Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen of 'Naked Gun' Fame Dies at 84

NOV 29, 2010 - Actor Leslie Nielsen, best known for his roles in Airplane! and The Naked Gun, has died of complications due to pneumonia at age 84 in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale.

The Canadian-born actor started his career in serious roles, but it was the 1980 spoof Airplane! that propelled his career as a deadpan comedy star. After the movie's success, Nielsen was cast as Detective Frank Drebin in a TV series, Police Squad, which lampooned the cliches of Dragnet and other cop shows. Despite good reviews, ABC cancelled it after six episodes.

The producers, David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abraham then converted the series into the hit movie The Naked Gun, with George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley as Nielsen's co-stars. Its success led to sequels The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and The Naked Gun 33 1/3.

His later movies included All I Want for Christmas, Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Spy Hard.

May he rest in peace.

Harry Potter's Hallows Tops US Thanksgiving B-O

NOV 29, 2010 - Families were out in force as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Tangled dominated the Thanksgiving box office with a potent one-two punch, followed by Megamind in a distant third. Burlesque, Love and Other Drugs and Faster each posted modest numbers, and overall weekend business was slightly down from the same period last year when The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Blind Side led.

Deathly Hallows Part 1 pulled in an estimated US$50.3 million, down 60 percent from last weekend. Its drop was more extreme than the last Thanksgiving's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was off 47 percent.


Tangled unfurled with an estimated $49.1 million on approximately 5,400 screens at 3,603 locations, lifting its sum to $69 million in five days and ranking as the second highest-grossing Thanksgiving opening ever (behind Toy Story 2).

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 26-28, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Warner Bros) $50.3 million ($220.4 million) 2

2. Tangled (Buena Vista) $49.1 million ($69.0 million) 1

3. Megamind (Paramount/DreamWorks) $12.9 million ($130.5 million) 4

4. Burlesque (Sony / Screen Gems) $11.8 million ($17.2 million) 1

5. Unstoppable (Fox) $11.8 million ($60.7 million) 3

Saturday, November 27, 2010

SOCIAL NETWORK - Riveting Youth Drama

SOCIAL NETWORK (drama)
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Joseph Mazzello, Rooney Mara, Max Minghella, Trevor Wright and Dakota Johnson
Director: David Fincher
Script: Aaron Sorkin
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

BEST PALS TURNED RIVALS: Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg

PREAMBLE: This social drama (or melodrama, if you will) grabs viewers right from the start because it deals with themes that are not only familiar to them but also involves real people, big money and intellectual debate. It is teeming with the very ingredients that make an engaging film: friendship, love, trust and betrayal.

Inspired by Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires, the movie provides insights into the history of Facebook - a global phenomenon that has gripped the lives of many people worldwide.

THE SKINNY: Basically, Social Network is the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a Harvard geek who is being dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, pictured, left with Eisenberg) at a pub one night. It is easy to understand why she ditches him. Mark returns to his dorm, gets drunk and posts a nasty blog about Erica. With the help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he launches a website called 'Facemash' that rates the 'hotness' of Harvard women. The site becomes a hit, and Mark and Eduardo become instant celebrities, and even attracting a couple of groupies.

Mark is sought by twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer) to design a dating website. However, instead of creating the dating website, Mark gets inspiration from the twin's site called "The Harvard Connection", and 'invents' Facebook, a project that not only becomes popular at Harvard but at other universities as well. Enter Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of the music website Napster, who sees the potential of Facebook and has the resources to 'expand' it.

Thus the crunch of the films is: did Mark steal the idea for Facebook from his friends?

HITS AND MISSES: Besides the ingredients mentioned above that help to spice up the movie, we are captivated by the personalities in this social melodrama, particularly that of Mark Zuckerberg. Mark is a vindictive "asshole" who has no people skills to speak of. Yet he is immensely interesting as a techno-entrepreneur and an idealist who seems to be motivated by forces greater than greed. Sensitively portrayed by Eisenberg, we may not like him but we cannot help being fascinated by his personality.

Garfield (the next Spider-Man) makes a charming Eduardo and provides a fitting contrast to Mark's character. Mark may be the brains behind Facebook but Eduardo is its conscience - and cheque-writer. Director Fincher breaks the monotony of the legal suit sequences and computer jargon with a sex escapade (with Brenda Song as Eduardo's girlfriend Christy) before the arrival of the flamboyant Timberlake who manages to steal almost all the scenes.

The film is filled with impeccable dialogue and a masterfully written script by Aaron Sorkin. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. Indeed, the film should get a nomination for Best Picture Oscar too.

THE LOWDOWN: It is said that "the meek shall inherit the Earth" but it looks like the geek profits from it.


