Because I Said So


Director: Michael Lehmann
Cast: Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore, Gabriel Macht, Tom Everett Scott
RunTime: 102 mins
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: NC-16

A recipe to a good chick flick: Strong personalities, unpredictability and an emotional touch. If there isn't, it will be... er... just another chick flick.

Because I Said So shows that even the well respected Diane Keaton can go wrong, playing the over-the-top mother Daphne overly concerned with her unlucky-in-love daughter Milly (Mandy Moore). She puts up ads, and interview potential suitors on Milly's behalf, knowing who is good or bad for her daughter. Because she said so.

There is the good guy (the free spirited musician), and the mummy approved not-so-good guy (a promising architect). When faced with a tough choice like this, the scriptwriter says pick the better looking one. Therefore, you would expect the ending right from the start of the movie.

Mandy Moore's movie career has never really took off, despite being quite a natural actress. She just has to pick better scripts and more memorable roles. The same goes to her music career.

Despite clichés and repeated jokes, there are sweet mother-daughter moments and weepy parts. This could hit in off with the female, but their boyfriends may be slightly bored with the predictability. A baker with an uncovered cake can only trip that many times.

Don't say I never said so.

Because I Said So – Another average chick flick

Meet The Robinsons


Director: Steve J. Anderson
Cast: Angela Bassett, Spencer Fox, Adam West Tom Selleck
RunTime: 102 mins

Genre: Animation
Rating: G

The Robinsons is a one weird family. It takes time to know them, and once you do, you will like them.

They come from the future, filled with colourful buildings, flying jets, travelling tubes that would remind you of the Jetsons. Everyone is strange in their own way, from Frannie who conducts frog band, Grandpa who wears his clothes backward and twins Dimitri and Spike who stay in flower pots. Plus a talking robot like C-3PO.

In Back to the Future style, 13th year old Wilbur Robinson brings a smart nerd Lewis to 2037 to recover his invention. Are you lost yet? Now, all these eccentric characters and story can be quite hard to understand. Everything happens so fast, so don’t lose your attention.

Once you get past the initial stage, everything falls nicely into place like a jigsaw in this intricate story. Although there isn't one main character who will appeal to you like The Incredibles, the whole Robinsons family will charm you the same.

Some critics may say: Too many characters. Too much dialogue. Too confusing. Too many things happening at the same time. Indeed, there were points where young children may go "huh?". Nevertheless, the singing frogs, big-headed dinosaur, colourful setting and music from Danny Elfman makes it all quite likeable.

With a strong "keep moving forward" educational message and a touching ending, this animation is recommended to families who will continue to enjoy this work from Disney.

(As a bonus, audience will also be brought back in time with a nostalgic cartoon featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy)

Meet The Robinsons – An eccentric, witty, inspirational and charming outing with the family.

Mr Bean's Holiday


Director: Steve Bendelack
Cast: Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder, Johnny English), William Dafoe (Spiderman), Max Baldry
RunTime: 90 mins
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

Mr Bean, you are our favourite funnyman from London. We never get tired watching you stuffing your head into the Christmas turkey reruns after reruns, especially while waiting in long queues in dreaded hospitals and banks.

So you have won yourself a trip to Cannes for some sun on the beach. Missing your train and being suspected to be a kidnapper? Here's a checklist for a really funny holiday.

1) Heavily contoured rubber face – √
2) Your minimal language ability in French - √
3) Embarrassing situations while playing with your food - √
4) A hilarious operatic dance performance by the streets - √
5) Slapstick situations coming up and down trains - √

And here's what you forgot:
1) Little childlike moments – X
2) A coherent storyline from the beginning to end - X
3) Characters who don't pop out of the blue - X
4) Small and simple jokes - X
5) Teddy - X

True Bean fans may be disappointed with the 'Hollywoodnisation' (big storyline, the baddie, and exaggerated plot) especially the 2nd half of the movie. Your appeal is in your simplicity, and you do not really have to try too hard or too much face contouring. Children will still laugh at your antics and hysterical moments. There were even audiences who clapped.

