Friday, October 30, 2009

MJ's 'This Is It' To Top Worldwide B-Office

Fans and critics alike give thumbs up to the movie

OCT 30, 2009 - Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT looks set to top the box-office worldwide this weekend. Malaysian fans join millions of others flocking to cineplexes since its opening on Thursday to catch the 'two-week' only release of the concert rehearsal musical (reviewed below). Some 10,000 tickets were snapped up on the first day of 'advance sale' on Oct 15.

Fans and critics alike heaped praises on the movie directed by Kenny Ortega. The film shows MJ coaching his back-up singers and crew at reahearsals for the 50 concert shows, as well as the pop idol creating, developing, and ultimately staging the high-tech performances.


Malaysian fans and the media got the first viewing of This Is It at its premiere (pic, above) at the Cathay Cineplex Damansara last Wednesday night. The atmosphere was carnival-like with the crowd cheering a five-minute performance by MJ-impersonator Reizo Zen and his group of black-suited dancers at the cinema foyer (pictured below).


However, what was most touching was that viewers at Hall 1 sat through the ending credits, which reprised the title song, and applauded the movie.

In death, Michael Jackson lives in the hearts of his adoring fans.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 30 - Nov 1, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK


a) THIS IS IT! (Michael Jackson's concert rehearsals & clips) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars out of 4): This is one of the best pop musical concerts I have seen in a long time and wow, what a show. If these are just rehearsals, I can't imagine what the real thing would be like! Makes me wanna see it again. A must for all music lovers. (Reviewed below)

b) THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (sci-fi rom-com with Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Jane McLean, Ron Livingston and Stephen Tobolowsky) Rated * * * (3 stars): A sentimental and intriguing look at a love story that transcends time. Somewhat like the Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. (Reviewed below)

c) NINJA (action thriller with Scott Atkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Todd Jensen and Miles Anderson) Rating * * (2 stars): A B-grade effort about an American ninja student trying to protect a cache of weapons. Lots of stunts but lacks sense.

d) JENNIFER'S BODY (horror comedy with Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris and Chris Pratt) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 star): It's actually Megan Fox's luscious body on parade here - plus a bit of Seyfried's. Those are the main attractions and not the silly sucubus story. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG

1. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (war adventure with Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Bruhl, Samm Levine and Til Schweiger) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 out of 4): This is 'Pulp World War 2 History' according to Quentin Tarantino - set in the template of spaghetti westerns. It is at times funny, outrageous and loquacious but entertaining, especially for fans of Tarantino and 'pulp cinema'. (Reviewed below)

2. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (animated comedy with Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, James Caan, Tracy Morgan and Mr. T) Rated * * * (3 stars): Offbeat family entertainment with a touch of inspired lunacy and subtle messages about fatherly love, puppy love and youthful ambition. Available in 3D, the action makes you hungry at first - and then you may wanna duck for cover. (Reviewed below)

3. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (crime thriller with Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Regina Hall and Viola Davis) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Director F. Gary Gray's tale of one-man against the city's justice system is far-fetched and whimsical, if at all ingenious. Still, Foxx and Butler make it watchable as they pit their wits against each other. (Reviewed below)

THIS IS IT! - A Fitting Tribute To The King Of Pop

THIS IS IT! (concert rehearsal clips)
Cast: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Michael Bearden, Travis Payne, Judith Hill, Orianthi Panagaris, Tommy Organ, Mo Pleasure, Stacy Walker and Tony Testa.
Director: Kenny Ortega
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: When Michael Jackson spoke to his fans in London to announce his O2 Concert Tour, he said: "This Is It! This is the final curtain call." That statement turned out prophetic. The curtain fell sooner on his life than he - and all his fans - had
expected.

What remains is this concert rehearsal musical - a fitting tribute to the King Of Pop and all that he stood for.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? If we had expected to see a drugged and sick performer struggling through gruelling rehearsals, we would be disappointed. MJ looked definitely in control of his senses and his art. The paces he went through at the rehearsals would tire out any man. The movie was assembled from rehearsal clips from April through June 2009 for a concert tour scheduled for the summer. The footage was shot by a few cameras but they were professional high-definition cameras and the sound track is full Dolby stereo.

The numbers include his old hits - Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, I Can't Stop Loving You - plus the new title track This Is It!
HITS & ASTONISHMENTS: All that I would like to say about the film is that had the concert been staged, it would had been one helluva show with MJ reasserting himself as the world's top class performer. The musicians and dancers that accompany him
are the cream of their trade. The blonde Australian guitarist Orianthi Panagaris, clad in black boots, who wowed everyone with her screeching guitar solo and fittingly worked to MJ's exhortation: ‘It’s your time to shine,’ - and she did just that.

There are also instances that demonstrate MJ's attention to detail, like in his exchanges with the keyboard player, "You got to let it simmer; bathe in the moonlight".

This Is It! is basically a documentary but there are very limited interviews with dancers and fans. Director Kenny Ortega would not allow any undue interruptions to the show.

