Saturday, April 30, 2011

FAST & FURIOUS 5 -Diesel Goes Turbo!

FAST & FURIOUS 5 (action thriller)
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Joaquim de Almeida, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, Don Omar and Elsa Pataky
Director: Justin Lin
Writers: Chris Morgan
Time: 126 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel

PREAMBLE: With Justin Lin at the directorial controls of the Fast & Furious franchise since No. 3, he has been trying to outdo himself, pushing the limit with each sequel. Here, he has not only broken a number of traffic and criminal laws, but also the rules of logic and physics. The script is sloppy, the plot and action are even more ludicrous than the previous outings - but its fast-paced action set pieces keep us on the edge of our seats and make our palms sweat.

These adrenaline-charged factors of fast cars, loose women, breakneck chases and maximum destruction is what F&F is all about and Fast Five (its title in the US) tops the rest in these departments.

Dom's gang gets set for the 'Italian Job' in Rio

SYNOPSIS: Dominic (Vin Diesel) is sentenced to 25 years' jail in California but Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) manage to break Dom out of custody. After crossing many borders to elude the authorities, they find themselves backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro where a drug kingpin named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) calls the shots.

Dom and gang must pull one last job in Rio in order to gain their freedom. Their only shot of getting out for good means confronting Reyes head-on. But Reye's not the only one on their tail: Federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his strike team launch an all-out assault on Dom and Brian. (Pic left: Elsa Pataky as Rio cop Elena)

REVIEW: The script looks like it is straight out of Mission: Impossible textbook: Dom suggests a 'job', the others would list a bunch of reasons why it can't ever be done - and then we see them setting out to accomplish it. This goes on so often in this movie that it gets rather tedious. Indeed, the plot looks like it was written to accommodate the action set pieces instead of the other way around.

In 'Fast Five', the focus shifts from racing to breaking-in - with a mind-boggling sequence involving a huge bank vault being dragged around the streets of Rio. Well, to the audience, the sequence may boggle the mind but it is actually a piece of mindless writing - abetted by CGI-alterations and quick editing. And in between the action scenes, we have the cast (including franchise returnees Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges and Gal Gadot) in mock confrontation among themselves - plus the mandatory and inevitable showdown between Dom and Hobbs.

THE LOWDOWN: The plot and set-ups are predictable but the action pieces are exhilarating.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - April 30 - May 2, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) THOR (fantasy adventure with Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Ray Stevenson, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo and Jaimie Alexander) Rated * * * (3 stars): Director Kenneth Branagh shows he is as adept at action epics (this is his firts) as he is with Shakesperean dramas (his forte). Hemsworth, as the mythical 'Goldilocks' god of thunder, is solid in his title role in a film that teems with explosive CGI action and spectacular set designs. (Reviewed below)

b) THE LOST BLADESMAN (war actioner with Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alex Fong, Betty Sun and Andy On) Rating * * * (3 stars): Adapted from the story of 'Guan Yu crossing five passes and slaying six generals' from Luo Guanzhong's famous novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by co-directors/writers Alan Mak and Felix Chong, this war flick is reminiscent of Red Cliff. However, with Donnie Yen doubling up as action director, we have lots of combat action as well as a strong story about friendship, loyalty, warfare and even a bit of romance.

STILL GOING STRONG

1. RED RIDING HOOD (fantasy thriller with Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Shiloh Fernandez, Michael Shanks, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and Max Irons) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A rather anaemic transformation of the Grimm Brothers folk tale into a grim fantasy thriller. Big Bad Wolf is made into a werewolf and the plot becomes a where-wolf whodunit. Of course, there is a love story - a triangle one - thrown in but there isn't enough bite to the romance or the horror. (Reviewed below)

2. A CHINESE GHOST STORY (fantasy thriller with Louis Koo Tin Lok, Wong Fan Siu, Crystal Liu Yi-Fei, Yu Shao Qun, Wai Ying-
Hung and Lin Peng) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This Wilson Yip remake of the 1987 movie starring Leslie Cheung is meant to be a triangle love story but the romance is lost in the 'wire-fu' stunts and sword-fighting gimmicks. Still, the three leads, Koo, Liu and Yu Shao Qun (reprising Cheung's role) acquit themselves admirably from a messy plot of sexily-clad demonesses and itinerant demon-hunters. (Reviewed below)

3. HELLO STRANGER (Thai romantic comedy with Neungthida Sophon, Chantavit Dhanasevi and Chantawit Thanasewee) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The big deal here is that director Banjong Pisanthanakun, who gave us Shutter (2004) and Alone (2007) is making his debut in the romantic-comedy genre. The result is a fluffy, crowd-pleasing tale about two Thai tourists who meet during a trip in Seoul but decide to remain 'strangers' despite staying together while traipsing around South Korea. A bit over-contrived but quite appealing as a date movie. (Reviewed below)

