Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Melayu mudah puas

Raya Tak Jadi
My rating:




Sepertimana yang pernah saya sebut, saya sering mengunjungi laman We Hate Razak Mohaideen Movies di Facebook. Ia sudah mengutip lebih 2,000 "likes", dan ramai regulars yang suka berbicara tentang filem-filem tempatan disana. Yang saya hairan ialah mengapa laman tersebut wujud; mengapa tiada laman We Hate Ahmad Idham Movies atau We Hate Yusry KRU Movies? Ada apa tentang Razak Mohaideen serta/atau filem-filemnya yang membuat dia di-hate-kan? Jawapannya: sebab filem dia sucks lah, tapi itu jawapan dari saya. Saya nak tahu, adakah ke-sucks-annya sudah diketahui orang ramai? Adakah Razak Mohaideen sudah diiktiraf sebagai pembikin filem yang paling bangang lagi membangangkan?

Jika ya, mengapa filem-filemnya masih mendapat sambutan?

Shuib (Saiful Apek) seorang pemandu teksi, dan Bob (Johan Raja Lawak) adiknya yang mengidap penyakit amnesia cacat otak. Manakala Leo (Ben Tan) seorang peniaga yang jahat, mengarah kuncu-kuncunya Ali (Khairi Azlee) dan Abu (Iedil Putra) menculik Penyimpan Mohor Besar Raja-Raja, Haji Ehsan (Dato' Jalaluddin Hassan) atas sebab hendak menunda tarikh Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Berlakunya kesilapan dimana teksi yang dipandu Ali dan Abu bertukar dengan teksi Shuib, akibatnya Shuib dan Bob terjumpa Haji Ehsan yang disangka sudah mati dalam boot. Tidak sekali terlintas dalam fikiran mereka untuk melaporkan kejadian ini kepada polis, sebaliknya mereka membawa "mayat" itu berjumpa dengan Idah (Wan Sharmila), teman wanita Shuib. Isteri Haji Ehsan (Noreen Noor) pula nampak tak kisah je suaminya hilang. Ali dan Abu pun cuba mencari kembali si culik mereka, sampai tahap mengugut ibu dan adik perempuan Shuib dan Bob (Mak Jah dan Syafiqa Melvin).

"Melayu Mudah Lupa" adalah sebuah sajak terkenal yang ditulis oleh bekas Perdana Menteri Tun Dr. Mahathir. Disini saya ingin perkenalkan kata-kata baru yang saya rasa sama benarnya: Melayu mudah puas. Saya menonton Raya Tak Jadi bersama lebih kurang 100 audiens yang lain, dan nampaknya mereka cukup enjoice dengan filem ini; banyak gelak ketawa yang saya dengar, terutamanya bila Johan Raja Lawak beraksi di skrin. Saya pula tak senyum pun walau sekali, malah terasa jelak dan jengkel sepanjang durasinya. Saya hairan, bingung dan bengang dengan hakikat ini. Mengapa mudah sangat mereka puas hati dengan hidangan yang haprak ni?

Ada pepatah bahasa Latin yang berkata, "De gustibus non est disputandum." Bermaksud, soal citarasa tidak boleh didebatkan. Ini ada benarnya, tapi yang saya nak cakap ni bukan pasal citarasa. Saya sedar filem Raya Tak Jadi ni adalah komedi ringan, dan saya bukan nak menghentamnya kerana ia komedi ringan; malah, kalau ini jenis filem dimana setiap watak adalah dungu dan tolol pun tiada salahnya. Masalahnya ialah, walaupun ini sebuah komedi ringan, ini bukan komedi ringan yang bagus. Bukan hanya watak-wataknya yang dungu; garapannya dungu, jalan ceritanya dungu, dan keberkesanannya bergantung atas penonton yang sama dungu. Ini filem untuk orang dungu dan orang yang sedia mendungukan diri mereka sendiri.

Jadi, ini bukan pasal citarasa. Saya tak suka filem ini bukan kerana ia tak ngam dengan taste saya; saya tak suka kerana saya pernah tengok yang lagi bagus. Saya rasa penonton-penonton yang ketawa berdekah-dekah semasa tayangan filem ini belum pernah - ataupun, mereka tak mahu menonton filem yang lagi bagus. Ini sesuatu yang bermasalah dengan mereka. Walaupun orang lain punya gusti bas tak boleh di-disput-kan andum-nya, namun jika anda tak reti nak menghayati filem yang berakal dan bermakna; jika anda memilih untuk tidak menonton filem seperti Contagion atau Warrior; jika anda tak tahu nak bezakan antara filem ini dengan, contohnya, Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak; maka anda seorang yang jahil dan cetek pengetahuan. Sorilah jika perasaan anda tersinggung. Yang elok ada, tapi anda pilih yang buruk. Walaupun harga tiket sama.