I particularly like the intro to the Smooth Criminal number with MJ inserted into vintage footage of Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. And then, of course, he had to champion the environment with footage of a little girl in a rain forest, ending up with him riding a cherry-picker tractor. You just can't help but love this Peter Pan of Pop!

THE LOWDOWN: When the last song is played in the closing credits, you may want to shed a tear for MJ - and probably to queue up to buy tickets for a second viewing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE - A Sentimental Trip

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (sci-fi romantic drama)
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Jane McLean, Ron Livingston and Stephen Tobolowsky
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Time: 107 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams in THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE

PREAMBLE: I have never liked time-travel films because they give me intellectual hernia. That said, I must admit that I find Time Traveler's Wife, based on Audrey Niffenegger's bestseller, intriguing, palatable and sentimental.

As per what the title implies, it is about a love story that transcends time - something many romantics have imagined but find it hard to fathom.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Henry (Eric Bana) is a time-traveller — cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting time line, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control over it. Clare (Rachel McAdams) has been in love with Henry since she met him in a meadow when she was 10.

Clare believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart without any warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

HITS & MISSES: In order to follow the tale, it is essential to suspend (but not abandon) logical thought. After a while, a few of the plot's conventions fall into place, like, we learn that Henry usually 'lands' in familiar places when he time-travels, and hence it is possible to place clothes for him when he arrives (as he travels naked through time!).

It also helps that there is a governing principle here, in that even when Henry tampers with his past, he is unable to alter his future. Another plus is the screen chemistry between Bana and McAdams that makes us root for them, especially in the quest to have a child. McAdams is a charmer and their love story recalls The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where we have two lovers trying to live together as best they can in the face of unusual genetic circumstances.

Director Schwentke and scripter Rubin also invest a sense of fun and wit - in the farcical appearance of Henry during the wedding to the clever solution Clare takes when she desperately wants to have a baby.

THE LOWDOWN: A love-against-the-odds story for the ages?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mama Mia! Sequel In The Works

OCT 27, 2009 - Cinemagoers will be getting another dose of ABBA songs with the planned sequel to the hit musical Mama Mia!

Amanda Seyfried
(below), who played Meryl Streep's daughter Sophie Sheridan in the 2008 film, told BBC News last weekend that the film-makers have been planning the sequel for a long time.



The Guardian of Britain reported that Seyfried seemed certain that Mamma Mia! 2 would use the remaining of Abba’s catalogue just as effectively as the first film did, but this may pose a bit of a problem as the first film had the pick of the best of ABBA's hits.

“I know it’s still going to be ABBA music, because what else would it be? Come on, I wouldn’t do Mamma Mia! 2 without Benny and Bjorn. I think we all had the best time and we all got along so well. It was like some days it felt like we were just people on vacation. I will do it. And I know Meryl’s game as well, so bring it on. It will be so cool,” she said.

No word on who in the original cast will be reprising their roles.

Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson (right) will be making her Broadway debut in a revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” the show’s organisers said over the weekend.

Johansson, 24, will appear on the Great White Way opposite actor Liev Schreiber in the drama set in 1950s America. It is about a Brooklyn dockyard worker obsessed with his 17-year-old niece, to be played by Johansson.


Previews will begin Dec 28 and the show will run for 14 weeks.

Johansson, a former child star, made the transition to adult roles with her critically-acclaimed performance in Sofia Coppola's film Lost in Translation opposite Bill Murray, for which she won a BAFTA Award.

We just know she won't be lost in her transition to theatre.

Monday, October 26, 2009

JENNIFER'S BODY - It's Megan Fox Gone Bawdy!

JENNIFER'S BODY (horror-comedy)
Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris and Chris Pratt
Director: Karyn Kusama (from a screenplay by Diablo Cody)
Time: 102 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Jennifer's Body is really all about Megan Fox gone bawdy - and there are moments in the film when I thought I was watching soft porn. And bad soft porn, at that. Admittedly, the Foxy Transformers chick has what it takes to heat up the screen anywhere. Alas, director Karyn Kusama, working on Oscar-winner Diablo Cody's screenplay, messes up big time - just like she did for the 2005 Aeon Flux.

The result is a movie that is neither scary nor funny; teasy but trite and not sexy enough to make any impact.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Jennifer (Fox) is the 'Queen Bee' of a small town high school to whom every guy is fair game. During a night out at a pub with her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried of Mama Mia), Jennifer takes off with a bunch of gothic rockers (led by Adam Brody of The O.C. fame) and things are never the same between the two girls again.

For one thing, Jennifer has grown from 'high school evil' (as in sexy 'man-eater') to devilishly evil (as in real man-eater) - and she does not give a damn who she hurts. For another, she is eyeing Needy's boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), the school
nerd. And yes, you guess it: Needy must take it upon herself to do the needful - and go all out to protect the guy she loves.