4. SCREAM 4 (slasher flick with Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The good news hare is that director Wes Craven and scripter Kevin Williamson have learnt their lesson from Scream 3 and go for the tongue-in-cheek approach, mocking its the slasher genre and its web-cam fans. The bad news is that this dilutes its suspense sequences and makes a joke of the plot. (Reviewed below)

5. THE ROOMATE (psychological thriller with Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Danneel Harris, Cam Gigandet, Alyson Michalka, Matt Lanter, Frances Fisher, Katerina Graham, Tomas Arana and Cherilyn Wilson) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): This re-imagination of the 1992 thriller Single White Female is totally limp and unnecessary. The build-up takes ages and the scares are derivative (especially of Psycho) and cliched. Even with the starlets providing eye-candy, we get tired of them halfway into the movie.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shooting Starts on Marvel's The Avengers


APRIL 27, 2011 - Just as Marvel's Thor opens in Malaysia and worldwide tomorrow, Walt Disney Studios announced that production has started on Marvel's The Avengers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. The film, directed by Joss Whedon (from his own screenplay) will continue principal photography in Cleveland, Ohio and New York City.

Robert Downey Jr returns as the iconic Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Jeremy Renner (of The Hurt Locker) as Hawkeye; Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Clark Gregg (of Iron Man) as Agent Phil Coulson, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.


Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth as Loki and Thor

Set for release in the US on May 4, 2012, Marvel’s The Avengers is the first feature to be fully owned, marketed and distributed by Disney, which acquired Marvel in 2009. It will bring together the mightiest superhero characters on screen for the first time. The star-studded cast will be joined by Cobie Smulders (of TV's How I Met Your Mother) as Agent Maria Hill of SHIELD, as well as Tom Hiddleston and Stellan Skarsgård who will both reprise their respective roles as Loki and Prof Erik Selvig from the movie, Thor.

THOR - Blistering Summer Blockbuster

THOR (fantasy adventure)
Cast: Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Ray Stevenson, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo and Jaimie Alexander
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, based on the Marvel comic book, The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee.
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

THOR and Odin: Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins

THE INTRO: The thud of Thor's hammer signals the start of 2011's season of summer blockbusters. It is a fitting opener as director Kenneth Branagh presents a pleasant surprise, moving from Shakespearean dramas to whimsical action fantasy that may be the envy of even Michael Bay. Indeed, the level of pyrotechnics and CGI stunts here should delight action fans of all ages.

THE PLOT: Repackaged from the 1960s Marvel comic book episodes of Nordic mythology, this one opens with the god of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) crashing down to Earth and almost literally into the arms of weather scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, pictured right with Kat Dennings). However, before we get to the fish-out-of-water episodes of alien Thor in a small town in New Mexico, we are whisked off to the floating universe of Asgard - the mythical realm of Norse gods headed by King Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

At that moment, Thor is supposed to be crowned king of Asgard - but for an intrusion by a gang of Frost Giants of Jotunheim. When Thor leads an incursion to teach the Frost Giants a lesson, he incurs the wrath of his father, and is banished to Earth, sans his powers. The rest of the movie alternates between Earth and Asgard, detailing his quest to recover his legendary hammer, Mjolnir; his friendship with Jane, her mentor Dr Erik Sevig (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, providing comic relief) - and how Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) schemes to take over the throne.

THE REVIEW: Since young, I have been fascinated by the comic book exploits of Thor, the famous male 'Goldilocks' created by Stan Lee. Branagh has created an Asgard that is spectacular and breath-taking - a huge contrast to the scenes of New Mexico where Federal agents mistake Thor for a mercenary from the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. Branagh laces the action with humour (like, when Thor goes to a pet shop asking to buy a horse) and a pervasive sense of wonder and anticipation.

Thor (Hemsworth) and his legendary hammer

Hemsworth portrays the Nordic god remarkably, both physically and emotionally. Of course, he is well supported by Portman whose fascination with her newfound 'alien' is shared by females in the audience. The budding romance gets the short shrift even in this almost two-hour film because there seems to be so much going on with the plot which is basically about Odin teaching his eldest son patience and humility, and the tussle for power between Thor and Loki. Others in the cast come with good credentials, like Rene Russo as Thor's mother; Idris Elba as gatekeeper Heimdall; Colm Feore as King Laufey and Ray Stevenson as the boisterous Volstagg.

Of course, there is a narrative hook for a sequel but we will be seeing more of Hemsworth as he is also contracted to reappear as Thor in The Avengers, set to be released next year.

THE LOWDOWN: By the powers of Asgard, here's to a blistering summer at the cinema!