Friday, November 26, 2010

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 26-28, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) RAPUNZEL: A TANGLED TALE 3D (animated fantasy with voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, M.C. Gainey, Brad Garrett and Paul F. Tompkins) Rated * * * (3 stars): This revisionist version of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale comes with songs and dances and should be a delightful treat for the family during the school holidays. It comes with the usual Disney-type gutsy characters - plus some thought-provoking messages for parents. (Reviewed below)

b) THE NEXT THREE DAYS (drama with Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Jonathan Tucker, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Lennie James, Jason Beghe and Moran Atias) Rated * * * (3 stars): An Americanised remake of the 2008 French film Pour Elle, this one has Crowe back in his element as a desperate husband whose faith in his wife's innocence makes him go against the incredible odds and changing their lives. At two hours, it can be a bit plodding for the average action fan but the pay-off is worth it. (Reviewed below)


c) HAUNTED CHANGI (Singaporean mockumentary with Andrew Lau, Sheena Chung, Farid Azlam and Audi Khalis) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Copying the style of Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, this Singaporean indie effort is not only amateurish but also lacking in scares and thrills. Its shoot-anything-and-everything approach can be torturous on the viewers. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt 1 (fantasy adventure with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and Imelda Staunton) Rated * * * (3 stars): This is a rather long build-up to the climax of the HP franchise and non-Potter fans may find it a bit like 'Sleepy Hollows'. It follows the book closely and despite its dreary and draggy ambience, it has some interesting moments even for Muggles. (Reviewed below)

2. UNSTOPPABLE (action thriller with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee and Kevin Dunn) Rated * * * (3 stars): After The Taking of Pelham 123, director Tony Scott and Washington are back on track in this tensed actioner about a runaway train. Based on a real-life event in Ohio in 2001, the film has most of Scott's trademarks like fast-paced action, character build-up and realistic edge-of-the-seat visuals. (Reviewed below)

3. LET ME IN (horror fantasy with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Sasha Barrese and Elias Koteas) Rating * * * (3 stars): This English-language remake of the 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves is a vampire thriller involving a 12-year-old boy (Smit-McPhee) and a 'young' girl from the next-door apartment. It covers many pre-teen issues like bullying and parental problems and is more scary than Twilight. Well, at least the blood-feeders do not shimmer in the light!

4. SKYLINE (sci-fi thriller with Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, J. Paul Boehmer, Tanya Newbould and Pam Levin) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): From the trailer and online buzz, many people are going to be attracted to this film by its 'cool' images of alien warships and monsters. That's is about all that Skyline has to offer because everything else, from its dialogue, acting to its plot, sucks. (Reviewed below)

THE NEXT THREE DAYS - Desperate Hubby Saga

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (drama)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Jonathan Tucker, Brian Dennehy, RZA, Lennie James, Jason Beghe and Moran Atias
Director: Paul Haggis
Script: Paul Haggis, based on screenplay of Pour Elle by Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans
Time: 122 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: The Next Three Days is director Paul Haggis' remake of the 2008 French film Pour Elle (Anything For Her), giving a typical American slant to the plot. For one who gave us Crash and In The Valley of Elah, this effort seems redundant, but for the performances of Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks (pictured).

Crowe is comfortable in a role he is so familiar with - that of an ordinary man who must rise to the occasion when faced with huge odds. If anyone can make a preposterous enterprise look doable, he can.

THE SKINNY: John and Lara Brennan (Crowe and Banks) are a Pittsburgh couple with a young son (Ty Simpkins). When the movie begins 'Three Years Ago', we see them having dinner one night and waking up to find their world a living hell when the police burst into their house and arrest Lara for murder the next morning.

John knows his wife could not have committed the crime and of course they fight out the case in court. However, the evidence is compelling and Lara loses the case. After exhausting all hopes of appeal, John learns that Lara will be transferred to the state penitentiary in three days. For him, this means he has to break his wife out of jail before she is moved.


HITS AND MISSES: After about an hour of learning about John's character - as a normal English teacher and a desperate husband - doubts about his plans and methods dissolve quickly. Hey, that's Russell Crowe up there and he is the embodiment of determination and guts. The big deal for Haggis is to keep us in suspense as to the culpability of Lara. Did she, or did she not, do it? And is John labouring under a delusion?

Plot development, especially in the first half, can be rather slow, especially for the average action fan, but this is alleviated by a tensed shootout involving some drug dealers. It also helps to have Brian Dennehy playing John's estranged father, and Liam Neeson as a prison break-out veteran with whom John consults for pointers. Banks is effective, especially in the way she transforms from suburban wife and mother to a hardened prisoner who has given up hope. Olivia Wilde, of TV's House, aptly plays a sympathetic mom who befriends John and his son Luke.

