Khamis, 21 November 2013

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

Journey to the dark side


A gangster tale that's both believable and emotional, Kisah Paling Gengster will pleasantly surprise you.

WHEN you've got eight or nine gangster-themed Malaysian movies already released in cinemas in 2013 alone, it's probably not wrong to say that the market for Malaysian gangster films is kind of saturated at the moment. With overkill being a real danger to Kisah Paling Gengster, the latest in the genre to strut into town, what does star Shaheizy Sam – who has himself starred in other gangster flicks like Kongsi and 8 Jam – think makes this one special?

"It has to be the storyline, which I think is great," said Shaheizy, who plays paramedic Remy in the film. "It's a character-driven movie, and I like the fact that the storytelling is more nuanced and not so single-layered."

In the film, Remy starts out as a shy, honest and innocent individual who slowly gets sucked into the violent and dark world of gangsterism because of an act of kindness on his part.

Director Brando Lee said he conceived the role with Shaheizy in mind and developed the character according to Shaheizy's style of acting. Spending approximately four months to write the screenplay with co-writer Alfie Palermo, Lee believed that going back to basics and having a really strong story would make this movie stand out among the crowd, especially with the current gangster film craze and the seemingly endless news items involving gangsters and shootings that have seen the whole country taking an even more intense interest in the issue of gangsterism.

Taking inspiration from Korean films like Old Boy and modern Hollywood classics like Michael Mann's Heat and The Godfather films, Lee said Kisah Paling Gengster initially started life more as an action-comedy, but gradually changed shape into the heavier terrain of the gangster drama as the writing process progressed. There are still sprinklings of comedy here and there to lighten things up – how can you not have those when Epy Raja Lawak has a supporting role as Remy's best friend Jimmy? Still, this is one of the rare examples of a local film that faithfully and successfully follows the form and structure of a classic genre, resulting in an effort that may be familiar in terms of storyline, yet doesn't lack emotional impact.

People often say that power corrupts, and watching Remy's descent from being a sweet-natured innocent into the depths of violence and power, made more convincing by Shaheizy's absolutely committed performance, was quite a pleasant surprise for this writer. In fact, believability is definitely this film's strong suit as the majority of the characters do look authentic, as do the locations.

Supporting players like Wan Hanafi Su as godfather Ayah Megat, Zul Suphian as Ringo, Wawa Zainal as Remy's sweetheart Rina, Mikail Andre as nemesis Romeo and Fyza Kadir as Ayah Megat's daughter Sofea all gave suitably believable performances devoid of fake and exaggerated posing.

Even the shootouts and gun battles, usually a huge bone of contention for this writer when it comes to local films, are quite realistically staged and presented.

Having handled various weapons on his trips overseas, Lee explained that he more or less served as technical advisor as well when it came to the correct way of handling weapons, often showing the actors how to hold and position the weapons in order not to hurt themselves when firing them.

More impressive are the fight scenes, which, as Shaheizy rightly pointed out, are more "raw" and seem less choreographed than most films of this ilk. A particular standout is the scene where Remy "loses it" in a hand-to-hand fight against three gangsters who have been making trouble at a place under Ayah Megat's protection, eloquently showing Remy's first few baby steps on his plunge into darkness instead of explaining it through dialogue.

With film supposedly being a more visual medium, wherein it's more important to show than to tell, it is gratifying to see a local production with more than a few examples of visually eloquent, meaningful moments like this. And all without sacrificing the entertainment factor which is the reason why most people pay to watch a movie.

The Bahasa Malaysia title may hint at another kind of film, but don't let this dissuade you because it is at heart an old-fashioned gangster tale, one which never gets old – that of innocence corrupted.

‘Boob tube’ no more


Are the movies losing out to TV's ever-increasing cool factor?

VETERAN TV director Michael Pressman got a surprising response when he asked students in his film directing class to describe their dream jobs.

"Your job," he said they told him recently. "We want to be the director in charge of a TV series."

Pressman, who has directed episodes of Blue Bloods, Law & Order and many other series, was stunned. This class, at New York's New School, focused on film.

But the students weren't dreaming of Oscar, said Pressman, who has also directed several movies, including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. "They want to make great TV series."

Game Of Thrones has the epic scale and sweep of a motion picture, while its season launch events have had the feel of swanky movie openings.

Game Of Thrones has the epic scale and sweep of a motion picture, while its season launch events have had the feel of swanky movie openings.

For decades, it was mostly a one-way journey. Television was a stepping-stone for directors, writers, producers and executives who wanted to break into the film business. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood mainstays including Mel Brooks, Garry Marshall and Carl Reiner all got their starts in television but segued to the film world – and are now best known for their big screen work.

The film business proved a seductive force for many years, and for good reason. Movies had the glamour, perks, press coverage and accolades. Nothing could match the glitter of the Academy Awards.