Monday, April 25, 2011

'Rio' Stays Perched at US Easter B-O


APRIL 25, 2011 - Rio stayed perched atop the US box office over the Easter weekend, edging out another strong start for a Tyler Perry movie and a solid beginning for Water for Elephants.

The animated comedy drew an estimated US$26.8 million (57 percent of which from 3D), down 32 percent. It made less than How to Train Your Dragon's US$29 million on Easter weekend last year and grossed more than Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! on Easter weekend 2008, though its 10-day tally trailed both titles. With an US$81.3 million haul so far, Rio extended its lead over Rango and Hop through the same point, which each had around US$68 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for April 22 - 24, 2011 weekend, in terms of rank, (previous week ranking), Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo. (US$1=RM3)

1. (1) Rio (Fox) $26.8 million ($81.2 million) 2

2. (N) Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family (LGF) $25.7 million ($25.7 million) 1

3. (N) Water for Elephants (Fox) $17.5 million ($17.5 million) 1

4. (3) Hop (Universal) $12.4 million ($100.5 million) 4

5. (2) Scream 4 (W/Dim) $7.1 million ($31.1 million) 2

Friday, April 22, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - April 22 - 14, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK


a) RED RIDING HOOD (fantasy thriller with Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Shiloh Fernandez, Michael Shanks, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and Max Irons) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A rather anaemic transformation of the Grimm Brothers folk tale into a grim fantasy thriller. Big Bad Wolf is made into a werewolf and the plot becomes a where-wolf whodunit. Of course, there is a love story - a triangle one - thrown in but there isn't enough bite to the romance or the horror. (Reviewed below)

b) A CHINESE GHOST STORY (fantasy thriller with Louis Koo Tin Lok, Wong Fan Siu, Crystal Liu Yi-Fei, Yu Shao Qun, Wai Ying-
Hung and Lin Peng) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This Wilson Yip remake of the 1987 movie starring Leslie Cheung is meant to be a triangle love story but the romance is lost in the 'wire-fu' stunts and sword-fighting gimmicks. Still, the three leads, Koo, Liu and Yu Shao Qun (reprising Cheung's role) acquit themselves admirably from a messy plot of sexily-clad demonesses and itinerant demon-hunters. (Reviewed below)

c) HELLO STRANGER (Thai romantic comedy with Neungthida Sophon, Chantavit Dhanasevi and Chantawit Thanasewee) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The big deal here is that director Banjong Pisanthanakun, who gave us Shutter (2004) and Alone (2007) is making his debut in the romantic-comedy genre. The result is a fluffy, crowd-pleasing tale about two Thai tourists who meet during a trip in Seoul but decide to remain 'strangers' despite staying together while traipsing around South Korea. A bit over-contrived but quite appealing as a date movie. (Reviewed below)

d) THE ROOMATE (psychological thriller with Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Danneel Harris, Cam Gigandet, Alyson Michalka, Matt Lanter, Frances Fisher, Katerina Graham, Tomas Arana and Cherilyn Wilson) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): This re-imagination of the 1992 thriller Single White Female is totally limp and unnecessary. The build-up takes ages and the scares are derivative (especially of Psycho) and cliched. Even with the starlets providing eye-candy, we get tired of them halfway into the movie. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG


1.
LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (romantic comedy with Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer, Brenna Roth, Gabriel Macht, Jaimie Alexander and George Segal) Rating * * * (3 stars): Set between 1996 to 1999, this one deals with the period in 1998 when Viagra gave new meaning (and hope) to people with erection problems. What matters most here is that there is bubbling chemistry between Brokeback Mountain stars Gyllenhaal and Hathaway who reunite as lovers 'addicted' to the ultimate drug: love. A smart and satirical effort directed by Edward Zwick.


b) LIMITLESS (sci-fi thriller with Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth and Robert John Burke) Rated * * * (3 stars): A pill that unleashes one's brain power to four-figure IQ? This loser-to-genius premise is interesting and entertaining - in a limited sort of way. However, what's more important is that this film will unleash our A-Team star Cooper into Hollywood's A-list, given his funny, charming and winning performance. (Reviewed below)

c) JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (musical documentary with Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, Shawn Stockman, Wanya Morris and Nathan Morris) Rating * * * (3 stars): A well-made docu on Bieber's rise to fame, on his concerts and performances as a young star as well as the toll fame takes from him and his family. Should delight both fans and curious viewers.