THE LOWDOWN: It's not one of Crowe's best, but credible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HAUNTED CHANGI - Amateur Schlock

HAUNTED CHANGI (mockumentary thriller)
Cast: Andrew Lau, Sheena Chung, Farid Azlam and Audi Khalis
Director: Andrew Lau
Time: 80 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Andrew Lau, Sheena Chung and Farid Azlam

PREAMBLE: Trying to reprise the success of sleeper hits like Blair Witch Project, REC and Paranormal Activity, a group of young Singaporeans set up this 'mockumentary' on the so-called Old Changi Hospital or OCH. The OCH is believed to be haunted - and lots of ghost stories abound in the former building used by the Japanese as headquarters and torture chamber.

Well, it also helps that there is a network of underground tunnels, dilapidated conditions, junk and graffiti all over the abandoned building. At least these static views provide some interest in this otherwise utterly boring and amateurish enterprise that is neither scary nor thrilling.

THE SKINNY: In January 2010, a group of youngsters team up to film a documentary about the haunted Old Changi Hospital in Singapore. The skeleton crew comprises Andrew Lau as director, Sheena Chung as producer, Farid Azlam as the soundman and Audi Khalis as cameraman.

And of course, the SOB (standard operating bullshit) kicks in: As they start filming inside the building at night, strange things start to happen and... you should know the drill by now.


HITS AND MISSES: I really don't know how to categorise this piece of work because it shifts from one thing to another as it goes on. It starts off as a documentary with info and stills about the Japanese occupation of OCH and even with interviews with the locals who have had experiences at the old hospital.

Then we get into the 'rojak' mode as the crew points the camera in every direction of the OCH and shoots anything and everything, even the broken toilet bowls. The Singlish-speaking characters are more irritating than interesting because none of them relate well with the audience. And there is nothing remotely scary or funny until we get to the final moments of the film. It is so predictable!

The best thing about this so-called 'Changi Project' is that the film-makers promoted it on Facebook and got a whole lot of people, especially Singaporeans, interested. From curious FB fans, it did well when it opened in Singapore in September. I am not so sure if it will claim as many victims this side of the Causeway.

THE LOWDOWN: Ignore it and maybe it will go away soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Deathly Hallows Pt 1' Tops US B-O

NOV 22, 2010 - - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 topped the North America box-office over the weekend with an estimated US$125.1 million, ranking as the sixth highest-grossing opening weekend of all time and the biggest-grossing of the series.

Worldwide, it earned an estimated US$205 million on 19,000 screens in 91 markets (including $4.2 million from 101 IMAX screens).

As a franchise, Harry Potter has grossed nearly US$1.84 billion thus far, ranking second to Star Wars' $1.92 billion (though Potter's had less than half the attendance). Within 10 days, the Harry Potter franchise total should surpass Star Wars, and there's still one more movie to go, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, scheduled for July 15, 2011.

Also opening was The Next Three Days, but the thriller was a bust, making an estimated US$6.8 million on close to 2,700 screens at 2,564 locations. That was on the low end of the genre, doing less than half the business of star Russell Crowe's last thriller, State of Play.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 19-21, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Warner Bros.) $125.1 million ($125.1 million) 1

2. Megamind (Paramount DreamWorks) $16.2 million ($109.5 million) 3

3. Unstoppable (Fox) $13.1 million ($42.0 million) 2

4. Due Date (Warner Bros.) $9.2 million ($72.7 million) 3

5. The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) $6.8 million ($6.8 million) 1

Sunday, November 21, 2010

RAPUNZEL: A Tangled Tale - Chance To Let Down Your Hair

RAPUNZEL: A Tangled Tale aka TANGLED (animated fairy tale)
Cast (Voices): Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, M.C. Gainey, Brad Garrett and Paul F. Tompkins
Directors: Byron Howard and Nathan Greno
Script: Dan Fogelman from the Grimm Brothers fairy tale
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: In the US and elsewhere, the title of this movie is just Tangled, to make it more gender-neutral so that boys would not regard it solely as a girlie flick. And of course, the folks at Disney have also made sure that there is enough swashbuckling action and humour not just for the kids but for the whole family as well.

With or without 3-D, Rapunzel (or Tangled) looks set to overtake last year's under-achieving Princess and the Frog at the box-office. What's more, its non-verbal horse Maximus is bound to give Shrek's talkative Donkey a run for the money!

THE SKINNY: The Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) caper gets a revisionist twist here and she is 'rescued' not by a handsome prince on a white horse but a young, egoistic bandit (Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider) and a horse (named Maximus) that thinks it is a dog. The villain is Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), the narcissistic witch who imprisons our princess in a secluded tower.

