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River of Exploding Durians - Trailer 【榴梿忘返】 预告片

《榴槤忘返》主要讲述一群中六生面对即将袭来的稀土厂一阵慌乱,人生产生了变化之余,在反对稀土厂的过程中,这群学生产生革命情感和一些单纯的爱慕情怀。A coastal town is turned upside down by the construction of a radioactive rare earth plant. An idealistic teacher and a group of high school students find themselves battling for the soul of their hometown. Based on real-life events, River of Exploding Durians is a sweeping tale of Malaysian history and its youth, where people are enveloped by politics and sadness while searching for love. #riverofexplodingduriansStarring: Zhu Zhi-Ying 朱芷瑩, Koe Shern 高圣, Daphne Low, Joey 梁祖仪Written, directed and edited by Edmund YeoProduced by Woo Ming Jin and Edmund Yeo Executive producer: Eric YeoDirector of Photography: Kong PahurakProduction designer: Edward Yu Chee BoonMake-up and wardrobe: Kay WongSound: Minimal Yossy PrapapanMusic: Woan Foong Wong

Posted by River of Exploding Durians 榴莲忘返 on Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

May Zhee's Review

Swifty’s blog is all about reviews right? So indubitably, I, the honorable guest blogger, have to do my part in reviewing something too. Let’s see…what should I review? Music? Books? Movies? Me?

I know! Today, I shall review…

a book…


I shall review a book mark.

My dad bought this book mark from Australia. It may seem meretricious, like a fake Louis Vuitton bag, but it’s 12 bloody Australian dollars. I know you’re going ‘What the-’ but please allow me to convert it to Malaysian dollars first. That would be a whopping RM36…am I wrong?

Anyhow, it’s a book mark. It’s yellow. It has a dolphin’s head. It has the word ‘DOLPHIN’ written in blue, as if people who own book marks are idiots and cannot tell that is a dolphin.

See the little yellow thing down there? That’s actually Australia. I know this because I am smart.

So that’s about it. This coquettish bookmark has slept with Harry Potter, Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Vanitee Bee (okay actually it didn't but I want to promote my book...shit. Will Swifty charge me?) and is currently sleeping with Angels and Demons.

It is a very slutty book mark, as you can see, like your school’s librarian.

Okay. That’s all. Good night.

(Erm, that’s how Swifty succinctly ends a review right?)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Because It Deserves Main Page Attention

The comments on this blog have been unusually surreal lately, from step-ups in the usual borderline pedophilia to some inexplicable vitriol over Crystal Kay. But the following exchange, taken from this entry...speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

Well...The only thing Koda Kumi did to herself was losing some weight and changing a bit her make up and general look! If you see some pics of her, you can easiliy say that she hadn't had plastic surgery! And for the record...i saw a pic of her without make up and she's still great! People have a bad feeling on her just because of her spicy videos...but lokk at her in the talks...she's so cute and sweet! tha's the real Kumi,a person who is gentle and smart but who can also be sexy when needed! (and she IS sexy when nedded, I loved her in Juicy!)Going back to Black Cherry...well, I don't agree with you, I'm sorry. Kuu's voice has improved very much, the lyrics and the music rocks a lot and the variety of tracks is pretty good. Black Cherry is the best album of her, in terms of songs and quality.(unmei is simply grat, and so are also "cherry girl", "get Up &Move", "Ningyo Hime" all the other songs featured) She's a great singer, she's the actual J-Pop queen, so it seems she's done a good work! I love her and always will! She's the best!! I still can't understand why you are saying that she hasn't improved! Listen to "affection", or "grow into one" or eaven the second will hear all her improvement!
1/18/2007 07:13:53 AM

Justin said...

I am afraid Koda Kumi's videos are nowhere near as spicy as the Spicy Chicken Combo I just bought from Wendy's.

Mm, love that spicy chicken.
1/19/2007 01:07:41 AM

Anonymous said... can't say her videos are pretty hot! I mean...Juicy and Shake it for example! Anyway the matter wasn't that! You can find her sexy or not, that's your problem, not mine.
I just wanted to say that she is a skilled person, and not an "artificial slut" as many people define her!
1/27/2007 05:56:40 AM

Justin said...

I am far from disputing that her videos are 'pretty hot'; nor did I call her an 'artificial slut'. But I believe the word you originally used was 'spicy'. And the fact remains that the Wendy's Spicy Chicken Combo is a flavor sensation to be reckoned with - by J-pop videos or anything else.
1/27/2007 02:51:05 PM

Hello! This is May Zhee guest-blogging from Swifty’s suitcase in India!

It’s implausibly cramped in here but I want to pretend like I’m thin and petite hence I will not grumble at all about my squashed face. Betcha didn’t know May Zhee could type with her breasts!

Okay too much info.

Anyway, one of the good things that come out of being callously treated like a tomato all the way to India is…I get to broadcast to you what Swifty has inside his suitcase, which I am deigning to do in munificent amounts. *cue evil Powerpuff Girls music*

Hey, dude, no one asked you to stuff the hot girl in a suitcase!

Question is, are you ready for it? Can you handle the truth? Are you up for it? Can you take it? Will you still want to know what’s inside if I keep doing this?


Swifty keeps skeletons in his suitcase. *horror* And all this while you thought skeletons lived in closets. *horror, consternation, trepidation, nausea (you, not me)*

Funny thing though, all the skeletons seem to be holding laptops, just like me, and getting their faces squashed by another skeleton’s boney butt, just like me.

Wait a second…


Holy God I am allergic to skeletons! Get me out of here!!!
Oh, just so you know who is guest-blogging for Swifty, here is a photo of me…


Hello from Bangalore, India. Introducing Guestblogger Lim May Zhee!

Heya, I'm posting this from an Internet cafe at Bangalore, India. I was at this Tibetan Colony few hours away from the city during the past few weeks, hence the lack of Internet access. I took lots of wonderful photos and videos, which I hope I can upload tomorrow.

I won't actually return to Malaysia until the 8th of February, Justin's incapable of posting that much (seemingly), not wanting to keep my loyal Swiftyholics waiting, I have enlisted the help of a guestblogger, give a warm welcome to the sensational, the phenomenal, Malaysian literary rising star, 15-year-old (16 this year) novelist Lim May Zhee! (I've spoken about her, and posted a video of her here)

On the other hand, my sister will also be handling some guestblogging duties.

Yes... my blog has now officially been taken over by teenage girls.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Did I Mention That I'm Going To India Tonight?

Well, yeah, I'm leaving tonight, just three nights after returning from Shanghai. No idea when I'll be able to go online again. Hope it won't be too long.

