Tag Archives: cinema

Aming’s X Appeal

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/07/24/aming%E2%80%99s-x-appeal.html

The superhero tradition gets a radical makeover in a new movie, with its filmmakers squaring off against homophobia and conservatism in Indonesia today.

Sara Veal

Under a bright spotlight, a white-haired, black cat-suited superhero strikes a fierce pose, her beautifully painted face solemn and sultry. Her manicured talons are enough to make you think twice about crossing her, but it’s her spike-stiletto boots that are the real concern.

Unexpectedly, the Lady Gaga-like dominatrix struts over and flops down beside me on the couch,  where I have been watching, entranced and intimidated.

“My feet are killing me! I’ve had to wear this outfit every day for a month!” Underneath all that pomp and pleather is the lovable Aming, down-to-earth even in sky-high heels.

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Don’t you forget about him

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/04/04/don%E2%80%99t-you-forget-about-him.html

Sara Veal

If you watch a Robert Pattinson film at the cinema, you have to be willing to tolerate the helpless gasping that is guaranteed to afflict at least a handful of audience members.

So I was fully prepared  as I settled down to watch Remember Me, a romantic drama that the Twilight hottie seemed to have made just for his swooning fans, a conclusion I came to based on posters and movie stills. Dishevelled hair? Check. Angsty glances? Check. A sullen co-star? Check.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the respectful silence that followed the film’s conclusion, the hushed murmuring as people filed out, and my own profound melancholy for hours afterwards.

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The dragon and his boy

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/28/the-dragon-and-his-boy.html

Sara Veal

The ongoing battle between 3D animation studios has two main contenders: Pixar and Dreamworks. Both can astound with cutting edge graphics and triumph at the box office, but so far, Pixar is ahead, emotionally and artistically.

You can rely on Pixar to turn ideas that are generous on whimsy and thin on plot into entertaining treatises on the human condition. Dreamworks tends to go the plot- and joke-heavy route, adding up to raucous laughs, without matching the former’s timeless magic or insight.

But with How to Train Your Dragon, loosely based on Cressida Cowell’s children’s series, Dreamworks has stepped up its game and delivered a winning family fantasy that, despite its many clichés, has that certain something. That something that elevates it above disposable entertainment and means you’ll be able to watch it again and again.

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The little war movie that could

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/21/the-little-war-movie-could.html

Sara Veal

Reviewing a film that has just received the highest cinematic accolade is challenging. Then again, those good folks at the Oscars don’t always get it right, and often reward dreary, self-important “Oscar-bait” that we mere popcorn-munching mortals would secretly consider to be like boiled carrots at dinner-time. Good for you but no fun at all.

But, in this case, The Hurt Locker simultaneously defies expectation and earns its sky-high hype – if you’ve been living under a rock, Kathryn Bigelow’s “little movie” seemingly came out of nowhere to sweep the Oscars, claiming six little gold men and triumphing over the showier Avatar, a David vs. Goliath story made even more memorable as James Cameron is Bigelow’s ex-husband.

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Screen legends keep it simple

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/14/screen-legends-keep-it-simple.html

Sara Veal

Meryl Streep can do no wrong. She’s cheated death (Death Becomes Her), reduced Anne Hathaway to a nervous wreck (The Devil Wears Prada) and chosen between her children (Sophie’s Choice) – whatever she does, she always pulls it off, repeatedly proving herself to be one of Hollywood’s finest leading ladies.

Despite hitting 60, Streep’s been enjoying a run of rom-coms, kicked off by her winning turn in smash Mamma Mia and continuing with gastronomic pleasure Julie & Julia. Nancy Meyer’s laugh-out-loud It’s Complicated completes a love trifecta, placing her in the middle of a triangle with fellow Hollywood stalwarts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.

Jane (Streep) is a loving mother-of-three and successful bakery owner, who after 10 years of separation, is finally “happily divorced” from attorney Jake (Baldwin), who left her for shinier, newer model Agness (Lake Bell).

In fact Jane and Jake are now on such good terms that they end up rediscovering their old magic, leading to Jane becoming her ex-husband’s “other woman”, a confusing situation the pair need to hide from their kids. And if things weren’t complicated enough, architect Adam (Steve Martin) has also fallen under Jane’s spell…

As the central object of affection, Streep is immensely likeable, and steers clear of the grating, screeching territory fellow romantic leading-lady-of-a-certain-age Diane Keaton often veered into. Jane is warm, self-effacing and oozes modest charisma, and it’s easy to see why Jake and Adam would fall for her.

Baldwin is his patented charming self as Jake, and he and Streep generate a comfortable chemistry that believably reflects a long-standing love. He provides most of the comedy, with his offbeat seduction techniques (stalking, accidental webcam striptease). There’s an element of sadness too as he’s seemingly trapped with a domineering wife and exhausting, disrespectful stepson. Meyers seems to making a point about men who “trade up” only to find it’s not what they wanted at all.