HITS AND MISSES: Like Beauty & The Beast and The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel also comes with musical and dance numbers. Except for Mother Knows Best, most of them have yet to catch on with the public. They may not be as catchy as those of Little Mermaid but given time, some may actually work their magic.

What I like best are the solid Disney characterisations, especially of its animals. Mandy Moore's Rapunzel suitably represents Every Girl who is forced to stay home; Flynn plays the Bad Boy-type who sorely needs to be tamed and corrected by the proverbial Love; and the manipulative Mother Gothel aptly reflects the way some kids view their over-protective parent.

The show-stealers are the mandatory animal sidekicks - a chameleon named Pascal and the palace horse Maximus. These are not just supporting characters but they have actual 'acting' duties as well. And the fact that they do not speak, helps to boost realism and makes them even funnier. Of course, the action is popcorn stuff but the social themes it explores make for worthy parental contemplation.

THE LOWDOWN: A fitting opportunity for everyone to let down their hair.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter Has 'Hallowed' Midnight Launch


NOV 20, 2010 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 conjured a franchise high in its midnight opening in North America, drawing an estimated US$24 million at around 3,700 locations. It eclipsed the last movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which had a US$22.2 million midnight launch at 3,003 locations. It also doubled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix's US$12 million midnight and nearly quadrupled Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's US$6.3 million.

The Twilight series maintained its midnight dominance: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is the all time benchmark with a touch over US$30 million at 4,000 sites, while The Twilight Saga: New Moon delivered US$26.3 million at 3,514 sites last year on the same early Friday period as Deathly Hallows Part 1. The Dark Knight, which still holds the opening weekend record with $158.4 million, racked up US$18.5 million at 3,040 sites in its midnight launch. - Boxofficemojo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Helena Bonham Carter, Liam Neeson To Get British Indy Film Award

NOV 18, 2010 - Harry Potter co-star Helena Bonham Carter (left) will receive the Richard Harris Award for her contribution to British film when the British Independent Film Awards are handed out on December 5.

The Oscar-nominated British actress, most famous for her roles in period drama A Room With a View and more recently as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films, joins previous winners including John Hurt and Daniel Day-Lewis.

She also stars in The King's Speech, which leads the field at the awards with eight nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Bonham Carter. The movie stars Colin Firth as King George VI struggling to overcome a debilitating stammer.

Irish actor Liam Neeson (right), nominated for an Oscar for his role in Schindler's List, will pick up the Variety Award recognising an actor, director, writer or producer who helps focus the international spotlight on Britain. He recently starred in The A-Team and also the popular DVD hit Taken.

Previous recipients include Michael Caine, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley.

Ryan Reynolds Voted "Sexiest Man Alive"

NOV 18, 2010 - Reuters reported that Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds has been named "sexiest man alive" by People magazine.

It was the first time that Reynolds, 34, made the list in the 25 years since People magazine started it annual "sexiest man alive" feature. Reynolds starred in The Proposal, the recent Buried, and will be seen in the upcoming sci-fi movie Green Lantern.

He joins the ranks of previous winners such as Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

"You just have to go with the flow," Reynolds told People of his new title. "This gives my family entry into teasing me for the rest of my life."

Reynolds has been married to actress Scarlett Johansson for two years. "Now it's going to be, 'Sexiest man, take out the garbage.' That does sound better," Reynolds said. "The most difficult part is going to be organically working this title into a conversation with random strangers."

Reynolds broke into TV acting in 1990 as a teenager and later won star turns in The Amityville Horror and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His movie star career really took off when he starred opposite Sandra Bullock in the 2009 hit romantic comedy The Proposal.

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 19-21, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt 1 (fantasy adventure with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and Imelda Staunton) Rated * * * (3 stars): This is a rather long build-up to the climax of the HP franchise and non-Potter fans may find it a bit like Sleepy Hollows. It follows the book closely and despite its dreary and draggy ambience, it has some interesting moments even for Muggles. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. UNSTOPPABLE (action thriller with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee and Kevin Dunn) Rated * * * (3 stars): After The Taking of Pelham 123, director Tony Scott and Washington are back on track in this tensed actioner about a runaway train. Based on a real-life event in Ohio in 2001, the film has most of Scott's trademarks like fast-paced action, character build-up and realistic edge-of-the-seat visuals. (Reviewed below)

2. MEGAMIND (animated comedy with Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and David Cross) Rated * * * (3 stars): It is not the epic family adventure that was The Incredibles, nor is it as hilarious as Madagascar but it is close to Despicable Me in content. This 'study' on the mind of a megavillain is however passable for an entertaining weekend family outing. At least there is 'chemistry' between Ferrell's Megamind and Tina Fey's TV broadcaster Roxanne which provides a weird attraction between them. (Reviewed below)

3. LET ME IN (horror fantasy with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Sasha Barrese and Elias Koteas) Rating * * * (3 stars): This English-language remake of the 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves is a vampire thriller involving a 12-year-old boy (Smit-McPhee) and a 'young' girl from the next-door apartment. It covers many pre-teen issues like bullying and parental problems and is more scary than Twilight. Well, at least the blood-feeders do not shimmer in the light!