Johnny Simmons and Megan Fox in JENNIFER'S BODY

HITS & MISSES: Like a regular soft porn flick, Cody has written some memorable lines, like Jennifer telling Needy how to use her chesty assets: "Those are like two smart bombs. Point them in the right direction and you'll have boys..." and, "Hey, I'm not even a back-door virgin".

I would like to put it on record that Fox and Seyfried have done a good job with their roles; Seyfried is suitably convincing as the dorky but gutsy coed while Fox sizzles in the title role. The problem lies in the script and the direction. Kusama seems unsure of where to take the movie - and it fails at being a horror (neither scary nor gory enough), comedy (only unintentionally funny) or even a sex romp. The 'world' of Devil's Kettle - the name of the small town - seems to be on some other planet where police presence is non-existent and all boys act like they're just plain stupid or are nerds.

Fox seems to be the only attraction in this movie that suggests that Juno was a flash in the pan for Cody.

THE LOWDOWN: Likely to be one of the 10 Worst Flicks of 2009.

Paranormal Activity Moves Up US Weekend B-O

OCT 26, 2009 - Horror film Paranormal Activity trounced the sixth instalment of the Saw franchise, with a pre-Halloween weekend box office draw of US$22 million (RM74.42 million). Paranormal Activity (pictured below) went into wider release after playing to sellout crowds at midnight-only screenings over the past few weekends in a handful of markets determined by online balloting.


Lionsgate’s Saw VI took in a measly US$14.8 million. The horror series features a killer who calls himself Jigsaw and puts his victims in deadly contraptions to torture them. Couples Retreat moves to No. 5 from top position the previous weekend.

Here is the rest of the Top 5 US B-O estimate grosses for Oct 23-25, 2009 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) $22.0 million ($62.5 million) 5

2. Saw VI (Lionsgate) $14.8 million ($14.8 million) 1

3. Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.) $14.4 million ($54.0 million) 2

4. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films) $12.7 million ($40.3 million) 2

5. Couples Retreat (Universal) $11.1 million ($78.2 million) 3

Friday, October 23, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 23-25, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (war adventure with Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Bruhl, Samm Levine and Til Schweiger) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 out of 4): This is 'Pulp World War 2 History' according to Quentin Tarantino - set in the template of spaghetti westerns. It is at times funny, outrageous and loquacious but entertaining, especially for fans of Tarantino and 'pulp cinema'. (Reviewed below)

b) LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (crime thriller with Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Regina Hall and Viola Davis) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Director F. Gary Gray's tale of one-man against the city's justice system is far-fetched and whimsical, if at all ingenious. Still, Foxx and Butler make it watchable as they pit their wits against each other. (Reviewed below)


STILL GOING STRONG:

1. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (animated comedy with Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, James Caan, Tracy Morgan and Mr. T) Rated * * * (3 stars): Offbeat family entertainment with a touch of inspired lunacy and subtle messages about fatherly love, puppy love and youthful ambition. Available in 3D, the action makes you hungry at first - and then you may wanna duck for cover. (Reviewed below)

2. REBELLION (HK crime thriller with Shawn Yue, Elanne Kwong, Ada Choi, Chapman To, Jun Kung and Conroy Chan) Rated: * * * (out of 4): This Herman Yau 'chop-chop suey' actioner is about the tussle for territory among five rival gangs in Hong Kong. It keeps you on the edge of your seat most of the time - with a few comic and romantic interludes. (Reviewed below)

3. SURROGATES (sci-fi thriller with Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, Boris Kodjoe, Michael Cudlitz and James Cromwell) Rating * * * (3 stars): A better than average sci-fi movie that is both thought-provoking and engaging. Thankfully it's not about robots going berserk but about humans falling for an easier and prettier life - a'la WALL-E.

4. THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (drama with Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Zoe Kazan, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci and Ryan McDonald) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): I like watching the performances of its cast of top stars in this flim than aims for Oscar nods than ticket sales. But writer-director Rebecca Miller tends to be too quirky for her own good. (Reviewed below)

5. WHITEOUT (crime thriller with Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Tom Skerritt and Nicolas Wright) Rated * * (2 stars): Beckinsale is undeniably hot. This plodding Antarctic murder thriller is not. Thankfully, we get to see Beckingsale's hot bod at the opening of the show and then it's all the way downhill. (Reviewed below)

6. BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (courtroom drama with Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore, Orlando Jones, Lawrence Beron and Sewell Whitney) Rated * * (2 stars): This remake of the 1956 film noir stumbles and stutters because its lead, Metcalf, cannot deliver - and director Peter Hyams has failed to improve the narrative. (Reviewed below)

7. SORORITY ROW (Slasherpic with Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge and Carrie Fisher) Rated * (1 star): A needless remake of the 1983 film, this one totally defies logic and accepted human behaviour. It is about how a bunch of sorority sisters are being hunted down over a prank-gone-wrong. (Reviewed below)

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Tarantino's Pulp History

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (war adventure)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Bruhl, Samm Levine, B.J. Novak, Til Schweiger, and Mike Myers
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Time: 152 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: After the cinematic landmark that was Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has dished out another gem that is somewhat 'Pulp History'. Or rather, World War II history according to Quentin Tarantino. It is certainly not a remake of the 1978 film Inglorious Bastards that starred Bo Svenson.

