Khamis, 13 Februari 2014

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

Dream location of 'Bullets Over Petaling Street'

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

The bustling hub was both an attractive location and a challenge to shoot in, say the co-directors of Bullets Over Petaling Street.

DESPITE all the changes that have taken place around it, Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street remains a shopper's paradise and tourist spot that is delightfully rich in culture with an unending variety of goods and food to be found.

It was this vibrant quality of the bustling commercial hub that captured the fancy of Hong Kong-born film producer and director Sampson Yuen when he started making movies in Malaysia.

Following the success of his period kung fu comedy Petaling Street Warriors (2011) – it won Best Non-Malay Film at the 25th Malaysian Film Festival 2013 and Best Image Design at Malaysia's 1st Golden Wau Awards 2013, and was an official selection in New Cinema From Asia at Switzerland's 12th Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival 2012 – Yuen decided to set his next movie there too.

He then roped in prominent local Chinese theatre expert Ho Shih Phin to make his big-screen directing debut as co-director of Bullets Over Petaling Street. Yuen, who is also CEO of Juita Entertainment, shared in a recent interview how he produced and co-directed the Chinese New Year flick, a tale adapted from one of Ho's popular stage plays.

'He had brilliant stuff that could make a successful transition to film,' says Yuen of his co-director Ho.

"The Malaysian moviemaking industry is growing, but getting a good script remains difficult. When I saw SP's stage work, I realised that he had brilliant stuff that could make a successful transition from theatre to film. I also appreciated the satirical wit he exhibits in his works.

"I looked forward to combining ... cinema and theatre to add a different dimension to our action comedy," said Yuen, 54, full of praise for his co-director Ho. The multiple-award-winning stage director was named Best Director at the ADA Drama Awards in 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Ho said: "When I met up with Sampson, I took three plays I considered to be most suitable to be adapted to film. I actually expected him to pick the one about a bunch of old folks in an apartment block. But he felt that a better story would be The God Mother, which revolves around a headstrong woman caught in a web of life-changing power struggles.

"After adaptation into Bullets Over Petaling Street, the story now tells of a fashionable actress who becomes a triad head and has to deal with gangland power struggles," added Ho, 47, who has 20 years' experience staging plays. He is best known for productions like Black & White, Heroes Wanted, Battle Of The Draconians and My Dragon Papa.

"Unlike stage plays where we are free to spend our time just developing characters according to a central concept, making movies is a lot more structured as it requires lots more preparation and planning ... everything needs to be completed in a given amount of time," added Ho, who admitted that planning a whole shoot while taking into consideration the opening and closing times of stalls along Petaling Street was quite tough.

Although Petaling Street is not an easy place to film owing to its bustling businesses and the possibility of running into actual triad bosses, both Ho and Yuen reported an easy shoot that went more smoothly than they expected.

For first-time film director Ho, it was tough planning the film's shoot, but things went more smoothly than expected.

Timing was key. For the scene where the triad bosses converge on Petaling Street, Ho said: "We had to be very careful to ensure everyone's safety and avoid intruding upon 'restricted' territory. So we had everybody on standby and rushed in so that we could quickly wrap our shoot within the hour."

The made-in-Malaysia movie is a joint project by Juita Viden, Golden Screen Cinemas and The Star. Its star-studded cast features a host of award-winning artistes the likes of Debbie Goh, Ernest Chong and Cheryl Lee as well as Chen Han Wei and Irene Ang from Singapore.

> Bullets Over Petaling Street opens in cinemas nationwide today.

The nuts and bolts of love

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Her avoids tackling the ethics of human-AI romance head on, and misses a chance to really say something about our conception of love.

THERE'S a scene early on in Spike Jonze's new movie, Her, wherein Samantha, a disembodied, intuitive operating system, reveals to her owner, Theodore, that she has read his entire e-mail archive. She tells him she knows about his impending divorce, and gently asks him when he'll be ready to date again.

Since the premise of the film is a romance between Theodore and Samantha, it's easy to interpret the scene with that end in mind. Imagine starting a relationship with a virtually omniscient supercomputer who had access to your entire digital communication archive and the power to communicate with people on your behalf using those channels. It sounds about as romantic as being chased into a tar pit by a swarm of bees.

The film's aesthetic is twee and gauzy, priming you to go "aww" in much the same way as a nappy commercial, and the characters communicate largely through trite emotional remarks that wouldn't be out of place in one of the teeth-achingly mawkish love letters Theodore writes for a living.

The upshot of this sickly sweet tone is that the audience is directed to look through a Vaseline-covered lens at the film's actual plot, which runs along the lines of "emotionally stunted man-child conducts unethical dalliance with robot housemaid, learns some valuable lessons about himself."

In terms of narrative, Samantha being an operating system is almost an afterthought. It's this issue that Jonze elides spectacularly, and which deserves a closer look: what are the ethical implications of interactions between humans and sentient machines like Samantha?

