Thursday, September 30, 2010

At The Joshua Tapes Premiere

Lead cast Baki Zainal, Alfred Loh, Matthew Ho and Phoon Chi Ho

SEPT 30, 2010
- Local indie movie The Joshua Tapes held its premiere at Mid Valley GSC Cinemas last night, the eve of its opening today. The premiere, with co-director Benji Lim and producer Bahir Yeusuff playing host, was mainly for fam
ily and friends.

Cast members
Baki Zainal, Matthew Ho Tien Li, Phoon Chi Ho and Alfred Loh had photo sessions with the guests before and after the screening which started at 9.45pm. Among the VIPs present were Khairy Jamaluddin and his wife Nori Abdullah Badawi. Khairy had acted in Benji Lim and Bahir's 15Malaysia short film titled Meter last year.

Director Arivind Abraham and writer Keith Leong, who were in the UK, followed the proceedings over the phone and in spirit.

Benji Lim, Jason Lim and the parents of Arivind Abraham

Baki (right) with Alan Thoo (left) and Simon Leong

A photo op with the cast and crew after the screening

The audience reacting to a speech after the movie


CHARLIE ST CLOUD - Efron's The Lure

CHARLIE ST CLOUD (romance drama)
Cast: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Donal Logue, Charlie Tahan, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta
Director: Burr Steers
Script: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

"I see dead people" Zac Efron and Charlie Tahan

PREAMBLE: The following cannot be a spoiler since it has been revealed in the trailer: Zac Efron stars as Charlie St Cloud, a guy who can see dead people. Based on Ben Sherwood's book, The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, let me also reveal that Charlie and his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) are killed in a horrific road accident but the former is revived and brought back to life by a paramedic (played by Ray Liotta) who believes that the boy will fulfil some important purpose later on.

Now, I am not going to reveal what that purpose is - not just because that would be a spoiler but because nobody among Efron's fan base give a hoot about it. All his female fans care about is the obvious and true purpose of Efron's presence in this movie: Is he gonna take off his shirt?

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The answer to the above question is 'yes'! And for those who care to know more, Efron's Charlie is a high school sailing star whose bright future is wrecked by a road accident that takes the life of kid brother Sam. Not one to let go, Charlie mopes around working at the cemetery and 'meeting' up with 'Sam' daily so that they can practice baseball. It's a promise he had made, you see. Now, this sort of thing would render one certifiable (and thrown into the looney bin) but not in this fanciful tale directed by Burr Steers.

HITS & MISSES: If, after reading the above, you smell the stench of The Sixth Sense, you are on the right track. However, unlike that M. Night Shyamalan hit, nothing happens to scare us or even to raise our goose pimples. All we get is a sense of disbelief in the New England world created here and how contrived the plot is. Of course, all this while, Efron's Charlie is shot in a series of 'chick magnet' poses, especially in his budding romance with sailor girl Tess (Amanda Crew, pictured) who threatens to upset his routine baseball practice with Sam.

Steers (who has also directed Efron in 17 Again) makes good use of Efron's charms as lure for the female crowd but I am quite surprised he has not put Amanda Crew through such 'exploitation' to work the same 'magic' on the male crowd. She basically gets to keep her clothes on - and her charms in PG-13 territory. To make matters worse, there is no chemistry between the two. The secondary cast are forgettable: Kim Basinger plays Charlie's mom who is out of the picture after the accident; and Ray Liotta proves more distracting than effective as the town's paramedic.

THE LOWDOWN: They may have collaborated in the comedy 17 Again but Steers and Efron seems to be out of their league in this emotionally demanding film.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tarantino's Editor Sally Menke Found Dead

SEPT 29, 2010 - Quentin Tarantino's long time film editor, Sally Menke (pic), was found dead in Los Angeles. She was 56. Menke was an Oscar-nominated editor who collaborated with director Tarantino on all of his films.

She is thought to have died from heat stroke while hiking in the Hollywood Hills during a record hot spell. Her body was discovered in the early hours of Tuesday in Beachwood Canyon on the west side of Griffith Park. Her black Labrador retriever was standing near the body.

Officials believe Menke, who had a history of seizures, died from hyperthermia after collapsing from the heat. Temperatures reached a record high of 48 degrees C on Tuesday in parts of Los Angeles.

Born in 1953, Menke studied at New York University before going on to edit documentaries for the CBS network. Her other films include Oliver Stone's Heaven and Earth, Billy Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1990. Menke edited every Tarantino film from Reservoir Dogs in 1992 to last year's Inglourious Basterds.

Her husband, Dean Parisot, said she was "truly proud of two things in her life - above all her family [and] her work."

Her two Oscar nominations came for Pulp Fiction in 1995 and for Basterds, which starred Brad Pitt, earlier this year. - From BBC, agencies.

DETECTIVE DEE - Tsui Hark's Comeback Gem

DETECTIVE DEE (mystery thriller)
Cast: Andy Lau, Li Bingbing, Carina Lau, Deng Chao, Richard Ng, Teddy Robin, Lu Yao and Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Director: Tsui Hark
Writers: Chen Kuo-fu and Zhang Jialu
Time: 123 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Deng Chao and Li Bingbing in DETECTIVE DEE

PREAMBLE: Throughout his career, Tsui Hark has always been known for his flamboyant flourishes, outrageous fantasies and over-the-top characters, all these at the expense of the narrative. Critics have noted that Tsui Hark is often obsessed with style over substance, with form over function so much so that his movies, like the 1983 Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Shanghai Blues (1984) and the 2001 Legend of Zu, seemed like works of a genius gone amuck.

