Monday, October 31, 2011

Still sleeping just fine, thanks

Paranormal Activity 3
My rating:

In my review of Paranormal Activity 2, I said that I fully expect the next instalment to hit theaters same time next year. That was in January, which makes Paranormal Activity 3's October release 3 months early - but logical, because, of course, Halloween. Which probably means we can expect Paranormal Activities 4, 5, 6 Ad Infinitum on our cinema schedules every October from now on. This third one certainly looks none the worse for having having less than a year's production time after the release of its immediate predecessor, to which it is perfectly comparable in terms of quality. If they can churn 'em out this fast, it should be no problem for Paramount Pictures to get one in theaters every Halloween.

And maybe some day, they'll even make one that's halfway as good as the first.

In 1988, Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are young girls living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who is a wedding videographer. When strange sounds and inexplicable occurrences start to happen, Dennis sets up cameras around the house in an effort to find out what's going on - which may have something to do with Kristi's "imaginary friend", Toby.

Short synopsis, innit? That's 'cos it's a distressingly simple story, and I do mean distressing. I was already dismayed to learn that this third entry in the series goes the prequel route once again, instead of following on from the second film's storyline; even if I didn't like it much, I'd be interested to (SPOILER ALERT) follow Ali's efforts to rescue her baby brother. Paranormal Activity 3 amplifies the prequel problem of the last one, in that it's a story that you already know won't go anywhere nor have any major impact on the timeline. Katie and Kristi aren't gonna remember much of what happened here - they certainly didn't remember the first time they were constantly filmed by a camera-obsessed male family member - and are certainly not gonna die either. Everyone else, however, is fair game.

Which wouldn't be so bad if these new characters were interesting, enough so you could care whether they survive. They're not. The characters of 2 were already a lot sketchier than Katie and Micah of the first, but at least they were likable (or Kristi and Ali were; Dan was a moron). In 3, they're barely even there. Dennis and Julie have no discernible personality whatsoever, other than he's the curious one and she's the disbelieving one. Little Katie and Kristi do the Creepy Child thing and not much more. In fact, there are two extended scary sequences featuring two completely peripheral characters - a babysitter (Johanna Braddy) and a friend of Dennis' named Randy (Dustin Ingram); it's also pretty laughable how they both get freaked out by something freaky, then both of them vamoose outta there without even telling Dennis or Julie what happened.

And Julie gets the thankless Dan role as the annoying skeptic (by the way, as an avowed skeptic myself, it wasn't so much Dan's disbelief that was annoying as it was his callous refusal to even entertain his obviously-terrified wife's and daughter's fears). But even Dan went through a gradual progression from skeptic to believer; here, Julie spends the entire first half scoffing, then BAM one spooky jump-scare later and she brings on the next plot point. There's hardly any story here; it's a wafer-thin structure on which to hang a mostly disconnected series of BAM jump-scares. Don't expect much in the way of expanding the series' mythology either; we already know that the demon haunting both girls has its roots in some witchy business their family was involved in - and that's exactly what happens. And that's why their grandmother (Hallie Foote) is in the movie as well, which ain't no spoiler at all if you've seen 2.

So all that earns it 2-½ stars (the same rating I gave the last installment) is its jump-scares. Other than two annoyingly fake ones - i.e. people literally jumping out and yelling "BOO!" at the camera - the scares here are more effective than 2's, which I am hard-pressed to even remember right now. One pretty ingenious trick is a camera placed on the base of an oscillating fan, so that it slowly pans back and forth across their living room and kitchen. It generates some deliciously suspenseful moments with every pan, waiting for something to show up that wasn't there a few seconds ago. There are also scary things happening while one's back is turned to the rest of the (dimly-lit, of course) room, and scary things happening while one's loved ones are nearby but too preoccupied to hear your screams - both of which are clever scares that approach the effectiveness of the first film. That's what fans of the series want, and they'll get enough to make them happy.

But that paper-thin plot still annoys me. It seems to herald the direction for the future of the franchise - because there is zero possibility that the studio are not at this very moment developing more Activities of a Paranormal Nature. They'll probably go the prequel route again, maybe one set after the events of this entry, in which yet another person enters Katie's and Kristi's lives who coincidentally has lots of video filming equipment on hand. It's probably not gonna bother explaining that, any more than it seems interested in exploring the future of its timeline rather than the past. With this third installment, the series looks set to join Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser as horror franchises whose returns diminished rapidly after a great first film - and will probably go on long after it starts to suck.

NEXT REVIEW: Sumpahan Puaka
Expectations: don't know a damn thing about it

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A thing that's like the other thing

The Thing (2011)
My rating:

It pains me to say that The Thing, John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi horror classic, may not hold up too well. I base this observation on watching the DVD with a friend, a self-proclaimed fan of gory horror movies. She didn't find it scary. She laughed during the blood test scene; well, specifically, at the three guys freaking out over being tied next to a Thing. She did not appear to like it much. And perhaps I was just picking up on her vibe, but it wasn't really working on me either (I hadn't watched it in years). For one thing, most of the suspense is based on not knowing which character is a Thing - and when they're going to start Thinging out - so any viewing after the first loses this. For another, despite extensive fan speculation over the years and even a video analysis, the plot is really quite obtuse. Having committed cinematic blasphemy, TMBF now turned to the new prequel movie, wondering if it could update the premise, setting, intense paranoia and pants-wetting body horror for today's audiences.

It didn't do too bad a job. But it also highlighted how the original* is still a better movie, in many ways.

Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a paleontologist who is invited to join an Antarctic expedition by Dr. Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen). A team of Norwegian scientists there have discovered a 100,000-year-old alien ship under the ice, along with the frozen corpse of a creature that crawled out of it. They cut the corpse out of the ice and bring it back to their base - and as they're celebrating their discovery, the ice thaws, and the creature comes back to life. Kate soon discovers that the alien creature has the ability to mimic any living thing, and that it may have already "assimilated" any member of the team - including helicopter pilots Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) - disguising its true form as a monstrous, shapeless, writhing mass of limbs, claws, tentacles and jaws.

Yup, this is gonna be another one of my "it's good, but here are all the bad things about it" reviews. So let's start with the good stuff first. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is terrific, once you get past how young and cute she is to be a paleontologist (and why can't paleontologists be young and cute?). She makes a believably smart and tough heroine, and may she get plenty more such roles in her career. The CGI creature effects are neat and seamless; they're nicely complemented with plenty of practical effects too, and you won't be able to tell the two apart. The premise of a monster that could disguise itself perfectly as another human being, with whom you are trapped in an isolated base in the middle of the Antarctic, still works like gangbusters. The movie executes it quite effectively, and it is overall a reasonably scary - and gross - sci-fi horror film. And yes, my friend, who was born 5 years after the original, would probably like it better, as would most people of her generation.