Taj Mahal

Aishwarya Rai at Taj Mahal

Aishwarya Rai

Swifty Reviews 'The World Sinks Except Japan 日本以外全部沉没'

Minori Kawasaki's The World Sinks Except Japan 日本以外全部沉没 is the parody of last year's Japanese blockbuster, Japan Sinks! 日本沉没 (aka The Sinking of Japan), which I recently reviewed. Definitely more lo-fi and audacious than the latter, watching The World Sinks Except Japan reinforced my opinion that there's no one crazier than the Japanese!

Unlike Japan Sinks!, which is rumoured to be the most expensive Japanese film ever made, The World Sinks Except Japan is a B movie (perhaps it's more accurate to categorize it as a Z movie...) that's so horribly bad that you'll either feel offended, or you'll laugh in disbelief at what you see on screen. It was similar to the experience I had when watching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace.

At the beginning of the film, an American woman (the wife of one of the protagonists) slides into her bathtub for a blissful bath, protagonist's voiceover explains that America had sunken. Later in the film, there's a shot of a waiter dropping Chinese food into the sea, voiceover explains that China had sunken. Shot of woman accidentally dropping baguette into the sea too, bye bye France too. The entire world ends up sinking EXCEPT Japan, everyone has to move to Japan, English ceases to be the global language, everyone is forced to learn Japanese, the Japanese people become the most powerful people in the world while the 12.5 million non-Japanese refugees are left homeless (the economy collapsed so much that US$5000 was worth 500 yen), a Gaijin Attack Team (GAT) special force was formed to police the unruly foreigners.

Things become crazier, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (note: like the book it is based on, there are numerous real-life figures in the film, just that their real names aren't used), have to perform tricks in a bar for money.

The Governator

Bruce Willis, preparing for Die Hard 4

A Tom Cruise-like Hollywood superstar, Jerry Cruising, is forced to perform as an extra in Ultraman/ Godzilla-type shows as one of the foreigners who got trampled by the monster (to the audience's delight). American female celebrities are degraded to working as prostitutes (or act in hardcore porn). The leaders of South Korea and China follow the Japanese Prime Minister like lapdogs, the Bill Clinton-like US president selfishly saves his own skin by taking off onboard Air Force One, leaving his fellow citizens behind at the sinking American continent. After addressing the survivors via live TV (while groping the sexy air stewardesses), he breaks into a patriotic song about his hometown in Kentucky.

US president and sexy air stewardesses

And then, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il makes a late appearance too, but I will not reveal his exact role in the movie :D

Kim Jong-il in The World Sinks Except Japan

Over at nursing homes, Americans were hired so that old Japanese World War 2 vets could throw stuff at them and ride them around as horses, all these to avenge Hiroshima.

I really don't think there's much I can say about this film, except the fact that I don't think I've seen that many non-Japanese people speaking Japanese in a Japanese films (... some of them spoke Japanese better than English). Technically, this is a horrifyingly bad film, long expository dialogue, student film-like production values, wooden acting, cheap-sounding sound effects, bad special effects, my sister couldn't believe what she was seeing when she was watching the film with me, I couldn't either. When the film ended, I thought my mind had just been destroyed.

A must-watch. What I witnessed is beyond anything you people could imagine.

Would love to hear from anyone else who had seen the film too.

(image source:

Related links:

Twitch's report about The World Sinks Except Japan

Kaiju Shakedown's entry about The World Sinks Except Japan

Film review at 10 000 Bullets.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Backdancers!'

(From left to right: Sonim, hiro, Aya Hirayama, Saeko)

I watched Backdancers! during my flight back from Shanghai, it was the first film I chose from the in-flight entertainment after finding out that it starred Hiroko Shimabukuro, now known by most only as hiro, member of the now disbanded Japanese girl group, SPEED. She who was once an object of my foolish teenage infatuation, the inspiration of my many creative works, my first attempt in video editing, my first attempt in screenwriting, my first attempt in fanfiction. Ah, the foolish whims of an ignorant teenage boy, unsure back then what his true dreams were, only to slowly get into writing and filmmaking, things he fantasized as a child, all because of her.

Despite having in possession her single Itsuki Futari de (which featured the title track and another track called I Will Take You), since last year, I was completely unaware of the fact that they were soundtracks from the movie Backdancers!, hell I wasn't even aware of the existence of the movie until yesterday.

To see hiro onscreen again was a strange experience, I remembered the trauma I had whilst watching Takeshi Miike's 1999 film, Andromedia, a star vehicle for SPEED all these years ago, when I witnessed hiro's first onscreen kiss. My entire being was seared by an overwhelming jealousy that left me breathless and blind. There was nothing else I remembered about the movie, just melodramatic sap, the aforementioned kissing scene, and some dude tossing a computer into the sea in the ending. I hated the movie from the deepest depth of my soul.

Backdancers! unlike Andromedia, was more an ensemble film, with hiro playing Yoshika, one of the four back-up dancers for Japan's hottest pop act, Juri (Hasebe Yu). The rest of the three were Miu (Aya Hirayama), Aiko (Saeko), and Tomoe (Sonim). Together, they were known as "Juri With Backdancers", until Juri announces her sudden retirement to get married. The Backdancers are left hanging, an enthusiastic young manager are assigned to look after them just in case Juri would return. A studio exec claims that young Japanese pop idols who married early would always return, desperate for a comeback after a divorce, the only one who never did was the legendary Yamaguchi Momoe. (I agreed)

Miu and Yoshika are best friends since young, Aiko considers backup dancing a stepping stone for a possible solo singing career, Tomoe was once a night club hostess and single mother whose young son was left to stay with her own parents while she attempts to make a living in Tokyo. This film reflects the current Japanese pop music industry, where profit and numbers take precedence over passion and quality of music for studio execs, where one young pop idol is easily replaced by another that is packaged by the recording label, where fans are perpetually fickle, embracing a new pop act every month, forgetting the one before.

What about those who fell through the cracks? Never making it big? A futureless career as a back-up dancer, without anything resembling a 'big finish', never meaning much to the public except as ornaments for the pop singer? Their passion for dancing being the only reason to keep them going, or maybe it was just another side job.

In the Japanese pop industry, a person's past endeavours are viewed as burdens, when the future of Backdancers! are in jeopardy, Aiko, desperate to become a solo act, accepts an offer for a magazine photoshoot, only to realize in horror, during the day of the shoot, that she is supposed to bare it all, just so her 'former Backdancer' tag can be forgotten completely. Tomoe returns to her night club, forced to deal with asshole customers who want her to dance for them during their karaoke session, because? She was a Backdancer. How many aspiring singers and actresses in Japan had to endure this in real life, especially when chances of stardom are so minimal?