Okey, okey, tibalah masa saya mengulas filem ini setelah tiga perenggan saya mengulas audiensnya. Memang malas saya nak cakap pasal filem ini, tapi ada dua perkara yang saya nak bincangkan. Ada suatu adegan yang amat memalukan, dimana Jalaluddin Hassan, pelakon veteran yang sudah digelar Dato', berlakon sebagai bayi pakai baju tidur dan sedut ibu jari. Saudara Dato' Jalaluddin, kemana pergi maruah anda? Mengapa anda sanggup aibkan diri anda sebegini? Razak Mohaideen ada simpan video seks anda ke? Perkara kedua adalah babak akhirnya, dimana sambutan Raya keluarga Shuib dan Bob hanya dapat disempurnakan dengan pemberian wang tunai yang melambak-lambak. Inikah erti sebenar perayaan Aidilfitri? Apa mesej yang hendak disampaikan oleh filem Raya ini? Duit menjadi ukuran kebahagiaan? Masa Tahun Baru Cina ada filem pasal kekeluargaan dan kasih sayang, masa Raya ini je taik yang ada?

Memang catatan kali ini boleh diklasifikasikan 18PA, kerana mengandungi unsur-unsur sosial dan politik yang saya tak kisah keterlaluan atau tidak, asalkan saya jujur. Adakah kontroversialnya jika saya kata Melayu mudah puas? Baiklah, biar saya maniskan kata-kata itu; sebenarnya, penonton-penonton yang mudah puas ada dimana-mana, bukan hanya orang Melayu. Masalahnya, industri filem luar negara ada buat filem yang bangang di samping filem yang cerdik; di Malaysia pula, kecerdikan dan kebijaksanaan sudah tandus dalam filem-filem kita. Sebab penonton Melayu sudah tak kenal apa itu cerdik, bijak dan berakal. Saya rasa ramai pembaca-pembaca saya akan setuju dengan kata-kata saya, dan mungkin merekalah penonton yang lebih arif dan pandai menilai. Tapi bilangan mereka sedikit. Mereka yang suka sangat dengan filem bikinan Razak Mohaideen jauh lebih ramai.

NEXT REVIEW: Warrior
Expectations: better than The Fighter, hopefully

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Namewee is angry no more

Nasi Lemak 2.0
My rating:




Let's get one thing straight off the bat: Wee Meng Chee, a.k.a. Namewee, did not disrespect our national anthem. The sheer love he has for "Negaraku" is audible in every note he sings on his Negarakuku video, and if his lyrics are less than circumspect, it would still take a tin ear - or an agenda - to say he "menghina lagu kebangsaan". In any case, I respect the hell out of the guy; though I do think he could stand to be a bit more tactful, he speaks his mind and his heart - even when it is full of rage. An artist has no other obligation than to be honest with himself, and what Namewee has to say echoes a lot of the same things the average Malaysian Chinese thinks and feels. So yes, count me a fan, despite the fact that Chinese rap is nowhere near my favourite musical genre. And since music isn't my favourite artistic medium, I was majorly keen on catching his first directorial effort on film. I really, really wanted it to be good.

And it is. It's just not as good as it could've been.

A power struggle has broken out over ownership of a Chinese restaurant chain, between its disgraced owner Gong Xi Fa and his conniving sister Gong Xi Ni - who, with her Chinese-trained chef toyboy Lan Qiao (Dennis Lau), has wrested control. Gong Xi Fa's daughter Xiao K (Karen Kong) wants to help, and she seeks it in Chef Huang (Namewee), who has problems of his own. A hero to his neighbours, Huang aids them in everything from university placements to nude pictures on Facebook, but his restaurant isn't doing too well due to his refusal to adapt his Chinese cuisine to local tastes. But attempting to help Xiao K forces him to swallow his pride and ask the local nasi lemak stall owner Kak Noor (Adibah Noor) to teach him how to make her very popular nasi lemak. In turn, she sends him on an odyssey across the peninsula, where he will meet a Baba Nyonya couple (Kenny and Chee), an Indian curry master (David Arumugam) and his beauty queen-in-the-making daughter (Nadine Ann Thomas), and a Malay polygamist (Afdlin Shauki) - and learn from them how to make the perfect nasi lemak.

(Apologies for being unable to name a couple of cast members. The producers are doing that annoying thing of puffing up the most famous names at the expense of others who play far more prominent roles. Reshmonu gets mentioned everywhere despite having barely 2 minutes of screentime, yet I can't even find the names of Gong Xi Fa's and Gong Xi Ni's actors on the movie's official website.)

As a film that celebrates the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural diversity and plurality of Malaysia, it succeeds. As a wildly funny and cleverly satirical comedy, it succeeds. But it is as a debut of a first-time filmmaker, and a sticking-it to his many detractors, that Nasi Lemak 2.0 succeeds most handily. This is a pretty damn polished product for a local film, displaying production values that far exceed many Malay movies with a good deal more than its under-RM1 million budget. And it turns out Namewee is a pretty damn solid director, not only with stuff like song-and-dance sequences and CGI, but also with crack comic timing and a whole grab bag of visual gags. And yes, it's also a musical; the songs are a lot of fun, and he wrote them all himself. Rest assured you'll be getting quality entertainment for your cinema ticket here.