In line with its mis-spelt title, Inglourious Basterds breaks many conventions of the world war film genre - turning facts and events upside-down and re-imagining them. Why, Tarantino even starts off the fairy-tale-styled caper with the legend "Once Upon A Time, in Nazi-occupied France..." emblazoned on a spaghetti western movie template, complete with the music of Ennio Morricone and Dimitri Tiomkin.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? There are two 'stories' running side-by-side. The first concerns a Jewish girl named Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) who witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she adopts a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema.

The second deals with Lt Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who leads a group of Jewish soldiers on a mission to kill Nazis. Known to their enemies as "The Basterds," Raine's squad teams up with German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a plan to take down the leaders of The Third Reich. Their plans converge under a cinema marquee, where Shosanna is set to carry out a revenge of her own.

HITS & MISSES: Like in most Tarantino efforts, Inglourious Basterds teems with colourful characters that are memorable for their weirdness. However, unlike previous films, there is a lot more dialogue than the violent action that Tarantino has been famous for. Indeed, the director seems to be taking his own sweet time 'cooking' and 'developing' situations that can only end in a bloody shooting or explosive action. An example is the farmhouse scene in Chapter One (there are five chapters) where Landa engages in small talk with the farm owner before revealing what he is capable of.

And as expected, there are allusions and nods to popular and not-so-popular movies and pop culture. Tarantino seems to take satisfaction in developing offbeat characters - and turning their players into stars. Cases in point are French actress Laurent whose role reminds us of Fifties stars like Greta Garbo; Til Schweiger as the sneering Nazi-hater, Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz; and Kruger as the sexy double-agent Von Hammersmark. However, the most outstanding is Austrian thespian Christoph who seems to be 'Waltzing' in and out of tensed situations and stealing every scene he appears in.

If I failed to mention Brad Pitt, it is because he seems to have been eclipsed by the aforementioned stars.

THE LOWDOWN: Certainly a must for Tarantino fans.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN - Suspenseful But Senseless

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (crime thriller)
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Regina Hall and Viola Davis
Director: F. Gary Gray
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler in LAW ABIDING CITIZEN

PREAMBLE: There is a huge chasm between possibility and probability - and Law Abiding Citizen tries to traverse it. The premise of the movie is possible and even ingenious - but it boggles the mind how the acts of terror and sabotage are carried out to perfection.

So if you are one who can suspend disbelief easily, you will probably enjoy this tale about how one man can attempt to screw up the justice system of a major city. If you have a doubting mind, you will be questioning the mechanics every step of the way in this film.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Two guys break into the home of Philadelphia inventor Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) he watches helplessly as they rape and murder his wife and young daughter. Cut to 10 years later when the two murderers are being tried by hotshot prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) who arranges a deal with one of the killers, Darby (Christian Stolte), so he can send the other to death row.

This deal does not spell justice for Clyde - and he sets out not only to get his own brand of vengeance on the perps but also to 'overhaul' the allegedly corrupt system of the Philly Justice Department.

HITS & MISSES: The ruthless attack at the beginning makes no sense at all - and the fast forward by Kurt Wimmer's screenplay opens a flood of questions, like why was Clyde allowed to live, and how would he know that the deal was going to be made in order to make such elaborate preparations?

Apparently, the main thrust of the plot is about how one man can screw up a system - and the twists and turns can be fascinating. The action seems to be a combination of the Saw series, a prison drama and courtroom caper. Butler cuts it fine as the vengeful and charismatic protag while Foxx tempers the senseless plot with his calm and 'politically correct' demeanour. There is a bit of Silence Of The Lamb here with Leslie Bibb as Nick's smart assistant but the subplot is not developed. Other notable performances come from Viola Davis as the no-nonsense mayor and Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan.

THE LOWDOWN: Law Abiding Citizen trades sense for suspense and should appeal to action fans.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Wild Things' Tops US Weekend B-O

OCT 19, 2009 - Where the Wild Things Are collected US$32.7 million at approximately 5,000 screens at 3,735 sites, including around US$3.1 million at 145 IMAX sites in North America over the weekend.

Law Abiding Citizen cashed in as the first straight thriller of the season, racking up US$21 million at 3,600 screens at 2,890 sites. The movie, featuring a dueling Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx, opens in Malaysia this Thursday.

Here is the rest of the Top 5 US B-O estimate grosses for Oct 16-18, 2009 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.