Thinking of this makes me shudder, and this comes from a guy who grew up in the music industry. Check out this American Wota entry about people's relationships with Jpop fandom, the different kinds of passion, how some idols do whatever it takes to maintain an invisible line between their personal and professional lives. I guess that's the pain of being a performer, you aren't just performing onscreen, or onstage, but whatever you are in front of the public isn't necessarily who you really are.

So? What is the real hiro like? This is a question I'm afraid I'll never get to know. The film I watched yesterday, to be honest, is filled with cliches and manipulations that under normal circumstances, would have made me scoff, and flip to another channel for another film.

All right, maybe not. The main cast was too damned cute. I like Aya Hirayama, especially that funky hairdo she had in the film.

Aya Hirayama

Then, I liked Sonim too, she's hot. (Although I never really knew that she was Korean until now)


And then, there's Saeko, she's CUTE!


How can this film be regarded as normal when it had hiro in it? Seeing her was like revisiting a high school crush after many years of not seeing her. Memories of her, sealed long ago, would start trickling out, first the happy moments, then the sadder moments, and a bit of both. A strange indescribably bittersweet feeling. Whatever I felt for her back then, how did it stop? And why?

Hiro Shimabukuro, begging Swifty to marry hereMy eyes flitted through the small screen during group scenes, trying to catch a better glimpse of hiro, I needed to savour every single moment, I needed to preserve into the one perfect mental image, just so I could keep up with what I've missed in the past few years. I blamed the fickleness of the public when it came to Jpop fandom, yet didn't I myself ceased paying anymore attention to hiro since I went to university nearly three years ago? The idea of her dating Hitoshi Matsumoto, a comedian 21 years her senior, was too much for me to bear.

To me, from the beginning of the film, she was like Greta Garbo, she was like Audrey Hepburn, she was like Ingrid Bergman, incomparable film legends of yesteryears, radiating this magnetic star quality that made the film hers. I was drawn to her character, Yoshika, cool and reserved, quiet and mysterious, always standing at the corner, away from the three other girls, a bored expression that strangely, accentuated her beauty.

Then she smiled. The twinkling in her eyes, that wide smile, so dazzling that it seared right into my mind, as if she was daring me to erase her again.

There is a scene where Yoshika and the other three girls, facing an imminent split, cry out to their manager when they are on stage after a performance.

(I'm paraphrasing, since I can't remember the English subs word-by-word)

"We don't want to end like this!"

It was a desperate plea.

I finally understood what the film was about.

The fictional group in the film, Backdancers was what SPEED should have been in hiro's mind. A group that stayed together to do what they loved to do, disregarding sales or commercial expectations, never minding much about the 'big finish', just savour the moment. Even as a solo artiste, she may never reach the kind of popularity she had during her SPEED days again, her last two singles, Hero and Itsuka Futari De, having lukewarm sales, but I can see she wasn't going to let herself disappear into obscurity without putting up a fight.

hiro had always wanted to be a singer since she was five, and couldn't imagine herself becoming anything else. The first half of the film was average at best, objectively speaking, yet it elevated itself into a whole other level when the Backdancers! perform with a has-been heavy metal band of middle-aged guys, and, in an attempt to reinvent themselves, the band performs the funky piece Itsuka Futari De, hiro starts singing with the lead vocalist. Cinematic magic. I found that moment almost as special as the ballet scene in Hana and Alice (the film version of 'Itsuka Futari De', which was duet, was far superior to the released single), and the film is worth watching merely for that scene itself. Suddenly, the focus was shifted to hiro, the film truly became hers.

The end credits came. I sighed inwardly. Film lasted for nearly two hours, I don't know whether I would ever watch this film again, since the chances of its DVD being available anywhere in Malaysia are slim. Yet in that two hours, hiro made me feel... warm.

Looking from a window above is like a story of love, can you hear me?
Came back only yesterday, we're moving farther away, want you near me

All I needed was the love you gave, all I needed for another day,
And all I ever knew - only you...

Hiro's Itsuka Futari de いつか二人で

Juri with Backdancers - Identity

* Ending of Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels reference.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Babel'

Babel poster

(Back from Shanghai! Finishing up a review that took me three nights to complete!)

Babel had just won the Best Drama award at the Golden Globes last night. Howsy noted my lack of Golden Globes prediction this year, to the few who cared, I make my predictions, but on a message board instead of this blog, because I am insecure, and I feel rotten when my lifelong personal interest in film awards shows is greeted with indifference and disinterest. So yes, my predictions were, as usual, pretty good, getting 9 out of 12 categories correct (I was wrong about Best Drama, Best Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film).

So, I immediately went to watch Babel upon learning of its victory, because my ego does not permit me to NOT see an Oscar frontrunner when the Oscar nominees are about to be announced. I am so insecure that I can only derive pleasure from telling people things like 'hah! i've seen all five of the Oscar Best Picture nominees! and you haven't neener neener!' Of course, the 99% of the people I know generally do NOT care about the five Oscar Best Picture nominees, so in the end, I just continue feeling as insecure and miserable as before.

Such misery is endured also by the characters from the four different plot threads of Babel, which is basically a harrowing drama where bad things happen to normal people under the most unexpected of circumstances. Small unintentional mistakes leading to major tragedies, the breakdown between human communication, language and cultural barriers, xenophobia, racism, well, basically, the ugliness of human nature.

Watching this film can make you real angry as it aims for the sore spots. The stupidity and assholeness displayed by certain characters in the film felt utterly real, because you know that these kinds of people do exist in real life, or worse, you might have even encountered people like that before. Policemen who justify their misdeeds with the badge they were wearing, selfish strangers who care much more for their own well-being despite knowing clearly the kind of crisis you are enduring, insensitive moronic high school kids who are incapable of viewing someone physically-disabled as a normal person.

But then, not everything is bleak and gloomy, a sliver of light creeping into the darkest of places, things like redemption and hope, people displaying kindness and selflessness towards strangers, love rekindled amidst agony, forgiveness and acceptance leading to the healing of fractured relationships.

Like life, nothing is completely good, but neither will it be completely bad either.

Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu had always been exceptional when portraying the various different aspects and consequences of human relationships, I remembered first watching Amores Perros two years ago on DVD and was entirely blown away by the three plot strands that were weaved together for the entire film, the first story about a young man being in love with the wife of his violent abusive brother and then things turned really ugly. The second story about a couple, a supermodel and a magazine publisher who left his wife and two children for her, initially happy, a major car accident left her crippled and ended her career, and the after effects of this event began to test the once-rosy relationship between the two. The third is about a professional hitman who lives with remorse after abandoning his wife and daughter as an ex-guerrilla many years ago, his years-long inability to contact his now-adult daughter was changed one day, when he was hired by one brother to kill another over money.