Now, entertainment professionals are migrating eagerly in the opposite direction.

Bada Bing!

Many cite HBO's The Sopranos as opening the door after it burst onto the scene in 1999, or A-list filmmakers like producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who got into the TV business in the late 1990s.

Others look to film producer Mark Gordon (Speed, The Patriot), who transitioned into television with hits Grey's Anatomy and Criminal Minds in the 2000s – or, more recently, Fight Club director David Fincher, who made this year's House Of Cards for Netflix, and Traffic director Steven Soderbergh, who was at the helm for HBO's Behind The Candelabra TV movie and is directing Clive Owen in the forthcoming Cinemax series The Knick.

The movement undoubtedly started with actors making the leap to television, but that it has spread to the executive, director and producer ranks is astounding to many old-school business operators, who never imagined they'd view TV as more attractive.

Neflix's Emmy-nominated House Of Cards was put together by acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club).

Neflix's Emmy-nominated House Of Cards was put together by acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club).

Several producers and filmmakers said they dreamed of working in film but now find themselves in television – drawn to the money, opportunity, cultural heft or creative control.

"Almost exclusively due to The Sopranos, there's been a resurgence in long-form television," Soderbergh told the Los Angeles Times this year. "The ability to play out a narrative with a very long arc and explore complicated characters and have the audience be happy about that, it's very enticing."

Executives can relate.

"What drove me to drive to Los Angeles was a love of movies. Period," said David Nevins, president of entertainment at Showtime. "But I find myself 20 years into a career and very happy to be making high-end television."

Others, like reality-TV producer Eli Holzman, say the notion that television is a second-class medium – long widely held in Hollywood – has mostly disappeared.

For love of the game

"In film, the perception is that it is the be-all and end-all, but then I got into TV and there were all sorts of executives who loved what they did," said Holzman, who created the hit show Project Runway and executive-produces Undercover Boss, which won an Emmy Award this year for outstanding reality programme. "Fifteen years ago, film people would be surprised to hear that, but now they know it."

To be sure, some professionals are moving to television because of the relative paucity of work in film, as studios make fewer movies and focus more on expensive tentpole pictures that have the potential to become blockbusters.

"You are looking at a static job market for people in the movie business," said United Talent Agency co-founder and board member Peter Benedek, a TV agent whose clients include Sopranos creator David Chase and Lost executive producer Jack Bender. "On the other hand, instead of there being four broadcast networks, there are 100 networks. And the television business has become a business of great creative intensity."

Networks have also taken to hosting lavish, old Hollywood-style debuts for their shows. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a TV red carpet rollout was an anomaly, saved for season premieres of The Sopranos or Sex And The City. But it has become almost common in recent years.

This year, events for HBO's Game Of Thrones and AMC's Mad Men have had the feel of swanky film openings.

Today in Hollywood, TNT will host a premiere for the new television series Mob City at the TCL Chinese 6 – a popular venue for movie premieres.

Notably, Mob City is from former The Walking Dead show runner Frank Darabont, who before getting into television in earnest wrote and directed such films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

Newfound swagger

At talent agencies, television departments are growing bolder, operating with what one agent said was a newfound "swagger."

For agencies, television "package fees" – derived from putting together actors, writers, directors and producers on a show – are hugely lucrative. If a show is a hit, the agency's windfall could result in more than US$100mil (RM320mil) over time – more than an agency could make from a single motion picture.

For Marc Shmuger, the former Universal Pictures chairman, film long stood apart from television because of "that sacred space that the theatre represented," he said. "It was almost a religious ritual."

But that experience gap has narrowed, Shmuger believes, with the rise of so-called binge watching, wherein people watch many episodes of a programme in a single sitting.

Video-on-demand services such as Netflix Inc, with its Kevin Spacey-starring original series House Of Cards and prison drama Orange Is The New Black, have made the practice easier than ever.

"That to me represents the ultimate entertainment," said Shmuger, now an independent film producer.

Edgy and cutting-edge

Producer John Davis got into film production in the 1980s, when, he says, the business was still cloaked in a mystique and teeming with "glamorous movie stars". He made movies such as Predator and The Firm, working with A-list stars and top-flight directors.

"I love making movies – I just finished my 90th film," said Davis, producer of last year's surprise hit Chronicle and the forthcoming The Man From U.N.C.L.E. remake. "There is a luxury to the process of making films; there is a glamour to it."

But now he's making TV shows. Davis got into the episodic television business this year, executive producing the new series The Blacklist.

The producer said he was intrigued by the "edgy and interesting" things that can now be done on TV. "The writing is so amazing now in television that no one is ever going to look down on it."

"In elite circles, there is probably still some snobbery with TV, but the people who are making money and who are uber-creative are in TV," said Howard Owens, president of National Geographic Channels.