All these seems to have changed' with his latest effort, Detective Zee And The Mystery of the Phantom Flame! Here is a costume epic that makes Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and The Mummy series look like works of amateurs. It will be the film that hotshot directors like Ang Lee and John Woo would be trying to outdo in future.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Detective Dee Renjie (played by Andy Lau) was a real-life historical figure in Tang Dynasty of the 7th Century, made immortal by Dutch diplomat Robert van Gulik's tales of Judge Dee. This movie is set about eight years after van Gulik's series concludes, with Dee being recalled to the service of the Imperial Palace after being imprisoned for criticising the political manoeuvring of Empress Wu (Carina Lau). A series of mysterious murders is threatening to upset the coronation ceremony of the Empress - and she needs to have the cases solved quickly.

Teaming up with Dee is the beautiful imperial aide Jing' Er (Li Bingbing) and judicial officer Bei Donglai (Deng Chao) who seem to have agenda of their own. The investigations take the trio to a giant Buddhist structure overlooking the palace, to the dark and dank underground Phantom Market, and the Forbidden Pavilion. Expectedly, these location sets are opulently and spectacularly constructed to serve as venues for 'wire-fu' fights and stunts (directed by Sammo Hung), as well as pieces de resistance of the movie.

HITS & MISSES: There can be no Tsui Hark epic without the supernatural elements to wow his audiences. These come in the form of self-implosive fiery deaths, facial transfigurations and even a talking deer (which are duly 'explained' later). Indeed, there are a few loose ends, glimpses of suspension wires and obvious miniature sets, but nothing worth complaining about. Tsui Hark delivers the magic that is set to enthral and marvel viewers. The only element missing is humour to colour the proceedings.

Andy Lau (pictured) lends both charisma and credibility to his role, making his 'Judge Dee' a man of wit and intelligence with just the requisite amount of vulnerability. Still, Lau tends to be upstaged by the enigmatic Li Bingbing, especially in a seduction scene at the start of their pairing-up. Carina Lau seems to be the weakest link of the main cast, not quite sure how much villainy and imperial dignity to lend to her Empress Wu. Deng Chao is suitably menacing as the albino officer and so is Tony Leung Kar-Fai as construction supervisor of the massive Buddha structure. It is nice of Tsui Hark to bring back his friends, Richard Ng and Teddy Robin, both playing the same role as the 'face-shifter'. Their presence should delight fans of yesteryear Hong Kong comedies.

THE LOWDOWN: Watch out, Tsui Hark is back to claim his 'maverick director' status!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

THE JOSHUA TAPES - Sequel of Sorts to 'S'kali'

THE JOSHUA TAPES (local Malaysian drama)
Cast: Baki Zainal, Matthew Ho Tien Li, Phoon Chi Ho, Alfred Loh and Grace Ng Fei Fen
Directors: Arivind Abraham and Benji Lim
Writers: Benji Lim and Priya Kulasagaran from a story by Bahir Yeusuff and Keith Leong
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Baki Zainal, Matthew Ho and Phoon Chi Ho in THE JOSHUA TAPES

PREAMBLE: First, I must declare a possible 'conflict of interest': I have a one-second cameo as the father of the title character of this indy movie. It is a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance. Other than that, I have no hand in its production. Thus, I leave it to the reader to decide if I am biased in this review.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The Joshua Tapes is the third feature of Arivind Abraham, after S'kali (2006) and 5:13 (2009). While S'kali, was about a group of friends facing the changeover from adolescence to adulthood, Joshua Tapes deals with three close friends as they set off on a road trip that takes them through the heartland of peninsular Malaysia. Parts of the trip are recorded on videotape, hence the title.

As Reza (Baki Zainal), Ryan (Phoon Chi Ho) and Ajeet (Matthew Ho Tien Li) head to the scenic East Coast in their Pajero, the journey takes a series of disturbing turns. Their own inner demons close in on them, the bonds of friendship that hold the boys together are tested to breaking point, leading them down a road of self-discovery.

HITS & MISSES: We are introduced to the so-called 'Joshua Tapes' early in the movie. These are shaky footages from a hand-held camera recording events involving the trio and the other members of their clique, Joshua (Alfred Loh) and Sam (Grace Ng Fei Fen). The footage helps to define the bonds of their friendship but the scenes may be rather confusing, given that they are also the pieces of the puzzle that make up the plot. Even so, many 'pieces' of the story are missing at the end, leaving us to guess what actually happened. And like in S'kali, many events happen off-camera (like the picnic at the river) and are left to our imagination.

Still, we feel the mounting pressure of the friendship as the road trip gets under way, when the inner demons surface. Again, one of the demons is alcoholism, as in S'kali. The performances by the lead cast are acceptable, since the boys are more or less playing themselves. Among them, Baki Zainal stands out as the 'joker' of the group. He gets most of our attention - and laughs. Phoon has a way with his eyes, especially when showing exasperation; Matthew Ho is a powder-keg waiting to explode, while Grace Ng plays the chirpy party hostess.