The biggest surprise is Martin, who is downright nuanced, a huge change from the broad comedy of recent outings like the Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pink Panther sequels. Adam, also recovering from divorce, is vulnerable, mature and sincere, offering Jane a taste of something new. It isn’t all straight-man for Martin though, a winning scene in the move in which Adam and Jane decide to cut loose allows the funny-man to come out – and the small dose makes it even more effective.

Adam also has palpable sparks with Jane, which makes the ménage-a-trois compelling. You’ll find it hard to decide who you want Jane to end up with – both men make convincing and charming cases for her attention.

Most of the supporting cast fade into scenery next to the three heavyweights, but of particular note is John Krasinski as Harley, Jane and Jake’s eldest daughter’s fiancé who accidentally gets swept up in the couple’s subterfuge. Harley adds a thread of laidback, good-hearted humor and feels like a real person whereas the other youngsters are rather cardboard.

Another element that prevents the film from coming down-to-earth is the hoity-toity backdrop, which seems to be the only world Meyers is familiar with – upper-middle-class, perfectly decorated homes, high-flying careers and premium education – and completely isolated from the global financial crisis.

However, the setting does provide an alluring escapism, best epitomized when Jane uses her luxurious bakery to make delicious treats for a lucky man.

It’s Complicated is actually rather simple – and all the better for it. It’s about second chances and sexiness at any age, and will have you clutching your sides as the trio of talented thespians play off one another perfectly.

Verdict: Three of Hollywood’s finest make this straightforward rom-com a delight for all ages.

It’s Complicated (Universal Pictures, 120 minutes)
Directed by Nancy Meyers
Produced by Nancy Meyers & Scott Rudin
Written by Nancy Meyers
Starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Lake Bell, John Krasinsk
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Return to the rabbit hole

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/14/return-rabbit-hole.html

Sara Veal

Adapting books for the screen is tricky, even with big bucks and star power there is no guarantee of getting it right.

Time and time again, audiences excited to see their favourite story brought to life have left the cinema disappointed, cursing the director for failing to match what their minds had conjured up.

Once upon a time, I would have said, without hesitation, that the combination of Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was a match made in adaptation heaven.

In Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, The Corpse Bride and Big Fish, Burton spun magical, edgy worlds where you were never quite sure what would happen next, ideal for the irreverent Victorian fantasy. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left a nasty taste in my mouth, which overpowered my appetite for Roald Dahl and the delicious Johnny Depp.

So, I reserved my expectations. And Burton proved me wrong yet again – his latest attempt to adapt a children’s classic is a triumph, remaining true to the spirit of the source material while offering something new.

We first encounter an Alice much like the one in the books, at seven, complete with blue pinafore dress and buckets of curiosity – and suffering a constant dream about a strange land of wonder.

Twelve years on, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is still curious, which puts her at odds with her peers and the starched white environment full of rules she is forced to inhabit.

Alice’s mother and sister hope she will marry a chinless aristocrat whose family now owns her recently deceased father’s company. Before she has to make a decision, she falls down a rabbit hole into Underland, a place she remembers from her dreams.

Or does she? As Alice surrenders to the oddly familiar world she finds, dream or not, she is expected to attempt a heroic feat, the success of which will decide the Underlanders’ fate.

Burton has fashioned a plot out of the book’s series of mad, vaguely connected events, one that well sustains audience interest in the 108-minute running time, without losing the essential whimsy. Absurdity is ever-present, provoking helpless giggles, and blended with plenty of heart that will ensure you care about what happens.

The plot-driven narrative suits Alice’s journey from uncertain girl to empowered heroine, transformations the Australian Wasikowska deftly manages, whether physical or mental. Her Alice is strong without being spunky – she is realistic despite her surreal surroundings.

There’s an unsettling hint of romance between Alice and Depp’s Mad Hatter, but overall the two have winning camaraderie, and you understand their support for one another without need for exposition.

Depp, forever a Burton muse, disappears into the makeup-heavy role, projecting pathos as the post-traumatic-stress-disorder-suffering Hatter. His English accent has come on in leaps and bounds since Sleepy Hollow, however his Scottish one needs more work – the instances in which the Hatter lapses into an angry Braveheart are only the false notes in an otherwise faultless performance.

Wasikowska and Depp take care not to overshadow the galaxy of supporting stars, most of whom are digitally manipulated or animated, mixing seamlessly with each other and the fantastical environment.

Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s wife) as the toddler-like and decapitation-demanding Red Queen, is both villain and comic relief – and somehow sympathetic. The White Queen, the Red Queen’s rival and sister, allows the oft-sweetly neurotic Anne Hathaway to try something new – she is ethereal and a touch psychotic, like most of the Underlanders.

Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts is enjoyably deplorable, while the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) are languidly voiced. The White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) is suitably antsy and the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) is completely bonkers.

The often hangdog Timothy Spall works well as the voice of Bayard, a kindly canine who has to balance helping the Underlanders’ cause and looking out for his family. Little Britain’s Matt Lucas is especially entertaining as bantering twins Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee – or “fat boys” as the Red Queen amusingly refers to them.

Underland is gorgeously rendered, a shadowy rainbow place that sharply contrasts with the prim and proper Victorian world above. Within Underland are rich environs that reflect characters, such as the Red Queen’s psychedelic palace, the Hatter’s decrepit Tea Party and the White Queen’s austere castle, adding to the texture and expansiveness of the imaginary world.

The 3D is not integral, but there were moments when I tried to dodge “flying” objects. The CGI is a tad video-gamey at times, especially at the Red Queen’s palace, where Carter’s digitally oversized head bobs along unconvincingly against a painfully color-schemed backdrop. At other times, it’s eerily tangible, as when Alice steps on corpse faces in the moat surrounding the same palace.

More consistently impressive than the CGI is the makeup and costuming, particularly with Alice’s outfits as she shrinks and expands, and enters new places, nonchalantly donning couture outfits that fashionistas would give their eyeteeth for, and add to her development and the wonder of Underland.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is that it achieves closure – a rarity in this sequel-driven age. Burton may take two hours to tell Alice’s story, but he wraps it up, and treats the audience to many ingredients while he’s at it – a coming of age, an epic battle, hilarity, thrills and enough visual eye-candy to land you in a sugar coma. It satisfies while leaving you wanting more.

Future novel-to-film adaptors would do well to take a page out of Burton’s book – he’s created something existing fans will likely love, balancing admirably between faithfulness and originality.

Verdict: Maintains the magic of the book while offering surprises, adding up to a weird and wonderful ride you’ll want to return to.

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Pictures, 109 minutes)
Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd
Written by Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (book)
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry

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Karmela Kartodirdjo: Keeping it real

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/07/karmela-kartodirdjo-keeping-it-real.html

Sara Veal

“I love singing, I love it when I sing with a crowd, and I see them enjoying my music,” says Karmela Kartodirdjo over a cup of coffee in a cozy Kemang cafe.

“It gets me high when they sing the songs I have written.”

You might not have heard of Karmela, better known as Lala, but if you’re a fan of Indonesian pop music, you’re bound to fall for this little lady in a huge way.

With a laidback style, genuine demeanour and a crystal clear set of pipes, this Indonesian-Pinoy girl next door is well on her way to becoming the next big thing.

After spending two years making her name in the Philippines on the Warner Music label, the singer-songwriter returned to Jakarta last year to break into the Indonesian music industry, under the management of Sony.

“Both places are like my home, but I got to have a music career in the Philippines, and I also want to have one in here — I want the best of both worlds,” Karmela says.

In recent months, she has performed regular acoustic sets at Poste Kitchen Bar; toured around Asia with fellow Southeast Asian artists; served as a musical ambassador for Coca Cola’s “Open Happiness” project; wrapped up a musical comedy film; and is now working on her own album, with the first single due out in a few weeks.

Karmela writes songs about “personal experiences, people who are close to me, who inspire me”. Her new single, “Hasrat Cinta” (Passion), is a cover of a hit song from 10 years ago by male singer Yana Yulio.

“Because I’m a new artist here in Indonesia, we want people to know me first, so we gave them something they might be familiar with,” Karmela says, adding that while the song is “very pop” her musical roots are country, blues and alternative.

“But I’m very comfortable with pop. After that I’m working on my album, and will get to do more of my own songs… I want a lot of people to be able to sing my songs. That’s my goal.”

Indonesian artists she particularly looks up to are Rieka Roslan (“she has an amazing voice”) and Glenn Fredly (“I love him”).

At 24, Karmela has considerable entertainment experience under her belt. She began writing songs at 15, acted in sinetron when she was 17, co-starring with Bunga Citra Lestari, Raffi Ahmad, Arifin Putra and Laudya Cynthia Bella in SMP (Senandung Masa Puber).

Despite her acting forays — SKJ (Seleb Kota Jogja), her film with Cinta Laura and new Sony band SKJ, out next month — Karmela is focused on her music.

“I hope I do more albums than I do movies. I want people to know me as a musician, and then acting will be an extension of what I can do … Music is in my bones,” she says, adding that her main source of inspiration is her father, Eko Muhatma Kartodirdjo, famous in Malaysia during the 1960s as one of The Grim Preachers.

“He’s actually the reason why I play music. Since I was a young girl I would listen to him play the guitar and the music he listens to, like the Beatles, and all of that old stuff.”

