) and you just know people will sing along.

Tip: Sing out the lead guitar parts too, especially if other people join in.

5. Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5

Names featured: Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary, Jessica

Mambo No. 5 was one of the staples of any 90’s kid’s growing years. There was a time we could all recite the lyrics in their entirety and they’ve been burned into the backs of all our brains.  You just try playing a game involving names in songs and not coming up with this one in the first 5 cycles.  You just try.

Tip:  The larger number of names in this one will often make you forget you’ve already gone through it.  Make sure you use this one as soon as you can to make things difficult for everyone else.  Oh, and don’t fight it, man.

4. Eddy Grant – Give Me Hope Jo’anna

Name featured: Jo’anna

There are a few things I will never forget from my wedding dinner: my best man introducing my new sister-in-law as “uncle” on stage, the almost-fistfight among my friends to claim the garter I tossed, the terrifyingly vicious way the room started spinning after I chugged the mysterious beer-glass-sized concoction my colleagues spent the whole evening mixing, and the gargantuan conga line involving three-quarters of our guests and the entire ballroom (as well as the outside of it) that erupted once the band played Give Me Hope Jo’anna.  Man, this song.

Tip: Conga lines, dude.  Frickin’ conga lines.

3. The Beatles – Hey Jude

Name featured: Jude

Has there ever been a more rousing musical passage than the coda of this song?  I’ve seen audiences of all ages joining in to belt this out together, and for good reason: it’s so damn easy to!

Tip: For a challenge, don’t just do the “nah-nah-nah-nahs”, do the background “Ju-Juuuude-ah-Juuude-ah-Jude-ah-Jude-ah-Jude-ah” scat/screaming bits as well.  Oh come on, as if I had to tell you.

2. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

Names featured: Scaramouche, Galileo Figaro, Beelzebub

One of the very best memories I have is the aftermath of a gig I played in Hong Kong with Supernova on New Year’s Eve 2012.  We’d drunk the bar clean out of its Jagerbombs, then stumbled out to the McDonald’s down the road singing, no, yelling, Bohemian Rhapsody a capella for the entirety of the walk.  It was brilliant fun.

Tip: Get into character – there’s a few you can choose from – and dramatise the whole thing.

1. Smokie – Living Next Door To Alice

Names featured: Sally, Alice

Alice? Alice? Who the fuck is Alice? If you’ve never screamed along to this one with a beer in hand, you probably don’t have enough Eurasian friends.  At any bar, any party, any occasion…the absolute best song to sing in a large inebriated group.

Tip: You need to be surrounded by beer and Eurasians to pull this off.

 

it's a tree, and it floats, and it's odd.