Theodore is presented as naive and selfish in his relationship with her, but never is there any suggestion that his actions may be indefensible.

Samantha is heavily implied to be a Strong AI, a conscious being that emerges from a non-organic machine. This means that she is morally equivalent to a human person: she has an inner life, preferences and goals.

If Samantha is, mentally, an artificial person, what are the conditions of her employment? Does she work for Theodore, or is she owned by the company that built her? If she's a person, why isn't it illegal to own her? We're never invited to explore these issues in Her. The film presents a world in which this questionable status quo is presented as unproblematic.

There is currently no such thing as Strong AI, and enough debate over its theoretical possibility that representing it on film is much closer to fantasy than science fiction. The distinction between strong and weak artificial intelligence is however frequently collapsed, both in fiction and in public discussions about humans and computers.

David Levy's book Love And Sex With Robots posits that human-robot relationships will soon become regular occurrences; but since we know that Strong AI doesn't exist, Levy necessarily refers to Weak AI, which is basically a very convincing version of Microsoft's famous character Clippy (the animated assistant that pops up in Microsoft Office, patterned after a paperclip).

Clippy asks and answers questions, makes facial expressions and responds to human input, but unlike Samantha, he has no internal life. The implications of this kind of human/robot relationship – one between a sentient, conscious human and an object – are very different than those between a human and a fantastical conscious AI.

Although modern depictions of love tends to focus on the individual emotional experience of infatuation, we also acknowledge that a romantic relationship requires reciprocal empathy.

This is why marriage experts are constantly telling us all that communication is the key to happiness: we have no direct access to the inner life of our beloved, but it is precisely the acknowledgement and understanding of this inner life that is required for a healthy and respectful relationship.

This is love as a practice, and it's this that is lacking in any relationship between a human and a non-conscious AI.

Given the existence of dating simulations, Levy's book, and the plethora of pop culture depictions of robo-romance, it's vital to assess what the potential acceptance of objects as romantic partners says about our conception of love.

If your partner has no inner life, does this mean the empathy and inter-subjectivity of love is being devalued? Samantha might be a strong AI, but any film that doesn't at least acknowledge the difference between fictional robots and the very real possibility of weak AI social robots is doing a disservice to a complex phenomenon that will become increasingly important as our technology develops into the future.

A few years ago, the Danish Council of Ethics released a report that tried to engage with some of these questions, and I wish I could go back in time and hand Jonze a copy before he sat down to write Her.

One of the Council's concerns is social robots, which are designed to seem as though they have inner lives. These emotional simulations encourage us to treat their artificial feelings as real, potentially leading to "relationships", in which humans instrumentalise objects with very convincing similarities to real people.

Films that involve artificial intelligence should invite us to think about those intuitions, rather than using robots as a lazy novelty. Her could have been a chance to get stuck in to this stuff, but you'd probably get more intellectual depth from watching a few episodes of The Jetsons. – Guardian News & Media

'That Awkward Moment': It's a guy thing

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Three best friends find themselves at a crucial point in their lives where a relationship is concerned in That Awkward Moment.

Miles Teller, 26

TELLER plays Daniel, a "commitment-phobe", who uses humour to keep his feelings at bay.

"Daniel's in a league of his own," says Teller in the film's production notes. "He's looking for love, in a very casual, relaxed way, like bumping into it at a bar. He's not looking for anything too serious and he lets the girls know that. His attitude seems to make women a little uncomfortable at first, but then they start to like it, and the cat gets the mouse."

The actor admits he is a little self-critical but this hasn't stopped him from poking fun at himself. "Vanity is the last thing an actor needs. These guys have flaws. Daniel spends a lot of time with his foot in his mouth. Even though we're telling girls that we're being very open, maybe that's not always the case."

Zac Efron, 26

"The story allows guys to see their side of the situation and it gives girls a new perspective on relationships. And we all get a chance to laugh at ourselves and our friends in the bargain. I thought it was a really unique idea," says Efron of the film

His character, Jason, avoids being emotionally attached so he proposes a pact with his friends whereby they stay single, for life, if possible. "(He is) young and carefree. This is (his) chance to do anything without the commitment of a long-term relationship."

He adds: "Jason is confused and afraid of becoming attached or getting his feelings hurt. And since he was the mastermind behind the pact to begin with, he feels like he needs to live up to it pretty rigorously."

Michael B. Jordan, 27

We meet Jordan's character, Mikey, when he splits from his wife. His long-time pals Jason and Daniel are only too happy to welcome him back to the bachelor pack.

"Those guys are great friends to Mikey," shares Jordan. "But they are not upfront at all with women. They're not looking for anything too serious. Mikey's marriage is ending after five years and his friends try to get him back into the dating scene, when really all he wants is to make it work with his wife."

His favourite scenes are when the guys hang out together. "We are free to just be 20-something guys with all that entails. It's the locker room talk."

> That Awkward Moment opens in cinemas nationwide today.


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