Monday, May 30, 2011

Hangover 2 Tops US Weekend B-O

MAY 30, 2011 - The Hangover Part 2 devoured an estimated US$86.5 million over the weekend. Add in its raucous Thursday start, and the comedy sequel's four-day opening came to $118.1 million. Kung Fu Panda 2, on the other hand, fell short of its predecessor, while Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides sprang another leak.

Playing on approximately 6,700 screens at 3,615 locations, Hangover 2 delivered the top-grossing weekend ever for a live-action comedy, and it ranked second to The Matrix Reloaded among R-rated movies. For 2011, it had the second-biggest weekend so far, edging out Fast Five and shy of On Stranger Tides, but it likely would have been first if it hadn't burnt off some demand with its Thursday opening, which was also its top day (US$31.6 million).

Thor rounded out the Top Five with an estimated US$9.4 million, down 39 percent for a US$159.7 million sum in 24 days. Fast Five slotted sixth with an estimated US$6.6 million and still leads 2011 with a US$196 million tally in 31 days.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for May 27-29, 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. (-) The Hangover Part 2 (Warner Bros.) $86.5 million ($118.1 mil) 1

2. (-) Kung Fu Panda 2 (Paramount /DreamWorks) $48.0 million ($53.8 mil) 1

3. (1) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (B. Vista) $39.3 million ($152.9 mil) 2

4. (2) Bridesmaids (Universal) $16.4 million ($85.0 mil) 3

5. (3) Thor (Paramount) $9.4 million ($159.7 mil) 4

Friday, May 27, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - May 26 - 28, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) KUNG FU PANDA 2 (animated comedy with Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Gary Oldman and Michelle Yeoh) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): Po the kungfu warrior panda (Black) is back and he and his friends are on a mission to save China from a mega-villain Peacock (Oldman) with a weapon of mass destruction. Then there's a subplot about Po's search for his biological parents that should lend depth to the sequel. For me, this one is even better than the first and it pays to watch in 3D. (Reviewed below)

b) LET THE BULLETS FLY (comedy in Mandarin with Chow Yun-Fat, Feng Xiaogang, Jiang Wen, Carina Lau, Ge You, Jun Hu, Chen Kun, Zhou Yun and Miao Pu) Rated * * * (3 stars): This is China's highest-grossing film - mostly because of its wordplay comedy that appeals to those who understand Mandarin and Chinese culture. Still, with three of the top Chinese stars in the cast, the movie has a tongue-in-cheek approach. It can be repetitive and long-drawn - clocking more than two hours. - At GSC's International Screens Only (Reviewed below)

c) DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (family comedy with Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Peyton List, Ben Hollingsworth, Robert Capron, Michelle Harrison and Grayson Russell) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This sequel looks like a rush job (to get the film out before the young cast lose their cute looks) with only a few good laughs. Many of the gags look 'contrived' and unnatural and fans of the original would miss Chloe Moretz whose character is not in the sequel. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. PUNISHED (crime thriller with Anthony Wong, Richie Jen, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Janice Man, Candy Lo, Lam Lei and Jun Kung) Rated * * * (3 stars): A taut psychological thriller about a kidnapping case and a personal brand of punishment. Anthony Wong is splendid in his role as the tyrannical father of the victim while Richie Jen provides one of his best performances as his bodyguard and henchman. This is not the usual action-packed thriller but it has the trademarks of director Law Wing-cheong and producer Johnny To all over. (Reviewed below)

2. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN ON STRANGER TIDES (Fantasy adventure with Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Sam Claflin and Geoffrey Rush) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): In many ways, this fourth instalment of the POTC franchise looks like a 'reboot', what with its new director (Rob Marshal), the dropping of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, and the introduction of a new villain. However, while the pace is supposed to build up to a climax, On Stranger Tides seems to start off fast and frivolous - but gradually slackens in pace and content right to its ending. Not what we would expect from a ho-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-fun series. (Reviewed below)

3. INSIDIOUS (horror thriller with Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Directed by Malaysian-born James Wan, this is a combination of Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist and Exorcist. It starts off promisingly, with an intriguing build-up about a family experiencing things that go bump in the night and having an offspring in a coma. Then when we get genre cliches like dripping faucets and creaking doors, the movie degenerates into an unintentional comedy. Unlike Wan's popular Saw series, there's not much blood and gore scenes - just a few psychological scares in the first half of the film. (Reviewed below)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

KUNG FU PANDA 2 - Pandamonium Reigns

KUNG FU PANDA 2 (animated comedy)
Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Gary Oldman and Michelle Yeoh
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Screenplay by: Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel
Time: 91 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Po (centre) and the Furious Five are back!

