Monday, February 26, 2007

Boo-boo at 79th OSCARS:

Scorsese with his first directing Oscar
Feb 26 2007 -- After being snubbed for more than 30 years, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences finally recognised the work of veteran film-maker Martin Scorsese, showering his movie, "The Departed", with four Oscars – for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. Scorsese had been previously nominated for five Best Director awards since "Raging Bull" in 1980.

However, in typical Hollywood ‘head-in-the-sand’ fashion, the Academy made a boo-boo when it announced that "The Departed" was adapted (by William Monahan) from a Japanese script – instead of the Hong Kong production, "Infernal Affairs". The Cantonese screenplay was actually written by Felix Chong and Mak Siu Fai who are clearly not Japanese. This ‘little slip’ must have been a big slap-in-the-face for the Hong Kong producers, considering that "The Departed", which copied the plot of the Hong Kong film, was the one movie that took home the most Oscars at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles last night. No attempt was made to correct the mistake in subsequent announcements or acceptance speeches.

Mexican film "Pan's Labyrinth," a fantasy about a young girl who discovers a violent world in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, was the second top winner, earning three Oscars -- for art direction, make-up and cinematography. It lost the foreign language trophy to Germany's "The Lives of Others," which deals with a conflicted police officer in the old East Germany.

Minor upsets of the night came when Alan Arkin took the Best Supporting Actor award (for "Little Miss Sunshine") over crowd favourite Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls"), while Forrest Whitaker won the Best Actor statuette for "King Of Scotland" over the touted Will Smith ("Pursuit Of Happyness") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("Blood Diamond").

The women’s acting categories offer no surprises when Helen Mirren won the Best Actress title for "The Queen", and American Idol favourite Jennifer Hudson was named Best Supporting Actress – for her first ever feature film, "Dreamgirls".

The most disappointed among the nominees last night must be sound engineer Kevin O'Connell, who extended his losing streak to 19 nominations without a win. This time around, O'Connell and two colleagues were nominated for sound mixing on "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson’s movie about the savage decline of the Mayan empire. "Apocalypto" lost in all three categories in which it was nominated, all for technical achievements.

Although only a handful of the Oscar-nominated movies have been shown in Malaysia, Oscar Fever nevertheless ran high in Kuala Lumpur this morning as Astro held its own ‘Red Carpet’ Breakfast Show, featuring local celebrities arriving at a major city hotel to catch the Academy Awards live on Star Movies.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

CNY HOLIDAY PIC - Feb 17 - 25

A Guide to the Chinese New Year Movies
(Wishing Everyone A Happy And Prosperous New Year at the Movies)

1. GHOST RIDER (action thriller with Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Peter Fonda) Rated * * * (out of 4): This rendition of the Marvel comics character by Mark Steven Johnson is nicely done, with a good balance of CGI effects, romance and an engaging narrative.

2. PROTÉGÉ (drama in Cantonese with Daniel Wu, Andy Lau and Louis Koo) Rated * * * (3 stars): A hard-hitting look at the heroin trade in Hong Kong and its effects on an undercover cop, a drug kingpin and some addicts.

3. BABEL (drama with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi) Rated: * * * ½ (3.5 stars): Like the Oscar-winning "Crash", here's another social critique on Man's inability to communicate despite technological advances and the Internet. There are four 'stories' here, each connected to a single careless incident in Morocco.

4. TWINS MISSION (action-thriller with Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung and Sammo Hung) Rated * * * (3 stars): Hong Kong’s most famous Twins are back for another Chinese New Year mission and tghis time around, it involves an invaluable Tibetan bead. Expect fantastic stunts and a few laughs.

5. MUSIC AND LYRICS (romantic comedy with Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore and Brad Garrett) Rated * * ½ (2.5 stars): A rather contrived but still entertaining rom-com about a has-been musician falling for an impromptu lyricist. A Valentine’s Day flick.

6. THREE TIMES (romantic Taiwanese drama with Shu Qi and Chang Chien) Rating * * ½ (2.5 stars): An ‘experimental’ mood piece about three pairs of lovers (played by the same leads) in three periods, 1911, 1966 and 2005. Somewhat like "In The Mood For Love", it’s arty but not engaging.

7. NORBIT (with Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton and Cuba Gooding Jr) Rated * * ½ (2.5 stars): Like his Dr Doolittle series, here’s another that has Murphy in disguise for his multiple roles about an orphan brought up by a Chinese restaurant owner. Strictly for Murphy fans.