4. CRAYON (local indie drama with Hon Kahoe, Ariff Faisal Abdullah, Adibah Noor and Joshry Adamme) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Like its title, this indie drama about two student volunteers at a Malaysian orphanage is 'rough at the edges' but has its heart in the right place. Even if the performances by its young cast may be amateurish, it is generously spiced with humour - courtesy of veteran comedian Adibah Noor. Check out the review here

5. SKYLINE (sci-fi thriller with Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, J. Paul Boehmer, Tanya Newbould and Pam Levin) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): From the trailer and online buzz, many people are going to be attracted to this film by its 'cool' images of alien warships and monsters. That's is about all that Skyline has to offer because everything else, from its dialogue, acting to its plot, sucks. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt 1 - Mainly for HP Fans

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt 1 (fantasy adventure)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and Imelda Staunton
Director: David Yates
Script: Steve Kloves from J.K. Rowlings' book
Time: 150 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

PREAMBLE: It is the start of a long, long goodbye indeed and it is bound to be an emotional one for the legions of Harry Potter fans. The film-makers know only too well that as a 'last supper', Potter fans would lap up whatever they dish out - and so they prolonged the 'feast', breaking it into two sessions. While those who have read the book may tend to be more patient, those who have not would find Part One rather dreary and draggy as director David Yates does his utmost to stay true to JK Rowlings' book. Yates is also reluctant to lend his own touches to the story - apparently out of fear of committing sacrilege!

THE SKINNY: The long-feared war has begun and Voldemort's Death Eaters seize control of the Ministry of Magic and even Hogwarts, terrorising and arresting anyone who might oppose them. After barely escaping, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson) find themselves on the run and hiding from Voldemort's Snatchers.

Harry's only hope is to find the Horcruxes before Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, pictured, with Radcliffe) finds him. As he searches for clues, he uncovers the legend of the Deathly Hallows. And if the legend turns out to be true, it could give Voldemort the ultimate power he seeks. No longer just a boy, Harry Potter is drawing closer to the ultimate battle with Voldemort. However, the one prize they still seek is the one most valuable to Voldemort: Harry Potter.

HITS AND MISSES: Deathly Hallows feels very different from the previous HP films because it is the only book that does not feature the rowdy and boisterous Hogwarts School of Magic and fun. It is also the one movie that the three leads find themselves largely on their own and on the road - in a number of picturesque environments. For non-fans like me, the scenes can get repetitious and sometimes feel like 'Sleepy Hollows' instead of Deathly Hallows. There is no doubt that Grint, Watson and Radcliffe have got their roles down pat - but too much of the same thing (of Grint's comic relief moments and Watson's bright spark routine) can even get on our nerves. And spread over more than two hours, the going can get tedious some times.

Well, there are some bright moments, like when Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) replicates Harry sevenfold fool the Death Eaters; when the trio 'visit' the Ministry of Magic in disguise; and the subplot involving the house elf Dobby. I also like it when Yates presents the legend of the three Deathly Hallows in 'wayang kulit' (shadowplay) style. For this finale, most of the past characters have a bit of screen time - for nostalgia's sake.

Of course, the main object of Part One is to 'stir up the wind and darken the skies' for the lightning and thunder that comes with Part Two. For some, it will be a long wait, while others will begrudge having to pay extra for the two films.

THE LOWDOWN: A by-the-book first parter to delight Potter fans.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Megamind Beats Unstoppable at US Weekend B-O

NOV 15, 2010 - Unstoppable lost out to Megamind in the weekend North America Box-office stakes, while Skyline and Morning Glory had modest showings. Overall business was off 11 percent from the same weekend last year when 2012 arrived.

Megamind drew an estimated US$30.1 million on approximately 7,300 screens at 3,949 locations, 64 percent of its business coming from its 3D illusion presentations.