PREAMBLE: It's Pandamonium time again at the box-office everywhere and if you are thinking of catching this sequel of Kung Fu Panda, better make it soon before the hordes of kids do so during the coming school holidays. Be warned, be prepared.

SYNOPSIS: Po the Panda (Jack Black) is living his dream as a Dragon Warrior when the world of kung fu is threatened by Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a power-hungry peacock who has built a weapon of mass destruction that would render hand combat useless. Meanwhile, Po is also having nightmares about his birth and his natural parents. With a noodle-chef of a goose as his father, it is only natural for Po to wonder who he really was.


What Po doesn’t know, however, is that Lord Shen holds the key to his history and who he really is. Working with the kungfu masters known as the Furious Five (voiced by Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen and Jackie Chan), Po is not only on a mission to save China, but on a journey of self-discovery. Does he have what it takes to outwit the treacherous Lord Shen and his minion wolves?

HITS & MISSES: Unlike so many sequels these days, here's one that is actually better than the original. The storyline is engaging and intelligently written; the characters are nicely developed and interesting; and for once, it pays to watch this one in 3D because it provides real depth and emotional impact to the action sequences.


Korean-American director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who was the story artist for the first Kungfu Panda (as well as Madagascar), shows extraordinary flair for presenting adult themes, like identity, parental influence, 'inner peace' and fate, in a way that even children can understand and appreciate. The movie's prologue, about Lord Shen's banishment, is creatively rendered in paper cut-out format, and we know we are in for a classy fun ride.

What Kung Fu Panda 2 lacks, though, is the spontaneous fun and frolic of the original. There are fewer laughs here, probably due to the nature of the plot that caters to both kids and adults. I have always associated Jack Black with crude and outrageous humour but there is none of that here. In fact, many of his lines are witty and smart-alecky - and even touching. Among the supporting cast, Angelina Jolie gets more screen time and lines as the Tigress here, as do James Hong (as Po's Dad) and Michelle Yeoh as the Soothsayer. Panda 2 is slightly darker in tone and more emotionally complex than the first.

THE LOWDOWN: It should pack a huge kick at the box-office.

-

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LET THE BULLETS FLY - Draggy but Fun

LET THE BULLETS FLY (comedy in Mandarin)
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Feng Xiaogang, Jiang Wen, Carina Lau, Ge You, Jun Hu, Chen Kun, Zhou Yun and Miao Pu.
Director: Jiang Wen
Screenplay by: Zhu Sujin, Shu Ping, Jiang Wen, Guo Junli, Wei Xiaon, Li Bukong, from Ma Shitu's novel Ye Tan Shi Ji.
Time: 132 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Ge You, Carina Lau, Feng Xiaogang and Jiang Wen posing for the camera

PREAMBLE: This is the movie that chalked up a record 700 million yuan (RM350 million) at China's box office recently - a feat that was accomplished by the blockbuster Aftershock just months before. However, before you let your excitement and anticipation work overtime, let me clarify that this mainland China-Hong Kong production is a satirical comedy in Mandarin and if your grasp of Mandarin is not up to par (like yours truly), you may not appreciate most of the verbal gags here as many get lost in translation.

Directed by Jiang Wen, Let The Bullets Fly is both a display of Sichuan-style wordplay as well as spaghetti western-style gunplay. It comes with a hefty dose of CGI and comic book-style narrative.

Chow Yun-Fat and Jiang Wen

SYNOPSIS: Set in China in the 1920s, the movie opens with a spectacular train robbery led by bandit boss 'Pocky' Zhang (Jiang Wen). Conman Ma Bangde (Ge Yu) has just 'bought' the post of governor of Goose Town and he is travelling with his wife (Carina Lau) to con the residents when Zhang and his gang literally derail the train together with his plans.