8. LADY IRON CHEF (comedy with Hacken Lee and Charmaine Sheh) Rating * * (2 stars): This hastily concocted comedy, ‘inspired’ by TV’s Iron Chef series, has its moments but is overall bland and over-the-top.

Monday, February 12, 2007

GHOST RIDER: Thrilling Ride

GHOST RIDER (action thriller)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley and Peter Fonda
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Cage as Johnny Blaze
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? The idea of the dark, brooding vigilante has been explored in many comic books and movies. “Batman Begins”, “Spider-Man” and “Hellboy” (known locally as “Super Sapiens”) are more or less based on the same theme. And “Ghost Rider”, another colourful character brought to life from the Marvel comics stable by director Mark Steven Johnson, reeks of his 2003 “Daredevil” and the 2005 “Elektra” which were largely roasted by critics and shunned by cinema-goers.
However, after sitting through the first half-hour of the movie, it is clear that Johnson has gotten his act together for this one. He has learnt from the mistakes of “Daredevil” and “Elektra” and has redeemed himself with “Ghost Rider”, a tale about a stunt rider seeking a second chance after selling his soul to the Devil. Ironically, this is also the redemptive 'second chance' for Johnson as film-maker.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Young Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) is a carnival motorcycle stuntman who discovers that his father (Brett Cullen) is dying of cancer. In a bid to save his dad, Johnny makes a pact with the Devil (Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles), trading his soul for the old man's health. However, something goes wrong with the deal and Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) is left wondering if he really has a charmed life or whether a 'guardian angel' is looking after him as he manages to survive all manner of crazy stunts.
Of course, Mephistopheles is still calling the shots and soon Johnny is transformed into the Ghost Rider, a hell-blazing vigilante on two wheels. This is all part of the Devil's plan to get Johnny to take down his power-hungry son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who wants to usurp the Devil's throne. Blackheart soon learns about Johnny's weakness – his love for his childhood sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes) who is now a TV reporter. In his battles against Blackheart and the Devil, Johnny finds an ally in the Caretaker (Sam Elliot), a mysterious guardian of a cemetery who may be holding the secret that the evil villains seek.

BOUQUETS & BRICKBATS: The plot structure, about the legend of Mephistopheles and a ledger book of souls, seems cliched and trite, even according to comic book standards. However, Johnson manages to overcome this by making Johnny Blaze human and realistic – transforming him seamlessly from motorcycle-rider to fiery vigilante. For this, we have to thank Cage whose portrayal of the vengeful protagonist is both credible and sympathetic.
The special effects, especially of skulls and other stuff bursting into flames, are fantastic and mind-boggling. But what is most important is that the technical effects are never allowed to overwhelm the narrative. Johnson keeps a fine balance between stunts and story flow and even throws in humour and wit every now and then. We can feel the energy and fun even if we can't stomach the supernatural conceits.
Also, there is chemistry in the romantic tangles between Johnny and Roxanne and they should delight the women in the audience. Mendes, as an Everywoman caught in an unbelievable mess, lends solid support although her role is not quite as demanding as Cage's. It is also amazing that the casting department has managed to find lookalikes for Cage and Mendes in Long and Raquel Alessi, respectively.

THE LOWDOWN: All in all, “Ghost Rider” is a well-made effort which should appeal to fans of the comic book as well as the casual cinema-goer seeking top class entertainment.

MUSIC & LYRICS: SIlly Valentine's Date

MUSIC AND LYRICS (romantic comedy)
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston
Director: Marc D. Lawrence
Time: 103 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
Grant & Barrymore
TRIVIA QUESTION: Now, if you were a has-been pop musician living in a one-room apartment, would you hire someone to water your indoor plants which can be counted with all the fingers on one hand? This, ladies and gentlemen, is just one of the many off-key conceits in a rather contrived rom-com slotted for this Valentine's Day.
We shall not go into any more of the 'screechy' notes of “Music And Lyrics” but concentrate on the 'groovy' moments instead. For one, it is interesting to see former heart-throb Hugh Grant doing self-parody as a has-been in the entertainment industry. In this role, he doesn't really have to act.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? “Music And Lyrics” starts off introducing Alex Fletcher (Grant) as a Wham!-like keyboardist strutting his stuff (and butt) in the Eighties when his band Pop was in its heyday. After the turn of the century, Alex is now a theme park singer who is offered a chance to duet with America's top teen pop sensation, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett). All he has to do is to compose a duet number for her concert and he would be on his way to making a comeback.
Trouble is, Alex has not written a lyric in years and is suffering from a huge dose of writer's block. And this is where the 'plant lady' comes in. When Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) unconsciously completes his sentences while watering his plants, he figures that she should be his lyricist. He persuades her to take up the job – but first, she has to get over her trauma of a scandalous relationship with her college professor (Campbell Scott) who has written a best-seller on their affair.