But there are "buts" to all of the above. Winstead is great, but her Kate Lloyd is about the only interesting character here. Now, the characters in Carpenter's film weren't particularly three-dimensional either, but some neatly subtle writing and acting managed to give them all distinct personalities. A fan could probably still name them - MacReady, Childs, Blair, Copper, Norris, Palmer, etc. The one thing they weren't was interchangeable, which is what the folks in this prequel are. Aside from the ones I named in my synopsis above, there are a bunch more blonde and bearded Norwegians whom you can barely tell apart - beside one female and one who doesn't speak English - and are there just to get Thinged. And when Sander started being the asshole scientist who cares more about his discovery than human lives, I was tempted to roll my eyes. Carpenter (and his writer Bill Lancaster) never had to resort to such heavy-handed characterization.

And while Alec Gillis' and Tom Woodruff, Jr's creature effects look a lot slicker than Rob Bottin's of almost 30 years ago, I somehow find their Thing designs somewhat less imaginative. Oh sure, they're still body-horror-tastic enough to freak out most people. But there still isn't anything here that compares to the sheer insanity of the original film's Norris-Thing (and the spider head, man), or even the Dog-Thing. I've heard a lot of carping from fans of the original, who'd be satisfied with nothing less than 100% practical effects and no CGI whatsoever - which I think is just so much fanboy carping. Its weakness is in design, not in technical ability. This becomes evident during the latter half, in which a Thing stalks the remaining members of the base in a chase scene. Which is nicely pulse-pounding, as chase scenes go, but again - this is a somewhat cheaper route to scaring the audience that Carpenter knew to eschew, in favour of a slower, more dread-filled and more sophisticated approach.

See, this prequel - that purports to explore what happened at the Norwegian base that first encountered the Thing, that the characters of Carpenter's film explored - is actually a stealth remake (premakequel?), as would quickly become clear to anyone who had watched the 1982 film recently. Too many of the plot points are too similar - even many of the characters and their functions - which raises the question: why bother calling it a prequel? If you're gonna recycle most of the plot points, why not call it a remake and be done with it? And if it's not a remake, does it not behoove you to do more than just reintroduce the concept to a 30-years-younger audience? Why not show us something new? There are some new bits; Kate thinks of a different way to test for disguised Things, which leads to a terrifically suspenseful scene. And we get to explore the interior of the alien spaceship, which is both spooky and wondrous. But the overall plot still goes through the exact same motions of the 1982 film.

This is the fourth film I've reviewed this year alone in which I've had to append the current year to its title, because its title is exactly the same as the older movie it's based on. (And don't get me started on why this supposed prequel to The Thing calls itself The Thing.) I'm actually not too bothered by Hollywood's constant recycling of ideas and material; I still go into every remake or reboot or sequel/prequel/what-have-you with an open mind and a hope that it lives up to the original. But I'd be less bothered if they'd spend as much time expanding on familiar concepts in fresh ways as they did mining for old properties they could repackage and sell. I want to see a proper sequel to The Thing: what if it infected a town? A whole city? How would a dedicated team of scientists and soldiers combat it? What would a post-Thingpocalyptic world be like? And why isn't anyone interested in these questions?

NEXT REVIEW: Paranormal Activity 3
Expectations: another prequel? Sigh

* Yes yes, I know Carpenter's film is itself a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing From Another World, and that they both share the same source material in John W. Campbell Jr's novella Who Goes There? Which I've read, so no ignoramus me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All Malay men are scum and all Malay women are idiots - so says this movie

Klip 3GP
My rating:

(Warning: this review is rated 18 for entirely justified harsh language.)

Wikipedia tells me that 3GP is a format for multimedia (usually video) files recorded or meant to be played on mobile phones. However, it seems the "klip 3GP" referenced in this film's title refers to voyeur videos of a sexual nature traded avidly among horny young Malays - or so I gather, since I am largely unfamiliar with this sordid aspect of modern Malay culture. There are tons of porn available on the internet that are more explicit, not to mention clearer and better-filmed, but it appears the appeal of 3GP clips is its homegrown nature - that they feature local Malay girls. I'm pretty sure they appeal only to Malays; I can't imagine Chinese and Indians getting too worked up over blurry sex videos "starring" local Chinese or Indian girls filmed on cheap handphone cameras. So, this is a thing, and here's a movie that tackles this very thing - a movie that I pondered over whether it's a socially relevant techno-thriller or a sleazy sexploitation flick.

It is not the former. And to call it the latter would be far too complimentary. It is, in fact, a fucking digusting piece of trash.

Eddie (Zahiril Adzim) is this self-made young millionaire online businessman, whose side - or only, it's not at all clear - income appears to be peddling 3GP sex clips. He gets supplied by a number of sources, to whit: three bimbos (Sara Ali, Amanda Misbun and Tasha Shilla) who don't get into any sexual shenanigans but do happen to capture a ghost on video; two slimey mat skodengs (Jojofly O.N.E and Zydee O.N.E) who go as far as spying on women in female restrooms; a camera-obsessed voyeur (Sabhi Saddi) who somehow attracts the interest of a moronic young girl (Faralyna Idris), whose brother happens to be a member of a gang of rapists and murderers (Shafiq Isam, Iskandar Zulkarnian, Din Belon and a couple other scumbags); and finally, Sunny (Fikhree Bakar), who had a one-night stand with a young executive named Maya (Mimi O.N.E) and blackmails her with her sex video, and apparently does this kind of thing all the time with his accomplice girlfriend (Adeline Anthony). So Maya goes apeshit bugfuck crazy - y'know, like women do.

This is Aidilfitri Mohd Yunos' first directorial effort, so I can't tell if he's always this bad. But I recognize screenwriter Sofia J. Rhyland's name from another mind-bogglingly shitty movie, and her ability to tell a story has gotten no better - if it ever existed at all. Its four interweaving storylines have barely anything to do with each other, and it doesn't even have the structure of an anthology film to justify it. It features the film debut of the members of the rap group One Nation Emcees, a.k.a. O.N.E, playing superfluous characters who are there just so O.N.E can have their film debut. The bit with the three bimbos has a spooky long-haired hantu in it for no fucking reason whatsoever - and speaking of those three, the 4-hour drive from Johor Bahru to KL appears to be their idea of a night out on the town. As Eddie updates his website on his canggih-manggih workstation, he likes to keep a video window open filming himself. And it remains a mystery how this supposed millionaire makes a sen off his porn site that doesn't even seem to charge a membership fee.