d) SCREAM 4 (slasher flick with Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The good news hare is that director Wes Craven and scripter Kevin Williamson have learnt their lesson from Scream 3 and go for the tongue-in-cheek approach, mocking its the slasher genre and its web-cam fans. The bad news is that this dilutes its suspense sequences and makes a joke of the plot. (Reviewed below)

e) CHASE OUR LOVE (romantic comedy in Cantonese with Kenny Bee, Wong You Nam, Alex Fong, Patrick Tam, William So, Edmond Leung, Rain Li and Stephy Tang) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): This is supposed to be poking fun at how geeks and other young introverts shy away from (or rather mishandle) courtship these days. However, the satire gets lost in ridiculous and lamely contrived situations and cringe-worthy hamming by its cast. (Reviewed below)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

RED RIDING HOOD - It Lacks Bite & Thrills

RED RIDING HOOD (fantasy thriller)
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Shiloh Fernandez, Michael Shanks, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and Max Irons
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: David Leslie Johnson
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

VALERIE AND HER PARENTS: Seyfried, Burke and Madsen

THE INTRO: After the resounding success of the Twilight tales and Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, it looks like someone has hastily brushed off the narrative dust off this Grimm Brothers' folk tale and 'update' it into a grim fantasy thriller. It's Big Bad Wolf morality spin is turned into a 'where-wolf' whodunit, complete with a cast of young heart-throbs the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons.

However, this 'reimagination' of a familiar tale is going the way of Beastly, the recent reworking of Beauty And The Beast.

Seyfried, right, with Max Irons

THE PLOT: Set in Daggerhorn, a forest-bound village in a medieval landscape, the plot has Seyfried as Valerie, who lives with her parents (Virginia Madsen and Twilight's Billy Burke) and her sister. She occasionally visits her devoted grandmother (Julie Christie) in a remote hut in the woods. Since young, Valerie has been in love with Peter (Shiloh), a poor woodcutter with whom she goes rabbit-hunting and smooching in the woods. Thus when her parents arrange for her to be married to the wealthy blacksmith Henry (Irons), Valerie finds herself in a quandary.

Things get worse when her sister is attacked by a werewolf - and the village elder, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), says that the lycanthrope is someone among them.

THE REVIEW: Like in Twilight, there is also a love triangle here (among Valerie, Peter and Henry) but director Catherine Hardwicke fails to make it as hot and combative as in the Bella-Edward-Jacob tangle. The problem here may be that the two male actors are so wooden in their performances that they fail to work out any romantic spark. At least in Twilight, the male hunks get to take off their shirt, but there's no such distractions here.

By now, Seyfried (left, with Shiloh) has proven to be a highly expressive actress (especially after
Chloe) but Hardwicke does not give her enough opportunities to expand her talents here. Hardwicke seems to be more interested in the male cast the likes of Shiloh, Irons, Oldman and Billy Burke (whom she directed in Twilight). However, Julie Christie is delectably entertaining as the enigmatic Grandma, while Virginia Madsen provides a touch of soap opera to the proceedings.

At the end of the day, Red Riding Hood lacks the bite on many counts: the script is lame; its werewolf sequences are not scary or even menacing; the sex scene is cut, the romance is tepid and the plot 'twist' is disappointing. Its technical packaging is above par, though.

THE LOWDOWN: Most people will want to see this because of Seyfried, but it is mainly uninspired and unimpressive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A CHINESE GHOST STORY - An Oriental 'Twilight'

A CHINESE GHOST STORY (fantasy thriller)
Cast: Louis Koo Tin Lok, Wong Fan Siu, Crystal Liu Yi-Fei, Yu Shao Qun, Wai Ying-Hung and Lin Peng
Director: Wilson Yip
Writer: Adapted from an original tale by 17th Century author Pu Song Ling
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Liu Yi-Fei and Louis Koo

THE INTRO: A line at the closing credits of this film reads 'In Memory Forever of Leslie Cheung' - acknowledging his role in the similarly-titled 1987 film as well as its 1990 sequel. Indeed, the 1987 A Chinese Ghost Story, directed by Ching Siu-Tung in
collaboration with producer Tsui Hark, was a landmark movie because its 'crazy' kungfu (and wirefu) effects gimmicks turned it into a cult hit with western (read: international) audiences. Its two sequels (1990 and 1991) were not as popular.

Here, director Wilson Yip claims that it is not a remake but a 'new' love story - and yet many elements of the 1987 film remain.

Yu Shao Qun and Liu Yi-Fei

THE PLOT: Government official Ling Choi Sin (Yu Shao Qun, taking over Leslie Cheung's role) journeys to the parched Black Mountain Village to help its inhabitants find water. As he leads a group of 'volunteers' up the haunted mountain, he encounters a bevy of sexy demons and well as a lovely 'girl' named Siu Sin (Liu Yi-Fei). After wooing her with some candy, he falls for her - and then realises that he is caught in a deadly triangle: another guy, a demon-hunter named Yan Chek Ha (Louis Koo) is also in love with Siu Sin.