But this is your last movie, so we expected more.

Mr Bean's Holiday – Not so much British or French but Hollywood

Hearty Paws


Director: Oh Dal-gyoon
Cast: You Seung-ho (The Way Home), Kim Hyang-gi and Dal-I the dog
RunTime: 100 mins
Genre: Drama (Korean)
Rating: PG

Girls, prepare your Kleenex. And guys, please your paws, er hands for a big hug to your girlfriend/wife/sister after Hearty Paws.

Here’s an observation of cinema leavers after this canine movie: Females rush out immediately right before the credits to the toilets to control their red noses and teary eyes. The male counterparts will be smiling or shaking their heads in disbelief behind.

The potent combination of Korean plus dog (a very cute one) is the cause of this tear flood. In this modern day Oliver Twist with the dog, Hearty the Labrador overcome all odds to protect his (should be a her actually) 11-year old owner Chan. Chan the orphan falls under a beggar underground group who cheats people of their sympathy money.

The dog saves the day, and the movie.

Little sister So-I is irritating with her cries of "You BIRDBRAIN" while Chan is a natural child actor, who reminds us of Singapore’s Shawn Lee (from I Not Stupid). However, it is Dai-I the dog who charms us with her sympathetic eyes and whine. She literally melts your heart. Sniff Sniff.

In classic Korean melodrama style, nothing is complete without constant crying, death and
stringed music to a crescendo. A dog expert would be able to see through the 'acting', and a normal dog doesn’t behave in ways Hearty does.

At least this movie would let owners treasure their pets a lot more. I just hope children don’t go to pet shops to ask for a Hearty back home.

Hearty Paws - Man’s best friend makes you cry

Nada Sou Sou


Director: Nobuhiro Doi (Be With You)
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki (Waterboys), Masami Nagasawaé (Crying Out Love from the Centre of the World)
RunTime: 120 mins
Genre: Drama (Japanese)
Rating: PG

"Nada Sou Sou" means "never-ending tears" in the Japanese Okinawa dialect, but do not expect much tears from this movie.

Yes, people expect to cry buckets just like Japanese films Crying Out Love and Be With You. Perhaps audiences are already spoilt with the proliferation of Korean tearjerkers.

The premise of this movie is very 'Korean', reminiscent of Autumn in My Heart – A brother-sister relationship (not related of course, not incestuous), the struggles of love, filmed at scenic spots by the countryside. It drew light chuckles, with the all-so-familiar scene of little brother carrying the sister on the back along the beach (Music please).

The movie is based on Rimi Natsukawa’s hit song Nada Sousou in 2001 (made popular in Singapore by Joi Chua’s Pei Wo Kan Ri Chu). However, a story of a young man falling in love with his step sister is nothing new. In fact, some of the subplots seems borrowed from other movies (Gigolo Wannabe, Crying Out Love). With a straight narrative like this, nobody needs to tell you what happens in the end. No, it is not cancer, though.

The main charm in the movie has to be the lead Satoshi Tsumabuki, last seen in Fast and The Furious. His sunshine personality and endearing smile would captivate most girls, and this is someone you can bring home to your mother with. No doubt, this movie will propel him to greater star status.

His sister is cute in her own way, too cute perhaps. As she shrieks "NEE NEE" (brother) repeatedly at the top of her voice, you wish she was a mute sister.

The characters are told to control the tears in the movie (through a light pinch on the nose). The director paints a rather optimistic and sanguine picture throughout, probably suggesting that this is meant to be a light romance piece, and may disappoint those expecting more. The appeal is in its subtlety.

Keep your tissues.

Nada Sou Sou – This subtle Japanese love story may be So-So for those spoilt by Korean tearjerkers.

Freedom Writers


Director: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton
RunTime: 123 mins
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

"It is just a job."