Most of its entertainment comes from the satire part. Namewee pokes fun at a lot of things, most of which you'd recognize if you've been reading the papers or are at least aware of what's been going on in our country in the past few years - or, for that matter, if you've been following his own viral videos, which he is self-aware enough to also make fun of. And he can be remarkably subtle with it; he likes to toss a joke in at the very end of a scene, almost as an afterthought. This is a movie that rewards multiple viewings, so as to get all its jokes (of which there are a lot), and I wonder if it was deliberately made so. But I hasten to mention that its satire isn't particularly sharp, seeing as it's only in the form of jokes and not weaved into the story itself. As a fan of Namewee's Angry Malaysian Chinese Everyman persona, I was a little disappointed.

Y'see, my fellow audience members - in a full-house cinema hall, no less - were already digging the movie. They were sold, they were having fun, and towards the ending they were noticeably waiting for a big crowd-pleasing climax that, unfortunately, never came. (And "Curry Neh" is a much more rousing musical number than "Rasa Sayang 2.0", the one on which the movie ends.) It's largely because the storytelling is kinda messy, and doesn't deliver on the necessary emotional resolutions. The romantic subplot between him and Xiao K comes out of nowhere, and the brother-sister relationship between Gong Xi Fa and Gong Xi Ni had some nice depth to it but doesn't resolve satisfyingly. More importantly, Huang's journey from a Chinese chauvinist to a true-blue pluralist Malaysian, conveyed via the metaphor of learning to make nasi lemak, skips a few vital steps and ultimately fails to convince. (Did he actually learn anything from Baba and Nyonya?)

But messy storytelling aside, this points to a much kinder and gentler Namewee than, say, the guy who wrote and performed an angry, obscenity-laden song about the headmistress who called her students racist epithets. (An apt response to that bitch, IMNSHO.) He depicts the Malay, Indian and Baba Nyonya characters in glowing terms, and many of them are a lot more 1Malaysia than his protagonist; Kak Noor is a Tai Chi expert, and one of the polygamist's wives recites classical Chinese poetry. It seemed for a moment that he'd saved his sharpest barbs for the Chinese cultural purists that Huang seems to represent, since most of the time Huang is a pretty unlikable character; not just a racial zealot, but also self-pitying, dense and boorish. But no, Namewee pulls his punches there too. Maybe he didn't want to bite the hand of the Chinese fanbase that feeds him, but I'd've admired his courage if he did.

Still, my admiration for him is undimmed. He's come a long way from controversial and (undeservedly!) hated figure to having his directorial debut on local cinema screens nationwide, and if he had to dial down on the anger and vitriol to get there, I can hardly blame him. He has a ways to go before his message of love and inclusiveness gets out to the whole nation, particularly the Malays whom he had earlier offended - I am particularly saddened by this insanely jealous and self-absorbed screed by a fellow filmmaker - but Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a good start. And as a first effort by a first-time filmmaker, Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a damn good start.

NEXT REVIEW: Raya Tak Jadi
Expectations: bilalaaaa Razak Mohaideen ni nak bersara

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fever at a low temperature

Contagion
My rating:




I am none too familiar with the films of Steven Soderbergh - but unlike, say, Danny Boyle or Darron Aronofsky, I don't really wish to be more familiar. Partly because the stuff of his that I have seen haven't impressed me much (Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven were alright, Out of Sight was a cypher, and Traffic was fascinating but cold), and partly because he doesn't seem as interested in genre as the other two indie-darlings-turned-mainstream-auteurs do. So yeah, I'm only interested in Soderbergh when he makes movies in genres that I dig, such as this new sci-fi drama-thriller. Incidentally, yes, Contagion is totally sci-fi, because a viral pandemic is a scientific event, and thus a fictional story about it is totally science fiction; as a fan of the genre, it annoys me how the term has been corrupted to mean "a totally outlandish tale not meant to be serious nor taken seriously".

Contagion is serious and scrupulously realistic. This is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

An American woman named Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to Hong Kong to Minneapolis and her husband Mitch (Matt Damon), only to die from a mysterious illness. Thus begins a viral pandemic that spreads across the world and threatens to kill millions. CDC director Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne) assigns Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) into the field, but when she contracts the virus herself, his guilt leads him to commit an unprofessional act out of concern for his own wife Aubrey (Sanaa Lathan). Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) races to develop a vaccine. Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the WHO investigates the origin of the virus in China, but her aide Sun Feng (Chin Han) may have more selfish concerns. Mitch Emhoff is immune, but his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) may not be, and they have to weather both a self-imposed quarantine as well as the rapid decay of social order - exacerbated by muckraking blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), who spreads conspiracy theories about the virus at the same time as he pursues avenues to profit from it.