However, before the two men can settle their differences, they have to contend with the evil Tree Demon (Wai Ying-Hung) as well as a one-armed demon hunter (Louis Fan) who is determined to kill all the supernatural beings.

THE REVIEW: The 1987 film has a confusing storyline and even more befuddled action sequences that have become the trademarks of Tsui Hark. Wilson Yip, who gave us the two Ip Man films, does not attempt to make the love story (especially the one between Chek Ha and Siu Sin) more plausible - or try to 'rationalise' the action sequences. Indeed, some of the fighting scenes are more comical than magical and the acting appear over-the-top. Liu Yi-Fei (left) fits the bill as the Enchantress of the forest but I wish she can evoke more emotions besides pouting and winking her eyes.

It is a good thing that Pu Song Ling's story has been adapted on the screen many times before, since The Enchanting Shadow (directed by Li Han Hsiang) in the early 1960s. That way, the plot is familiar to many in the audience and they need not rely on the flimsy narrative.

THE LOWDOWN: Before Twilight, there's A Chinese Ghost Story!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

THE ROOMMATE - SWF Recycled

THE ROOMMATE (psychological thriller)
Cast: Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Danneel Harris, Cam Gigandet, Alyson Michalka, Matt Lanter, Frances Fisher, Katerina Graham, Tomas Arana and Cherilyn Wilson
Director: Christian E. Christiansen
Writer: Sonny Mallhi
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester in THE ROOMMATE

THE INTRO: Recycle, Reuse and Reduce. This slogan seems most apt for The Roommate, an utterly needless (and senseless) remake of the taut 1992 thriller Single White Female which starred Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. While the SWF plot is being recycled and reused, its tension and suspense are largely reduced into a lame college melodrama not unlike an episode of Gossip Girl which also starred Leighton Meester.

Aly Michalka in the Shower Scene

THE PLOT: Freshman student Sara (Minka Kelly) from Iowa checks into a hostel at the fictional University of Los Angeles and is assigned a new roommate, Rebecca (Meester). However, it doesn't take her long to discover that her new companion is not quite who she seems to be. Soon, Sara's friends, Tracy (Aly Michalka), Irene (Danneel Harris) and Stephen (Cam Gigandet) start to feel the brunt of Rebecca's warped personality.

THE REVIEW: Right from the moment we clap eyes on Rebecca we know there's something wrong with her - but it takes like ages for director Christian E. Christiansen to bring on the thrills and chills. And when he does, it is so derivative and formulaic - like the shower scene borrowed from Psycho. And after another long wait, we get another silly 'scare' - which ultimately culminates in a lame and disappointing ending.

Meester and Kelly (right) are young and beautiful but nothing close to SWF's Fonda-Leigh chemistry. I believe that given a better script and screenplay, they could have done a lot better than being used as eye-candy. Indeed, Gigandet's lines are also badly written and we can't help seeing his role as another eye-candy - for the girls.

THE LOWDOWN: Boring, cliched and forgettable.

Monday, April 18, 2011

HELLO STRANGER - Another Thai Charmer

HELLO STRANGER (Thai romantic comedy)
Cast: Neungthida Sophon, Chantavit Dhanasevi and Chantawit Thanasewee
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Writers: Nontra Kumwong, Banjong Pisanthanakun and Chantawit Thanasewee
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Neungthida Sophon and Chantavit Dhanasevi on location in Seoul

PREAMBLE: It is a bit over-contrived and long-drawn at over two hours but this Thai rom-com looks set to win over its audience with its likeable stars. Also, director Banjong Pisanthanakun, who gave us Shutter (2004) and Alone (2007) makes a strong debut in the romantic-comedy genre with this fluffy, crowd-pleasing tale.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? After being dumped by his girlfriend, a drunken Thai guy (Chantavit Dhanasevi) joins a tour to Seoul. Also on the same tour is a pretty Thai girl (Neungthida Sophon, left) who is going to South Korea to attend a friend's wedding. They meet when she finds him in a drunken stupor outside her hostel. She helps look for his hotel and they end up having to team up together to tour Seoul. Compelled to be 'stuck' with each other, they make a pact not to divulge each other's name and identity - despite travelling together, staying in the same room and sharing intimate secrets and traipsing all over the country.

HITS AND MISSES: According to the production notes, Seoul is a popular destination with the Thais because they have been fascinated by Korean sit-coms and soap operas - and of course, its kimchi. Given its travelogue movie setting, it is easy for writer-director Pisanthanakun (pic, right) to present catchy situations in attractive locations and tourist spots. Like, having its male lead Dhanasevi eat a live octopus in a dare; having the two 'strangers' check into a sleazy, one-night-stand motel, and even gambling in a posh casino. Of course, how these two get the money for all the extravagance and indulgences is not explained.