1. Where the Wild Things Are (WB) $32.7 million ($32.7 million) 1

2. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films) $21.0 million ($21.0 million) 1

3. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) $19.6 million ($33.1 million) 4

4. Couples Retreat (Universal) $17.2 million ($62.6 million) 2

5. The Stepfather (Sony/Screen Gems) $11.6 million ($11.6 million) 1

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 16-18, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (animated comedy with Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, James Caan, Tracy Morgan and Mr. T) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): Offbeat family entertainment with a touch of inspired lunacy and subtle messages about fatherly love, puppy love and youthful ambition. Available in 3D, the action makes you hungry at first - and then you may wanna duck for cover. (Reviewed below)


b) WHITEOUT (crime thriller with Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Tom Skerritt and Nicolas Wright) Rated * * (2 stars): Beckinsale is undeniably hot. This plodding Antarctic murder thriller is not. Thankfully, we get to see Beckingsale's hot bod at the opening of the show and then it's all the way downhill. (Reviewed below)

c) PANDORUM (space horror with Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le and Norman Reedus) Rated * * (2 stars): Most of the movie is filmed in the dark, the action involving mutated cannibals is long drawn, and it reminds us of space horror films like Aliens and Event Horizon. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (romantic comedy with Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Matthew Gray Gubler and Rachel Boston) Rating * * * 1/2 (out of 4): A rather refreshing take on the rom-com genre, this one is about a break-up told in a 'shuffled card' style. For those who even dislike rom-coms.

2. REBELLION (HK crime thriller with Shawn Yue, Elanne Kwong, Ada Choi, Chapman To, Jun Kung and Conroy Chan) Rated: * * * (out of 4): This Herman Yau 'chop-chop suey' actioner is about the tussle for territory among five rival gangs in Hong Kong. It keeps you on the edge of your seat most of the time - with a few comic and romantic interludes. (Reviewed below)

3. SURROGATES (sci-fi thriller with Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, Boris Kodjoe, Michael Cudlitz and James Cromwell) Rating * * * (3 stars): A better than average sci-fi movie that is both thought-provoking and engaging. Thankfully it's not about robots going berserk but about humans falling for an easier and prettier life - a'la WALL-E.

4. THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (drama with Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Zoe Kazan, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci and Ryan McDonald) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): I like watching the performances of its cast of top stars in this flim than aims for Oscar nods than ticket sales. But writer-director Rebecca Miller tends to be too quirky for her own good. (Reviewed below)

5. BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (courtroom drama with Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore, Orlando Jones, Lawrence Beron and Sewell Whitney) Rated * * (2 stars): This remake of the 1956 film noir stumbles and stutters because its lead, Metcalf, cannot deliver - and director Peter Hyams has failed to improve the narrative. (Reviewed below)

6. A PERFECT GETAWAY (mystery thriller with Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Marley Shelton, Steve Zahn, Kiele Sanchez, Katie Chonacas and Chris Hemsworth) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The first half of this adventure yarn is a big yawn. Instead of 'red herrings' we are thrown 'red snappers' in this 'big-reveal' flick about a pair of murderers among holidaying couples in scenic Hawaii.(Reviewed below)

7. SORORITY ROW (Slasherpic with Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge and Carrie Fisher) Rated * (1 star): A needless remake of the 1983 film, this one totally defies logic and accepted human behaviour. It is about how a bunch of sorority sisters are being hunted down over a prank-gone-wrong. (Reviewed below)

PANDORUM - Watch At Your Own Risk

PANDORUM (sci-fi thriller)
Cast: Ben Foster (pictured), Dennis Quaid, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse and Norman Reedus
Director: Christian Alvart
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: You know the story about Pandora's Box. Open it at your own risk. This also applies to the movie. Catch it if you want to unleash upon yourself a tide of dread, boredom and deja vu. Most of the movie is filmed in the dark, the action involving mutated cannibals is repetitious, and it reminds you of space horror films like Aliens and Event Horizon.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is the 22nd Century and astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster), serving on a spacecraft named Elysium, are conveying the last of Earth's population to a fresh new planet. They come out of cryo-hibernation suffering from partial amnesia. To worsen matters, they find that the spaceship is malfunctioning and mutant cannibals are running wild.

The main action has Bower taking a perilous journey through dark alleyways of the ship to fire up the reactors while Payton has to contend with a pessimistic madman (Cam Gigandet) in the control room.

HITS & MISSES: Pandorum has eveything we hate about monsters-in-spacecraft stories: sudden irritating jolts on the soundtack, unfocussed and incomprehensible action and a thin, predictable plot. Ben Forster who plays the creepy villain in most films, is for once the heroic protagonist here while Antje Traue is largely wasted as his female kick-ass sidekick and the ship's geneticist Nadia.

The bland direction by Christian Alvart makes us wanna applaud at the end of the movie - out of sheer relief that the torture is all over.

THE LOWDOWN: Take a ride on the Elysium at your own risk.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS: Yummy!

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (animated comedy, also in 3D)
Cast: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, James Caan, Tracy Morgan and Mr. T
Director: Christopher Miller and Phil Lord
Time: 81 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Sam Sparks and Flint Lockwood (and monkey Steve) in 'Cloudy'

PREAMBLE: As kids, we have often wished that gumdrops and soda pop would fall from the sky instead of just raindrops. This fantasy is translated in a children's book called Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Jodi and Ron Barrett. The book is thus animated and expanded into a mouth-watering (initially, at least) movie by Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation.