BOUQUETS & BRICKBATS: It is an understatement to say that “Music And Lyrics” is poorly contrived and predictable. Writer-director Marc Lawrence (of “Two Weeks Notice”) makes no apologies for it and even uses our familiarity with romantic comedies and the Eighties pop culture to fuel the narrative. He has Grant looking worn-out and haggard to drive home that has-been factor; he makes Cora a combination of Britney Spears and Shakira to juxtapose contemporary sex-pop with 'ancient' psychedelic Pop music; and he has subplots about idol-worshipping with Sophie's older sister (Kirsten Johnston) falling all over Alex at one of his concerts.
Grant and Barrymore manage to pull it off as romantic lovers but don't expect many sparks or chemistry here. All you would get are the usual gestures by Grant when he tries to look charming. Why, he didn't even bother to hide his paunch during a morning-after sequence. Barrymore, on the other hand, still looks ravishing and, more importantly, makes her role more credible than what is apparently on the script.
Brad Garrett (of TV's “Everybody Loves Raymond”) is great to watch as Alex's friend and manager and he has a few nifty lines. For eye candy, we have some catchy dances by Bennett who actually looks like a cross between Christina Aguilera and Shakira, both of whom she spoofs.

THE LOWDOWN: With cardboard Cupids and hearts adorning the shopping malls everywhere, this is the season to be silly and who can blame film-makers like Lawrence for pandering to this mood?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Weekend Pic Feb 9 - 11

A Weekly Guide for Your Weekend Viewing:

1. BABEL (drama with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi) Rated: * * * 1/2 (out of 4): Like the Oscar-winning "Crash", here's another social critique on Man's inability to communicate despite technological advances and the Internet. There are four 'stories' here, each connected to a single careless incident in Morocco.

2. THE LAST KISS (comedy with Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett and Rachel Bilson) Rated: * * * (3 stars): Adapted from an Italian film, this romantic comedy is about a bunch of yuppies facing mid-life crises at turning 30. With interesting takes on contemporary social and marital woes.

3. STRANGER THAN FICTION (romantic comedy with Will Farrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman) Rated * * * (3 stars): Classy, controlled acting by Farrell and Gyllenhaal make this fantasy comedy a delight to watch. Plus we get some gems by Hoffman and Emma Thompson.

4. THE HOLIDAY (romantic comedy with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black) Rated * * * (3 stars): This plot, about two 'losers-in-love' exchanging homes across the Atlantic for the Christmas holidays, has some great moments. But director Nancy Meyers drags it to the edge of boredom.

5. THE TIN MINE (Thai drama with Pitchaya Watchajittaphan and Nirun Zhuttar) Rated: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Coming-of-age movie about a varsity dropout working at a tin mine. A refreshing change from the Thai horror thrillers.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BABEL: Disturbing But Still A Seat-Gripper

BABEL (drama)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Elle Fanning, Koji Yakuso and Rinko Kikuchi
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)
Blanchett and Pitt in 'Babel'
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? The Biblical story of Babel deals with the consequences of unchecked ambition. As punishment for trying to build a tower to the heavens, the human race was scattered all over the face of the Earth in a state of confusion — divided, dislocated and unable to communicate. Now, after so many thousands of years and with such technological advances as mobile phones and the Internet, is the human race any different from the days of Babel?

Mexican film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who gave us “21 Grams”) answers this question in “Babel” which is constructed as a 'time-and-place' puzzle. Like in the Biblical story, there is confusion and displacement in our minds as we try to grasp the seemingly unrelated events that stem from one mischievous act in a desolate corner of the world...

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? In the barren mountains of Morocco, a villager buys a rifle for his two sons to scare off the jackals that attack their goats. The next day, while using the gun for target practice, one of the siblings fires a round at a tourist bus. The boys think nothing of it – until they see the bus stopping a few minutes later.
The shot has found its mark – in the neck of American tourist Susan (Cate Blanchett) who is on vacation in Morocco with her hubby Richard (Brad Pitt). The couple's struggle to find medical aid almost turns into an international crisis with terrorist overtones. Meanwhile, in the US, a Mexican domestic maid's (Adriana Barraza) plan to attend her son's wedding in Tijuana, Mexico, is set in disarray by a phone call from her boss; and in Tokyo, a deaf-mute schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi as Chieko) and her father (Koji Yakusho) find that the police want to interview them – presumably over the death of her mother.