"Yes, Cannes is amazing ... but TV is cool, and I think cool trumps elite." – Los Angeles Times / McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Darling boy Daniel Radcliffe


Daniel Radcliffe goes back to school in Kill Your Darlings.

J. PIERREPONT Finch by night, Allen Ginsberg by day.

For much of the time that Daniel Radcliffe was busy in New York City singing and dancing his way through the 2011 Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, he was also working with John Krokidas, a first-time filmmaker, preparing for the role of the celebrated Beat poet: teenage Ginsberg, just accepted to Columbia University, where he gets caught up with the likes of William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. And caught up in a very real, very troubling murder. Kill Your Darlings is the result of Radcliffe's endeavours.

It's a long way from Harry Potter, but in a way, it isn't: Both the budding wizard Radcliffe played in the eight epic fantasy films and Ginsberg, the budding poet, left home to attend legendary institutions of learning. And both are transformed by their time there. The Potter franchise is just one mega, magic-powered coming-of-age story, and in Kill Your Darlings, the Jewish kid from Paterson, New Jersey in the United States, heads to the big city and discovers who he is – as a writer, and as a man attracted to other men.

"You know, a lot of the parts that I would be offered at this point in my life would be in things like coming-of-age stories," says Radcliffe, who is 24 now, but can easily do younger. "And that's a theme in so many movies."

But the rest of Kill Your Darlings, he adds, is "such a far cry. That's where the comparisons begin and end, because it gets very dark and challenging."

In the film, "Ginsy", as he is dubbed, takes up with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a rich, reckless campus charmer. Ginsberg is smitten, attaching himself to Carr's coattails, the two of them buzzing around town in the company of the young Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Huston). But Ginsberg is not the only one drawn to Carr: The older and wildly obsessive David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) can't understand why Carr won't see him any longer. He and Ginsberg become rivals for Carr's attention, and affections, until Kammerer's entreaties assume a menacing, stalker-esque aspect. Something must be done with this bothersome fellow.

And something is.

"This is a true story, which so few people know," Radcliffe says. "It was suppressed for a long time, but when you have an event that was this culturally significant, and significant in the lives of people who went on to become so famous, it seems incredible that nobody has ever told this story before."

(Literary footnote: Carr, who developed the tenets of the New Vision with Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac, and who would be charged with second-degree murder, was the father of Caleb Carr, the best-selling author of The Alienist.)

Daniel Radcliffe

Moving forward: After spending a decade playing Harry Potter in eight films, Daniel Radcliffe is keen to distance himself from the iconic character by taking on bold projects.

Radcliffe – who pulls off the boyish Ginsberg with physical similitude and serious conviction – wants to make it clear that while events turn grisly in Kill Your Darlings, the film goes to great lengths to document the rollicking adventurousness of the nascent Beats, too.

"I think if you're making a film about the Beats, you can't be too reverential, because they had so much fun, they were just wild, going around New York, having a crazy time. So we wanted to capture some of that energy and vitality and excitement. Hopefully, there's a lightness to the movie, as well as all of the dark stuff."

Kill Your Darlings was one of three films Radcliffe had screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The determinedly busy actor, who was onstage in London earlier this year in a revival of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple Of Inishmaan, had Horns and The F Word at the Canadian fest, too. Both titles are slated for 2014 theatrical release.

"Horns is a crazy movie," Radcliffe reports. "It was mad. I think it's got all the makings of a classic – to a certain group of people, that is. It's not for everyone. As the film begins, my girlfriend has been raped and murdered months before, and the whole town has assumed that I've done it and has vilified me. Everyone hates me. "So I'm living quite an isolated existence. And then one night, I get drunk and end up having a night of inappropriate sex with a friend, and I wake up the next day full of regret – and growing horns.

"And after that I realise that these horns are making people I interact with confess their deepest, darkest secrets to me. And I use that power to then figure out who really killed my girlfriend. So it's a whodunit-cum-absurdist comedy-cum-revenge horror-cum-love story."

Horns, with Juno Temple and Heather Graham, is based on the novel by Joe Hill, Stephen King's son.

The F Word, which puts Radcliffe opposite Zoe Kazan and Jemima Rooper, is, on the other hand, "a very sweet, very honest, very funny look at friendships between men and women and the complexities of relationships."

And not too long from now, Radcliffe will be starting work on a new production of Frankenstein, directed by Paul McGuigan. James McAvoy is Victor Von Frankenstein, Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay is the leading lady, called Lorelei, and Radcliffe is Igor, the good doctor's hunchbacked assistant.

"It's the most inventive, original script that I've read coming out of the studios since finishing Potter," he says. "I can't wait to get started." – The Philadelphia Inquirer/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related story:

Life after Hogwarts


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