Those who have seen S'kali may recognise a certain 'waiter' (an uncredited Rohan Abraham) who seems to be moonlighting at every mamak shop. Co-director Benji Lim does a campy cameo as the grouchy owner of a sleazy 'motel', while Jaynarayan Menon provides comic relief as a talkative good Samaritan.


THE LOWDOWN: A suitable 'sequel' to S'kali.
(Picture: Director Arivind and 'Sound man' Sebastian Ng)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wall Street Sequel Tops US Weekend B-O

SEPT 27, 2010 - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps paid an estimated US$19 million dividend at the North American weekend box-office, which is above par for an adult-oriented drama but relatively modest for the scope of its release. The Wall Street sequel's first weekend gross was close to Burn After Reading and nearly twice as much as The Informant! and Michael Clayton. Distributor 20th Century Fox's exit polling indicated that 65 percent of Money Never Sleeps' audience was over 30 years old and evenly split between genders.

The Owls of Ga'Hoole were below average by genre standards, generating far less business than How to Train Your Dragon as well as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The other newbie, the ensemble comedy You Again (with Betty White) floundered with an estimated US$8.3 million at about 2,800 screens at 2,548 locations.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 24-26, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Fox) $19.0 million ($19.0 mil) 1

2. Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga'Hoole (WB) $16.3 million ($16.3 mil) 1

3. The Town (WB) $16.0 million ($49.1 mil) 2

4. Easy A (Screen Gems) $10.7 million ($32.8) 2

5. You Again (BVista) $8.3 million ($8.3 mil) 1

Friday, September 24, 2010

EAT PRAY LOVE - Eat Pray, Stay Away

EAT PRAY LOVE (romance drama)
Cast: Julia Roberts, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Javier Bardem, Tuva Novotny, Ali Khan, Lidia Biondi, Christine Hakim and Hadi Subiyanto
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Ryan Murphy, and Jennifer Salt from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Bardem and Roberts - Shopping for Love in Bali

PREAMBLE: I have not read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert but I understand it is about a woman's self-discovery that is aimed at empowering its female readers. The book is a best-seller. The movie, co-written and directed by Ryan Murphy, is nothing more than a travelogue and food guide; it is at times boring and repugnant, especially to male viewers.

Watching Eat Pray Love is like having to watch a friend's home movie about his/her recent travels. Usually, one is fed a nice dinner by the host before the ordeal. Not so, with this overdrawn, 'self-absorbed' movie.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) has everything any woman would dream about - loving husband (Billy Crudup), a house and a successful career in New York. However, she feels dissatisfied and files for divorce. After a brief fling with a struggling actor (James Franco), she embarks on a journey around the world that is meant to be her quest for self-discovery. She discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India, and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of true love in Indonesia's Bali.

HITS & MISSES: Even with the likeable Roberts playing the protagonist, it is difficult to sympathise with Liz, a self-centred woman who wantonly uses men to spice up her life and spits them out after she is done with them. This is particularly true with both her husband Stephen and actor boyfriend David. Director Ryan Murphy (who gave us Glee and the Nip/Tuck series) makes the mistake of delving longer into Liz's New York romps than is necessary, and making Liz's character more detestable.

The Rome and Naples sequences, which are supposed to show how Liz learns to live alone, be self-reliant - and enjoy her food (the 'Eat' of the title), only manages to depict her loneliness despite being in the company of a bunch of friends. In India, where she is supposed to meditate, Pray and find spiritual devotion, she again finds a soul-mate in a man, an elderly Texan played by Richard Jenkins. The Bali section, where Liz is supposed to find Love, involves two more men - the shaman Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) and the dashingly rugged Brazilian, Fillipe (Javier Bardem). This leaves us with the nagging question, would the spiritually-empty Liz ever find Happiness anywhere?

I have no issues with Roberts' portrayal of Liz. She turned the controversial Erin Brokovich into a heroine and won an Oscar for it in 2001. However, the scripters have made Liz such a shallow and self-indulgent character that even Roberts' charm could not save her. Bardem looks pathetic in a thankless role of the traditional Latin lover. And of course, it is unforgivable of Murphy to stretch and drag this travelogue to nearly two-and-a-half hours, complete with self-serving sermons, banal philosophy and half-baked romances.

THE LOWDOWN: Eat, Pray, Stay Away.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 24 - 26, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (drama sequel with Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Charlie Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Josh Brolin, Vanessa Ferlito, Frank Langella and Natalie Morales) Rated * * * (3 stars): Oliver Stone updates his tales about Greed on Wall Street in this sequel which has Gordon Gekko (Douglas) released from prison - and engaging in another round of wheeling-and-dealing, especially involving his estranged daughter (Mulligan) and her boyfriend (LaBeouf). The business intrigues aren't new but there are some rivetting performances and emotional subplots. (Reviewed below)

b) LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (animated fantasy in 3D) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Audiences are going to be bowled over by the visuals and 3D effects that recall those of Avatar. However, the narrative does not match the visual splendour as it is derivative of kiddie tales like The Golden Compass - and the owl characters can be confusing, especially in the aerial battles. Still, it's worth a watch. (Reviewed below)

c) LEGEND OF THE FIST: The Return of Chen Zhen (drama sequel with Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata and Huang Bo): Rated * * (2 stars): If you are expecting more Ip Man-styled kungfu action from Donnie Yen, you will be disappointed with this outing about the legendary Chen Zhen made famous by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury. In fact, some of the trysts appear unintentionally comical, especially when Yen dons a mask - recalling Bruce Lee's Green Hornet! A major letdown considering that Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau could have done so much better. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG

1. WHEAT (war drama in Mandarin with Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue, Du Jiayi, Wang Zhiwen and Wang Ji) Rated * * * (3 stars): Like Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier, this 'dramedy' is about the exploits of two army deserters during the Warring States era. The technical aspects, photography and locations, are splendid. Fan Bingbing is a delight to behold but director He Ping sometimes drags the narrative to the point of annoying the viewers. (Reviewed below)

2. DEVIL (mystery thriller with Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine and Jacob Vargas) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot, scripted from a story from the 'Mind of M. Night Shyamalan', is another one-twist tale. Five people are trapped in the lift and one of them is the Devil, guess who! Thank goodness that the brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle are directing, and we do not have the disturbing sights of Shyamalan showing up in cameos. (Reviewed below)

3. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (sci-fi fantasy adventure with Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts and Boris Kodjoe) Rated * * (2 stars): The publicity mills were working overtime to make sure that we all know that the movie is shot in 'stereoscopic 3D' using the same camera rigs that director James Cameron used on 'Avatar' to bring this fourth edition of the popular vid-game franchise to the big screen. The result is that the action and visuals are engaging but nothing in the plot makes any sense. A 'bang-bang, see ya again' movie. (Reviewed below)

4. CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (comedy with Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, James Marsden, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano, Katt Williams and Chris O'Donnell) Rated * * (2 stars): It's a sequel to the 2001 original but in trying to reach for the sky with its spy theme, it merely falls flat on its paws. Its spoof on action and Bond films make it look like the Epic Movie turkeys, and the comedy lines are cliched. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - First Class Visuals, Humdrum Story

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (animated fantasy in 3D)
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Abbie Cornish, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush and Hugo Weaving
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: John Orloff and Emil Stern, from the books by Kathryn Lasky
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: If we can be totally entertained by stunning 3-D visuals that astound us and take us on flights of fantasy like those of Avatar, this animated feature would definitely be as successful as that James Cameron epic. Alas, 3-D gimmicks and
cool computer graphics are only the tools to tell the story, not the other way round.

Thus when director Zack Snyder and his scripters opt to stay faithful to Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole children's book series (adapting her first three books), the narrative suffers because what works on paper (or books) does not necessary work on the screen. It is difficult to tell the owls apart, and when they are engaged in aerial battles, it is even more difficult to differentiate who is 'hoo'. So, after a while, the battle scenes become a mess of flying feathers - making the plot more cliched and ridiculous than it really is.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess), a young barn owl, is always fascinated by epic tales of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who had fought a great battle to save all of owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. When Soren and his older brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) fall from their treetop home, they are captured by the Pure Ones to be made slaves. Soren manages to escape with the help of other brave young owls, but Kludd remains.

Now, Soren and his friends, including the owlet Gylfie (Emily Barclay), must cross the sea and joruney through the mist to find the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians and his hero Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton). He must rally the Guardians against the Pure Ones and save the owls.

HITS & MISSES: I must confess that I was 'carried away' by the movie's breath-taking visuals and seascapes. It was like my first tour of Pandora in Avatar. However, this feeling soon faded when the narrative kicked in. The plot seems like an amalgam of kids' story tales like Narnia, Star Wars and The Golden Compass - about young minds being charmed by the Dark Side. The characters are just as familiar if not similar. Still, the voice cast, like Helen Mirren (as the evil Nyra), Sam Neill (as Allomere) and Miriam Margoles (as the snake Mrs P) lend a special touch and vitality to their characters.

However, the movie seems dogged by Catch 22 situation. Its premise and posters attract the younger children but these are the ones who would be frightened by the dark and serious atmosphere of the story. The older ones, however, would find the story too childish - and I don't think they will be too enamoured by the 3D effects and graphics. So, like The Golden Compass, this Owls Of Ga'Hoole looks destined for a short flight at the box-office.

N.B. This movie comes with a Roadrunner cartoon in 3D titled 'Fur of Flying'.

THE LOWDOWN: First class 3D visuals and effects telling a humdrum and cliched story.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS - A Good 'Buy'

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (drama sequel)
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Charlie Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Josh Brolin, Vanessa Ferlito, Frank Langella and Natalie Morales
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Stanley Weiser, Allan Loeb and Oliver Stone
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

LaBeouf, Brolin and Douglas

PREAMBLE: Oliver Stone has apparently never made a sequel before and it is understandable if he felt compelled to revisit the saga of Gordon Gekko after 23 years. After all, his 1987 Wall Street, which was released just two months after the infamous Black Monday meltdown of 19 October 1987, was a pot-boiler of insider-trading shenanigans that resonated well with the public and the Academy.

People have short memories and the reason given for making this sequel can be found in Gekko's quote "I once said 'Greed is good', now it seems it's legal."

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released after serving time in prison. He finds that the world has changed - and yet many things remain the same. His daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) still won't talk to him; the housing market is working itself into a bubble - and Greed is like going on a Frenzy on Wall Street.