BOUQUETS & BRICKBATS: Inarritu criss-crosses among these four segments, jumping through overlapping periods of time and place, and we are left to figure out the actual chronology of the narrative ourselves. This may be bewildering in the first hour of the movie but things gradually fall into place as the plots unfold. In our high-tech world, a single gunshot in Morocco may be 'heard' all over the world but getting to the truth is another matter. We may have the means to communicate but not enough to understand and comprehend.
Inarritu and his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are also adept at showing the clash of cultures. In a sequence in Tijuana, an act of slaughtering chicken shocks the visiting American kids while the local children do not even bat an eyelid; and in North Africa, the Americans learn that sentiments of urgency and anxiety can be lost in translation.
The most vibrant of the four is the Tokyo segment where we find the deaf-mute Chieko looking for sex and love among the crowds in the streets, nightspots, and even on the dentist's chair. Inarritu allows us to get into her quiet, lonely world and share her frustrations simply by switching off the soundtrack. And the most disturbing is the scene at the US border with Mexico where a Latino maid with her white charges is mistaken for an abductor.
Among the cast, Blanchett and Pitt earn their keep as an average middle class couple trying to resolve their marital woes by going on a vacation. Barraza has us rooting for her as a mother torn between her son and her two young American charges. And the two 'Moroccan siblings', Said Tarchani and Boubker Ait El Caid are effective as youngsters grappling with a dangerous 'toy'. However, the performance that stands out most must be Rinko Kikuchi's – who grabs our attention whenever she is on-screen exposing her timidity, sexuality, and eventually, rage.

THE LOWDOWN: “Babel” represents the final instalment of Inarritu's stylistic trilogy that began with “Amores Perros” (2000) and “21 Grams” (2003) – both dealing with how a freak accident connects and affects various people from different places. “Babel” is about misunderstanding and miscommunication – but Inarritu uses a universal language understood by all: the motion picture! Don't Miss This One!

Monday, February 05, 2007

'The Marine" Won't be Shown In Malaysia

The Marine
Feb 5: Malaysian wrestling fans looking forward to seeing WWE star John Cena strutting his stuff on the big screen may be disappointed. Cena's movie feature debut, “The Marine”, has been 'recalled' from local release by 20th Century Fox, likely for reasons akin to “having expired its shelf-life”. The movie, presented by 20th Century Fox in association with WWE (World Wresting Entertainment) Films, was released in the United States in October last year.

Besides Cena, “The Marine” also stars Robert Patrick, Kelly Carlson and Anthony Ray Parker in a story about a Marine (Cena as John Triton) who is discharged for disobeying orders during his tour of duty in Iraq. Back in the US, John's wife Kate (Carlson) is abducted by trigger-happy jewel thieves while on a camping holiday – and a predictable one-man chase and rescue mission follows.

Cena has appeared on the WWE Monday Night RAW television series as well as on the hugely popular WWF Smackdown! series.

“The Marine” was deemed “unsuitable” for local release by its distributor probably because of its 'delay' since its release in the US, and possible 'limited appeal' to Malaysian viewers. It had been panned by critics.

Another Fox/Warner Bros movie which was recently withdrawn from release in Malaysia was "A Good Year". The reason was also a matter of dollars and sense as it had been deemed not worthwhile because of its limited appeal.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Weekend Pic Feb 2 -- 5

A Weekly Guide for Your Weekend Viewing:

1. BABEL (drama with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi) Rating: * * * 1/2 (3.5 out of 4): Like the Oscar-winning "Crash", here's another social commentary on Man's inability to communicate despite technological advances like mobile phones and the Internet. There are four 'stories' here, each connected to a single careless incident in Morocco.
Babel poster
2. STRANGER THAN FICTION (romantic comedy with Will Farrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman) Rated * * * (3 stars): Classy, controlled acting by Farrell and Gyllenhaal make this fantasy comedy a delight to watch. Plus we get some gems by Hoffman and Emma Thompson.

3. THE HOLIDAY (romantic comedy with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black) Rated * * * (3 stars): This plot, about two 'losers-in-love' exchanging homes across the Atlantic for the Christmas holidays, has some great moments. But director Nancy Meyers drags it to the edge of boredom.