Like Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers, I was probably told the same thing by different people, teachers as well. She has more of a challenge – dealing with an integrated class of delinquent blacks, Latino, Asian and a white student, clearly separated by their skin colour.

They are in school because they will be shot outside. But "war" happens right in the middle of the classroom following the Los Angeles riots. The students gave up hope in any future. And it was this teacher who made them see acceptance, tolerance, and dreams.

Before you dismiss this movie as another 'white-teacher inspires black-students' cliché, it is surprisingly inspirational. You will learn that a teacher is not only a job, as Erin straddles with multiple work and family, struggles with the stubborn and jaded colleagues, and strives with her despondent students.

While some movies are crafted to milk emotions, Freedom Writers feels and is very real. Based on a true story and actual journal records penned by students, the delivery was honest and sincere. In fact, some of the holocaust survivors in the movie were actual Holocaust survivors themselves.

Academy Award winner Hilary Swank's delivery was not powerful, was genuine. Truly, the 'star' of this movie is really Erin Gruwell herself. The phrase 'going the extra mile' made sense. Her story shows the strength of the individual and her dedication to the job. The job is without personal sacrifices, and it sets me thinking if I am willing to make those sacrifices or have already made them.

Suddenly, all problems seem so small and what teachers can do seem so big. Some may see this movie as preachy and unoriginal, but as a teacher, I can totally identify with it. It changed me.

Is it only just a job? I don't think so.

Freedom Writers – To my fellow teacher friends who are about to give hope, watch this movie.

The Hula Girls


Director: Lee Sang-il
Cast: Yasuko Matsuyuki, Etsushi Toyokawa, Yû Aoi, Shizuyo Yamazaki
RunTime: 108 mins
Genre: Drama Comedy (Japanese)
Rating: PG

My impression of the hula dance - random wave movement of the hands by tanned girls wearing straw skirts with a big flower on the head. That was before this movie.

The Hula Girls, a heartwarming comedy from Japan, tells about the craft, emotions and passion behind this dance. Being Hawaii has almost nothing to do with a depressed and cold mining town, almost devoid of colours and warmth. However, a group of girls from the conservatives to bespectacled obasan, decided to learn the dance to develop this declining town into a Hawaiian Village.

This is a daunting task to a Tokyo dance teacher (wonderfully played by Yasuko Matsuyuki) and a demoralizing act to the conservative skeptics in the small village.

A story about going against all odds may remind you of another Japanese comedy, The Swing Girls. Both movies boost great energy, lovely music and can put a smile on your face.

As Japan official's entry to the 2007 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film, The Hula Girls is not only entertaining, but motivational. It may be small in ambition, but big in what in can achieve – to inspire people to chance, accept, fall and rise again.

It is funny and touching at the small time, pushing your heartstrings (and tear ducts) with the girls' triumph over people who do not believe in them, which includes themselves.

With its infectious energy and stirring movements, this hula dance deserves a round of applause and bouquets.

The Hula Girls - A round of applause and bouquets for the girls

Music and Lyrics


Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Haley Bennett
RunTime: 104 mins
Genre: Romance Comedy
Rating: PG

Am I right to say that for romantic comedies, you either love or hate them? For Music and Lyrics, it will be the former.

Although few recent romantic comedies can match the Love Actually or Sleepless in Seattle, Music and Lyrics is quite a charmer though being very predictable. Its element of success? Its cast and music.

Hugh Grant plays a has-been 80s pop star Alex Fletcher with a bad hairdo and tight pairs. His opening number is hilarious, and those like me who live through the Wham era will appreciate its dig of the music culture. A pity Hugh Grant is not THAT popular now after scandals and misses like the musical number American Dreamz.

Drew Barrymore is SINGING! Well, at least she tries. She plays the lyricist and is ever so gorgeous, especially in her white and black dinner dress. Hugh and Drew can't sing for sure. The chemistry between the both of them isn't great, and is odd at times, but at least they look cute together?