After negotiating over the situation, the Robin Hood-styled Zhang agrees to play the role of governor, with Ma as his aide, in their bid to take over Goose Town. However, they first have to contend with the town's mob boss Huang (Chow Yun-Fat) in a battle of brains and brawn before Zhang can effectively work his scam as the town governor.

HITS & MISSES: Word has it that the movie script went through 30 drafts and five writers before Jiang Wen was satisfied with it. Well, the proverbial 'too-many-cooks' syndrome certainly shows in its disjointed narrative and over-the-top sequences. I also find that the movie drags a bit, trying to unravel a relatively simple story over more than two hours. However, there is no denying that the proceedings has the pervasive element of tongue-in-cheek fun - generously provided by thespians Chow Yun-Fat, Ge You, Wen Jiang himself and Carina Lau. Indeed, one of the highlights of the outing is the bawdy bedroom repartee between Ge You and Carina Lau that should have the audience roaring with laughter.

Chow has dual roles here - the other as Huang's body-double who is just too stupid to be the impostor - and Chow seems to be having a fine time playing the villain. Indeed, the movie is a great vehicle for the trio (Chow, Ge You and Jiang Wen) to strut their stuff - and for Jiang Wen to poke fun at corruption in political circles, greed and revenge. Well, he also gets to blow things up in spectacular style - and spoof the Sergio Leone and Eastwood flicks. The sets, costumes and cinematography are first class.

THE LOWDOWN: Not as compelling as Aftershock, but fun for Chinese movie fans.

-

Monday, May 23, 2011

'Pirates' Claims US and International Booty

MAY 23, 2011 - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides swooped in with the top-grossing weekend of the year so far. The supernatural swashbuckler claimed an estimated US$90.1 million at 4,155 locations, edging out Fast Five's $86.2 million launch. That was also the 12th highest-grossing May opening ever, but, since close to half of On Stranger Tides' gross was from 3D presentations at a record 2,747 locations (and due to today's general ticket prices), its estimated attendance level would rank 27th.

On Stranger Tides earned an estimated US$256.3 million in its international debut, topping Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for highest-grossing weekend of all-time.

Bridesmaids held its ground, grabbing an estimated US$21.1 million, and its 20 percent drop was smaller than any recent comparable comedy at the same point, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Hangover. With a US$59.5 million tally in 10 days, Bridesmaids has already surpassed the entire run of Bride Wars and has grossed nearly as much as Baby Mama's final haul, and, in terms of estimated attendance, it's on par with 40-Year-Old Virgin through the same point.

Thor took a typical third weekend hit, dropping 55 percent to an estimated US$15.5 million. Its sum grew to a solid US$145.4 million in 17 days. Fast Five was in a similar boat, down 48 percent to an estimated US$10.6 million and rocking a US$186.2 million tally in 24 days.

Meanwhile, Rio rounded out the Top Five for the third weekend in a row.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for May 20 - 22, 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. (-) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Buena Vista) $90.1 million ($90.1 million) 1

2. (2) Bridesmaids (Universal) $21.1 million ($59.5 million) 2

3. (1) Thor (Paramount) $15.5 million ($145.4 million) 3

4. (3) Fast Five (Universal) $10.6 million ($186.2 million) 4

5. (5) Rio (Fox) $4.7 million ($131.6 million) 6

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES - Childish

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (family comedy)
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Peyton List, Ben Hollingsworth, Robert Capron, Michelle Harrison and Grayson Russell
Director: David Bowers
Screenplay by: Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, based on the book by Jeff Kinney
Time: 96 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick

PREAMBLE: Unlike the original Wimpy Kid film released last year, this sequel looks like a rush job. It is not as fun or funny - and we get the feeling that the film-makers are rushing to complete the sequel before its lead cast get too old for their roles. Except for one or two sequences (like the one where Greg gets trapped in the ladies' restroom in just his underwear), the comedy looks tired and predictable.