Then there's Innaritu's first English-feature, 21 Grams, where three characters were brought together by tragedy. A woman lost her entire family one afternoon in a car accident, the man who accidentally killed the woman's family had to deal with the kind of overwhelming regret and guilt one would get for causing something like this, then there's also one other, who was drawn towards the woman after he was saved from the brink of death by a heart transplant, the benefactor being the woman's late husband. The woman, understandably, harboured an anger towards the second guy, and intended to get her revenge.

Brad Pitt in BabelWell... if you haven't actually seen either of the two movies mentioned above, and can actually followed what I was saying, I applaud you, I don't think I could follow what I've written. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Innaritu is good in showing us realistic characters and presenting their naked emotions to the audience without any attempts to pull any punches. That's what makes his films, in my opinion, so engaging to watch. Not just the realism, but because the characters, while not the most likable of people, are actual human beings whose problems, points of views, moral compasses etc. audiences can easily understand or relate to. And in Babel's case, the settings were unmistakably real too, issues of global importance where order in contemporary society is seemingly maintained by fear.

Like 'Amores Perros' and '21 Grams', the screenwriter for this film is Guillermo Arriaga. Unfortunately, I think this creative partnership is ending after this film.

There are four interweaving stories in Babel:

- The first is about two Moroccan kids Yussef and Ahmed (Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani) received a rifle from their father to protect their sheep from predators, but things turned ugly when they tested the rifle by shooting at a tour bus from a distance.

- The second story is about an American couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) vacationing at Morocco, the latter accidentally shot by the stray bullet fired by the Moroccan kid. The US Government claimed that a terrorist attack.

- Back in US, an illegal immigrant, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), who happened to be the nanny of Richard and Susan's children (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble), had to cross the border to Mexico with her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) for her son's wedding. The children's parents couldn't make it home in time, so Amelia had to bring the kids along with her. Despite the fact that she was actually an illegal immigrant.

- And finally, in Japan, a deaf-mute girl Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) with anger issues. Her mother had just committed suicide. She lived with her father (Kôji Yakusho, whom I last saw in the Japanese film, Suite Dreams aka Uchoten Hotel) but had been pretty chilly towards him. Living in a world without sound and speech, her only way to seek acceptance and connection was to get laid. Unfortunately for her, despite her cuteness, getting laid wasn't going to be easy.

Despite taking place in three vastly different countries, the language and cultural barriers that seemed prevalent at first were stripped away as the film managed to show that human emotions are universal, especially something like pain and loneliness. I guess the title of the film is meant to point at this unity. (I'm referring to the biblical story about the Tower of Babel, read about it here if you don't know anything about it)

Rinko Kikuchi in BabelEverything about the film is really good, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, directing, I don't think there's much to complain about for me. Each of the four stories were strong in their own ways (though they are not without flaws), but for me, the one that left the deepest impression was Chieko's story, and it's not because of the frontal nudity and her flashing (as my friend Sebastian had suggested would be the main reasons why I liked it), because I was shown her perspective, and it was rather disturbing for me. While using a silent soundtrack to depict the perspective of a deaf person isn't something I've never seen before, the fact that this was used to juxtapose with club scenes made Chieko's plight even more poignant to me. All those strobe lights, all those people dancing around, yet she could never hear the music. And then she walked through the night streets alone, there was a band performing. She walked past them. The audiences never got to hear the music either.

And also, everything is not told in chronological order, we would revisit a scene we had seen at the beginning of the film towards the end, but from another person's perspective, adding more complexity and emotional depth to the whole story.

So yes, Babel is really good, but I wasn't as affected as I was when I first saw Amores Perros. Maybe the pain is somewhat dulled when I underwent it the third time.

Anyway, here's the official Rinko Kikuchi website. Seems to be an expert in kendo (I assume), horse-riding and archery. You can read more about her here. I thought she was pretty at the Golden Globes, hoho.

Babel trailer

Someone's fan video of Rinko Kikuchi using Air's Cherry Blossom Girl

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Crystal Kay - Call Me Miss

Crystal Kay

One of the advantages of getting heavily into J-Pop is that, almost unconsciously, I've started to appreciate and enjoy musical genres I once scorned. When I was a teenager, anything remotely pop or commercial was anathema to me, and R&B was the worst of the worst. R&B was irritating screaming melismatic female voices, moronic beats, grating lyrics. R&B was something listened to by people I held in contempt. If you said your favorite music was R&B, I probably wouldn't like much else about you, either, and if you had of given me Crystal Kay's 2006 second albumCall Me Miss as recently as five years ago, I probably would have spat in your face.

What a surprise now that I'm giving this album a high rating, since with a few (very Crystal Kaysmall) changes, Call Me Miss could easily be an American R&B album. As much as 40% of it is in straight English (and I don't mean standard J-Pop English, which consists of repeating a single word or phrase interspersed with mostly Japanese), and the production is more than amenable to the likes of Timbaland or the Neptunes.
Case in point: the single 'Kirakuni'. Apart from that single word, the entire song is in English, and I wouldn't bat an eye if I heard it on U.S. commercial radio. Five years ago, I would have scoffed before changing the channel - "What is this, the new Destiny's Child or some shit?" (Never mind that 'Kirakuni' is a great song, one of the highlights on a generally strong album). This feel is extended to the music itself, highlighting its crossover appeal (not that I actually expect a Japanese artist will ever get that big in the U.S., Puffy be damned).

Kay herself comes from a background that might support this: she has an African-American father and a Korean-Japanese mother, and was born in Okinawa, anCover of Crystal Kay's Call Me Miss island typically associated with both pop stars and international and American influence. On the strictly Japanese front, Utada Hikaru seems to be the biggest influence, especially the old-style Utada of First Love and Distance, with 'Koi ni ochitara' being a prime example. If somebody had told me this song was accidentally left off Distance I would have believed them - it's like an Utada track that never was, vocal inflections and all. Opener 'Baby Girl' is crunk-style R&B, of the kind Koda Kumi wishes she could pull off. Elsewhere, 'Happy Life' is more upbeat J-pop, with a slightly squelchy but still pounding synth beat. 'Kiss (Orchestra Version)' lives up to its parenthesis; it's a classy prom-ballad with an understated let-go-of-your-partner-slowly fade out. 'Kitto' is a nice ballad, but goes into Mariah Carey overdrive a bit much towards the end - Kay might have the technical vocal power for the histrionics, but restraint is key.