However, Gekko's story is but a subplot. The main story is on Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a proprietary trader of an investment bank whose fiancee is Winnie Gekko. After the death of his boss and mentor (Frank Langella), Jake is determined to find out who is responsible and wreak revenge. Meanwhile, after attending a lecture by Gekko, Jake offers to patch things up with Gekko and his daughter.

HITS & MISSES: While we share the relationship problems among Jake, Winnie and Gordon Gekko, the movie's most entertaining aspect is watching the world, or Wall Street in particular, through Gordon's eyes. "I was small-time compared to these crooks," he commented. Apparently, prison hasn't cowed Gekko, it just gave him more time to think and sharpen his perceptions. And Douglas is at his best reprising the role for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. He gives Gekko the sheen that transforms the ex-convict into a respected hero.

Another stand-out performance comes from Josh Brolin who gives his billionaire raider Bretton James a cool and calculated approach to corporate villainy. LaBeouf looks a little young and nerdy for his role but most youngsters in the audience should be able to root for his character. Mulligan (above, with LaBeouf) is likeable in a role that evokes sympathy. But watch out for Charlie Sheen in a cameo as Bud Fox, Eli Wallach as a Wall Street patriarch, Susan Sarandon doing comic relief as Jake's mom, and Stone himself as an investor.

Talking about Stone, he seems to allow himself a few technical indulgences, like going for multiple screens, digital graphics to explain market jargon and CNN-like reporting. These, of course, helps to update the movie and make it more relevant and compelling.

THE LOWDOWN: Expect good dividends for your the price of your ticket.

Monday, September 20, 2010

'The Town' Overtakes 'Devil' at Weekend B-O

SEPT 20, 2010 - Ben Affleck's crime-drama, The Town, tops the North American weekend box-office collecting an estimated US$23.8 million. The Town, written and directed by Affleck, is about a bunch of ruthless bank robbers - with a sizzling love story thrown in. College comedy Easy A, starring Emma Stone, follows with an estimated US$18.2 million takings.

Shyamalan's Devil (reviewed below), an effort from his Night Chronicles series, is number three with an estimated US$12.5 million while Resident Evil: Afterlife (reviewed below) drops to No 4 (from last week's top spot) with about US$10 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 17-10, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. The Town (WB) $23.8 million ($23.8 mil) 1

2. Easy A (Screen Gems) $18.2 million ($18.2) 1

3. Devil (Universal) $12.5 million ($12.5 mil) 1

4. Resident Evil: Afterlife (Screen Gems) $10.1 million ($27.7 mil) 2

5. Alpha & Omega (Lion's Gate) $9.2 million ($9.2 mil) 1

Saturday, September 18, 2010

LEGEND OF THE FIST: Return of Chen Zhen - Andrew Lau's Off Day

LEGEND OF THE FIST: The Return of Chen Zhen (drama sequel)
Cast: Donnie Yen (below), Shu Qi, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata and Bo Huang
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-keung
Screenwriter: Gordon Chan
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: Could this movie be directed by Andrew Lau, the guy who helmed the epic Infernal Affairs series? I checked the closing credits just to make sure - and yes, it must be Lau's most disappointing work, his really 'Infernal Effort'. If the mood of the film isn't so serious, I would have thought that 'The Return of Chen Zhen' is a comedy, a spoof of Bruce Lee's character and his Green Hornet role.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The legend of Chen Zhen was born when the late Bruce Lee played him in the 1972 blockbuster, Fist Of Fury. However, the fictional Chen Zhen was resurrected lots of times including the 1994 Fist of Legend where Jet Li played him, and in the 1995 TV series, Fist of Fury with Donnie Yen as the hero.

This movie is the continuation of the TV series, taking place seven years after the apparent death of Chen Zhen who was shot after discovering the guy responsible for his teacher's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Now disguising himself as a playboy businessman (albeit, with just a thin moustache), Chen Zhen (Yen) frequents the Casablanca nightclub owned by a Shanghai mob boss (Anthony Wong), planning to infiltrate the mob when they form an alliance with the Japanese. However, when Chen is not courting sultry singer Kiki (Shu Qi), he dons a black mask and takes out some Japanese hit-men who have been knocking off the Chinese named in a Death List.

HITS & MISSES: The movie opens in spectacular Bruce Lee fashion, with Chen Zhen taking out a battalion of enemy soldiers during the First World War. Next, when we see him at the Casablanca nightclub, ostensibly as a partner of the owner, tons of questions flood our mind, like where does he get the money to play the role of mysterious wealthy stranger? What does he intend to accomplish at the nightclub other than starting an affair with Kiki, who is much more than meets the eye? Then when we see him fighting the Japanese as the Masked Avenger, things start to get comical.

Well, the scriptwriters have provided some comic relief characters - in the form of bungling cops played by Huang Bo and company, but we have to take that one-man-whacks-dozens schtick with more than a pinch of salt. If you expect to see Donnie Yen flaunt more of his Ip Man stuff here, forget it. Director Lau spends more time on flashy visuals, opulent sets and lame and under-developed subplots, while Donnie Yen keeps repeating "the Chinese are not the sick men of Asia". The climactic ending recalls Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury - by now a mandatory finale of almost every effort involving Chen Zhen (so don't go spoiling for spoilers).