But the nonsensical plot isn't the movie's biggest problem. That would be its depiction of modern Malay society as a bottomless cesspool of depravity, inhumanity and stupidity. Every male is either an insanely evil sexual predator, or a complete sociopath who can watch a video of a vicious gang-rape and whack off to the victim's tortured screams rather than feel an ounce of sympathy. And every female is either a slut or a slut-in-the-making, who thinks a total fucking stranger filming them with his phone camera is a charming flirt rather than a gross invasion of their privacy. I'm not even fucking kidding about all this. Bad enough there's a dude here who rapes his own sister to death; bad enough there's a blackmailer who calls his victim and tells her he's going to reneg on the deal and ruin her life, just to hear her lose her shit. They'll also laugh, and whoop, and smirk, and sneer, and crow about it to each other while they're at it.

Why? Why would Aidilfitri and Rhyland make such horrible, irredeemable garbage? It's partly because of sexploitation: selling sexual imagery while hypocritically condemning it and those who watch it. But like I said, if it were mere sexploitation, it'd be a better film than it is; the genre is often subversive, made by filmmakers who sneak in ideas such as "sex is a natural human instinct, and can also be pretty awesome yo" past the moral censors. Aidilfitri and Rhyland seem to think their film is a cautionary tale - that people are supposed to watch this and be inspired to lead wholesome and godly lives. Which is not only laughable in how it does the exact opposite, it also reflects the exceedingly fucked-up sexual mores and customs amongst modern Malays. This is a society in which something as basic to human nature as dating - the process of discovering one's self and one's requirements in a life partner, through romantic relationships with different people - is denied to most young Malays via moral and religious censure.

Yes, this is fucked up. I am Chinese, non-Muslim, of a particularly liberal bent, partial to Western societal standards, and I think the Malay attitude towards sex is fucked up. Oh, I know not all Malays are like this - I know there are healthy, well-adjusted, non-misogynist, non-sexually-repressed Malays out there. But they never say anything; we only hear from folks like the Obedient Fucking Wives' Club. They don't make any movies; people like Aidilfitri and Rhyland make movies, preaching their fucked-uppery in cineplexes all over the nation. A movie that portrays Malays as the vilest, most repugnant, most wretched people on earth. A movie that is itself the product of an equally vile and repugnant point of view. A movie that made me write these things, in this review, with that unapologetically provocative title. A movie that made me fucking angry, not just at it, but at the whole goddamn Malay race.

Not to mention angry at the cast, who play these despicable people and look like they're having a ball doing it. Oh, I know I should feel sorry for them instead. I'm sure Zydee and Jojofly don't want to be hated as much as the intensely hateable mat skodengs they play. I'm sure Din Belon doesn't want people to think he's a giggling, grinning, inhuman monster. And I'm sure Faralyna Idris wants to be known for more than just the disturbing amount of leg she showed in her gang-rape scene. So I want to ask: what the fuck were you guys thinking!? Did Mimi actually think the role of Maya - who is alternately a drunken slut, a sobbing, self-pitying emotional wreck, and a raving icepick-waving psycho - would be a "challenge" to her nascent acting talents? I especially want to pose that question to Zahiril Adzim, who is the most experienced actor here and also the one whose presence I find most disappointing. I'd always thought you were an intelligent and thoughtful fellow. What the fuck were you thinking? Did you not know what kind of shit you were in?

I remember once when I happened to turn on the TV, and U-Wei Haji Saari's Perempuan, Isteri dan...? came on - specifically, the violent climactic scene. Then my dad walked in, glanced at it for a few seconds, and muttered something like, "Malays... such savage people." Now, I have no wish to paint my father as a racist (and yes, he was terribly unfair to U-Wei's film). But it doesn't take a racist to watch Klip 3GP and come away with a deep fear and loathing of Malay people. That's exactly what this movie would do to a non-Malay who watches it. It'll make them fear that the next Malay dude they see is a vicious psychopath out to rob and murder and rape them and their loved ones, rather than a regular guy just trying to get by with his life. The silver lining in all this is that it'll almost certainly flop, because Malay audiences are still too conservative about such overt sexual material. But truth is, they shouldn't not watch it because it's sexy. They should not watch it, because it is a film that does real damage to Malaysian society, staining the souls of those who watched it in insidious ways and irrevocably befouling those involved in making it.

NEXT REVIEW: The Thing (2011)
Expectations: eager to see how it compares to the original

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The steel is stronger than the flesh

Real Steel
My rating:

Real Steel earned a fair bit of derision in the months leading up to its release. We've been threatened by told of a couple of Hollywood projects that aim to adapt toys and boardgames into movies, and this one seemed for all the world like Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie. Which is probably a laughable concept to anyone familiar with the ages-6-and-up toy, but I'm not one of them; I've never played it. Still, while it isn't the dumbest toy/game to be turned into a movie (I'm still waiting for Ridley Scott's Monopoly), the trailers made it look like a pretty silly Rocky/Over the Top ripoff with battling CGI robots in place of boxing or arm-wrestling.

It is exactly that. It is also, surprisingly, pretty good.

In a near future where "the fight game changed" and robots have taken over human fighters in the sport of boxing, former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) now ekes out a meagre living taking battered old robots to underground matches - and more often than not, getting trashed. One day, he is informed that an old girlfriend has passed away and left him an 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). The boy's aunt (Hope Davis) wants to adopt him, but Charlie works out a deal in which he will take care of Max for the summer for a cash payout. He intends to leave him with his old flame Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), a boxing gym owner, but Max insists on following him on tour. Later they find a battered old sparring robot in a scrapyard that Max names Atom, although no one - not even Charlie, initially - thinks much of it. But with Max's faith, and Charlie's tutelage in boxing moves, Atom starts winning more and more fights - and eventually earns the notice of Zeus, the undefeated world robot boxing champion, and its arrogant rich owners (Olga Fonda and Karl Yune).

I've just realized that I rarely apply the Family-friendly label on a review of a live-action film. Partly because it's hard to define, and partly because I often see it as a vote of confidence that I'm not always keen on giving - as if I am recommending that people take their kids to watch it. (The recent version of The Three Musketeers might qualify as a family film, but I'm not labeling it as such because it sucks.) Real Steel, however, is one movie I have no compunctions against giving the Family-friendly label. Partly because it clearly has a kid main character, and partly because it's good. In fact, kids will probably love it a lot more than adults, and if the robot toys are in stores by now then I bet they're flying off the shelves as we speak.