Skyline pulled in an estimated US$11.7 million on close to 3,100 screens at 2,880 locations, which was a fraction of most recent alien invasion/disaster spectacles, but the picture was far more low-rent than the genre norm.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 12-14, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Megamind (Paramount/DreamWorks) $30.1 million ($89.8 million) 2

2. Unstoppable (Fox) $23.5 million ($23.5 million) 1

3. Due Date (Warner Bros.) $15.5 million ($59.0 million) 2

4. Skyline (Universal) $11.7 million ($11.7 million) 1

5. Morning Glory (Paramount) $9.6 million ($12.2 million) 1

Sunday, November 14, 2010

DVD review: MACHETE

MACHETE (parody - DVD Review)
Cast: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis
Script: Robert Rodriguez
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: Usually a movie trailer is made after the film is completed - as a way to sell the product. For Machete, however, it was the other way round - Robert Rodriguez created the trailer BEFORE he planned to make the movie. That 'trailer' featuring Danny Trejo (above) in the title role can be found in the 2007 Grindhouse that he co-directed with Quentin Tarantino. We can say it was the fake trailer that gave birth to this movie - and its intended sequels, Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again.

From the sound of these sequels, you should know that we are looking at a 'Mexploitation franchise' - a 'splatter comedy' designed to make you cringe and squirm - and yet ask for more. And if you should ask, an exploitation flick excels in excessive violence, nudity, blood and gore - and utter stupidity of its plot. Rodriguez's Machete delivers all these - including topless scenes of Lindsay Lohan and 'Jessica Alba' - and Avatar's Michele Rodriguez in a sexy black leather outfit.

THE SKINNY: Machete is the code name of a Mexican Federale agent (Trejo) whose wife and daughter are killed by a ruthless drug lord (Steven Seagal). Fast forward to three years later, Machete is in Texas, US, where he works as an odd job guy. Out of the blue, he is hired by a senatorial aide (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate Texas Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). This is of course a set-up - and a plot setting for Machete to uncover a conspiracy to capitalise on McLaughlin's proposal to build an electric fence along the border, ostensibly to curb illegal immigrants (read 'wet backs').

HITS AND MISSES: The biggest mistake one can make is to look for some meaning, message or logic in an exploitation flick. Everything is made to look over-the-top and ridiculous, like the stark naked woman (at the opening minutes of the show) reaching between her legs and pulling out a cell-phone to call her boss. Why, the immigration issues variously 'debated' in the film remain just issues to provoke debate - that's all. When Jessica Alba's Immigration agent stands up on a car and yells: “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us", it is just another of the many silly dialogue. Don't expect director Rodriguez to take sides in the issue - unless it is to start a war between the 'wet backs' and red necks.

The most cringe-worthy scenes for me are not the splatter scenes of heads and limbs being chopped off. They are of luscious Alba (above), Michele Rodriguez and Lohan kissing Trejo. Especially Alba trying to smooch Trejo. Still, it is fun to watch De Niro, Don Johnson and even Seagal playing baddies. Or Cheech Marin spouting some juicy lines as a padre.

THE LOWDOWN: It is so so bad that you wanna rewind and watch the bad parts again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

RIP - Dino De Laurentiis


NOV 11, 2010 - Dino De Laurentiis (pic), producer of some of Italy's best-known films including works by Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini, has died in Los Angeles at 91, Italian media reported today.

De Laurentiis, who was born on August 8, 1919 in Torre Annunziata near Naples, also produced several well-known films in the United States including Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford after he moved there in the 1970s.

He started out in film aged 20 and became one of the leading producers of Italy's post-war cinema boom and the famous neo-realist genre.

De Laurentiis also produced the first Hannibal Lecter film Manhunter (1986). He passed on adapting Thomas Harris's sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, but produced the two follow-ups, Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002), a remake of Manhunter. He also produced Hannibal Rising (2007), which tells the story of how Hannibal becomes a serial killer.

In 2001 he received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 12 - 14, 2010

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) UNSTOPPABLE (action thriller with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee and Kevin Dunn) Rated * * * (3 stars): After The Taking of Pelham 123, director Tony Scott and Washington are back on track in this tensed actioner about a runaway train. Based on a real-life event in Ohio in 2001, the film has most of Scott's trademarks like fast-paced action, character build-up and realistic edge-of-the-seat visuals. (Reviewed below)

b) LET ME IN (horror fantasy with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Sasha Barrese and Elias Koteas) Rating * * * (3 stars): This English-language remake of the 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves is a vampire thriller involving a 12-year-old boy (Smit-McPhee) and a 'young' girl (Moretz) from the next-door apartment. It covers many pre-teen issues like bullying and parental problems and is more scary than Twilight. Well, at least the blood-feeders do not shimmer in the light!