Those who have read the 30-page book would like this big screen rendition. Those who have not may find the film weird at first - but are likely to have their curiosity and appetites warmed up.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is about a young inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader). Living on a tiny island in the Atlantic called Swallow Falls, Flint is not exactly a smart or successful inventor. His spray-on shoes, for instance, comes with a problem: One cannot take out the shoes. All Flint wants to do is to please his father (James Caan) and make him proud of his only son, but all his old man wants is for Flint to run the family tackle shop in a town famous for sardines.

One day, Flint invents a device that transforms water into any kind of food, and for once, the gizmo actually works (well, sort of). Accidentally launched into the sky, the machine sucks in clouds and spits out burgers, bacon and eggs showering food on the town, giving weather reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) a field day.

HITS & MISSES: This is the first animated feature directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously wrote the short-lived “Clone High” on MTV. It is a predictable tale of youthful ambition, puppy love, fatherly love and the quest for approval. These are stuff that any child can relate to and what's nice about the movie is that it does not leave a soppy, 'moralistic' aftertaste.

Also, I like it that themes like junk food, obesity and solid wastes are just skimmed through without making a big deal of them. After all, this is just plain kiddie-inspired lunacy fleshed out in the latest digital and 3D effects. Like, when it first rains junk food, you want to reach out and grab some. Later, when a food storm hits town, you really wanna duck, or seek shelter.

THE LOWDOWN: A visually and intellectually delicious dish.

Monday, October 12, 2009

WHITEOUT - Flurries of Flaws

WHITEOUT (crime thriller)
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Tom Skerritt and Nicolas Wright
Director: Dominic Sena
Time: 103 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)
Italic

PREAMBLE: The best moments of Whiteout are in the first 10 minutes of the movie. After that it takes a freefall into banality and you may tell yourself you should have walked out of Whiteout - while the going was good!

The best moments? Let's face it, the only reason for many of us to catch this flick is its star, Kate Beckinsale (above), voted the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire magazine. However, in a narrative (adapted from a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber) set in the Antarctica, most of Beckinsale's physical assets would be under layers of clothing.

Well, director Dominic Sena seems to understand this problem and he introduces Beckinsale's US marshall Carrie Stetko by showing lingering shots of her disrobing and taking a shower. I suppose he figures that by showing the audience her well-toned and shapely bod, he can then get on with the movie. He is right on that score but what follows is pure hokum!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? A scientist is found murdered in the wilderness of the Antarctica and marshall Carrie Stetko has to rush against time to solve it before the six-month-long winter (or whiteout) sets in. As she probes into the case, she is attacked by axe killer, she gets deadly frostbite - and runs into a suspiciously helpful FBI guy (Gabriel Macht) with whom she unravels the mystery surrounding a Soviet plane which crashed 50 years earlier.

HITS & MISSES: Apparently the blizzards and extreme cold of the South Pole are the intended co-stars of the show. Well, it surely is a cinematographer's paradise and the 'natural hazards' also help to heighten the tension in the action. What ail the movie are the near-idiotic dialogue, the predictable and trite storyline (which has been changed from the source material) and wafer-thin characters.

We are told that Carrie has intended to quit her job (of solving petty squabbles at the research stations) but the murder gives her a new reason to stay on. However, her presumed motivation - to erase the memory of a botched job - feels rather phony.

THE LOWDOWN: Whiteout gets wiped out by flurries of flaws.

Marge Simpson Makes Playboy Cover!

OCT 12, 2009 - They had Marilyn Monroe, Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson and a bevy of famous luscious babes. But the blue beehive-hairdo Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy magazine? What will the good folk of Springfield say to that?

The long-suffering wife of Homer is pictured behind a signature Playboy Bunny chair on the November issue of the magazine which also carries an interview titled 'The Devil In Marge Simpson", as well as another three pages of pictures of 'implied nudity'. It isn't going to get a lot of hot-blooded regular readers sexcited but the cover is generating a whole lot of discussion and chats on the Internet. Now, if that does not help to sell the magazine, I don't know what will.

This coverage is in honour of the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons TV series. I am sure this is going to make Lois Griffin of Family Guy green with envy.


On a similar vein, Late Night Show host David Letterman is on the cover of Entertainment Weekly without his pants. Just a week ago, Letterman revealed that he was allegedly blackmailed for US$2 million (RM7 million) by Robert Halderman, a producer of 48 Hours.

After giving his testimony to a grand jury, Letterman revealed that he previously had had an affair. Days later, Letterman apologized to his wife Regina Lasko, saying she was "horribly hurt" by the scandal.

Expectedly, the new issue of EW discusses the obstacles that Letterman faces now that he has revealed his sexual encounters.