The best song, though, is the driving 'Together', with its thudding drumwork, urgent vocals, and subtle stabs of flute. This is the one that most screams 'Crystal Kay' - i.e., the only one that definitely sounds like her and no one else, and points most insistently to even more riveting future material. Overall, the production could do with a little more variety - she slips into Utada mode a bit too often, and the beats can occasionally get monotonous - but give CK time. This girl is worth keeping your eye on - she hasn't quite distinguished herself from the pack yet, but give her another album or two and I'm sure the whole country will be seeing her face everywhere. What with her and Sifow, the quality of newer artists is intimidating. If this continues, the veterans are going to have to watch their backs (this means ten-year-plus dinosaurs like MoMusu, Ayu, and Namie Amuro - the latter practically a grandmother in the hyperspeed timewarp of the industry). If my prediction that the hour of Koda Kumi is at its close, Crystal Kay (and my future girlfriend Ms. Fujita of course) is my choice to step up.

Kirakuni video

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

VIDEOS: Old Jazz Band At Peace Hotel, Shanghai... The Oldest Jazz Band In The World?

I went to the Peace Hotel two nights ago to watch the Old Jazz Band, which, according to Peace Hotel's webpage, is one of the most famous jazz bands in Shanghai. They have also performed for (from the webpage) former USA president Mr. Carter and Mr.Reagan,the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin,the Australian Prime Minister Paul Kyten, the Hollend Prime Minister Viam Kirk. And the presidents from Italy, Portugal, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico.

I myself saw a photo they took with Bill and Hillary Clinton hanging on the walls.

The average age of the band members is above 75, I heard from my parents that two members had retired last year because they were nearing 90. (My parents and sis had watched their performance before in an earlier visit back in 2005)

It was a pretty interesting performance, I was amazed by the fact that they could still play the drums and trumpets despite their advanced age.

I had my camcorder with me (of course) and managed to shoot four music pieces they performed. I couldn't recognize the first two, but the latter two were In The Mood and Besame Mucho.

They first two seemed like warm-up sessions for them, then they got more hardcore with the latter two performances, the audiences, understandably, grew more excited too.

I wonder whether there are any other jazz bands in the world with older members than these guys?

Would appreciate it if anyone can name the titles of the songs in the first two videos.

First performance by Old Jazz Band

Second performance by Old Jazz Band

Old Jazz Band performing 'In The Mood'

Old Jazz Band performing 'Besame Mucho'

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Japan Sinks 日本沉没'

Japan Sinks

Also known as The Sinking of Japan, Japan Sinks 日本沉没, the most expensive Japanese movie ever (I heard), is Japan's answer to Korean and Hollywood movies that usually appeal to international audiences. It is a soulless, propagandistic blockbuster that sang praises of Japanese culture (and the country), displaying the sheer Samurai-like courage of Japanese people and their subtle and ridiculously honourable approaches in romance for the not-too-intelligent audiences. The opening credits were played over various famous landscapes and sceneries of Japan, all my years of watching Japanese films and never have I ever seen that many Japanese landmarks crammed in one film, let alone one montage.

I wasn't expecting much from the film, seriously, what kind of person would actually expect a disaster flick like this having aspirations to be high art? I expected some shallow social commentaries of sorts, like cheap shots at US (check), cheap shots at certain stubborn Japanese politicians (check), hinting a future female Prime Minister (hello, Yuriko Koike!), but other than that, I just wanted to see destruction, people dying, buildings crumbling, innocents screaming, soldiers weeping, head of states fuming etc. All those cliches you would get in disaster flicks like Armageddon, Deep Impact, Dante's Peak, Volcano, Day After Tomorrow, I got them, and because of that, I was content with the viewing experience.

Even though knowing full well I was watching an entirely shallow, soulless Hollywood blockbuster wannabe that dumbed itself down for mass consumption, with an atrociously stupid, snicker-inducing romantic subplot that even my little sister shook her head and dismissed as 'ridiculously sappy'.

Japan Sinks is like Snakes On A Plane, the title says it all, it's about Japan... sinking, its title lacks the subtlety of the aforementioned Hollywood disaster flicks. I'll copy and paste the summary from IMDB

In the aftermath of a major earthquake under Suraga Bay, Misaki (a young girl) and Toshiro (a pilot of a deep sea submarine played by Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) are rescued from a ruined city street just as leaking gasoline ignites. Reiko Abe (Kou Shibasaki) arrives just in time, lowered from a helicopter. Scientists predict that Japan will sink within 40 years, due to subduction of a tectonic plate to the west. However, Dr. Tadokoro (Etsushi Toyokawa), who leads an oceanic scientific team that includes Toshiro, calculates that this will happen far sooner, in only 338.54 days. He presents his findings to Prime Minister Yamamoto (dude looked like real ex-Japanese PM Koizumi) who decides to create a new department for impending disaster relief assigning Saoro Takamori (Mao Daichi) to cover the new duties, since of all his ministers she will take it seriously but also bring "heart" to the process.

So, more cliches. Dr. Tadokoro's this badass rebel scientist whose brilliance was ignored by the stubborn government because, well, he's a badass rebel scientist who looked intense in an action hero manner in every single scene he was in, to the point where it finally occurred to me that this character wasn't supposed to be taken seriously and that his sheer tenacious intensity was meant to be a joke (after finding out that Japan's sinking in less than a year, intense Dr. Tadokoro screamed in heroic anger and punched a hole onto his computer screen, then picked up the monitor, embraced it, and wept manly tears of sorrow when he realized that his beloved country, ran by stubborn old farts who never took him seriously, was in trouble).

Misaki, Toshiro and Reiko became exceptionally close after their encounter at the Suraga Bay, young Misaki, orphaned after the earthquake, looked at Toshiro and Reiko as her parental figures, and because of this, a budding attraction grew between Toshiro and Reiko, with Toshiro wanting to escape from Japan, bringing Reiko and Misaki along with him so they can live happily ever after like a family. Gee, I wonder why Misaki had such special feelings for Toshiro after the earthquake considering that he was just this random guy who was rescued along with her by Reiko (she's in the rescue team), oh right, that's because he's the hero. (Misaki bonding with Reiko is understandable, but Misaki and Toshiro's relationship is befuddling... if I wasn't aware of the fact that this, being a mindless blockbuster, was supposed to defy logic).