SYNOPSIS: Greg Heffley (Zackary Gordon) enters seventh grade with renewed zest and interest - romantic interest. This is for new girl Holly Hills (Peyton List) whom he meets at a roller skating party. However, when he turns to his high school brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) for advice, Rodrick torments Greg instead. The boys’ mother, Susan (Rachael Harris), devises a way to get them to bond as brothers by bribing them. The scheming Rodrick sees it as a money-making venture and uses Greg for his own interests.

Robert Capron, Zackary Gordon, Grayson Russell and Karan Brar

HITS & MISSES: This is another example of what works with books need not necessary work on the screen. Okay, I will admit that adolescent fans of Jeff Kinney's book series may enjoy the movie(s), but those who have not read the books will find the movie rather childish and, worse, a repeat of what they have seen on television. Indeed, the gags are not that original - and even the big bully brother stuff get stale after a while.

As the protagonist, Gordon looks older but has not lost the impish charm that makes us root for him. Still, it is Robert Capron who gets our sympathy as the roly-poly Rowley whom Greg uses as a foil in his shenanigans. Steve Zahn, who plays Greg's dad, has little to do other than look bug-eyed perplexed at the kids, while Rachael Harris does a wonderful rendition of Tina Fey, especially at the ending. Fans of Chloe Moretz would miss her in this sequel as her character, Angie Steadman, has been dropped (probably because it is not part of Kinney's original novel).

Peyton List, who takes over as Greg's love interest, does not seem to have a personality while Laine MacNeil reprises her role as the class show-off Patty Parrell. Grayson Russell often steals the show as the dorky Fregley. David Bowers (of Astro Boy fame) replaces Thor Freudenthal as director, but he seem to rely too much on contrivance instead of making the gags 'flow naturally.

THE LOWDOWN: Looks like it's going to make a quick kill before heading for the DVD market.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cameron to re-release Titanic in 3D Next Year


MAY 20, 2011 - Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment have announced that they will be re-releasing a 3D version of acclaimed epic Titanic on April 10 next year.

"There's a whole generation that's never seen 'Titanic' as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen. And this will be 'Titanic' as you've never seen it before, digitally remastered at 4K (resolution) and painstakingly converted to 3D," its director James Cameron said in a statement issued by the studios and distributors.

"With the emotional power intact and the images more powerful than ever, this will be an epic experience for fans and newcomers alike." he added.

Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (pic) won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cameron.

It grossed more than US$1.8 billion (RM5.4 billion) worldwide and for years held the record as the most successful movie ever, before being overtaken by Cameron's 2009 3D blockbuster Avatar that has a lifetime gross of more than US$2.7 billion. The re-release marks the 100th anniversary of the doomed passenger liner which set sail from England on April 10, 1912.

WEEKEND PIC - May 20 - 22, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN ON STRANGER TIDES (Fantasy adventure with Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Sam Claflin and Geoffrey Rush) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): In many ways, this fourth instalment of the POTC franchise looks like a 'reboot', what with its new director (Rob Marshal), the dropping of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and the introduction of a new villain. However, while the pace is supposed to build up to a climax, On Stranger Tides seems to start off fast and frivolous - but gradually slackens in pace and content right to its ending. Not what we would expect from a ho-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-fun series. (Reviewed below)

b) INSIDIOUS (horror thriller with Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Directed by Malaysian-born James Wan, this is a combination of Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist and Exorcist. It starts off promisingly, with an intriguing build-up about a family experiencing things that go bump in the night and having an offspring in a coma. Then when we get genre cliches like dripping faucets and creaking doors, the movie degenerates into an unintentional comedy. Unlike Wan's popular Saw series, there's not much blood and gore scenes - just a few psychological scares in the first half of the film. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. PUNISHED (crime thriller with Anthony Wong, Richie Jen, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Janice Man, Candy Lo, Lam Lei and Jun Kung) Rated * * * (3 stars): A taut psychological thriller about a kidnapping case and a personal brand of punishment. Anthony Wong is splendid in his role as the tyrannical father of the victim while Richie Jen provides one of his best performances as his bodyguard and henchman. This is not the usual action-packed thriller but it has the trademarks of director Law Wing-cheong and producer Johnny To all over. (Reviewed below)

2. PAUL (Sci-fi comedy with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, John Carroll Lynch and David Koechner) Rating: * * * (3 stars): There is a blend of E.T. and Close Encounters of the weird kind here but Paul is actually a road trip cum buddy movie about two guys running into an alien (voiced by Rogen). There are some very funny moments, especially when we get cameo star Sigourney Weaver on screen.