On the acting front, Shu Qi (pictured) helps to provide some sparks and emotional value to the proceedings while Anthony Wong does his usual Anthony Wong stuff. As for Donnie Yen, I get the feeling that he is playing Bruce Lee more than portraying his own 'Chen Zhen'. The others are just forgettable.

P.S. If you are wondering about Donnie Yen's much touted naked torture sequence, read about it here.

THE LOWDOWN: Must be Andrew Lau's off day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 17-19, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) DEVIL (mystery thriller with Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine and Jacob Vargas) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot, scripted from a story from the 'mind of M. Night Shyamalan', is another one-twist tale. Five people are trapped in the lift and one of them is the Devil, guess who! Thank goodness that the brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle are directing, and we do not have the disturbing sights of Shyamalan showing up in cameos. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG

1. STOOL PIGEON (HK crime thriller with Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Kwai Lun-Mei, Yi Lu and Liu Kai Chi) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): With a riveting plot and tensed action from start to end, this Dante Lam effort looks like his best work so far. It also helps to have Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse in the leads, with Tse giving one of his best portrayals (of the title role). This is one of the few gems to have come out of Hong Kong this year. (Reviewed below)

2. GOING THE DISTANCE (romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner and Christina Applegate) Rated * * * (3 stars out of 4): A chick-flick aimed at guys, this one is full of sex jokes. However most are verbal and left to your imagination. The plot on long-distance relationship is not new but effective, aided by satisfactory performances from the cast. (Reviewed below)

3. WHEAT (war drama in Mandarin with Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue, Du Jiayi, Wang Zhiwen and Wang Ji) Rated * * * (3 stars): Like Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier, this 'dramedy' is about the exploits of two army deserters during the Warring States era. The technical aspects, photography and locations, are splendid. Fan Bingbing is a delight to behold but director He Ping sometimes drags the narrative to the point of annoying the viewers. Showing at GSC's International Screens. (Reviewed below)

4. PIRANHA 3D (disaster movie remake with Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Eli Roth and Richard Dreyfuss) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This remake of the 1978 film may be in 3D but it offers the requisite summer tonic for youth in the 3Bs - bikinis, boobs and blood! This means that many scenes have been cut here - and that would send many heading for the DVD stalls.

5. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (sci-fi fantasy adventure with Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts and Boris Kodjoe) Rated * * (2 stars): The publicity mills were working overtime to make sure that we all know that the movie is shot in 'stereoscopic 3D' using the same camera rigs that director James Cameron used on 'Avatar' to bring this fourth edition of the popular vid-game franchise to the big screen. The result is that the action and visuals are engaging but nothing in the plot makes any sense. A 'bang-bang, see ya again' movie. (Reviewed below)

6. CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (comedy with Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, James Marsden, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano, Katt Williams and Chris O'Donnell) Rated * * (2 stars): It's a sequel to the 2001 original but in trying to reach for the sky, it merely falls flat on its paws. Its spoof on action and spy films make it look like the Epic Movie turkeys, and the comedy lines are cliched. (Reviewed below)

DEVIL - Shyamalan's Guessing Game

DEVIL (mystery thriller)
Cast: Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Vargas, Caroline Dhavernas, Matt Craven, Kim Roberts
Directors: Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle
Screenplay: Brian Nelson from a story by M. Night Shyamalan
Time: 80 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Trapped, from left: Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine,
Logan Marshall-Green and Geoffrey Arend

PREAMBLE: Movie reviewers are seldom asked to sign pledges of embargo not to publish their reviews before the official release of the film in the cinemas. Recently, however, we have been asked to sign two embargo pledges: for Resident Evil: Afterlife and Devil. The reason for the embargo on Devil was ostensibly to prevent spoilers that will give away the plot twist!

Now, anyone who has seen the trailer or the movie poster would realise that if any spoiler exists, it is in the title: Devil. The real reason for this embargo, I suspect, could be to downplay the involvement of the writer: M. Night Shyamalan. After The Last Airbender, Shyamalan's name does not totally inspire excitement and cheers. A YouTube video posted by Perez Hilton last July showed the audience laughing out loud at the Devil trailer during a screening of "Inception." The offending moment came when audiences caught a glimpse of the words "From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan."

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? What comes from Shyamalan's mind (depicted in his thriller series, The Night Chronicles) is a story of a group of people (played by Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green) trapped in a high-rise elevator. When the passengers suddenly start dying one by one, we are told that one of them is really the Devil in disguise. So the guessing game starts...

HITS & MISSES: Like many of Shyamalan's stories (especially The Sixth Sense), once you catch on to the 'twist', that's it. There isn't much else in the plot to sustain your interest. In Devil, however, directors Drew and John Erick Dowdle (of Quarantine fame) sustain our interest by slowly revealing the backgrounds of each of the trapped characters, especially to Detective Bowden (Chris Messina, pic left) who has a tragic past himself. However, every time the lights of the lift are out, something drastic happens and after a while, we feel cheated. Why does the Devil need darkness to do his deed? Still, the directors do and each time it happens the plot advances and the guessing game deepens.

The cast of relative unknowns acquit themselves admirably, with Marshall-Green and Ms Novakovic providing most of the tension. The opening credits are impressive, though, with shots of Philadelphia's cityscape upside-down and evoking a mood of foreboding to the movie.