I have fond memories of Outbreak, that 1995 Wolfgang Petersen movie featuring Dustin Hoffman in his only role as an action hero. (Well, not really, the most strenuous thing he did was jump off a chopper onto a boat.) While that film may not hold up very well - owing to the facts that it's not very well-regarded critically, and that I was a somewhat over-excitable teenage boy at that time - I can't help but compare Contagion to it. Outbreak was a purely crowd-pleasing action-thriller, with jump-scare moments and a helicopter chase scene, and TMBF circa 1995 found it loads of fun. Contagion is a lot of things, but fun ain't one of them - not that that's a bad thing in this case, honestly.

What it's most similar to is in fact Soderbergh's own Academy Award-winning Traffic from 2000. It has the same sprawling scope (even moreso, with more characters and interconnected stories) and antiseptic approach to telling its story, not to mention a steadfast refusal to pander to the audience's baser tastes. It's a sci-fi film about a deadly global epidemic, but it's not a post-apocalyptic fantasy; in many ways, its a medical procedural about doctors and scientists trying to find a cure for the disease. And somewhere along the way it turns into a sociological study of how even the best and most dedicated people can be hampered by basic human weaknesses. Such as Cheever, whose mistake will cost him his career; Orantes, who is kidnapped by Sun Feng to be traded for a vaccine they think they could never obtain otherwise; Jory Emhoff, who risks infection because she is a typical teenage girl; and Krumwiede.

Who is very much the villain of the movie, in a movie that largely eschews movie conventions such as "villains". Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli don't seem to get him, but I do - I have had the misfortune of meeting people like him before. Conspiracy theorists, nutcases who believe everything in our lives has been manipulated by powerful evil people in shadowy boardrooms - or that the things and the heroes we revere were all lies perpetrated by those same evil string-pullers. They believe that nothing is good in this world, mankind is inherently evil, and the only logical conclusion to this belief is that there is no point in doing good and every reason to do evil. There is nothing hypocritical in Krumwiede's paranoid rants about Big Pharma profiteering from the vaccine while he does the exact same thing with an ineffectual homeopathic drug. He believes the world consists only of the ignorant, and those who prey on the ignorant, and thus has gladly decided to be one of the predators. "Nutcase" is too kind a word - the man is a vulture.

But I grind my axe too sharply over him, because his part is only one in the scope of this film. Which I felt is simultaneously too broad and too narrow. The Orantes story is the most underdeveloped; at one point she disappears for a good long stretch of time, and when we finally see her again it's after we've probably forgotten she was in the movie. And it's perhaps no coincidence that hers is the only one that takes place outside the U.S.; for a movie about a global epidemic, its scope is strangely confined to the States. When we are told how many millions have died, it comes as a bit of a surprise, since we never really see thousands of dying people or corpses. The CDC personnel are well-protected, and Mitch Emhoff is immune, so there isn't much suspense in who might get infected and die (the trailers already reveal that Mears does).

Still, when panic and misinformation become a greater danger than the virus itself - courtesy of goddamn Krumwiede - I did find it suspenseful, and that's why I put the Thriller label on this review. It's not a great film, but it's a well-made and worthwhile one - perhaps even a scary one, in its purely un-Hollywood depiction of what might really happen in the event of a SARS or H1N1-like outbreak that's a lot deadlier than both of those turned out to be. And hey, how about all those A-list stars in the cast? They're all expectedly excellent. Steven Soderbergh in indie mode isn't much to my taste, but Steven Soderbergh in mainstream mode makes films that are intelligent, thought-provoking and compelling - albeit somewhat clinical. (Pun fully intended there, yo.)

NEXT REVIEW: Nasi Lemak 2.0
Expectations: yay Namewee!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sebuah filem yang tidak bermoral

Hantu Bonceng
My rating:




Saya sedia mengaku, perasaan saya terhadap filem ini agak berat sebelah. Persaingannya sempena minggu Raya Aidilfitri adalah Karipap-Karipap Cinta yang saya sukai, tetapi filem arahan Othman Hafsham itu sudah kalah teruk kepada filem Ahmad Idham ini dalam kutipan box-office. Saya cukup hampa dengan hakikat ini, dan saya berani mengatakan bahawa Karipap-Karipap Cinta lebih layak berjaya dari Hantu Bonceng. Ahmad Idham pula seorang pembikin filem yang dah berkali-kali saya hentam dalam blog ini. Namun setelah menontonnya, saya faham mengapa Hantu Bonceng mendapat sambutan daripada penonton-penonton tempatan.

Kerana penonton-penonton tempatan semuanya jahil tahap jamban.