Still, the target audience - young courting couples - will not be too bothered with such plot-holes or even why they see the need to remain 'strangers' even when they have fallen in love with each other. Also, some scenes appear phoney, and many are repetitive and tiresome to watch, making the movie even longer than the two-hour footage. Still, at the end of it, we find ourselves falling for the charms of Sophon and Dhanasevi - two fresh faces with sparkling chemistry.

THE LOWDOWN: Definitely a date movie.

'Rio' Triumphs Over 'Scream 4' at US Weekend B-O

APRIL 18, 2011 - Moviegoers in the US flocked to Rio but shied away from Scream 4 over the weekend. Thanks to Rio and some decent holdovers, this was the first genuinely up weekend year-over-year since early November, boasting a nearly 11 percent increase over 2010, when Kick-Ass and How to Train Your Dragon led.

Rio led with an estimated US$40 million on approximately 6,400 screens at 3,826 locations, and its 3D presentations at 2,591 locations accounted for 58 percent of the gross. The animated comedy edged out Rango's US$38.1 million and Hop's US$37.5 million to claim the highest-grossing opening weekend of 2011 so far.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for April 15 - 17, 2011 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo. (US$1=RM3)

1. Rio (Fox) $40.0 million ($40.0 million) 1

2. Scream 4 (W/Dim.) $19.2 million ($19.2 million) 1

3. Hop (Universal) $11.1 million ($82.6 million) 3

4. Soul Surfer (TriStar) $7.4 million ($19.9 million) 2

5. Hanna (Focus) $7.3 million ($23.3 million) 2

Friday, April 15, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - April 15 - 17, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (romantic comedy with Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer, Brenna Roth, Gabriel Macht, Jaimie Alexander and George Segal) Rating * * * (3 stars): Set between 1996 to 1999, this one deals with the period in 1998 when Viagra gave new meaning (and hope) to people with erection problems. What matters most here is that there is bubbling chemistry between Brokeback Mountain stars Gyllenhaal and Hathaway who reunite as lovers 'addicted' to the ultimate drug: love. A smart and satirical effort directed by Edward Zwick.

b) LIMITLESS (sci-fi thriller with Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth and Robert John Burke) Rated * * * (3 stars): A pill that unleashes one's brain power to four-figure IQ? This loser-to-genius premise is interesting and entertaining - in a limited sort of way. However, what's more important is that this film will unleash our A-Team star Cooper into Hollywood's A-list, given his funny, charming and winning performance. (Reviewed below)

c) JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (musical documentary with Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, Shawn Stockman, Wanya Morris and Nathan Morris) Rating * * * (3 stars): A well-made docu on Bieber's rise to fame, on his concerts and performances as a young star as well as the toll fame takes from him and his family. Should delight both fans and curious viewers.

d) SCREAM 4 (slasher flick with Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The good news hare is that director Wes Craven and scripter Kevin Williamson have learnt their lesson from Scream 3 and go for the tongue-in-cheek approach, mocking its the slasher genre and its web-cam fans. The bad news is that this dilutes its suspense sequences and makes a joke of the plot. (Reviewed below)

e) CHASE OUR LOVE (romantic comedy in Cantonese with Kenny Bee, Wong You Nam, Alex Fong, Patrick Tam, William So, Edmond Leung, Rain Li and Stephy Tang) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): This is supposed to be poking fun at how geeks and other young introverts shy away from (or rather mishandle) courtship these days. However, the satire gets lost in ridiculous and lamely contrived situations and cringe-worthy hamming by its cast. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. SOURCE CODE (sci-fi thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright and Michael Arden) Rated * * * (3 stars): If you are looking for an edge-of-the-seat thrilla this weekend, this one is a safe bet. It is somewhat like a cross between Groundhog Day and the Bourne flicks but there are also elements of romance for the fairer sex. The premise, about an Army chopper pilot having to relive eight minutes of a train blast, is interesting but ultimately flawed. (Reviewed below)

2. RIO (animated rom-com with voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Jake T. Austin, George Lopez, Will i Am, Carlos Ponce and Kate del Castillo) Rated * * * (3 stars): If you are looking for family entertainment, just hop on to RIO, where you will get fun and wacky tales of budding romance, nasty bird smugglers and daring rescues - all set to the pulsating samba rhythm of Brazil's Carnivale. Definitely a safe bet for the kids. (Reviewed below)

3. DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART (romantic comedy with Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Gao Yuan-yuan, Lam Suet and Terence Yin) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Cute is the operative word here and this rom-com is all about meeting cute and acting cute - all for almost two hours as we see the female protagonist (Gao as Cheng Zixin) strings along two hapless men in a love triangle. The situations in the plot are rather contrived but we do get involved because the three leads are charming enough to sustain our interest. A good date movie. (Reviewed below)