There are other cliches too, like, well, you know a guy's going to die when he goes on a mission and he takes out a photo of his wife and son, you know a nice guy's going to die too when he does something noble, but was never introduced at all prior to the movie, you know that a dog and a little girl won't die because dogs and little girls are hard to kill in disaster films. A sappy romantic scene with loud pop ballad playing in background (music video provided below), bringing back memories of... Aerosmith. The list goes on.

I don't hate this film, despite it being an obvious crap film. I'm just amused by its existence, and I'm starting to wonder whether this film is going to be the first of Japan's many attempts to garner more international audiences (like their Korean counterparts had been doing in the past decade). Some of the finest films in Japanese cinema had always been special to me because they possess this special 'something' that I've never seen in films of other countries. A subtlety of expression, a lack of in-your-face Korean-style melodrama, their capability of being immensely moving without trying too hard, the understated emotions that are rare in Hong Kong and Korean films, let alone Hollywood films. Basically, they are films that linger. Their lack of pretensions enthralled me.

It had always been painful for me when I tried to convince narrow-minded friends of mine to give Japanese films a go, and I would either hear them damning Japanese films for not being either as romantic (read: sappy) as their Korean counterparts, or visually sumptuous or expensive as Hollywood films. It's also somewhat depressing that the perception of Japanese cinema by most people around the world (especially the West) is defined completely by those internationally popular horror films like Ring and Ju-On, or the ultra-violent films with a notoriety that reached beyond their own country (Takashi Miike and Beat Takeshi's films, Battle Royale etc.). Although I'm not one of those pretentious elitist indie filmmakers who have nothing but disdain for mainstream tastes and popcorn entertainment, I'll be damned if Japan Sinks become the beginning of a new trend where we'll see more dumbed down special-effects bonanzas tailored to please the mass audience.

I remember when I was in high school, whilst trying to share my love for Japan films and doramas with this girl I liked, her retort was "BAH! If 'Beautiful Life' is the most-viewed TV doramas of all-time, I don't think I can respect the works of Japan that much", if I hadn't liked her that much then, and if I wasn't talking to her via the Internet, and if I weren't such a gentleman absolutely against domestic violence against women, I would have trouble suppressing the urge to punch her in the face.

Sorry that a review for a minor film like this would turn into a full-fledged rant. I guess I'm just slightly peeved after reading Screenhead's List of Hardest Novels To Film and its suggestion that Beat Takeshi, the 'country's best filmmaker', should go adapt The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, 'possibly the best book of the last 50 years' (my book review here). Everything's a matter of taste, of course, but Beat Takeshi... the country's best filmmaker? I liked Zatoichi too, but c'mon! (Of course, maybe I'm just annoyed that Shunji Iwai, one of my biggest influences, isn't getting any love here, and hey, if you take anime more seriously, you should be considering Hayao Miyazaki a filmmaker too), I'm sure the Miike hardcore fans ain't too happy either.

(I don't know, such outlandish declarations just annoyed me as much as Johnnie To's exclusion from Senses of Cinema's list of great directors. Tsai Min Liang is on the list but not Johnnie To? Despite what the guy had been doing all these years? His artistic and commercial achievements? WTF?)

But back to Japan Sinks, well, I won't say it sucks, because I usually reserve this for films which I didn't have any positive experience at all while watching. Don't take it seriously (unfortunately, my dad did, and he was absolutely disgusted by the poisonous center of this film) and you MIGHT enjoy it in a Snakes On A Plane manner.

Anyway, I've just gotten the DVD of Everywhere Except Japan Sinks in Shanghai, a parody of Japan Sinks, I'm going to check that out soon.


Trailer of Sinking of Japan

Music video of Keep Holding You by Sunmin featuring Kubota

Saturday, January 13, 2007

VIDEO: Swifty In China 2007 (Part 2) Yue Fei's Tomb | Lingyin Temple | Six Harmonies Pagoda

Video of my second day in Hangzhou, China

Part 1 of my adventures in China is here.

What you'll see in this video:

- Me visiting the General Yue Fei's temple/tomb. General Yue Fei was a patriot from the 12th century who died at the age of 39 due to the treachery of some, well, treacherous traitors. As a child, the words 'serving the country loyally' were pierced onto his back by his other. But anyway, if you want to know more about General Yue Fei, you can read about him here.

- My dad... singing a song adapted from Yue Fei's poem.

- Mom, sis and I, going through Lingyin Temple, a really old temple that was built more than a thousand years ago.

- Lunch, check out the heavenly food.

- Us attempting to conquer the Six Harmonies Pagoda.

- The scenery I saw when I was on top of the Pagoda.

Friday, January 12, 2007

VIDEO: Swifty In China 2007 (Part 1)

Edmund Yeo in China 2007 (part 1)

Well, I'm currently in Shanghai, turned out that I wasn't able to get Internet access at my hotel in Hangzhou, thus the lack of updates.

But as I've promised, I'll be posting up videos of my vacation in China so I can share the wonders I've witnessed with everyone else.

Anyway, here are what you'll see in the video.

- 7th of January, cousin Wee Suan and her husband Timothy drove my family and I to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). You may remember my cousin from this video of a tea ceremony.

- Me running into an unexpected friend in KLIA, behold his comedic expression.

- Reached Shanghai. 8th of January.

- Immediately hops into a car and go to Hangzhou, the city of love in China.

- Lunch.

- Hotel, check out the Santa Claus in Chinese garb.

- Dinner at this cool-looking restaurant.

- Stunning night scene of Hangzhou.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Koda Kumi - Black Cherry

I have my problems with Koda Kumi. Apart from her lacking a to put this tactfully, star quality (i.e. if she wasn't famous already...) and relying on an obvious gimmick (feigned sluttiness), I've come around to much of her music, even if it struck me as undistinguished at first. The production is often good, befitting an Avex artist; and KK is talented, even if the hooks sometimes take a while to sink in. She tried out for Morning Musume and was rejected, yet that actually reflects well on her: no one in H!P can really sing like her; their voices need to be massed together to achieve any real resonance or tone. But KK is more than capable of carrying a track, and her voice is distinctive.

But, sitting down to this album, I had yet to listen to a KK album in full: all I'd heard were best-of collections, the double-disc first session and the later Best ~Second Session - which, admittedly, is more or less an album, comprised as it is of singles released consecutively over twelve weeks. Those best-ofs weren't necessarily the tour-de-forces the marketing would have you believe, as KK has her fair share of forgettable singles. But the 'best of the best', as it were, is indeed worth a listen: it manages to be genuinely good R&B, something of a rarity in the J-pop sphere.