Amran (Zizan Razak) seorang mat rempit yang di-"hadiah"-kan seorang gadis (Juliana Evans) setelah memenangi perlumbaan haram. Namun sebelum dia sempat memperkosa menikmati hadiahnya, gadis itu terkorban apabila motosikal Amran dilanggar lori. Amran terselamat, dan dia kembali ke hidup biasanya - bekerja sebagai penghantar pizza, memujuk aweknya Halimaton (Jue Aziz) seorang jururawat, dan berkawan dengan rakan serumahnya Kunyit (Sallehuddin Tai) yang tak kerja dan tak guna. Tetapi kini dia diganggu oleh hantu gadis itu, lalu dia mencari penyelesaian dari seorang ustaz (Cat Farish), yang juga mempunyai seorang adik (Nursyuhaida) yang menawan hati Kunyit. Bagi menebus penglibatannya dalam kematian gadis itu, Amran mencari adik kembar gadis itu bernama Ayu (Juliana Evans) dan menolongnya mencari pekerjaan di kotaraya KL - tetapi makin lama, Amran makin jatuh hati dengan Ayu. Tambahan pula, pesaing ketat Amran di litar lumba haram ialah Dani (Azlan Kami), yang juga merupakan abang Halimaton dan sentiasa cuba menganiayai Amran.

Dari mula lagi, filem ini membuat saya amat-amat marah. Ia menunjukkan dunia gelap mat rempit yang menganggap kesucian wanita sebagai harta yang boleh ditukar-tukar - dan watak yang kononnya hero dalam cerita ini beriya-iya hendak menuntut "habuan"nya dengan angkuh sekali. Gadis yang menjadi trofi kemenangannya pula, digelar bohsia oleh filem ini serta sinopsis rasminya - tetapi sebenarnya dia bukan bohsia. Dia seorang yang naif, lurus dan tidak bersalah atau berdosa; bila dia bertanya "kemana abang nak bawa saya?", ini jelas menunjukkan dia langsung tidak tahu apa yang akan berlaku kepadanya. Dan watak hero pula masih lagi nak menggatal. Wahai Tuan Pengarah dan Penulis Skrip Ahmad Idham, ini bukan maksiat - ini rogol!

Apa yang benar-benar menjijikkan ialah bagaimana Ahmad Idham menggambarkan semua ini sebagai lawak semata-mata. Bukan hanya babak seorang anak dara bakal dirogol, malah juga kematiannya yang dahsyat juga dijadikan bahan ketawa. Pernah nampak tak orang kena golek lori? Ingat kelakarlah tu? Dan selepas kemalangan itu, takde siapa yang mengendahkannya; Amran dibawa ke hospital tapi tidak disoalsiasat oleh polis, dan polis pula tak reti nak mengenalpasti mayat itu. Bebal sangat ke PDRM kita ni? Amran sibuk nak mengorat balik makwenya, Halimaton sibuk nak merajuk dengan pakwenya, Kunyit sibuk nak buat perangai bangang, dan tiada seorang pun yang pedulikan sebuah nyawa yang telah terkorban.

Begitu juga dengan audiens. Semuanya asyik ketawa terbahak-bahak, terutamanya semasa adegan pembukaan dimana Amran baru memenangi perlumbaan haram. Awak tak perasan ke, Ahmad Idham? Adegan ini bukannya mengecam budaya rempit - malah ia memujanya! Jelas sekali para penonton - terutamanya yang lelaki - seronok melihat Amran ni bermegah-megah dengan kemenangannya serta habuannya. Amran yang menjadi watak hero dalam filem ini. Ini ke mesej yang sesuai ditayangkan kepada kaum Melayu sempena Hari Raya Aidilfitri?? Malah ini ke filem yang awak panggil "sesuai untuk seisi keluarga?" Kepala hotak engkau la Ahmad Idham. Apabila kanak-kanak yang menonton filem ini bertanya "Abah, 'bohsia' tu apa? Abang tu nak bawak kakak tu pergi mana?", aku nak kau cuba jawab.

Tetapi saya perlu jujur. Walaupun saya bermuka masam dari awal lagi cerita ini, makin lama makin saya tersenyum - malah tergelak sekali dua dengan jenakanya. Filem ini banyak persamaan dengan Adnan Sempit, komedi arahan Ahmad Idham yang menjadi sleeper hit dulu. Ada kisah cinta antara hero dengan heroin, ada watak sidekick yang juga ada subplot cinta, ada adegan nyanyian ala Hindustan, dan ada jalan cerita yang pada umumnya logik serta lawak yang menjadi. Saya hampir pasti skripnya ditulis oleh penulis Adnan Sempit juga; walaupun kredit bagi kedua-kedua filem itu diberi kepada Ahmad Idham, tapi manalah tahu siapa sebenarnya yang berjasa. (Saya sangka seorang bernama Aranina Zulfra yang menulisnya, tapi itu silap - nampaknya orang ini tidak wujud, kerana tak jumpa pun namanya dengan Google.)