THE LOWDOWN: A Shyamalan guessing game. Are you game for it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Afterlife' Is Top at US Weekend B-O

SEPT 13, 2010 - Hitting about 4,700 screens at 3,203 locations, Resident Evil: Afterlife racked up an estimated US$27.7 million. That was the highest-grossing opening weekend yet for the Resident Evil franchise, topping the $23.7 million of the last movie, Resident Evil: Extinction.

However, in terms of estimated attendance, Afterlife likely ranked last and slightly behind the first movie. Afterlife only seemed more popular due to general ticket price inflation and the movie's premium for the 3D illusion. 2,062 venues showed the picture in regular 3D, while it ran in IMAX 3D at another 141 venues (Distributor Sony Pictures claims that an accurate 3D breakdown won't be available until late Monday).

Takers took a standard hit (down 44 percent), which was small enough for the heist thriller to move up to second place while Going the Distance held the best among last weekend's new releases at No 5, little consolation considering its puny US$14 million tally in 10 days.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 10-12, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Resident Evil: Afterlife (Screen Gems) $27.7 million ($27.7 mil) 1

2. Takers (Screen Gems) $6.1 million ($48.1 million) 3

3. The American (Focus) $5.8 million ($26.7 million) 2

4. Machette (Fox) $4.2 million ($20.8 million) 2

5. Going The Distance (WB) $3.8 million ($14.0 million) 2

Sunday, September 12, 2010

All Set for Joshua Tapes' 'Road Trip' at GSC

SEPT 12, 2010 - Local indy film director Benji Lim says it's "all systems go" for the opening of his 'new' film, The Joshua Tapes, on September 30, exclusively at GSC cinemas.

He told this blogger that the media screening is slotted for Monday Sept 27 at MidValley at 10.30am and the premiere on Sept 29, the eve of the release. "The invites to the media should be out soon," he said.

Phoon Chi Ho, Baki Zainal and Matthew Ho Tien Li as the three buddies

The Joshua Tapes
, which was shot in peninsular Malaysia in June 2008, is directed by Arivind Abraham and Benji Lim who also served as writer and cameraman. Benji also has a Hitchcock-style cameo in the movie - as do yours truly in a 'walk-in-walkout' role that viewers will miss when they so much as blink.


The plot is about three close friends who set off on a road trip to the East Coast that takes them through the heartland of Malaysia. However, as their journey takes a series of unexpected turns, their inner demons close in on them.

Location shooting of 'Joshua Tapes' outside my house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail

The bonds of friendship that hold the boys together are tested to breaking point, leading them down a road of self-discovery. The Joshua Tapes is a story of friendship and redemption, and of how the search for these things sometimes hurt, but ultimately heals them all.



The movie stars Baki Zainal (of NTV7's Mr. Siao's Mandarin Class), Phoon Chi Ho (of comedy trio, MACC a.k.a. Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians), Matthew Ho Tien Li, Alfred Loh as Joshua, and NTV7 newscaster Grace Ng Fei Fen.

Click on this link to view the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_sJ4C9uQog

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE - 3D Show, 2D Plot

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (action thriller)
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts and Boris Kodjoe
Writer-Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Larter and Wentworth in AFTERLIFE

PREAMBLE: Unless you have just woken up from a month-long coma, you would have heard or read that Resident Evil: Afterlife is the first video-game movie filmed in Stereoscopic 3D made famous by James Cameron in Avatar. Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson even used the same 3D camera rigs that Cameron used - ostensibly to lend that extra element of in-your-face thrills to viewers.

Alas, no one seems to have bothered about the plot - and it is not only 'two-dimensional' but has also become more imbecile and ludicrous.

THE SKINNY: As the T-virus scourge continues to turn people into zombies, Alice (Milla Jovovich) carries on her journey to find survivors and lead them to safety. Her battle with the Umbrella Corporation, led by the dastardly Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), reaches new heights. However, Alice gets some unexpected help from an old friend (played by Ali Larter as Claire Redfield) in Alaska.

A new lead that promises a safe haven from the zombies takes them to Los Angeles, but when they arrive the city is overrun by thousands of Undead -- and Alice and her comrades are about to step into a deadly trap.

HITS & MISSES: The main attraction has to be the new 3D gimmick which director Anderson often renders in super slow-motion just so that vidgame fans can appreciate and go 'wow' at the action. The second attraction is of course the leads Jovovich (left), and her clones of sexily-clad Alices, and the pouty Larter. But once we get over the novelty of these offerings, the movie goes downhill.

In his bid to take advantage of his new 'toy' that is stereoscopic 3D, Anderson includes stunts that do not make any sense. "It's the reason why Milla has an airplane in this movie -- so I could shoot over these fantastic glaciers in Alaska with a tiny plane over a huge white landscape," he told the media recently.

His additions to the cast seems to be just as mindless: Basketball player Boris Kodjoe is obviously hired for his brawns and looks to lure sports fans, while Wentworth Miller's role must have been a silly insider joke. His Chris Redfield is imprisoned by a group desperate to escape the zombies - even though he tells them that he knows of a way out. Haven't they seen Prison Break on TV?

THE LOWDOWN: Alas, this is another movie that requires patrons to leave their brains at the door and 'wow' themselves silly at the gimmicks.