Of course, 3-½ stars only means it's good, not great. It's still a very formulaic underdog-sports-movie-cum-father-son-bonding-movie, with a side of boy-and-his-dog/animal/robot/otherwise-non-human-friend movie, and it generally pulls off all these elements well. In fact, a couple of critics have noted its similarities to the Transformers movies, and you can go ahead and replace "noted its similarities to" with "think it's much better than". I think so too, although it isn't quite because Shawn Levy is a better director than Michael Bay. (He is on AV Club's list of 10 Directors You Didn't Know You Hated, after all.) He tends to lay on the schmaltz a little thick, his approach to humour can be a little annoyingly juvenile, and there ain't a damn thing subtle about his storytelling.

But the one thing he does better than Bay is to film the robot boxing scenes clearly and coherently. And it helps that he got the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard to choreograph the fights, turning them into genuinely crowd-pleasing action scenes. Unlike its storyline's future-world conceit, I'd still rather watch two humans duking it out - it doesn't hold a candle to Warrior's fight scenes - but it's definitely thrilling to watch two 600-pound machines pounding on each other. (Although I couldn't help but wonder about this robot boxing business. Those things have safety subroutines, right? Something to prevent Atom from knocking someone's head off when Max leads it dancing down a crowded aisle? And when it lies prone after being knocked down, and takes a suspensefully long time to get up - what exactly is going on in that robot brain and chassis? Rebooting its system? Re-lubing its hydraulics?)

I suppose this is a step up for Levy, who was last seen round these parts interfering with Steve Carrell's and Tina Fey's comic chemistry in Date Night and making the oddly action-deficient Night at the Museum 2. It's also a step up for Hugh Jackman, who was last seen round these parts in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and deserves to be in a well-liked movie for a change. Charlie is a charming ne'er-do-well, a role that Jackman can pull off easily; although there are parts early on where his self-destructive streak gets a little too hard to like, Jackman's innate screen presence manages to sandpaper over it. Dakota Goyo is being hailed in some quarters as the next great child actor, but he's just okay to me. He's not called to do much except act precocious, and though he has an enjoyably contentious chemistry with Jackman, the sentimental scenes are still schmaltzy. I thought Evangeline Lilly did more with the little screen time she had.

Okay, I've spent this entire review delivering faint and qualified praise. I suppose I'm just reacting poorly to how many people are hailing it the best goddamn movie of the year, which, no, not even close. Although of course they would, seeing as how it's such a shameless crowd-pleaser. And that doesn't take away from how effective it is as a crowd-pleaser, with a nicely rousing climax. Or that it does a couple of things surprisingly well; I liked how subtly it weaved in - and paid off - Charlie's history as a (human) boxer. Twenty-five years from now, folks will probably look back on this with nostalgic warmth, same way adults of my generation think fondly of, say, 1986's Short Circuit. But it sure as hell ain't no Back to the Future or Ghostbusters.

Expectations: socially relevant techno-thriller or sleazy sexploitation flick? Hmm

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pembikin filem seram tempatan perlu membuka hijab

My rating:

Isu yang hangat didebatkan di blogosfera baru-baru ini ialah kenyataan oleh bekas Perdana Menteri Tun Dr Mahathir bahawa lambakan filem seram dalam industri filem tempatan kita akan membantut minda rakyat dan menggalakkan kepercayaan karut. Saya amat tertarik dengan isu ini, dan saya ada membubuh komen dalam catatan blog Tontonfilem yang membincangkan isu ini. Dan ketika menonton filem baru Al-Hijab (yang dah tak baru dah, sebab TMBF sangat lembap menulis rebiu) saya terfikir lagi tentang isu filem seram tempatan; jadi dalam catatan ini saya ingin mengambil kesempatan untuk memincang sedikit dari mengulas filem ini untuk mengomentar sedikit.

Lagipun filem ni, aku kira sederhana je.

Rafael (Pierre Andre) seorang pelakon rookie yang berpacaran dengan Qiss (Nur Fathia). Dia ditawarkan peluang untuk menjadi watak utama dalam sebuah filem seram, tetapi oleh kerana dia seorang yang tidak percaya wujudnya hantu, dia menghadapi kesukaran untuk menghayati rasa seram. Atas sebab itu, dia meminta pertolongan dari seorang nenek tua bernama Mak Itam (Maimon Mutalib) untuk membuka "hijab"nya dan membolehkan dia melihat makhluk dari dunia halus. Ini merupakan langkah yang kurang bijak.

Saya tak pernah bersetuju dengan mana-mana pihak yang ingin melarang unsur-unsur seram dari filem dan TV, dan saya tak setuju sama sekali dengan cadangan hendak mengawal filem seram. Malah dulu saya berpendapat bahawa makin banyak cerita hantu yang diterbitkan di media umum, makin sedar rakyat jelata bahawa hantu tu hanya rekaan semata-mata. Sebab filem, TV, novel, komik, iklan, dll. itu semuanya benda rekaan. Masyarakat Barat dahulukala percayakan vampire, serta macam-macam kepercayaan tahyul tentang makhluk yang bangkit semula selepas mati untuk menghisap darah manusia. Sekarang dah tak. Siapa lagi di zaman moden ini, samada orang Barat atau Timur, yang masih takut vampire? Ini kerana kepercayaan tersebut sudah dipupuskan oleh cereka-cereka yang mempopularkan watak vampire. Sehingga sekarang, bila sebut vampire, kita tidak terfikir makhluk yang mengerikan, sebaliknya balak jambu berambut mekar yang berkilau-kilau bila kena matahari.

Tapi setelah sekian lama saya menonton filem-filem seram Melayu, pendapat saya itu telah berubah. Kerana saya dapati pendekatan filem-filem ini terhadap subjek hantu, bukannya "ini bahan yang boleh kita gubah untuk dijadikan cerita yang menarik." Sebaliknya, pendekatan mereka ialah "ini benda yang benar yang perlu kita patuhi kebenarannya dalam cerita kita." Filem hantu Melayu semuanya menganggap makhluk halus memang wujud, seolah-olah ianya fakta asas yang tak perlu dijelaskan. Simtomnya ada dalam filem Al-Hijab ini, dimana sarikata Inggerisnya (baidewei, saya nak puji sikit filem ini mengambil inisiatif untuk mengadakan sarikata BI, kebanyakan filem Melayu tak) menggunakan perkataan eerie apabila orang bercakap tentang tempat yang keras. Setahu saya, "keras" bermaksud "tempat dimana wujudnya hantu", tetapi "eerie" bermaksud "suasana yang mengerikan". Sesuai ke penterjemahan tu? Mana-mana tempat yang gelap pun eerie. Rumah aku waktu malam tutup lampu pun eerie, tapi aku duduk sana bertahun-tahun tak pernah pun nampak hantu.