Ada beberapa benda yang saya suka tentang filem ini. Saya suka apabila Kunyit memberi nasihat yang baik dan ikhlas kepada Amran. Saya suka watak awek Kunyit yang dimainkan oleh Nursyuhaida, watak kecil yang ada otak, ada harga diri dan ada semangat. Saya suka pemilihan Juliana Evans sebagai gadis yang menggoda Amran, kerana dia lebih lawa dari Jue Aziz. Saya suka pelakon jambu Eizlan Yusof sebagai bomoh sengal dan Cat Farish sebagai ustaz yang baik hati (satu-satunya watak lakonan Cat Farish yang tidak menjengkelkan). Dan saya sanggup pertahankan filem ini dari tuduhan ianya menghina agama Islam. Ia tidak menghina; ia cuma mendekati isu agama dengan tidak serius. Ini kan komedi ringan, takkan ia tiba-tiba nak bertukar jadi khutbah Jumaat. (Blog Beautiful Nara tu pun lagi satu. Sorang je yang terasa tersinggung dengan filem ini, tapi awak yang buat heboh. Haritu tak cukup berita ke?)

Namun begitu, oleh kerana keinsafan Amran juga dilihat sebagai tidak serius, menyebabkan dosanya semasa mula-mula - samalah dengan dosa filem ini - tidak ditebus. Dia akhirnya insaf, tetapi apa sebenarnya yang dia insafkan? Insaf hanya sebab nak hentikan gangguan hantu dan pujuk kembali gerpren dia? Itu panggil ikhlas ke? Dia tak kesal dengan kematian seorang gadis yang tidak bersalah, dan dia tak sedar pun yang dia bertanggungjawab atas kematiannya. Dan saya dapat rasa filem ini, serta pengarah dan penulis skripnya, juga berpendapat bahawa Amran tidak bersalah - ataupun dia berpendapat bahawa kesalahannya sesuatu yang tidak serius. Watak perogol yang menyebabkan kematian orang dijadikan bahan ketawa - malah dijadikan hero.

Beginilah pegangan moral filem ini, dan ianya pegangan yang saya tidak setujui sama sekali. Saya mahu menyukai filem ini sebenarnya. Saya rasa lawak dan jalan ceritanya efektif, malah lebih baik daripada Adnan Sempit. Tetapi ia bermula dengan lawak yang kurang ajar, dan berterusan dengan hiburan yang berkesan tetapi tidak sedar akan siratan ceritanya yang durjana. Inilah sebenarnya filem yang membawa pengaruh buruk kepada anak-anak muda - filem dimana nilai hiburannya berjaya memaniskan ajaran yang keji dan celaka. Baik saya tamatkan saja rebiu saya disini (sebab saya sudah mengambil masa yang lama untuk menulisnya); saya sudah berputus hendak memberi 2-½ bintang, tapi makin lama saya fikirkan filem ini, makin saya nak rendahkan lagi rating saya.

NEXT REVIEW: Contagion
Expectations: not Outbreak 2, that's for sure

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome back, Othman Hafsham

Karipap-Karipap Cinta
My rating:



Well hello Malaysian film, long time no see. There've been no local movies released the whole of last month, due to FINAS' decision to ban them during Ramadhan. (The last one was Senario The Movie: Ops Pocot, which I wanted to catch but seemed to have ended its run quite early. Here's hoping that means it flopped.) A ridiculously arbitrary decision I must say; they do it under the pretext of "menghormati bulan Ramadhan," but how exactly is it un-Ramadhan-like to go watch a Malay movie? Muslims can watch stuff like Captain America, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys and Aliens while they're fasting, but Farid Kamil or Shaheizy Sam or Yana Samsudin on the big screen will weaken their faith? Sigh... file that under my personal Stuff About Malaysia I Will Never Understand (a folder that every Malaysian possesses).

But after a whole month of no local films, I gotta say, this one was worth the wait.

Ali (Gambit Saifullah) is a photographer for the scandal rag Wadah Rakyat, works with his colleage Aman (Shawal Ruslan) for their overbearing boss Datuk Razali (Emman Manan), lives with his roommate Yoga (P. Jagen), and is in love with Sarah (Melia Aimellia). But Sarah is somewhat above his league, coming from a wealthy family, being an Al-Azhar University graduate, and having some kickass silat skills - not to mention a thing for curry puffs. He woos her, and she seems to like him - big doofus that he is - but when he gets insecure about her childhood fried Arman (Ery Zukhairi), who has l33t religious credentials, he blurts out a lie that he, too, studied at Al-Azhar. But wacky rom-com hijinks aside, trouble brews when Datuk Razali digs up dirt about a scandal perpetrated by his rival - a scandal that also involves Sarah's father (Afizudin Fazil), and may ruin their family.

Othman Hafsham was once one of the most popular local film directors, if not the most popular. His heyday was in the '80s, and his Mekanik - the one with Azmil Mustapha and Susan Lankester - is still hailed as a modern classic, particularly for its enjoyably inclusive muhibbah spirit (none of that 1Malaysia nonsense yet back then). Or so it is hailed. I haven't seen it since I was little, so I couldn't say for sure if it deserves that accolade; I only remember that goofy scene in which Azmil and Susan eschew a roadside food stall for an "upmarket" restaurant whose kitchen happens to be the very same back alley stall. (I'm reasonably certain Hafsham ripped that joke off a Lat cartoon.) But having watched Karipap-Karipap Cinta, his first theatrical film in 20 years, I'm ready to believe what they say about Mekanik. It's in here too.