4. EPIC MOVIE (comedy spoof with Adam Campbell, Jayma Mays, Faune Chambers and Kal Penn) Rated: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Using the 2005 "Chronicles Of Narnia" format, this spoofs on the franchise blockbusters has a few hits but mostly misses. Great for nostalgia value.

5. IBERIA (documentary on Spanish dance) Rated: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Don't expect something like "Strictly Ballroom" here but a series of great foot-tapping music and dances. You will be crying out for subtitles and footnotes, though.

IBERIA: Strictly Spanish Dances

IBERIA (dance documentary in Spanish)
Cast: Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, Manolo Sanlucar and Enrique Morente
Director: Carlos Saura
Time: 85 mins

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
The Iberia poster
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? First off, let me say that this documentary on Spanish dances and culture is not for the average cinema-goer. There is no plot or narration to bind the various dance sequences together – or any familiar names that would attract the local crowd. However, if you are a student of music and dance, like the Flamenco or tap dancing, you may find “Iberia” inspiring and even entertaining enough to start your feet tapping to the music.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? “Iberia”, written and directed by veteran film-maker Carlos Saura, is a tour-de-force, celebrating the discipline, skill and passion of Flamenco, classical music, ballet and contemporary dance. Working with some of the greatest Spanish talents, Saura has succeeded not only in drawing the best from each of them, but in raising their standard of performances to new heights. Most of the dance segments appear like rehearsals and impromptu performances. Others, using mirrors and delayed screen images, allow us to study every nuance and gesture of the performers.
According to the production notes, “Iberia” is inspired by the work of Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). Saura’s camera sometimes takes the point of view of one of the performers – in preparations, rehearsals, and the gradual birth of the acts – and he conjures a dramatic and compelling universe, a world of passion and creativity. His “Iberia” shows the musical where the story to be told is already contained in the music, and taking for granted that its audience are more or less familiar with.

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: In short, the documentary is geared mainly towards Spanish-speaking audiences and there is nothing in the form of subtitles to explain what is going on (the history or background of the dances) to foreign viewers. This leaves us to deduce or guess the story or 'message' in the dances. For some, this can be rather bewildering but for those who follow the movements and costumes closely, there can be rather fascinating discoveries.
In segments like 'Bajo la Palmera' and 'Granada', we see dancers silhouetted against bright orange or red backgrounds, providing an experimental, surrealistic effect. In others, Saura recognises Arabic and Muslim influences in Spanish culture, and there is even a musical number performed by old native women. 'Alemaria', however, features a modern sequence with two groups of youngsters facing-off like rival gangs in “West Side Story”. One of them even adds some break dance moves to his repertoire – taking the performance into the realm of contemporary campiness.
The credits name Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, José Antonio, Aida Gómez and Patrick De Bana among the lead dancers and choreographers, and the musicians include Manolo Sanlúcar, Gerardo Núñez and José Antonio Rodríguez; pianist Rosa Torres Pardo and Chano Domínguez and flamenco-jazz star Jorge Pardo. However, these stars are not identified on-screen in their segments – and we are left to another round of guesswork on these personalities.

THE LOWDOWN: Completed in 2005, “Iberia” was apparently not meant for international release. If it were, the producers should have included a whole lot of subtitles and clarification so that people like us can understand and enjoy the documentary a whole lot more.

THE HOLIDAY: Fun, but a bit long drawn

THE HOLIDAY (romantic comedy)
Cast: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black and Eli Wallach
Director: Nancy Meyers
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Jude Law and Cameron Diaz
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? From the writer-director who gave us “What Women Wants” and “Something's Gotta Give” comes another rom-com about women who are really trying to get away from themselves. Sure, Nancy Meyers really knows what women want and she gives it to us in her own way – all wrapped up in sweet but complicated Yuletide decor. The only trouble is that “The Holiday” -- shot in a 135-minute footage -- takes ages to 'unwrap' and by the time it is done, it is already New Year's Eve!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Meyer's plot is about two women swapping homes across the Atlantic for the Christmas holidays just so that they can get away from their failed romances. British journalist Iris (Kate Winslet) is suffering from a case of unrequited love for a colleague (Rufus Sewell) who doesn't even have the courtesy to tell her that he is getting engaged to the girl in the circulation department. Movie trailer producer Amanda (Cameron Diaz), on the other hand, loses her mind -- and soul -- after finding out that her beau (Ed Burns) has cheated on her.
A few clicks on an Internet website later, Amanda and Iris have swap homes so that they can be 'miserably alone' for the Christmas holidays. At Amanda's palatial mansion in Los Angeles, Iris makes friends with 90-year-old scriptwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach in a touching role) and starts a romance with music composer Miles (Jack Black). At Iris's cottage in Surrey, Amanda runs into Iris's drunk brother Graham (Jude Law) and wastes no time jumping into bed with him (foreplay, she says, is 'over-rated').