Pendekatan ini sebenarnya menghalang perkembangan filem seram tempatan, kerana ia menunjukkan daya imaginasi yang cetek. Cerita yang berkesan perlu ada logiknya yang tersendiri, tetapi apa yang logik tentang kepercayaan tahyul? Tak pernah saya menonton cerita seram Melayu yang membezakan antara hantu, yakni roh manusia yang tidak aman selepas mati, dengan jin, yakni makhluk halus yang wujud di dunia halus. Apa kehendak mereka, samada hantu atau jin? Apa sebab mereka muncul dalam cerita ini, dan apa matlamat mereka disebalik segala perbuatan mereka? Dalam filem ini, tujuan mereka nampaknya hanya untuk menakut-nakutkan si Rafael ni. Ini membuat saya terilham idea tentang Persatuan Hantu-Hantu Malaysia yang sering bermesyuarat untuk membincangkan teknik-teknik penakutan yang baru.

Itu juga premis cerita Beetlejuice. Filem arahan Tim Burton dari tahun 1988, mengisahkan sepasang suami isteri hantu (lakonan Alec Baldwin dan Geena Davis) ingin menghalau keluarga yang baru pindah masuk ke rumah mereka dan mengupah hantu pakar penakutan yang dilakonkan oleh Michael Keaton. Inilah contoh filem yang mengimaginasikan cerita yang segar dan asli, yang tidak tersekat dengan apa yang orang kata "benar" tentang hantu. Satu lagi contoh ialah filem hantu klasik moden The Sixth Sense. Jika anda kaji filem itu, seluruh plotnya bergantung atas dialog "they don't know they're dead." Inilah satu-satunya idea rekaan M. Night Shyamalan yang menjayakan filem tersebut; sudah tentu ia takkan berjaya - malah mungkin tak terbikin - jika Shyamalan percaya hantu sebenar takkan tak tahu diri mereka itu hantu.

Inilah kekurangan filem Al-Hijab ini - tetapi bukan hanya itu kekurangannya. Dialog skrip Pierre Andre terlalu banyak yang atas hidung. Pacingnya juga longgar; Rafael hanya membuka hijabnya di titik pertengahan cerita, sedangkan itu premisnya. Di tengah-tengah ada adegan comic relief bangang dimana tumpuan tiba-tiba bertukar dari watak protagonis kepada tiga budak lori (Bell Ngasri, Munir dan seorang lagi yang tak dapat saya cari namanya) yang tak lawak pun. Pengakhirannya menampilkan plot twist yang senang diduga. Nur Fathia tak lebih dari gula-gula mata; Pierre ada masukkan babak Rafael dan Qiss bermanja-manjaan, tetapi ketiadaan chemistry antara kedua pelakon menyebabkan ia kelihatan kekok. Tapi sebagai pengarah, Pierre mahir mencipta suasana yang mengerikan (i.e. eerie) dengan sinematografi dan muzik yang berkesan; mungkin beliau ada dapat beberapa tips dari Woo Ming Jin kot. Dan sebagai pelakon, beliau cukup berani melakonkan babak panjang Rafael bersendirian; bukan senang nak berlakon tanpa interaksi dengan orang lain. Tapi saya hairan mengapa beliau asyik menggumam sebutan dialognya.

Dan watak Rafael ni bukan paparan seorang skeptik (macam saya!) yang jujur; dia tak pernah menyoal sebarang kepercayaan tahyul atau mencari penjelasan sebenar. Malah, jika dia membuat keputusan untuk membuka hijabnya, bermaksud dia setuju dengan kewujudan makhluk halus yang dia cuma tak nampak. Begitu juga dengan filem ini yang percaya wujudnya hantu dan jembalang, serta hampir kesemua filem seram Melayu. Saya rasa tak salah jika pembikin filem menghasilkan karya yang melambangkan kepercayaan mereka sendiri - mahupun karya yang akur kepada kepercayaan audiensnya. Dan saya rasa bukan tanggungjawab industri filem untuk mendidik masyarakat. (Itu tanggungjawab pendidik, i.e. guru, sekolah dan kurikulum.) Poin saya ialah, filem yang baik dan segar hanya boleh dibikin oleh pembikin yang imaginatif dan terbuka mindanya; bermaksud, orang yang tak percayakan hantulah yang pandai buat cerita hantu. Lambakan filem seram yang kita dapat sekarang ini semuanya hampa, kerana pembikin-pembikinnya tersekat dengan kepercayaan mereka.

Expectations: it can't be that good, can it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Musketeers deserve better

The Three Musketeers (2011)
My rating:

Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers is not only a classic of Western literature, it is also one of film history's most frequently adapted novels; Wikipedia lists numerous films dating back to (fwoar!) 1903. The ones I remember are the 1973-74 ones directed by Richard Lester (actually two films, which split the novel's storyline between them) which I regard as the definitive screen adaptation; a 1993 Disney version that I happen to think quite fondly of; and a 2001 Peter Hyams-directed one called The Musketeer that was really really bad (although to be fair, I watched it on TV and wasn't paying much attention to it at the time). Now, it could be strongly argued that the Musketeers is one of those classic source materials that have exhausted their potential - or have already been definitively adapted - and filmmakers should just forget about making movies based on it for a good long while. On the other hand, given that there've been Musketeer movies for almost as long as the medium has existed, one could also accept that the novel will always inspire filmmakers, and just hope that every new movie version turns out good.

Unfortunately, in Hollywood's current era of creative bankruptcy, that ain't happening with this one.

The Three Musketeers are Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans), faithful agents of King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) of France, who were betrayed to France's enemy the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) by the treacherous double agent - and Athos' lover - Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). A year later, the young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) arrives in Paris wishing to join the Musketeers like his father before him, and quickly runs afoul of the ruthless Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), captain of the personal guard to Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz); fortunately for him, he also befriends Athos, Porthos, Aramis and their manservant Planchet (James Corden), and falls in love with Constance (Gabriella Wilde), a handmaiden to Queen Anne (Juno Temple). Meanwhile, Richelieu is plotting to usurp Louis and has engaged Milady in a plot to scandalize the Queen and start a war between France and England - a plot that D'Artagnan and the Musketeers must foil.

Paul W.S. Anderson - not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood - is a geek's director. He made arguably one of the first successful videogame adaptations in 1995's Mortal Kombat, and went on to repeat that success by spearheading the Resident Evil series; in between, he's made a few other sci-fi films including a foray into both the Alien and Predator franchises. The sad thing is that none of his movies have been very good - some, in fact, being downright bad. His new version of The Three Musketeers is one of the downright bad ones. It's cheesy and kiddified and just plain lame. Which is as much as can be expected of a Three Musketeers movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, but the trailer fooled me into thinking there might be a fresh touch to Dumas' classic tale here for once - namely, steampunk.