3. FAST & FURIOUS 5 (action thriller with 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) Rated * * * (3 stars): Those who like fast cars, hot women, chases and crashes will get their fill here as director Justin Lin revs up on these factors that charge the adrenaline. Of course the 'scripto-meter' is low on logic and the film violates the laws of physics. In other words, it is a real summer guy flick - so be prepared for the spills and thrills - and sweaty palms. (Reviewed below)

4. SOMETHING BORROWED (romantic comedy with Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey and Ashley Williams) Rated * * (2 stars): Director Luke Greenfield and scripter Jennie Urman borrows a whole lot from the rom-com genre to make this triangle love caper among best friends a lame comedy. Some of the secondary characters are more annoying than funny while Hudson and Goodwin are wasted in a storyline that should not have been made into a movie. At least not like this. (Reviewed below)

5. PRIEST (horror thriller with Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer and Christopher Plummer) Rated * * (2 stars): It may be based on a Korean graphic novel but this movie works more like a videogame with its shoot-the-vampire quest being the main attraction. Also, those familiar with the post-Apocalyptic flick genre will recognise set pieces and ideas borrowed from films like Blade Runner, Star Wars and Mad Max 2. The main attraction for me is Hong Kong's Maggie Q as the Priestess - hence the two stars. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

INSIDIOUS - Surprisingly Tame

INSIDIOUS (horror thriller)
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson
Director: James Wan
Screenplay by: Leigh Whannell
Time: 102 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

THE SIGN: Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as Josh and Renai Lambert

PREAMBLE: With Malaysian-born James Wan at the helm of Insidious (and teaming again with writer Leigh Whannell) I was expecting some weird thrills and gross torture stuff like they provided in the Saw series. But no, it is apparently some sort of haunted house flick about a suburban family moving into a house and finding things going bump in the night.

Then, a series of horror movie cliches happened and I made a mental check-list of:
☻ dripping faucet (check!);
☻ creaky floorboards (check!);
☻ creaking doors (check!);
☻ blurry images of demons fleeting past the screen (check!).

And I knew I was in for another corny, unintentionally funny B-horror flick.

THE VISITOR: Dalton (Ty Simpkins) lying in a coma

SYNOPSIS: Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) a typical American couple with three young kids, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor), and baby Calli. When they move into their new home, Renai discovers a few 'disturbances' but dismiss them off as a result of mental fatigue from the move.

Then, when Dalton falls, hits his head and ends up comatose, they suspect a malevolent force behind the tragic events. Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) calls in her psychic friend Elise (Lin Shaye) who comes with her ghost-buster technicians (Angus Sampson and Whannell himself).

THE EXORCISM is in session!

REVIEW: During the first half-hour of plot build-up, I had thought that Wan and Whannell had turned their backs on blood and gore and rely on intellectual and psychological scares instead. The first act, which develops Josh and Renai's relationship, looks mighty promising - despite the rather irrelevant dripping faucets and creaky doors cliches. When we get to the second act, the feel and tone shifts from Paranormal Activity to Poltergeist - which isn't that bad when it comes to working up the audience's curiosity.

However, the movie falls apart in the third act - with its Exorcist subplot made worse by an irritating music soundtrack. The few scares are mostly in the first two acts. The third has the most unintentional laughs, not including the comic relief provided by Sampson and Whannel as Elise's bickering assistants.

THE LOWDOWN: Insidious is passable as a horror flick, but I had expected more from James Wan and Leigh Whannell.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton to Play Vampires

MAY 16, 2011 - Saoirse Ronan (right) and Gemma Arterton (left, below) have been picked to play vampiresses in the new movie Byzantium. Oscar-winning film-maker Neil Jordan is reuniting with producer Stephen Woolley to make the movie which will also have Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irvine.

The original script is by Moira Buffini. It is the story of a mother vampire who turns her own daughter into a vampire and the pair form a lethal partnership, sometimes posing as sisters. The original script is based on a theatre play by Buffini but has been taken to a slightly more adult, darker level, Woolley said.