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: So here we are: two love stories for the price of one! Meyers takes her own sweet time developing and expanding each of them while we were asking “Isn't it Christmas yet?” during each sequence. Well, don't get me wrong. Most of the romantic encounters and comedic devices are rather delightful and even funny. There is a nice element of surprise when Amanda visits Graham's home unannounced and finds his 'Sophie' and 'Olivia'; and the mental flashes of her life story as corny movie trailers are fun to watch.
Over in L.A., Black provides his usual blend of comic relief, humming soundtracks of famous movies (like those of “Jaws” and The Graduate”) while a veteran actor (guess who!) looks on in dismay. However, unlike the Diaz-Law pairing, Black seems miscast as Iris' love interest. Why, there seems to be more screen chemistry between Winslet and Wallach than with Black. Still, we must credit Meyers for some 'laugh-out-loud' moments like that three-way conversation in which Iris inadvertently ranted at the wrong person.

THE LOWDOWN: Comedies, like good documentaries, should be short and sweet, and Meyers could have easily done away with some superfluous scenes. Apparently, she must have been carried away by the situations and characters she has managed to flesh out so well. Women and dating couples should have a enjoyable time with this “Holiday”.


STRANGER THAN FICTION (romantic comedy)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah and Emma Thompson
Director: Marc Forster
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Farrell and Gyllenhaal
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Sometimes, when things go crazy, have you ever imagined that your life could be 'composed and written' by some author working on some sort of a tragicomedy? Or, if you are a novelist, have you ever imagined your character coming to life and having a mind of its own?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Well, these fantasy situations are explored by writer Zach Helm and director Marc Forster in “Stranger Than Fiction”, a story about a lonely IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agent who starts hearing voices in his head dictating all his actions and thoughts. At first Harold Crick (Will Farrell) thinks that it is his toothbrush or tie that is talking to him. However, when the voices seem to predict his actions, he turns to literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) for help to trace the writer.
The voices seem to have a dramatic impact on Harold's life of routine and audit figures (he counts the steps he takes to his office, and even the strokes of his toothbrush) and he starts making changes. He befriends a young baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal) whose taxes he is sent to audit. And what starts off as a stormy relationship turns into a beautiful friendship of 'milk and cookies' and 'music and romance'.
Meanwhile, novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is having problems finishing her latest novel, 'Death And Taxes' – specifically, thinking of a dramatic way to kill off her protagonist. Her publisher has even sent her an assistant in the form of Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help with her research. Soon, Harold tracks down his 'life narrator' – and even discovers that the book she is writing is a tragedy. Can he do anything to stop this metaphysical control on his destiny?

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: Personally, I am not bowled over by this idea of 'narrative control' of a person's life. Plot holes are apparent upon close scrutiny. Nevertheless, the movie is thought-provoking, especially in its subplot about a dull, sedentary life 'ruled' by figures and a wristwatch which decides to 'rebel' one day.
Still, the best part of “Stranger Than Fiction” lies in the performances of its cast. Farrell, who has generally been seen as an over-the-top comedian, proves that he can handle a straight role and even gives it a compelling emotional edge. He gets our sympathy throughout the movie and when he is on-screen with Gyllenhaal, the chemistry sizzles. Gyllenhaal (last seen in “World Trade Center”) is no Hollywood heart-throb (like Meg Ryan was) but she bubbles with sex appeal here as a baker who is 'won over' by a set of gift flours!
Hoffman and Thompson flesh out their roles with the quirky, funny eccentricities expected of them and they shine every time they appear. Watch what Hoffman does to his coffee, and what Thompson does to her chain-smoked cigarettes, and you would appreciate the detailed portrayals that director Forster goes for. Forster, who gave us Oscar-nominated efforts like “Monster's Ball” and “Finding Neverland”, also provides his own quirky touch to the movie – by adding on cute graphics to show the figures in Harold's mind as he goes about his daily routine.

THE LOWDOWN: “Stranger Than Fiction” is an intelligent film about life, art and romance which may somehow force you to examine your own life too. Like, is your life being ruled by your watch, waking up, going to work and getting to bed when it tells you to? And, aren't you going to rebel – just to prove that you are in control of your own life and destiny?