4. HOP (cgi and live action comedy with Russell Brand, Kaley Cuoco, James Marsden, Elizabeth Perkins, Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Espensen, Veronica Alicino and Tucker Albrizzi) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Some may call this one a rip-off of the Santa Clause premise, but its story of the Easter Bunny tradition lacks imagination. What's good about Hop is its crisp computer-generated animation that complements well with the live action sequences. And directed by Tim Hill, it is way better than his Alvin And The Chipmunks.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SCREAM 4 - Milking The Ghostface Franchise

SCREAM 4 (slasher flick)
Cast: Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin
Director: Wes Craven
Screenwriter: Kevin Williamson
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

ANOTHER ONE SLASHED - Part of the cast of SCREAM 4

PREAMBLE: Among the slew of slasher flicks over the years, I would rate the Scream series rather low in terms of scares, tension and suspense. They are not as effective or as popular as the A Nightmare On Elm Street series even though both are helmed by Wes Craven. After being in the slasher-pic game for so many years, Craven certainly knows the score on its marketing. Instead of just recycling the old plots for Scream 4, he goes tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at both the slasher genre and its 'cult' of young hormone-charged fans.

This offbeat approach may be initially fun and funny - and way better than Scream 3, but it robs the movie of whatever scare and suspense that are built up.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It has been 11 years and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), has got herself together and is now the author of a self-help book titled Out Of The Darkness. She returns home to Woodsboro - the last stop of her book tour - where she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox, above), who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell). Expectedly, Sidney's arrival also brings about the return of Ghostface (voice of Dane Farwell), putting Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends, and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.

Neve Campbell and Emma Roberts

HITS AND MISSES: The opening sequences, which introduces a series of nasty twists of the Stab movies-within-the-movie is amusing and even clever. They spoof the slashpix and have memorable guests stars like Anna Paquin and Heather Graham. Then when we are taken to Woodsboro where the main plot takes off, the movie starts going downhill.

Sure, there are a few sparks of wit once in a while in Craven's 'critique' on the Internet webcam and Twitter generation - but everything else is stale. The characters are under-developed and so badly portrayed that we don't give a hoot if they are slashed. I have seen Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox perform so much better before but here they are just going through paces and reading out the script. We don't know whether they are trying to be funny - or scary. Cox, for example, gives only a caricature of Gale, the has-been journalist, because the role is written that way.

THE LOWDOWN: Another vain attempt at milking the Scream-Ghostface franchise.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CHASE OUR LOVE - Shallow Humour, Dazzling Fashion

CHASE OUR LOVE (romantic comedy)
Cast: Kenny Bee, Wong You Nam, Alex Fong, Patrick Tam, William So, Edmond Leung, Rain Li and Stephy Tang
Director: Zi Yang
Screenwriter: Unnamed
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

PUT A RING ON IT? The single ladies club of CHASE OUR LOVE

PREAMBLE: If I were to rate this movie by the number of times I cringed in reaction to the utterly amateurish lines and situations as well as the acting of its cast, Chase Our Love would have broken a record of sorts. I can see where the film-makers are going with this one: lure the cinema-goers with some of Hong Kong and mainland China's hottest actresses and hope that they overlook the storyline.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The premise deals with a bevy of hot-looking single ladies playing 'love games' with a group of self-absorbed and introverted geeks. The idea is to get as many men to propose to the women as possible. The movie focuses on three of these geeks: There's this rich introverted guy (Kenny Bee, above right) who is so allergic to women that he faints on contact with any of them. However when he discovers that he is 'immuned' to a pretty fashion designer, he starts to fall in love with her, despite the fact that she has a terminal disease.

Another involves a manga artist (Wong You Nam) whose encounter with a new girl rekindles his attraction for an old flame, not knowing her real personality. And the third is about a selfish yuppie (Patrick Tam) who will not and cannot admit his feelings for a woman he admires.


HITS AND MISSES: On a thematic level, this movie is a satire on the 'otaku' (or nerds) generation who are so absorbed with Internet chats and Facebook that they do not know how to deal with real-life interactions with the opposite sex. Director Zi Yang reckons that he can best portray this by turning it into a combat-type video game with 'agents' and 'spies' and CGI characters. Of course, this is childish - and that is how the comedy remains.

There are a few laughs here and there but most of the sniggers are at how bad the jokes turn out to be. Fans of Kenny Bee (of The Wynners fame) will be glad to know that he sings a couple of songs here, and fashion-watchers may be dazzled by the stylish outfits worn by the cast.