Karmela is surrounded by songbirds and strummers. Her elder brother Marco is in the acoustic band Mike’s Apartment and is married to singer Imel, while she has been dating J. Mono, pop rock group Alexa’s bass player, for nine months, after meeting him at a television performance.

“We hang out with a lot of musicians. [J. Mono is] also in the industry, so we do a lot of things together. We relate to one another … He’s actually more experienced than me in the music industry, so he gives me a lot of advice.”

Getting to grips with the Indonesian music industry is a top priority for the singer.

“In the Philippines, the music industry there and the culture are different … It’s a challenge, but I’m having fun, because I’m learning a lot,” she says.

“[In Indonesia] a musician can also be seen as a celebrity, an artist … [but] in the Philippines, most of the musicians there are true musicians by heart.”

Karmela notes that “local music is really booming” and has observed a “gap” between the Indonesian audience and the output of local musicians, especially due to the archipelago’s diversity, hence she says “artists have to make more of the music audiences want to hear”.

“People are still listening to dangdut, people listen to Madonna, to Bon Jovi … it depends on what you give them … the more you give, the more they eat. People follow trends. That’s a characteristic of this country,” she says, adding the sale of RBTs (Ringback Tones) have become an important way of measuring an artist’s success.

“For my local album, we’re going to make it Indonesian, the aim is to localize myself again here as an Indonesian, because there is a difference if they see you as international or local, in terms of business too.”

In October, she and Imel, both representing Indonesia, hosted and performed at the Sing Out Asia concert in Usmar Ismail film building in Kuningan, Jakarta.

Sing Out Asia, which Karmela has been associated with since 2008, brings together top young talent from several ASEAN countries, and seeks to inspire fellow youths across the region, musically and through community work. After the Jakarta performance, the Sing Out Asia performers travelled to Japan.

“We got to perform at a bar and that night they were having female singers from Asia, so Imel and myself, and my friend Julianne, she performed with a guitar — she also performed [at the Sing Out Asia concert in Jakarta] — we did a production number, it was really fun.”

Upon her return, Karmela focused on her musical collaboration with three other Sony stars, Ello, Ipang and Beery from St. Loco, as part of Coca-Cola’s global “Open Happiness” campaign.

The only female in the quartet, Karmela represents the “pop female” of the quartet, to the others’ “pop male”, “rock male” and “hip-hop head”. The single, Buka Semangat Baru, was recently released, with an accompanying cheerful music video that regularly screens on TV.

“Every country has its own version … basically we’re trying to make people feel a new spirit again, because there’s a lot going on in this country,” she says.

“The concept was that we were at a circus, at a carnival … It was a really fun shoot, we did that in Bogor … there was a lot of green screens so we had to use our imagination.”

The Coca-Cola tour enabled Karmela to see more of Indonesia, which opened her eyes further to the range of ways people across the archipelago express their love of music.

“The characters of people are really different. In Yogyakarta, people are really calm. They’re so Javanese. In Makassar it’s different. They’re so excited and they always want to take close-up pictures. In Medan or Surabaya, people there are really into music. If we just sing a few songs, they get really hyped up.”

One month ago, on location in Yogyakarta, she completed filming SKJ, which is in the vein of Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do.

“It’s about a band called SKJ that just got signed by Sony, and their journey, because they’re originally from Yogyakarta, so their journey from Yogyakarta to Jakarta, being a band, and there’s a contest…” she trails off, smiling, realizing she didn’t want to ruin the ending.

In the film, Karmela and Cinta Laura were the band’s fans and supporters, and her character has a romance with the SKJ bass player. She enjoyed working on the film, and was full of praise for her co-star.

“[Cinta Laura] is wonderful, I had a really great time working with her, she’s a pro.”

Besides her music work, Karmela makes time for other activities, such as teaching herself the piano and fitness.

“I’m into sports. I enrolled myself in a gym and I’m joining Muay Thai. You need a lot of energy to do this, for example, Alexa have gigs almost every day, and if they don’t keep their bodies fit they can drop.”

Karmela also enjoys going to gigs and is looking forward to the upcoming concerts of Kings of Convenience, Paramore (in Singapore) and Imogen Heap. She hopes one day she can open for a foreign act, and perform at rock festivals.

In the meantime, Karmela is dedicated to making her dreams come true, one day at a time.

“I hope I get to be a part of the music industry here, and be accepted, and people get to enjoy the music I deliver to them, and get to know me through my music.”

“Hasrat Cinta”, the first single of Karmela’s upcoming album, will be released soon. Follow the singer on Twitter (http://twitter.com/LalaKarmela) for more information. SKJ will be released in cinemas in April.

DISCOGRAPHY

2005 – Bersama – Album, vocalist for band Inersia
2007 – Stars – Debut solo album under Warner Music Philippines.
2009 –”Buka Semangat Baru” – Coca-Cola single with Ello,
Ipang, and Beery of St. Loco.

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