The music penned by Adam Schlesinger (who also brought the song That Thing You Do!) is at times cheesy ("I've been looking for someone to shed some light. Not somebody just to get me through the night."), but sweet and reminiscent of the ballads we used to like.

The movie is also about the current music industry. As Cora Corman (newcomer Haley Bennett) who plays a pop sensation dances like an intoxicated pussy with breathless voice, you will see the movie's dig at the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Music and Lyrics does not have the best music or lyrics, but its feel-good element will make it a romantic outing post-Valentine.

Music and Lyrics – A romantic charmer for two



Director: Zack Synder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham and Dominic West
RunTime: 117 mins
Genre: Action / War / Adventure
Rating: M18 (Battle Violence)

A visual spectacle! A graphic adaptation! A male movie! This is SPARTA!

There are probably 300 reasons why you should watch 300. Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, it is loosely based on the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans fought against the Persians. The odds are against them: A million to 300. Yet the strength, courage, determination and intelligence of the Spartans proved that in war, it isn't always about numbers.

300 will appeal to many. Comic fans should be blown away by the stylish cinematic visual effects, seen previously in Sin City. It stays true to the novel, matched picture by picture. A background of desaturated with high contrast tones of red, visuals filmed almost completely on blue screen, gave a surreal yet bloody look. Look out for a sensual scene between King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and Queen (Lena Headey), a combination of cartoon-meets-sex.

Its 'epicness' has been compared to the likes of Troy and Lord of the Ring. While perhaps so in magnitude and special effects, it could have been lacking in terms of the story element and a slightly weak screenplay.

People may also find 300 reasons to hate it. The female audience may find 300 to be a violent exhibition with mutilated body parts and chopped hairs. Like a period Saw or Hostel, it may be seen as a display of 'meal market', sadistic and overly-exaggerated.

Before you dismiss it as being unbelievable, the battle did take place in 400 BC with 300 Spartans and 700 Thespian volunteers. The 300 warriors were in fact made up of 150 pairs of 'male-lovers', the king believing that they would fight harder for survival with their loved ones right beside them. This aspect was hinted throughout the film, from a pair of 'male-friends', the androgynous Persian King, and the queen's sacrifice towards the end.

The female's role in the movie was really quite minimal, especially when the film is marred by the queen's lack of acting classes. It can be said as a 'male movie'– which will appeal from the young teenager who loves comic fares and the older men who craves for action, blood, and aggression.

In fact, this movie will inspire me to hit the gym harder right now for that 8 pec abs – This is SPARTA!

300 - A visual spectacle! A graphic adapation! A male movie!



Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo
RunTime: 115 mins
Genre: Drama / Comedy (Spanish)
Rating: NC-16 (Brief Nudity)

Volver is a movie centering on women, for the woman.

Volver (pronounced Bol-ber in Spanish) means "Return". The theme "return" revolves around the film. Three generations of women: The granny (Carmen Maura) returning from the dead, the mother Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) returning from her discordant life, and daughter (Yohana Cobo) recovering from abuse from her step father.

Penelope Cruz is colorful and affecting playing Raimunda, probably her best role to date. This role will assure others of her capability to act, napping several Best Actresses nominations to date. She may have lost the Oscars to the Queen, but she won't be just known as the ex-girlfriend of Tom Cruise.

This is a culturally rich movie which brings us to the back alleys of Spain, looking at lives from the rich to the poor. The cinematography is vibrant as well, as the screen is littered with the rich tomatoes, floral dresses and a top-angle view of Penelope Cruz assets. All done on purpose and beautifully definitely.

There are many 'woman' issues – from motherhood, single hood, sister hood, self worth and independence. Male actors are almost non-existence, playing only bit parts and there is no hint of any impending love stories. Perhaps this is also why I didn't identify much with this movie. For the males, do not worry as Volver isn't any soapy melodrama. With its twists and fun, it is still an enjoyable comedy about second chances.

Volver – The women scores, and so does Penelope

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