c) CRAYON (local indie drama with Hon Kahoe, Ariff Faisal Abdullah, Adibah Noor and Joshry Adamme) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Like its title, this indie drama about two student volunteers at a Malaysian orphanage is 'rough at the edges' but has its heart in the right place. Even if the performances by its young cast may be amateurish, it is generously spiced with humour - courtesy of veteran comedian Adibah Noor. Check out the review here

d) SKYLINE (sci-fi thriller with Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, J. Paul Boehmer, Tanya Newbould and Pam Levin) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): From the trailer and online buzz, many people are going to be attracted to this film by its 'cool' images of alien warships and monsters. That's is about all that Skyline has to offer because everything else, from its dialogue, acting to its plot, sucks. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. MEGAMIND (animated comedy with Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and David Cross) Rated * * * (3 stars): It is not the epic family adventure that was The Incredibles, nor is it as hilarious as Madagascar but it is close to Despicable Me in content. This 'study' on the mind of a mega villain is however passable for an entertaining weekend family outing. At least there is 'chemistry' between Ferrell's Megamind and Tina Fey's TV broadcaster Roxanne which provides a weird attraction between them. (Reviewed below)

2. TAKERS (crime thriller with Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez, Tip "T.I." Harris, Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen and Zoe Saldana) Rated * * * (3 stars): A taut and tensed crime thriller seen from both sides of L.A. law, this one reminds me of the Hong Kong classic Infernal Affairs and its Hollywood remake The Departed. There isn't a lot of action or car chases for the action fan but the shoot-outs are filmed in such operatic slow-mo that it is like watching a music video. (Reviewed below)

3. RED (action comedy with Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Karl Urban and Ernest Borgnine) Rated * * * (3 stars): Like The Expendables, this reunion of Hollywood veterans, led by Willis, offers lightweight fun and a few laughs. That should be enough considering that the plot is from a DC Comics graphic novel - and Mirren still looks cute totting a gun. (Reviewed below)

4. LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (romantic comedy with Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks, Jean Smart, Melissa McCarthy and Majandra Delfino) Rating * * (2 stars): Heigl and Duhamel play two people who don't quite like each other but are forced to stay together to take care of their orphaned god-daughter. That's the 'life' of this movie as we know it because what follows is highly predictable, manipulative and derivative.

5. HISSS (thriller with Irrfan Khan, Jeff Doucette, Mallika Sherawat) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): This production smacks of exploitation right from the first frame. Its plot, about a snake goddess (Sherawat) out for revenge, is trite at best and the effects and production values low. If you think you can catch some of Sherawat's touted nude scenes, forget it. There are so many cuts that you feel cheated.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

SKYLINE - Resist The Light!

SKYLINE (sci-fi thriller)
Cast: Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, J. Paul Boehmer, Tanya Newbould and Pam Levin
Directors: Colin and Greg Strause
Script: Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Donald Faison and Eric Balfour are mesmerised by the light

PREAMBLE: First, let's work on some maths: Skyline is an alien invasion flick that has a touted US$10 million budget! This amount is a shoestring for an alien attack film - it is not even enough to pay the salary of an A-list star! So now you can do the maths and understand why there are no big stars here.

If you had seen the trailer you might have been impressed by the CGI effects of the tentacled UFOs. This, ladies and gentlemen, is arguably where all the money seem to have gone. Everything else, from its script and B-grade TV stars to its sets, are all hotch-potch and downright cheap. The result is an exploitation film that seems destined for DVD.

THE SKINNY: After a night of heavy partying at a posh condo in Los Angeles, a bunch of friends are awakened in the early hours by mysterious beams of light from the skyline. Those who gaze on the light get entranced - like moths to a flame and get 'burnt up'.

Yup, the alien ships have landed and the survivors at the condo unit, Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his fiancee (Scottie Thompson, pictured below with Balfour), and their friends Terry (Donald Faison of TV's Scrubs) and Candice (Brittany Daniel) must find a way to escape the aliens' grasp. But where can they run?

HITS AND MISSES: There are so many things wrong with the movie that I don't know where to begin. The film, directed by the Brothers Strause who did the effects for The X-FIles, centres the action inside the condo unit so much that we get the impression that LA is deserted and the only folks left are those in the half-empty building. No attempt is made to show the scope of the 'body snatching' and its effects on the millions of other city-dwellers.

Next, the main characters are being portrayed as such selfish and unsavoury people that we root for the aliens to take them away. This may be because the scripters have not bothered to flesh out their backgrounds, except for a few predictable turns. The only one who comes on as real is David Sayas (of TV's Dexter fame) who plays the building supervisor. Also, the dialogue is lame and cliched. The writers must have had the notion that audience interest can be sustained if they have the characters yell at one another.

There's no doubt that Strause brothers provide exhilarating special effects - but they need to work on getting a good story to go with their CGI magic.