'Couples Retreat' Tops US Weekend B-O

OCT 12, 2009 - Couples Retreat topped the American box-office last weekend with an estimated US$35.3 million. The comedy is the only newcomer in the Top 5 list.

Zombieland drops to No. 2 with an estimated US$15 million while Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is still feeding audiences at the No 3 spot collecting US$12 million. The animated film opens this Thursday in Malaysia.

A 3-D reissue of the Pixar's Toy Story and Toy Story 2 also drops a spot to No. 4.

Here is the rest of the Top 5 US B-O estimate grosses for Oct 9-11, 2009 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Couples Retreat (Universal) $35.3 million ($35.3 million) 1

2. Zombieland (Sony/Columbia) $15.0 million ($47.8 million) 2

3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony/Columbia) $12.0 million ($96.3mil) 4

4. Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (3D) (Buena Vista) $7.7 million ($22.7mil) 2

5. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) $7.1 million ($8.3mil) 3

Thursday, October 08, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 9 - 11, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) REBELLION (HK crime thriller with Shawn Yue, Elanne Kwong, Ada Choi, Chapman To, Jun Kung and Conroy Chan) Rated: * * * (out of 4): This Herman Yau 'chop-chop suey' actioner is about the tussle for territory among five rival gangs in Hong Kong. It keeps you on the edge of your seat most of the time - with a few comic and romantic interludes. (Reviewed below)

b) SURROGATES (sci-fi thriller with Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, Boris Kodjoe, Michael Cudlitz and James Cromwell) Rating * * * (3 stars): A better than average sci-fi movie that is both thought-provoking and engaging. Thankfully it's not about robots going berserk but about humans falling for an easier and prettier life - a'la WALL-E.

c) THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (drama with Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Zoe Kazan, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci and Ryan McDonald) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): I like watching the performances of its cast of top stars in this film that aims for Oscar nods rather than ticket sales. But writer-director Rebecca Miller tends to be too quirky for her own good at times. (Reviewed below)

d) BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (courtroom drama with Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore, Orlando Jones, Lawrence Beron and Sewell Whitney) Rated * * (2 stars): This remake of the 1956 film noir stumbles and splutters because its lead, Metcalf, cannot deliver - and director Peter Hyams has failed to improve the narrative. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (romantic comedy with Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Matthew Gray Gubler and Rachel Boston) Rating * * * 1/2 (out of 4): A rather refreshing take on the rom-com genre, this one is about a break-up told in a 'shuffled card' style. For those who even dislike rom-coms.

2. THE UGLY TRUTH (romantic comedy with Gerard Butler, Katherine Heigl, Cheryl Hines, Bonnie Somerville, Bree Turner and Eric Winter) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): It's derivative and predictable but also hilarious and fun. Also the teaming of Butler and Heigl sparkles with screen chemistry. (Reviewed below)

3. ACCIDENT (crime thriller with Louis Koo, Richie Jen, Michelle Ye, Lam Suet and Fung Shui-Fan) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): The story about a team of hired assassins has no gunplay or kungfu fighting but it is thick with tension and intrigue. There are also a few flaws that strain credibility but not bad enough to affect the overall entertainment. (Reviewed below)

4. G-FORCE (animated fantasy with voices of Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Penélope Cruz, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan) Rating: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Basically an action flick for kids below 12, this furball fantasy about heroic guinea pigs boasts lots of stunts and explosive scenes. The plot is the usual rubbish but entertaining enough for little minds.

5. A PERFECT GETAWAY (mystery thriller with Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Marley Shelton, Steve Zahn, Kiele Sanchez, Katie Chonacas and Chris Hemsworth) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The first half of this adventure yarn is a big yawn. Instead of 'red herrings' we are thrown 'red snappers' in this 'big-reveal' flick about a pair of murderers among holidaying couples in scenic Hawaii.(Reviewed below)

6. FAR CRY (action adventure with Til Schweiger, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Natalia Avelon, Michael Paré, Craig Fairbrass and Udo Kier) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 star): Directed by the infamous Uwe Boll, this outing is an improvement on his earlier efforts. Still, the trademark Bollshit is there and it needs to be overlooked. (Reviewed below)

7. SORORITY ROW (Slasherpic with Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge and Carrie Fisher) Rated * (1 star): A needless remake of the 1983 film, this one totally defies logic and accepted human behaviour. It is about how a bunch of sorority sisters are being hunted down over a prank-gone-wrong. (Reviewed below)

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE: Stellar Roles

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (biodrama)
Cast: Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Zoe Kazan, Winona Ryder, Mike Binder, Monica Bellucci and Ryan McDonald
Writer-Director: Rebecca Miller
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Robin Wright Penn and Keanu Reeves

PREAMBLE: This is a biopic about a former 'Flower Child' who finds herself struggling with the present and confronting her past as she suffers a 'quiet nervous breakdown'. Adapted by writer-director Rebecca Miller from her best-selling novel, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, is not every movie-goer's cup of tea despite its stellar cast.