Less a story genre than an aesthetic philosophy, steampunk takes the notion that the technology of the 17th-18th century was a lot more advanced than we thought. Hence, high-tech weapons and war machines, but all with a retro clockwork and steam-powered (hence the name) look. It's pretty super cool, but steampunk fans looking to get their fix here are going to be disappointed; yes, there are dirigible warships, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it gadget or two, but that's about it. Still, its failure to commit to the steampunk aesthetic is the least of its problems, and more a symptom of its slapdash approach to adapting the novel. Milady de Winter becomes a ninja-tastic action chick for no apparent reason other than to give the director's wife Milla Jovovich more screentime, and her action scenes are more stupidly anachronistic than awesome. And the screenplay, credited to Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak, is chock-full of dialogue that's nowhere near as classically witty as it thinks it is.

Or maybe it's the acting. The acting is pretty bad, you guys, and puts this on a par with Hyams' unloved 2001 version, below even the 1993 Disney one - which at least had Kiefer Sutherland as a terrific Athos, Rebecca DeMornay as a nicely sultry Milady, and Tim Curry at his villainous best as Richelieu. A good Three Musketeers movie knows that although D'Artagnan is the nominal protagonist, it's the titular three that should be the most charismatic and larger-than-life personalities. Here, these classic characters are dishwater-dull, especially Matthew Macfadyen whose expression barely changes throughout 110 minutes. Logan Lerman isn't as smirky as in his last movie, but is no more interesting to watch. Gabriella Wilde's prettiness is in direct inverse proportion to her acting ability (and she is very pretty). This marks the third time Christoph Waltz is wasted in a generic villain role. And Orlando Bloom attempts to broaden his range by playing the supremely douchebaggy Duke of Buckingham, but only proves that scenery-chewing villain is beyond his talents.

The closest thing to a saving grace is the old-fashioned swashbuckling action. But seeing as this is an old-fashioned swashbuckler film, I can't give it a pass for that, since the action is at best merely decent. There are few things I like better than a lively cinematic swordfight, but Anderson is another in a long line of filmmakers who don't know how to shoot a fight scene in a way that respects the choreographer's and stunt coordinator's work. Especially galling is the lamest conclusion to a climactic swordfight since Darth Maul got suckered by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And then there are the just plain inexplicable things - like the slightly dodgy ADR (automated dialogue recording) that sounds noticeably dubbed in places, and the soundtrack that steals liberally - and shamelessly - from the Pirates of the Caribbean score. I expect this kind of incompetent filmmaking from Metrowealth and Skop Productions, not Hollywood.

Okay, I suppose there's one more saving grace: its best performers are Freddie Fox and Juno Temple, whose King Louis' and Queen Anne's romance is rather sweet in a gawky-teenager sort of way. And I gotta say, just because I like old-fashioned swashbucklers, I considered giving it an extra half-star; I expect quite a few Malaysians might enjoy this if it happens to be one of the first Romantic period action-adventure movies they've ever seen. But then I figured no; the Richard Lester version of The Three Musketeers still exists. And there's Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro (forget about the sequel), or even the Pirates of the Caribbean films. When one can pick up the DVD of any of those at any time, there's simply no reason to watch this one - a film that makes the 1993 Disney version - with Chris O'Frigging Donnell - look good.

Expectations: don't hardly know anything about it

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Shaolin Soccer versi takraw yang jauh lebih tak malu

My rating:

Nampaknya filem ini sudah kurang berjaya dalam pasaran, berdasarkan berita ini serta pemerhatian saya ketika menontonnya dalam panggung yang 3/4 kosong. Ini menyedihkan, kerana Libas adalah sebuah lagi filem bertema sukan yang tidak mendapat sambutan dari penonton tempatan. Nyatalah hanya tiga buah genre yang mampu menarik penonton: filem gangster, filem hantu dan filem rempit. Dan yang kedua tu filem hantu, bukan filem seram, sebab kalau takde hantu maknanya tak laku. Susahlah dunia filem kita nak berkembang macam ni, kalau citarasa penonton sempit nak mampus macam ni. Ya, memang saya salahkan penonton. Khususnya penonton Melayu. Sebab koranglah Malaysia tak boleh maju.

Tapi saya tak sedih filem ini tidak berjaya. Sebab ia tak bagus pun.

Adnan Saladin (Rosyam Nor) ialah "Raja Libas" Malaysia, pemain sepak takraw negara dalam sebuah pertandingan bawah tanah - namun dia tewas kepada pasukan Thai yang diketuai Aek Nangkorn (Zek Zamri). Pertarungan yang akan datang akan mempertaruhkan sebiji bola raga pusaka yang membuktikan sukan takraw dicipta di Tanah Melayu; dengan itu, Adnan diminta oleh jurulatihnya (Mohd Razib Salimin) membina pasukan baru bagi mempertahankan maruah bangsa Melayu. Adnan mencari Hamadi (Johan Raja Lawak), seorang pemuda yang mempunyai bakat semulajadi, serta Kumok (Fadzly Kamarulzaman) seorang yang gemuk tetapi tegap. Pemain yang ketiga pula ialah Megat (Beego), seorang pemain lama yang sebenarnya berpakat dengan Aek Nangkorn untuk membelot pasukan Malaysia. Namun Adnan memilih Megat walaupun Ratna (Scha Al-Yahya), anak jurulatih dan kekasih lama Adnan, juga hebat kemahiran takrawnya - kerana pertandingan yang akan datang sungguh ganas dan kejam, apa lagi dengan pasukan Thai yang bermain kotor.

Sekali lagi kita ada sebuah filem tempatan yang menciplak Shaolin Soccer arahan Stephen Chow Sing Chi, tapi yang ini jauh lebih banyak persamaannya dari filem Estet hingga ke tahap ciplak. Tapi sebenarnya, Libas mengingatkan saya tentang Haq, sebuah lagi filem Melayu yang bercita-cita tinggi, yang banyak menggunakan efek CGI, yang ingin membawa kelainan tetapi sama hampa. Oleh sebab itu, saya akan mengulangi kaedah pengulasan yang saya guna semasa merebiu filem itu, iaitu menulis ulasan secara point form. Saya tak mahu selalu menggunakan kaedah ini kerana ia cara pengulasan yang saya anggap agak malas - tetapi jujur kata, memang saya rasa malas nak mengulas filem ini.