THE LOWDOWN: Resist the urge to look out.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Megamind Leads US Weekend B-O

NOV 8, 2010 - Megamind, Due Date and For Colored Girls each opened solidly or better over the weekend, cumulatively fuelling the highest-grossing holiday season kick-off ever (if estimates hold). Overall business improved a whopping 30 percent over the same weekend last year when A Christmas Carol (2009) led in its debut.

Commandeering an estimated US$47.7 million on around 7,300 screens at 3,944 locations, Megamind left its mark with a more bustling start than How to Train Your Dragon (US$43.7 million), A Christmas Carol and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs among others. However, it wasn't quite the mastermind that the similarly-themed Despicable Me (US$56.4 million) was. It also fell short of Monsters Vs. Aliens (US$59.3 million), and its attendance was less than half that of The Incredibles on the same weekend in 2004.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 5-7, 2010 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo.

1. Megamind (Paramount/DreamWorks) $47.7 million ($47.7 million) 1

2. Due Date (Warner Bros.) $33.5 million ($33.5 million) 1

3. For Colored Girls (Lionsgate) $20.1 million ($20.1 million) 1

4. Red (Summit Entertainment) $8.9 million ($71.9 million) 4

5. Saw 3D (Lionsgate) $8.2 million ($38.8 million) 2

UNSTOPPABLE - A Rail Adrenaline Gusher

UNSTOPPABLE (action thriller)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee and Kevin Dunn
Director: Tony Scott
Script: Mark Bomback
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Chris Pine and Denzel Washington in UNSTOPPABLE

PREAMBLE: After The Taking Of Pelham 123, Tony Scott and Denzel Washington are back on track again, playing trains. This time around, there's no villain a'la John Travolta but it is still high voltage tension and excitement, keeping us at the edge of our seat throughout the film.

THE SKINNY: The plot by Mark Bomback is based on the real-life incident involving locomotive CSX8888 that escaped from Stanley Yard in Toledo, Ohio on May 15, 2001. Bomback has changed the make and plate of the train to AWVR777 and shows how a simple act of negligence on the part of an engineer causes the train, pulling tonnes of hazardous material, to start barrelling along the tracks unmanned - heading for the more heavily populated areas of Pennsylvania.

When word gets to the corporate bosses (represented by Kevin Dunn as the VP of operations) and rail control supervisor Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), they put in place various options to stop the train and even derail it. Meanwhile, on the other end of the tracks, veteran railroad engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) are just starting out on their route - heading for a collision course with the runaway AWVR777! Soon they find that they have no choice but to implement an incredible plan to slow down the train and stop it.


HITS AND MISSES: Like in the Pelham film, Washington's Frank Barnes does not start off looking like the hero-type who would risk his life to avert a major disaster. And the same goes for Pine's Will Colson. Barnes, who has family issues with his two daughters, is also worried about being laid off from his job. Colson, rumoured to have union connections, also has domestic problems that distract him from doing his job. Director Scott manages to use these personal problems to heighten tension that builds and builds to a fitting climax.

It helps a lot that Washington and Pine work well together, making us root for them all the time. Another well written character is Kevin Corrigan's train inspector who provides some comic relief and facts about railway problems. Dawson and Dunn have minor roles but they play off each other as 'good' and 'bad' guys neatly. Those who know a lot about trains may find some loose ends in the plot but for most of us, Unstoppable has the requisite fuel for a rollercoaster ride. Just like Speed but with yards and yards of wagons tied to it.

THE LOWDOWN: A veritable thrill ride and a rail adrenaline gusher of a flick.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Jill Clayburgh Dies at 66

NOV 6, 2010 - Oscar-nominated actress Jill Clayburgh died yesterday (Friday) at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut. She was 66.

Clayburgh, who recently concluded two seasons as the rich matriarch of ABC's Dirty Sexy Money, had been battling chronic lymphocystic leukemia for 21 years, her husband, playwright David Rabe, told Associated Press.

She dealt with the disease courageously, quietly and privately, Rabe said, and conducted herself with enormous grace "and made it into an opportunity for her children to grow and be human."

Clayburgh won an Oscar nomination for 1978's Woman, directed by Paul Mazursky. She shared Best Actress honours at Cannes with Isabelle Huppert for her portrayal of a young, comfortable woman who finds her world is shattered when her husband of surprises her by asking for a divorce, in An Unmarried Woman.

Among her many roles, Clayburgh portrayed Carole Lombard opposite James Brolin in 1976's Gable and Lombard. She teamed with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in the screwball mystery Silver Streak, and with Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson in the football comedy Semi-Tough. She and Reynolds had a good rapport, and Clayburgh co-starred with him again in 1979's Starting Over, where she was nominated for a second Oscar for Best Actress.

Besides her husband, she is survived by three children, actress Lily Rabe, Michael Rabe and stepson Jason Rabe.