THE LOWDOWN: For a romantic comedy, there is very little romance and only infantile humour.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LIMITLESS - Takes Cooper From 'A-Team' to A-List

LIMITLESS (suspense thriller)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth and Robert John Burke
Director: Neil Burger
Screenplay: Alan Glynn, Leslie Dixon
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

De Niro and Cooper in LIMITLESS
PREAMBLE: It is a popular contention that most humans use less than 20 per cent of their brain power. Now, how's this for wishful thinking: what if there's a pill that would put the human brain in overdrive, functioning at 100 per cent of its capability? Wouldn't that change society as we know it? Like, imagine the class idiot suddenly becoming a genius!

THE SKINNY: Well, that drug is known as NZT-48 in this movie about Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), an unsuccessful New York writer who is given the sample pill by his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth as Vernon) to fend off his bout of writer's block. Of course, Eddie is at first reluctant to take the pill. However, he has not written a single sentence in months and every body, including his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish, below) and landlord, is breathing down his neck.

After popping the clear, transparent pill, Eddie finds his life altered, not just in terms of increased intelligence but also in terms of physical activity and motivation. He manages to complete his book, starts making money from smart investments and is even being offered a high-profile job with business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). And of course, the drug has some nasty side effects - and some vicious people are also trying to get their hands on it.

HITS AND MISSES: There are numerous holes in the plot (by Leslie Dixon, based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn) but if we can accept the conceit of a 'magic pill' that changes a drunken loser into a high-flying wheeler-dealer, then we should 'limit' our mental faculties a bit more and overlook the contrivances and inconsistencies that Dixon throws at us. Indeed, director Neil Burger even allows the movie to degenerate into a run-of-the-mill action thriller with shoot-outs and fist fights - just to please action fans.

Still, there are many good things going for the movie, the top of which is the cool and collected performance of Cooper. This outing should see Cooper moving from The A-Team to the A-List. Cooper is funny, sexy and charming and here, he holds his own as lead star against a 'legend' like De Niro. Cornish supports effectively in a rather undemanding role while Anna Friel manages to look frightful as Eddie's ex-wife.

THE LOWDOWN: Entertaining but in a rather limited way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

'Hop' Tops US Weekend B-O Again

APRIL 11, 2011 - Two Russell Brand movies led the North American weekend box-office. His animated Hop topped another ho-hum weekend as the four new nationwide releases were modest at best. The Easter Bunny comedy fell 42 percent to an estimated US$21.7 million. With a $68.2 million tally in 10 days, it continued to track closely to Rango at the same point. That is to say, it has been solid but not exceptional.

Arthur, starring Brand, opened in second with an estimated US$12.6 million on about 3,700 screens at 3,276 locations, but the less-hyped Hanna and Soul Surfer were relatively more impressive. Arthur marked Brand's first top-billed role, and its rampant marketing campaign was all about Brand's random antics. The remake will ultimately sell a small fraction of the tickets that the original did: the first Arthur was the fourth highest-grossing movie from 1981 with US$95.5 million or the equivalent of over US$260 million adjusted for ticket price inflation.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for April 8 - 10, 2011 weekend, in terms of rank, Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo. (US$1=RM3)

1. Hop (Universal) $21.7 million ($68.2 million) 2

2. Arthur (Warner Bros.) $12.6 million ($12.6 million) 1

3. Hanna (Focus Features) $12.3 million ($12.3 million) 1

4. Soul Surfer (TriStar) $11.1 million ($11.1 million) 1

5. Insidious (FilmDistrict) $9.7 million ($27.1 million) 2

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hangover 2 Trailer Taken off Cinemas

APRIL 7, 2011 - Just a week after the release of the extended trailer for The Hangover Part II, the trailer has been pulled from cinemas - all because of monkey business.

The scene in question features Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and their primate companion acquired after a wild night out in Bangkok riding on a bus. Galifianakis' Alan sticks a water bottle in the pants of an elderly man sitting next to him, and the monkey jumps on the guy's lap and starts gnawing away, simulating a sex act.

The ad was not properly vetted by the Motion Picture Association of America, which makes sure movie advertising isn't out of sync with the ratings system, and the group has asked distributor Warner Bros. to rectify the situation.

"In our haste to meet the placement schedule for this trailer, we failed to properly vet the final version with the MPAA. We acted immediately to correct the mistake and removed the trailer from screens," Warner Bros. said in a statement.


The studio would not discuss what was being tweaked, but insiders said a scene featuring a monkey (above) sucking on a bottle placed under an old man's sarong was a likely target.

The trailer debuted in front of Source Code last Friday. The revised version will debut on April 15, in front of Scream 4, which carries the same restrictive "R" rating as Hangover." The film opens on May 26. - Hollywood Reporter