All the same, I came to Black Cherry expecting it to be good - and at this stage in her career, I think this is a reasonable expectation. J-pop often follows a different career arc from, say, Western rock bands: instead of the first album being the definitive statement and everything that follows either rote repetition or various forms of reaction against it through 'broadening the sound', J-pop, viewed strictly on an album basis, often improves incrementally as artist and producer learn each other's strengths and public expectation pushes them to real growth: the first MoMusu and Ayumi albums, for example, are still pleasant listens, but sound wholly quaint and outdated, innocent relics with no connection to the world-bestriding monster albums they'd put out at the height of their powers.

All of this is to say that by now, as she's pretty well the biggest artist in Japan, and given the intense competition and fear of being forgotten on a dime that that entails, KK should have no excuses for letting anything lackluster slip through. Black Cherry should, on first listen, come through the speakers and take the initiative, putting its charms up front, without demanding repeated listens or in-depth attention. In short, I wanted Black Cherry to come up and ask me on the date (as befits our 'ero-kawaii' heroine) rather than sitting there waiting, coyly, as a 'grower' album. That, and I'd been so over-awed by Secret, Ayumi Hamasaki's genuinely masterful and air-tight comeback album (okay, she was never really 'away', but (miss)understood was bad.) that I wanted KK to 'step up' as it were - that is, hopefully achieve a new level of artistry and dispel all fears.

So, immediate first impression: not so wowed. It sounded like...well, it sounded pretty much like Koda Kumi. As in, no noticeable step-up in songwriting or production. But then, I remembered that my first impression of her other stuff had been the same; that the grooves had taken a while to sink in. Again, this wasn't what I wanted, but I determined to listen to Black Cherry until I liked it.

Uh, no, just kidding. It's not bad. There are maybe two songs I really like. Out of like seventeen. I can't be bothered to pay undue attention to something I found only moderately engaging, so here's a very brief, condensed review on a song-by-song basis:

The 'Introduction' has some generic sentiments about 'One nation. One unity.' that could just as easily have worked as the tagline for a conservative political party. 'Get Up and Move!' sounds like a sequel to 'No Tricks' or 'D.D.D.'. The guitar-based 'Ningyouhime' is um...guitar-based. Just imagine Koda Kumi + guitars and it's exactly what you'd expect. 'Yume No Uta' (where have I heard that title before?) shifts to ballad territory. Predictable ballad territory. 'Tsuki to Taiyou' continues the downbeat-ness. 'Puppy' is a little more experimental (and thus interesting) with some jaunty beat-work, drumming, and electronic squiggles. 'Won't Be Long' disquieted me deeply when I heard someone scream 'YO WHERE MY SHORTIES AT?' right before vocals began in nihongo. Skipping ahead a few songs, 'Cherry Girl' opens with some fantastic drums. 'I'll Be There'...downbeat verses, 'soaring' chorus. Skip a few more...'With Your Smile' is the one song I really, really liked on this, mostly because it recycles the thumping disco beat from 'Sweet Kiss'. I just kept skipping everything else and listening to this one. Both 'Milk Tea' and 'Twinkle' are pretty good, except that the latter is entirely in English, and I don't ever, ever want to hear Koda Kumi singing in English at any length longer than a few interjections or chorus-parts.

Okay...maybe a Koda Kumi album isn't even something I should be worrying about at this point. I'm sick of hearing that the album is dead as an artform, but maybe Koda Kumi is best appreciated in videos, in singles, on the radio. But if I completely affirm that claim, then there are tons of counter-examples like the contemporaneous and aforementioned Secret - the J-pop album, in other words, is far from dead. The worst thing is that listening to so much Judy and Mary recently (read: best. band. ever.) really brought out the flaws in this album: as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, Black Cherry is a fairly average, generic J-pop album. They say that every genre of music elicits a "All the songs sound the same" response from the newcomer, but I'm hardly a newcomer to J-pop, and from where it stands with Black Cherry, KK is starting to get a little samey.

The Verdict:
I'm more confused about Koda Kumi than ever. I keep wanting to tip over the edge into fully embracing her*, but small things keep holding me back. I get the sense that the songs I like best from her were really just accidents, and that her gimmick is constantly threatening to overshadow the music itself. I read somewhere that she becomes a whole different artist if you solely watch her videos, and I'm more than willing to believe that on the basis of the ones I've seen as well as other similar PV-centric artists*, but I'm reviewing the audio component only here, and something definitely feels missing. That, and I keep wanting to listen to these songs in the club rather than the car - they usually have ass-banging grooves but not much intrinsic melody or that many hooks. I think the song 'Get Up & Move!' is a pretty accurate injunction here, regarding what you're supposed to do with this music. Let's just leave it at that: if you're aboard the Koda Kumi (groove) train at this point, Black Cherry will be another enjoyable refueling stop; if not, well, it'll sound like just so much more generic J-pop with some risible 'urban' twists. Here we should consider 'generic' in its most literal interpretation: i.e. of a genre. If you've listened to J-pop at any length, you've already heard these songs. Do you want to hear Koda Kumi sing them again? Or do you want to just listen to her earlier albums? The choice is yours.

Oh yeah. And, can someone please get me some Crystal Kay? That 'Together' song is awesome. Serious.

*perhaps physically, if she'd be up for it - ha

* 'Traveling' by Hikki changed my life, for real. And 'The Peace'.

Ningyouhime video

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Judy and Mary

Listened to their entire discography over the course of like six hours. Think I just found my new favorite band. Can't be bothered to write an in-depth entry. As much 'ink jizz' as a site like Pitchfork expends over a band like Deerhoof, you wonder what they'd make of JAM or (the previously discussed on this site) Ego Wrappin'. I mean, 'Judy is a Tank Girl'? Just brilliant...
Get Warp or The Power Source if you want to hear Japanese music completely overstepping national bounds and stacking up against anything on a world stage.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Craig Reviews Naomi

On my recommendation, Craig of Your Opinion Doesn't Count has just read and provided a three-part review of Tanizaki's Naomi, analogizing the novel to the idol world. His interpretation is highly original and provocative, and there's definitely some kind of graduate-paper potential in there somewhere about idol-continuity in Japanese culture over the course of the twentieth century. Was Tanizaki a proto-wota?

"For Goto Maki
“A harlot’s skin is her most important attraction, her ‘merchandise.’ Sometimes she must guard it more fiercely than any virgin, lest the value of that main attraction diminish.”

“She was no longer chaste: not only did this cast a dark shadow over my heart; it also lowered the value of Naomi”

This reminds me of Wota who abandon their idol if they get a boyfriend or something like that.