- Ini cerita yang tak masuk akal. Ia memaparkan sebuah dunia dimana wujudnya pertandingan sepak takraw bawah tanah - tapi ada siaran langsung di TV - yang disertai pasukan dari Jepun, China, Iran dan Amerika Syarikat. Hadiah kemenangannya ialah wang tunai AS$100,000, dianjurkan oleh entah siapa. Jelas ini dunia rekaan semata-mata, tetapi itu bukan masalahnya; masalahnya ia tidak direka dengan teliti. Dunia rekaan pun perlu ada logik tersendiri, tapi filem ini langsung tiada logik.

- Ini kerana skrip tulisan Martias Mohd Ali yang kurang logiknya. Pertandingan ini ialah untuk menuntut bola raga pusaka agar ia kekal dimiliki orang Melayu. Jadi bola tu berada di tangan pasukan Thai lah kan? Eh tidak - Adnan yang simpan. Abih buakpe kau pertaruhkan bola tu?? Plot tak masuk akal, emosi ceritanya pun tidak menjadi. Percintaan antara Adnan dengan Ratna, penebusan Adnan terhadap kekalahan lamanya, motivasi Megat untuk menjual permainan, semangat lawan demi mempertahankan maruah bangsa Melayu - semuanya tidak terasa. Tidak berkesan. Tidak berfungsi. Dalam istilah orang filem, it doesn't work - kerana skrip Martias gagal mengolah kesemua subplot ini dengan sempurna.

- Malah mutu teknikalnya juga kureng, terutamanya pada aspek bunyi. Terlalu banyak babak dimana efek bunyi langsung tidak dibubuh, seolah-olah jurutera bunyi meminta 5 hari untuk melaksanakan tugasnya tapi hanya diberi 1-½ hari. Kesudahannya ialah sebuah filem yang macam separuh masak. Tapi nampaknya penerbit filem ini memang tak peduli dengan aspek bunyi, kerana pengadun efek CGI pula diberi masa yang secukupnya untuk mengemaskan efek khas. Kemas tapi membosankan, sebab asyik buat bola berapi je, takde idea lain selain bola berapi. Shaolin Soccer ada satu syot bola berapi je laa!

- Satu lagi persamaan dengan Haq ialah pengarah yang ghairah dengan teknik-teknik perfileman yang bergaya, tetapi tidak padan dengan cerita. Malah segala montage, fade-out dan slo-mo hanya melengahkan kadar jalan ceritanya dan membuat penonton jemu. Yang paling menjengkelkan saya ialah dialog yang bertangguh-tangguh. Setiap baris ayat diikuti dengan pause 2-3 saat sebelum ayat seterusnya - tambahan pula, dialog tu bukannya berat sangat maksudnya. Pengarah Jurey Rosli tak tahu-menahu tentang komedi, kerana yang paling penting dalam komedi ialah pacing.

- Nampaknya apa yang Jurey tahu tentang komedi ialah lawak sengal. Barisan pelakon yang melakonkan pasukan Thai - selain Zek Zamri, ada Sallehuddin Abu Bakar, Yuswaisar dan Yang Kassim - semua diarah bercakap dengan loghat Thai yang menyakitkan telinga dan mendungukan watak-watak tersebut. (Hanya Adam Corrie yang selamat kerana tidak banyak bercakap.) Adegan-adegan bersama mereka ditujukan sebagai comic relief, tetapi langsung tiada jenaka dalam babak-babak tersebut; hanya ada lakonan sengal. Sengal tanpa lawak: itulah lambang filem Melayu.

- Okey, mai saya puji sikit. (Sikit je.) Saya suka Scha Al-Yahya kerana berjaya membawa watak wirawati aksi yang badass. Kalau dia yang ganti Intan Ladyana dalam filem Bini-Biniku Gangster, tak mustahil kalau saya tambah setengah bintang kepada rating filem itu. Saya juga suka Beego yang cukup membawa sifat slimeball kepada watak Megat. Tetapi Johan Raja Lawak tetap over-the-top seperti dalam filemnya sebelum ini, dan Rosyam Nor sering kelihatan kayu dan kurang selesa. Mungkin dia sebenarnya tidak sesuai untuk filem komedi broad seperti ini.

- Tapi perkara yang benar-benar buat saya meluat: sebuah adegan dimana runut bunyinya dirembat bulat-bulat dari soundtrack The Dark Knight ciptaan Hans Zimmer. Wei! Tak tau malu ke?? Masalah curi muzik ini pernah dilihat dalam filem tempatan sebelum ini, tetapi saya sangka sudah berkurangan baru-baru ini. Rupanya ia masih berleluasan, cuma saya yang tak nampak sebab saya tak berapa kenal sangat dengan kebanyakan soundtrack filem. Sudah pasti muzik-muzik lain dalam filem ini juga diciplak dari entah mana filem Barat yang lain. Pencuri dan penyangak! Moga filem kau rugi akibat dicetak rompak!

- Namun saya cukup pasti DVD cetak rompaknya pun tak ramai yang nak beli. Saya rasa sebab utama mengapa filem ini tidak berjaya di pasaran ialah penonton tidak yakin bahawa filem tempatan boleh menjayakan adegan aksi sukan dengan CGI yang berkesan dan mengujakan. Ketidakyakinan mereka memang betul; kegagalan Jurey bertambah dengan babak-babak takraw yang menjemukan. Tak nampak pun apa-apa strategi atau taktik permainan; tak nampak pun koreografi atau susunan aksi. Jurey hanya tahu guna montage bagi memfilemkan adegan pertandingan. Tengok permainan takraw yang sebenar pun lagi seronok.

Ada sebab mengapa saya malas nak ulas filem ni: sebab filem Shaolin Soccer sendiri dah boleh jadi ulasan yang paling teliti. Libas buta-buta meniru idea, struktur cerita, malah beberapa watak sekali dari filem tersebut, tetapi hilang segala isi dan kualitinya. Agaknya Jurey dan Martias hanya menganggap filem Stephen Chow itu sebagai komedi ringan yang sengal, tetapi mereka salah sama sekali. Shaolin Soccer adalah sebuah filem klasik moden Hong Kong, yang menjadi contoh bagaimana filem yang mudah difahami juga boleh mengandungi makna yang mendalam dan menyentuh hati. Segala yang gagal dengan Libas, Shaolin Soccer berjaya - dan segala yang Shaolin Soccer berjaya, Libas gagal. Wahai pembikin filem tempatan, cukuplah nak meniru filem ini yang jauh diluar kemampuan anda. Cukuplah dengan dua percubaan yang sama menghampakan.

NEXT REVIEW: The Three Musketeers (2011)
Expectations: Paul W.S. Anderson meh, but steampunk yay!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jika ada masalah dengan bini, selesaikan ia dengan bini-bini!