The US$11 million (RM33 million) budget movie is set to shoot in October. Jordan and Woolley have made several movies dating back to 1984's The Company of Wolves, based on Angela Carter's novel.

Woolley produced Jordan's Oscar-winning The Crying Game. They last worked together on "Breakfast on Pluto" in 2005. Woolley is gearing up to shoot the Mike Newell-directed adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, penned by David Nicholls.

Byzantium has the backing of BBC Films and the British Film Institute. (Report by Hollywood Reporter)

'Thor' Maintains US Weekend Reign

MAY 16, 2011 - With an above-average hold, Thor easily stayed at the top of the North America box office over the weekend. Bridesmaids settled at second place, though its opening was impressive for an R-rated comedy with no proven talent in front of the camera.

The weekend's other newcomer Priest didn't fare as well, opening behind many comparable titles. Overall box office was off around five percent from last year, when Iron Man 2 held on to first place.

Thor dipped 48 percent to an estimated US$34.5 million to bring its 10-day total to US$119.3 million. With Thor and Fast Five currently monopolising young male audiences and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides looming on the horizon, Priest looks set to be left out of next Weekend's Top 5.

Meanwhile, Rio rounded out the Top Five for the second weekend in a row, declining a light six percent to US$8 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for May 13 - 15, 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) Thor (Paramount) $34.5 million ($119.3 million) 2

2. (-) Bridesmaids (Universal) $24.4 million ($24.4 million) 1

3. (2) Fast Five (Universal) $19.5 million ($168.8 million) 3

4. (-) Priest (Sony /Screen Gems) $14.5 million ($14.5 million) 1

5. (5) Rio (Fox) $8 million ($125 million) 5

Sunday, May 15, 2011

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides - Adrift on Shallow Tides

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides (fantasy adventure in 3D)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Sam Claflin and Geoffrey Rush
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Depp, McShane and Cruz in shallow waters

AVAST THERE, YE SWABS! With a new director (Rob Marshall replacing Gore Verbinski), a new villain (Ian McShane as Blackbeard) and sans two of its lead stars (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley), the POTC franchise is indeed sailing into Stranger Tides. In fact, after the Verbinski trilogy that ended At World's End, this fourth instalment looks like it could use some rejuvenation - hence its plot about a quest for the mythic Fountain of Youth.

However, while the pace is supposed to build up to a climax, On Stranger Tides seems to start off fast and frivolous - but gradually slackens in pace and content right to its ending.

THE DRIFT: When the movie opens, we find Capt Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) landlubbing in London - and in search of a ship to skipper. However, he learns that someone is impersonating him and is busy recruiting a crew in a race against the Spaniards to look for the fountain of youth. At one of these recruiting stations, Jack runs into his father (Keith Richards!) and old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz).

After the requisite sword play, drinking, looting and chases, Jack finds himself on board Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, with Angelica as first mate! Besides the Spanish, a certain one-legged captain (Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa) is also looking for the said fountain - on behalf of the king of England. However, before they can reach the fountain, they must face a bevy of mesmerising men-eating mermaids and procure a tear from one of them, so as to put into effect the power of everlasting youth.

THE HOWZIT: Unlike the previous movies, which had heavily-computerised creatures like Bill Nighy's Davy Jones, this one is less of a monster show. However, Depp still wears heavy eye shadow and is back in his usual wacky self as Capt Sparrow, having an audience with King George (Richard Griffiths) and even smooching Judi Dench before setting out to sea. Yes, it is ho-ho-ho and a bottle of fun in Merry Ole England and the pace slackens when the narrative sets sail. Well, at least until we get to the part about the ravenous mermaids, anyway.

Cruz takes over from Knightley as female lead but while the senorita can be as feisty as they come, the romantic angle is undeveloped. Instead she keeps the audience guessing as to whether she is the real daughter of Blackbeard. The romance factor comes in a subplot about an earnest missionary (Sam Claflin) and a captured mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena, pictured). The swashbuckling department isn't that well stocked either.