No, Hafsham did not deliberately set out to make a "1Malaysia" movie. (That's been done, and it didn't turn out good.) What he has made is a film that displays boundless affection for its characters, its story, and its uniquely Malaysian setting - specifically, KL. It's clear, from his penchant for mini-montages of the colourful hustle-bustle of KL life, that Hafsham simply loves the city too much to depict it as anything other than the multi-racial cosmopolis that it is. (He's even daring enough to show a quick shot of an "Abolish ISA" graffiti tag!) And that's why, as much as its a singularly Malay story about Malay-Muslim concerns, he gives the hero an Indian best friend and a Chinese neighbour (Patrick Teoh) and makes them both likable. Which is an incredibly welcome change from the typical parochialism of most Malay films, who often depict non-Malay characters - if they even have any - as idiotically offensive stereotypes.

He also makes the heroine the single smartest and most capable character in the film, which means you can add "respects women" to the list of Things That Make Hafsham Better Than Every Other Malay Film Director. And his affection for the characters extends to the nominal villain, who has a change of heart by the end; and even Aishah (Syamira Azmil), the psycho neighbour chick of Ali's whose subplot involves her obsessive crush on him. But perhaps credit for the storyline ought to go to Nazri M. Annuar, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel. His writing is a lot smarter and cleverer than most local films, poking fun at things like the populist media, Malay drama clich├ęs, superstitious beliefs, JAIS khalwat raids, and even its own "curry puff as True Love" metaphor. The dialogue is witty and enjoyable, and the cast are game enough to deliver it in a natural manner.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite stick its ending. This would be where the formerly-lovably dumb Ali turns into a moron, a coward, a drama queen and a crybaby. Which is the problem with the hackneyed old "guy pretends to be something he's not to tackle the girl" plot; it invariably ends with the deception being revealed, the guy tearfully apologizing, and the girl forgiving him and accepting him anyway. What a great lesson to teach would-be Romeos in how to win a girl's heart: lying and cheating totally works! Oh okay, I suppose it's mitigated in this case by the fact that the girl saw through his bullshit from the beginning. Still, it's a stupid plot device, and the ending is where the film's charm and good-naturedness could no longer quite make up for the stupidity.

The charm and good-naturedness makes up for quite a lot though, including the acting. Veteran Emman Manan has fun hamming it up (and Hafsham even has him let out an honest-to-goodness Evil Laugh), making him the most enjoyable of the supporting cast. Syamira Azmil is perhaps a little too attractive to be the kind of girl that a guy like Ali wouldn't give a second glance to. But as for the leads, Gambit Saifullah has the screen presence, but here he lets his grin do all his acting for him. Melia Aimellia is cute and perky, but that's about it. Neither of them have much in the way of chemistry; while Ali is clearly all hot and bothered around Sarah and she clearly enjoys his company, these two crazy kids are more like kakak-adik than lovers. That's a larger problem with Malay romantic films as a whole, in that they never know how to depict the passion of falling in love. I picture Ali and Sarah's sex life in future, and all I can see is awkward fumbling and embarrassed disappointment.

Still, Karipap-Karipap Cinta is a perfectly pleasant little movie - and that makes it a bloody rare and precious thing in Malay cinema. As is Hafsham's much-missed affection for Malaysia, Malaysians, and their stories. Twenty years is far too long a hiatus, and I'm hoping his return to the big screen presages more movies in future. We need you, Hafsham! We need your warmth, your humour, your insights, your honesty, and your clear and obvious love of filmmaking. Because quite frankly, our film industry is sorely bereft of all these things right now. We need you to show these morons how to do it right.

NEXT REVIEW: Hantu Bonceng
Expectations: I shall be objective, I shall be objective, I shall be objective...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Conan the cartoon

Conan the Barbarian (2011)
My rating:




As I have mentioned more than once, I loves me some sword-and-sorcery. I'm not sure why or how that love came about, though. I remember not watching the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian - the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger - when it first came out, because I was a wee tyke back then and that is not a movie for wee tykes. I have, of course, since rectified that omission. But I do remember my dad taking me to watch Conan the Destroyer in cinemas two years later, which... yeah, that probably started it. I say this with some embarrassment, because Conan the Destroyer is not very good, as I have now come to realize with my adult faculties. (There's also Krull, which came out a year earlier and probably holds up better, but which I have to admit didn't make much of an impact to me at the time. Probably because I watched it on a blurry VHS.) But whichever my seminal cinematic sword-and-sorcery experience was, I grew up loving the genre and sadly bemoaning its dearth.

Even more sadly, this new reboot of the Conan series isn't going to end it.