Bini-Biniku Gangster
My rating:

Saya suka Yana Samsudin. She's been cute, charismatic, likable and fun to watch in every movie I've seen her in (even the one where she's all gadis yang terlampau and stuff). Saya juga suka Ismail "Bob" Hasim - or at least the one movie he's made previously. Walaubagaimanapun, saya cukup looking forward to this movie, apatah lagi bila saya dengar ia diskripkan oleh Cik Yana sendiri. (Dengan bantuan Fadzil Zahari, to whom I would like to apologise in advance for crediting it all to Yana. Hope you got recompensed in fair accordance to your contribution.) Oleh kerana saya suka Cik Yana, saya mahu beliau berjaya dalam segala usahanya, dan saya harapkan beliau sama berbakat dalam penulisan seperti dalam lakonan. Gandingannya dengan Ismail Hasim sebagai pengarah sudah tentu ada potensi untuk menghasilkan filem yang lebih baik daripada filem-filem Melayu yang biasa.

Potensi ada, tapi sayangnya terbazir di saat-saat akhir.

Herry (Shaheizy Sam) dan Manja (Yana Samsudin) adalah sepasang suami isteri yang penyayang dan bahagia, dimana suami is a big doofus who keeps getting bullied at work by his obnoxious colleague Mat Saja (Zalif Sidek), dan isteri kononnya seorang suri rumah biasa - kononnya, because she is actually an ass-kicking gang leader, with two dimwitted henchmen Muza (Zul Suphian) and Totty (Boy Iman) to carry out her gangland orders. Sementara dia berperang dengan geng yang diketuai oleh Min Siam (Alex Yanz), dia juga mengambil keputusan untuk melamar Reanna (Intan Ladyana), pekerja baru di ofis Herry, untuk menjadi isteri kedua kepada suaminya. Tetapi apa yang Manja tidak tahu ialah Reanna juga seorang ketua kongsi gelap, whose mysterious intentions may threaten both Manja's gang influence as well as her marriage.

Saya belum pernah menonton filem Korea My Wife is a Gangster (mahupun kedua-dua sekuelnya), which this movie has been accused of ripping off. Namun saya yakin cerita ini cukup asli, kerana poligami bukan sesuatu yang sah di sisi undang-undang Korea. Bini-Biniku Gangster is as much a domestic comedy about bigamy as it is an action comedy about gangsters, which, if nothing else, is certainly a unique combination. But it does have quite a few things going for it, chief among them an agreeably goofy tone that successfully marries the two concepts. Komedinya juga cukup lawak dan tidak menghina kebijaksanaan penonton. Apa yang paling mengesankan bagi saya ialah beberapa babak yang berjaya menyentuh hati, khususnya berkenaan watak Manja dan emosinya - adegan dia meminta Herry mengahwini Reanna, adegan perbualan telefon dengan bapanya, dan adegan dua kuncunya yang dungu menenangkan hatinya yang rimas. Ini menunjukkan kesensitifan yang saya tidak menjangka dari filem ini, mahupun filem komedi ringan sebegini.

Pujian harus diberikan kepada Ismail dan Yana. Filem Ngangkung arahan Ismail juga menampilkan hubungan antara watak-watak yang akrab dan sedap ditonton; dan samada Yana yang mengarang babak-babak ini atau tidak, Yanalah yang berjaya melakonkannya dengan amat efektif. This is a superb star turn for her; she's equally good at playing the sweet and loving housewife (chemistry-nya dengan Shaheizy Sam cukup hebat) and the badass gangster Kak Yong, she does a decent fight scene, and she can totally turn on the pathos during the aforementioned emotional scenes. She even makes Intan Ladyana look good, which is no mean feat considering how stiff the latter usually is. Samada didepan atau dibelakang tirai, sumbangan Yana buat filem ini amat menyerlah, membuat saya cukup teruja kerana ada seorang lagi ahli filem yang akan saya nanti-nantikan hasil kerja berikutnya. Diharap ini akan memberinya keyakinan diri untuk mengarah filem pula, seperti cubaan pertamanya tiga tahun lalu dengan Selamat Pagi Cinta.

Tapi sayang sungguh, segala kekuatan filem ini dihampakan akibat ending yang tidak berkesan - an ending that leaves every major dramatic complication unresolved. Isn't Manja still worried that her husband no longer loves her best? Doesn't Min Siam still want Manja dead? Has Reanna truly fallen in love with Herry or not? And don't Manja and Reanna still hate each other? Inilah konflik-konflik dramatic yang menggerakkan ceritanya; inilah soalan-soalan yang perlu dijawab. Babak penamat menghidangkan sebuah plot twist yang kononnya boleh menyelesaikan semua masalah-masalah ini, tapi penyelesaiannya langsung tidak memuaskan; seolah-olah filem ini tiba-tiba rasa jemu dan ingin habiskan ceritanya secepat mungkin. Alamak, Encik Ismail dan Cik Yana! Ending tu the most important part! Sebab inilah saya terpaksa tolak setengah bintang dari rating saya bagi filem anda.

Allow me to pull shit out of my ass offer some unfounded speculation about this ending. Dalam interbiu, Cik Yana pernah berkata bahawa dia sendiri tidak setuju dengan hidup bermadu - pegangan yang saya sokong, baidewei. (And can someone tell me why the hell is polygamy referred to as "madu"? What's so sweet about sharing your husband with another woman? Or is it only sweet for the men, and nobody cares how the women feel?) Saya curiga samada filem ini telah dipengaruhi golongan tertentu yang berpendapat "poligami itu amalan yang dirahmati Allah dan filem ini harus mengangkat dan menggalakkannya" - kerana inilah mesej yang disampaikan terus terang ketika babak penamat. Mesej yang gagal sama sekali menukar pendapat saya, iaitu polygamy is bloody demeaning to women. Kalau perempuan pun boleh kahwin empat suami, lainlah cerita.

Filem gangster nampaknya semakin popular tak kira bernada serius atau komedi. Jika inilah genre yang bakal mengganti filem seram dan hantu, I'm all for it. But if it starts another bandwagon-jumping money-grubbing glut of gangster flicks... well, I can't say I'll be surprised. What'll really surprise me is if someone makes one that is as good as can at least be compared to Election or, hell, even a comedy like Analyze This. (Incidentally, Malay gangster films are definitely taking their cues more from Hong Kong triad flicks than the Hollywood crime genre. Wahai pembikin-pembikin filem, luaskan pandangan sikit boleh tak? Kthxbai.) Bini-Biniku Gangster adalah cubaan yang baik, tapi masih belum mengatasi kelemahan industri filem kita dalam penceritaan dan penulisan skrip. Cik Yana dan Encik Ismail, I'm gonna expect more from your next.