Joji in Naomi is hardly an exception; the usual Tanizaki protagonist's slavish devotion to his female idols is pretty much a regular fixture of his novels (see: A Portrait of Shunkin, A Blind Man's Tale (both reviewed by me here), see The Key, Diary of a Mad Old Man, hell, pretty much any book besides The Makioka Sisters) Once again, Craig nails it in a way I hadn't seen before.

And although I like both, I still think Naomi (which was written twenty years earlier) is a better book than Nabokov's Lolita - its apparent simplicity of narrative is actually more deceptive than Humbert's high diction and supposed unreliable narration. And the mutual depravity and selfishness of both characters in the relationship seems both more realistic and more troubling - not to mention Tanizaki has the courage to end his novel on a perverse stalemate. But both books are a testament to the crossover between lolicon subcurrents and literary style, with the idol connection forming an intriguing triangle. What will the next great idol novel be?

Over at American Wota, Ray talks about the difficulty of integrating topics on a blog:
"I think it’s because Jpop - especially the non-Japanese fandom for Jpop - is such a specific niche, whereas TV and comic books and political theater were all much more casual-reader-friendly."

This is definitely true and something we've thought about too: seeing as how The Great Swifty Speaketh! combines book reviews, film reviews, and reviews of Japanese music, we're placed in a fairly uncertain nexus: those who read for the film reviews won't necessarily care when we start talking about Ayumi Hamasaki and Morning Musume, whereas the music fans won't necessarily care about the films or the books or anything else. So it's always interesting when something like this crosses the boundaries and somehow pinpoints something common to all our diverse media interests.

And I've just finished reading both Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road and John Barth's postmodern Lost in the Funhouse. And I don't feel like reviewing either of them. So there.

Swifty Reviews 'Night At The Museum'

Night at the Museum poster

Night At The Museum is the last film I saw on 2006, not a spectacular way to end the year (it's not on my top 10 favourite 2006 films list), but not exactly a bad way (it's not on my top 10 disappointing 2006 films list) either. It's just what it is, popcorn entertainment meant for an entire family.

I went with my dad and sister (mom was missing in action. Again), expecting this to be a horrifyingly bad film, due to the hatefest it got from Ain't It Cool News (as opposed to the lovefest they were giving Sylvester Stallone and his latest Rocky flick ever since Stallone's been doing daily interviews with the site prior to his film's release), but I ended up being, well, entertained. And I guess that was fine, I entered the cinemas expecting solely to be entertained by that film, at most, not having a life-altering experience that would had me so blown away that I would go around begging people to watch the film as well (like I did with Happy Feet weeks ago).

Here's the plot summary from Wikipedia:

Good-hearted dreamer Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), despite being perpetually down on his luck, thinks he's destined for something big. But even he could never have imaged how "big," when he accepts what appears to be a menial job as a graveyard-shift security guard at a museum of natural history. During Larry's watch, extraordinary things begin to occur: Mayans, Roman Gladiators, and cowboys emerge from their diorama to wage epic battles; in his quest for fire, a Neanderthal burns down his own display; Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) pillages his neighboring exhibits, and a T-Rex reminds everyone why he's history's fiercest predator. Amidst the chaos, the only person Larry can turn to for advice is a wax figure of President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), who helps our hero harness the bedlam, stop a nefarious plot, and save the museum.
That's just a gist of it, there are more, like Larry being a single father struggling not to disappoint his son anymore after his divorce, and then there's also Theodore Roosevelt having a crush on Sacagawea, who cannot communicate with anyone because she's behind a soundproof glass. There are also three funny old guards (predecessors of Larry) played by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs, and Ricky Gervais ('The Office') as the museum director who talks funny in his upperclass Brit accent. There's also Carla Gugino as Rebecca Hutman, Larry's friendly co-worker who is supposed to be a romantic interest of sorts, except there's really not much romance between her and Larry.

And here lies the biggest flaw of the film, the relationships between Larry and the other characters (not those that come alive in the museum, the actual humans) are really underdeveloped and superficial, to the point where the film wouldn't have felt much different if the whole father-son thing was removed, along with Carla Gugino's character. Everything felt manufactured, as if putting these things were obligatory, allowing us to understand more about Larry's desperation and his attempt to redeem himself in his son's eyes, unfortunately, there really wasn't much depth between Larry and his son (except for some generic scenes of father consoling disappointed son, or son being disappointed with his dad, and son learning to stop being disappointed with his dad).

And also, maybe it seems like a necessity to have a love interest of sorts in a big-budget family blockbuster flick, but the Rebecca Hutman character seemed to exist solely to ah, obsess over Sacagawea (she's writing a dissertation of her, Larry tries to convince her that Sacagawea does come alive in the museum at night, that's it). If the film is trying so hard to push a romantic angle, might as well try to develop Rebecca more, or maybe shift focus to Larry attempting to reconcile with of his ex-wife again. Ricky Gervais, as the museum director (the nasty boss), was kinda funny at first, but he grew stale after, well, his first role.

Now, to the positive points of the film, which had more to do with personal tastes than the film's actual merits. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about non-living things like toys and stuff, coming alive whenever all humans aren't watching, having their own kinds of lives, I have also fantasized about time-traveling and meeting historical figures, being a history fan myself (I'm the kind of person who would spend hours sifting through Wikipedia, looking through the lives of these historical figures, like members of the British Royal Family, like the rulers in the past, or US presidents of late 19th century to early 20th century, and I even spent half a day reading about half of the Roman Empire history while doing a research for Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra back in 2005 for my literature minor).

So, as a fantasy film, this film worked because it tapped into my own fantasies. It also has this positive message about contemporary society's increasing indifference towards history and museums. For a person like me, hearing Sacagawea for the first time in the movie made me run a search on her on Wikipedia (I thought at first that she would be related to, ah, Pocahontas). On the other hand, I've already read about the others like Octavius and Teddy Roosevelt (whose life was so dramatic and interesting that I wasn't surprised it's going to be Martin Scorsese's next film, and it's going to star Leonardo DiCaprio again) long ago. And there's Attila The Hun, who had one of the stupidest deaths in known history.

It makes me wonder whether the current box-office success of this film would increase people's interest in history and, ah, improve attendances of museums.

Other than that, no, this film's nothing special, your life won't be any different whether you've seen it or not, but for me, it was entertaining but nothing more than that. The concept is good, but the execution isn't, yet it's saved by visuals and likable (yes, despite being underdeveloped) characters.

Video of discussion between Larry, Teddy Roosevelt and Dexter the monkey

Other reviews:

Lim Chang Moh gave it 3 out of 4 stars

Erik Davis of Cinematical says that the film created a special something that's been missing from recent family films... lots and lots of imagination. I wholeheartedly agree.

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