As a child (Leo Howard), Conan the Cimmerian watched a vicious warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) slaughter his village and murder his father (Ron Perlman). As an adult (Jason Momoa), he is now a pirate, rogue, and mighty warrior, and chances upon an opportunity to gain revenge upon Khalar - who possesses an ancient magical artifact and, aided by his sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), is seeking a mortal of pure blood to complete an evil ritual. This pure blood is Tamara (Rachel Nichols), a monk whose monastery is sacked by Zym - but by chance, Conan manages to rescue her and hold her captive. But she soon turns from his prisoner to his ally, as Conan quest for vengeance takes on greater import; if Zym succeeds in his ritual, he will possess enough sorcerous power to rule the world.

The big difference between the original Conan the Barbarian and its sequel Conan the Destroyer is in the rating: the good one was rated R, the other one was a kiddified PG. This reboot goes straight for the hard R, which probably won it a bit of goodwill from Conan fans - but unfortunately, the actual movie belies that rating. It's bloody and gory, with plenty of beheadings and dismemberments during fight scenes; and there's also a fair bit of nudity and boobery, mostly of the female kind (censored by our fine Lembaga Penapisan Filem, of course, and fortunately to not much detriment), although Jason Momoa is bare-chested practically all the time. And there's also a creepy incestuous vibe between the villain and his beautiful but evil daughter. But it's a cartoon, despite all these trappings. Its plot, dialogue and overall treatment of Robert E. Howard's classic pulp hero is fit for horny 13-year-old boys, not adults.

Marcus Nispel, man. What a hack; guy started out directing commercials and music videos, then parlayed that into a film career making reboots of horror franchises like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. He claims a Conan movie is his childhood dream project, which turned out to not mean a damn thing. This movie is the bad kind of cinematic cheese - the kind that has pretensions of being something gritty and serious. (The good kind of cheese is the kind that's deliberately cheesy.) Its saving grace is that it never gets dull; with its frequent and clamourous action scenes, this movie moves. But Nispel proves as crappy at filming a fight scene as he is at everything else, going for the shaky-cam and always choosing the wrong angle and the wrong edit. In fact, the editing for this is noticeably bad, on par with Prince of Persia. Its one monster-fighting scene - and monster-fighting scenes are a highlight of the genre - is just an ugly, incoherent mess.

Stephen Lang was an awesome villain in Avatar, but his role here is a lot more poorly-written, and he comes across as an unremarkably generic B-movie baddie. Rose McGowan at least gets what kind of movie this should be, and gets the right vampy vibe for her Marique. Rachel Nichols is pretty as a picture, but she has no idea whether her Tamara is a spunky fighter or a squealing damsel in distress (and to be fair, neither does the movie). Ron Perlman phones it in, and what's really sad is that he was a lot livelier in Season of the Witch, an even worse sword-and-sorcery movie. As for Momoa - man, I dunno. He certainly seems to be having fun playing the quintessential barbarian hero, and he gives it his all, but neither the script nor the direction make him anything other than cheesy. It doesn't help that he speaks like a California surfer dude while the rest of the cast are going for a faux-period accent; he doesn't even pronounce "Khalar" the same as everyone else. (And one line of his sounds like a really shoddy overdub. Look out for it; it's when he says "A feast for my sword.")

Ultimately, Momoa isn't going to replace Schwarzenegger as the iconic cinematic Conan. The 1982 original had John Milius, who was far more successful at making an unapologetically adult fantasy adventure that takes itself completely seriously. It was epic, operatic, witty, and had the benefit of an awesome Basil Poledouris score that's still hailed as one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. (Tyler Bates' in this one isn't even trying.) But Milius' and Schwarzenegger's brooding, laconic Conan wasn't exactly the most faithful to Howard's source material, giving him an origin story and a revenge plot. Momoa is arguably closer to the literary Conan, but he's hobbled by a much worse movie and director - and no way it can claim to be a more faithful adaptation if it goes to the "avenge my father and my village" well again. Conan doesn't need an origin story! And what he really thirsts for is riches to plunder and ass to kick, not revenge.

So then, why 2-½ stars? Because as I said, it's never dull. Its pace is agreeably breakneck, moving quickly enough along to the next fight scene such that an undiscerning viewer can almost gloss over its bad dialogue, bad editing and overall cheapness of its production. (I said almost.) And Momoa is appropriately badass. I found it fitfully enjoyable, because I dig sword-and-sorcery and Conan the Barbarian 2011 is certainly a sword-and-sorcery movie; it's just not a good one, and it's a waste of one of the most influential characters in fantasy literature. I'm going to lay the blame for this completely at Nispel's feet - and probably also his editor's, Ken Blackwell. Because there's this article by (one of its) screenwriter Sean Hood, which just by how it effectively makes me feel sorry for him, leads me to think this movie could've turned out good at some point. That'd be before Nispel took over the reins.

NEXT REVIEW: Karipap-Karipap Cinta
Expectations: well hello Othman Hafsham, long time no see