Friday, September 10, 2010

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 10-12, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) WHEAT (war drama in Mandarin with Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue, Du Jiayi, Wang Zhiwen and Wang Ji) Rated * * * (3 stars): Like Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier, this 'dramedy' is about the exploits of two army deserters during the Warring States era. The technical aspects, photography and locations, are splendid. Fan Bingbing is a delight to behold but director He Ping sometimes drags the narrative to the point of annoying the viewers. (Reviewed below)

b) RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (sci-fi fantasy adventure with Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts and Boris Kodjoe) Rated * * (2 stars): The publicity mills were working overtime to make sure that we all know that the movie is shot in 'stereoscopic 3D' using the same camera rigs that director James Cameron used on 'Avatar' to bring this fourth edition of the popular vid-game franchise to the big screen. The result is that the action and visuals are engaging but nothing in the plot makes any sense. A 'bang-bang, see ya again' movie. (Review pending)

STILL GOING STRONG

1. STOOL PIGEON (HK crime thriller with Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Kwai Lun-Mei, Yi Lu and Liu Kai Chi) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): With a riveting plot and tensed action from start to end, this Dante Lam effort looks like his best work so far. It also helps to have Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse in the leads, with Tse giving one of his best portrayals (of the title role). This is one of the few gems to have come out of Hong Kong this year. (Reviewed below)

2. GOING THE DISTANCE (romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner and Christina Applegate) Rated * * * (3 stars out of 4): A chick-flick that is also aimed at guys, this one is full of ribald sex jokes. However most are verbal and left to your imagination. The plot on long-distance relationship is not new but effective, aided by satisfactory performances from the cast. (Reviewed below)

3. GROWN UPS (comedy with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph) Rated * * * (3 stars): Dare we hope that with this comedy, Sandler has become more matured or grown-up? Well, as script-writer, he has curbed his subversiveness and crude gags. Instead, he opts for 'friendly banter' with his Saturday Night Live buddies who make up the cast. Why, even Schneider is more bearable here. (Reviewed below)

4. PIRANHA 3D (disaster movie remake with Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Eli Roth and Richard Dreyfuss) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This remake of the 1978 film may be in 3D but it offers the requisite summer tonic for youth in the 3Bs - bikinis, boobs and blood! This means that many scenes have been cut here - and that would send many heading for the DVD stalls.

5. CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (comedy with Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, James Marsden, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano, Katt Williams and Chris O'Donnell) Rated * * (2 stars): It's a sequel to the 2001 original but in trying to reach for the sky, it merely falls flat on its paws. Its spoof on action and spy films make it look like the Epic Movie turkeys, and the comedy lines are cliched. (Reviewed below)

6. PHUA CHU KANG THE MOVIE (local comedy with Gurmit Singh, Irene Ang, Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin and Charlie Tan) Rating * * (2 stars): Over the past years, PCK the TV series, had been rolling downhill both in quality and viewership. That is why it is a surprise to me why anyone would want to make a movie of it. What is not surprising is that this feature, shot entirely in KL, is a messy, hastily-concocted and half-baked caper about some murder at an old folk's home.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

WHEAT - Interesting Insights Into Warring States

WHEAT (war drama in Mandarin)
Cast: Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue, Du Jiayi, Wang Zhiwen and Wang Ji
Director: He Ping
Writer: He Ping
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Huang Jue (left) and co-star in WHEAT

PREAMBLE:
Perhaps it has been quite a while since I have watched an artistic film. Perhaps, after being su
bjected to mindless action of summer fares like Resident Evil: Afterlife, a 'quiet' war drama is a welcome change, but I find myself getting excited and interested minutes into Wheat. Contrary to the imagery that the title paints, Wheat is not a documentary - it is a war 'dramedy' quite like Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Wheat is set in a little town of Lu Yi when the states of Zhao and Qin are at war. Lord Ju Cong (Wang Xueqi), the master of Lu Yi in Zhao state, is getting married to his young and beautiful bride Li (Fan Bingbing) when he receives the crucial orders from the Zhao king: He must rally every man and child above 12 and report for war against the Qin at once. This leaves all the women 'home alone' in the towns and vasts fields of wheat all waiting to be harvested.

On the war front, an elite Qin warrior named Xia (Huang Jue) deserts his post to get back to his village so that he can harvest his crops. On the way he meets Zhe (Du Jiayi), another deserter from the Qin army. Knowing fully well that the penalty for deserters is death by beheading, they do their utmost to flee their pursuers - including plunging headlong into a river. They end up in Luyi - where they tell the lonely women the news they are longing to hear: that they are victorious Zhao warriors returning home.

HITS & MISSES: Director He Ping, who gave us the Warriors Of Heaven And Earth in 2003, takes a change in pace to let his audience linger and 'smell the roses'. He treats us to beautiful shots of golden fields of wheat dancing in the wind, and of breath-taking landscapes. In the same vein, he also drags some of the sequences, especially scenes of the deserters at Lu Yi, to the point of boredom and annoyance.

The story spans five days (ostensibly labelled after the natural elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth) but it feels much longer than that. However, the proceedings are spiced with humour provided by the large female cast of extras and by Du Jiayi who is allowed to ham his way through the movie. Huang Jue's portrayal of the protagonist is more controlled and acceptable but this is definitely Fan Bingbing's (pictured) vehicle. As the 'matriarch' of Lu Yi, she is both commanding and beautiful. And her wedding night scenes are both ravishing and memorable.

THE LOWDOWN: A delightful insight into the Warring States era of China.