It has not even been shown in the US, but is doing its rounds elsewhere after opening in the UK.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Robin Wright Penn is Pippa, a devoted wife and mother who has just moved to a retirement home with her older husband, ex-publisher Herb (Alan Arkin). Trying to redefine herself as something other than a trophy wife or mother, Pippa undergoes a journey of self-discovery, during which she strikes up a friendship with the dope-smoking Chris (Keanu Reeves), the son of her neighbour (Shirley Knight).

Meanwhile, we get flashbacks to her teenage years (played by Gossip Girl's Blake Lively) and examines her relationship with her mercurial, pill-popping mother (Maria Bello), her wild-child punk days (including a stint as a photo model for an aunt's friend played by Julianne Moore) and how she met Herb, when he was still married to his glamorous wife (Monica Bellucci).

HITS & MISSES: Pippa Lee the movie is more about getting acting nominations than making money at the box-office. This is where we see Robin Wright trying her best to give her 'winning performance', and where Arkin, Ryder, Bello and Bellucci try to make a big deal of their roles. And they do not disappoint. Why, even Reeves (obligingly) takes off his shirt for the benefit of his female fans.

My pet peeve about this movie is that Miller tends to get too quirky for her own good. The secondary characters are rather thin even if they are nice to look at. And of course, there is the censorshipo snips of some interestingly intimate moments. Still, I wouldn't consider my time at the cineplex wasted.

THE LOWDOWN: Recommended for fans of great acting.

REBELLION: Hong Kong Chop-Chop Suey

REBELLION (crime thriller)
Cast: Shawn Yue, Elanne Kwong, Ada Choi, Chapman To, Jun Kung and Conroy Chan
Writer-Director: Herman Yau
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Elanne Kwong (right) in REBELLION

PREAMBLE: Hong Kong chop-chop suey, anyone? Hey, this is a Herman Yau flick and blood, gang fights and machettes are his staple, just like mahjong and gangland table talk. Anyway, this effort is a lot better than his Laughing Gor: Turning Point, and should be a boost for both his directing as well as screen-writing careers.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? After a brief backgrounder about the East district in Hong Kong that is controlled by five rival gangs, we plunge straight into the actrion. Triad boss Jimmy is ruthlessly shot by a hitman - and suspicion immediately falls on the other four bosses and even his own ambitious right-hand man Blackie (Chapman To).

'Big Sister' Cheong Wah (special appearance by TV's Ada Choi), who is in the mainland, deputises Jimmy's trusted bodyguard, Po (Shawn Yue), to run the show until she comes back but even before the police can complete their investigations, the rival gangs start muscling in on each other's territory. Caught among power-hungry mobsters, the inebriated Po can only rely on restaurant receptionist Ling (Elanne Kwong) to look out for him.

HITS & MISSES: There isn't a lot of blood and gore as one may expect, but Yau's narrative grips us right from the start. He feeds us bits of information, a little at a time - and keeps us tensed and hungry for more. Some of the gangland action are exaggerated and over the top, but when we have Chapman To and Jun Kung (as Sandy) facing-off each other, these are to be expected. Shawn Yue acquits himself nicely as the reluctant acting boss but it is Elanne Kwong who gets the best scenes and lines as Po's admirer and protector.

And as if to serve as dessert to his chop-chop suey, scripter Yau has a nice twist wrapped up for the ending too. It is simple but effective.

THE LOWDOWN: Catch it if you like fast-paced gangland action.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: Doubtful

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (courtroom drama)
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore, Orlando Jones, Lawrence Beron and Sewell Whitney
Director: Peter Hyams
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: This is a remake of a 1956 film noir by German expressionist Fritz Lang. The narrative has been updated; the pace has been moved up a few notches, and there are some gratuitous action sequences thrown in to liven things up. Yet this is a soul-less and bland effort by Peter Hyams...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Suspecting the District Attorney (Michael Douglas, above) of fabricating evidence, TV investigative reporter C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalf of Desperate Housewives) frames himself as a murder suspect to catch the corrupt prosecutor in the act. Romantically involved with C.J. but unaware of his plan, assistant D.A. Ella Crystal (Amber Tamblyn, pictured below) gets caught between her boss's political ambitions and C.J's dangerous exposé.

HITS & MISSES: The main problem is casting Metcalf as the lead. While he is perfect as the gardener who is seduced by Eva Longoria's Gabby in Desperate Housewives, here he seems to be floundering and at sea. We can't root for him as we would for co-star Tamblyn who provides the movie with its innocent-damsel-turns-gutsy-heroine caper. At least she has screen presence and looks pretty.

And then there are Hyams' vain attempts at spicing up the movie with car chases and even an illogical scare-the-woman-by-circling the-car-around-her stunt. Yeah, many there are many gaping holes in the plot - and when back-up copies of a video-recording are lost, no one bothered to check the videocam!

THE LOWDOWN: Only if you are crazy about Amber Tamblyn.