The fights look contrived and the movie lacks tension and suspense. The most 'violent' sequences are those concerning the mermaids - and they don't seem as menacing as they are enigmatic and fetching (with their chests well out of view, of course).

Among the cast, Rush is the most entertaining as Barbossa; Cruz earns her keep as the delectable Angelica but McShane seems to have little to do except look fierce and frightful and occasionally kill someone.

THE LOWDOWN: It's like the Pirates drifting on Shallow Tides.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - May 13 -15, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

(Apologies for this late posting. Blogspot.com was closed for maintenance yesterday)

NEW THIS WEEK

a) PUNISHED (crime thriller with Anthony Wong, Richie Jen, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Janice Man, Candy Lo, Lam Lei and Jun Kung) Rated * * * (3 stars): A taut psychological thriller about a kidnapping case and a personal brand of punishment. Anthony Wong is splendid in his role as the tyrannical father of the victim while Richie Jen provides one of his best performances as his bodyguard and henchman. This is not the usual action-packed thriller but it has the trademarks of director Law Wing-cheong and producer Johnny To all over. (Reviewed below)

b) PAUL (Sci-fi comedy with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, John Carroll Lynch and David Koechner) Rating: * * * (3 stars): There is a blend of E.T. and Close Encounters of the weird kind here but Paul is actually a road trip cum buddy movie about two guys running into an alien (voiced by Rogen). There are some very funny moments, especially when we get Sigourney Weaver on screen.

c) SOMETHING BORROWED (romantic comedy with Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey and Ashley Williams) Rated * * (2 stars): Director Luke Greenfield and scripter Jennie Urman borrows a whole lot from the rom-com genre to make this triangle love caper among best friends a lame comedy. Some of the secondary characters are more annoying than funny while Hudson and Goodwin are wasted in a storyline that should not have been made into a movie. At least not like this. (Reviewed below)

d) PRIEST (horror thriller with Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer and Christopher Plummer) Rated * * (2 stars): It may be based on a Korean graphic novel but this movie works more like a videogame with its shoot-the-vampire quest being the main attraction. Also, those familiar with the post-Apocalyptic flick genre will recognise set pieces and ideas borrowed from films like Blade Runner, Star Wars and Mad Max 2. The main attraction for me is Hong Kong's Maggie Q as the Priestess - hence the two stars. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. 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)

2. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (drama with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Jim Norton, Hal Holbrook and Mark Povinelli) Rated * * * (3 stars): Sara Gruen's novel is very competently adapted by director Francis Lawrence, aided in no small measure by heart-throb Pattinson and the two Oscar-calibre leads, Witherspoon and Waltz, and a talented pachyderm that plays Rosie. The setting, in the Great Depression years (circa 1930s), is realistic, capturing the romance of the travelling Benzini Brothers Circus as well as the mood and atmosphere of the poverty-stricken era. (Reviewed below)

3. FAST & FURIOUS 5 (action thriller with 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) Rated * * * (3 stars): Those who like fast cars, hot women, chases and crashes will get their fill here as director Justin Lin revs up on these factors that charge the adrenaline. Of course the 'scripto-meter' is low on logic and the film violates the laws of physics. In other words, it is a real summer guy flick - so be prepared for the spills and thrills - and sweaty palms. (Reviewed below)

4. THE DETECTIVE 2 (crime thriller in Cantonese with Aaron Kwok, Liu Kai Chi, Patrick Tam and Beibi Gong) Rated * * (2 stars): Touted as the sequel to Oxide Pang's 2007 'C+ Detective', this one is more of a repeat of the original than a sequel. We get the same plot-format (bodies piling up) and similar quirky character (in Kwok's private eye). To make matters worse, the culprit is revealed two-thirds into the movie and the rest drags uncomfortably to its predictable ending. (Reviewed below)

2. 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.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

SOMETHING BORROWED - Yeah, Lots Borrowed

SOMETHING BORROWED (romantic comedy)
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey and Ashley Williams
Director: Luke Greenfield
Screenplay by: Jennie Snyder Urman, based on the novel by Emily Griffin
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Krazinski, Goodwin, Hudson and Egglesfield

PREAMBLE: Something Borrowed is a lot like Eat Pray Love - they both work better as books rather than movies. In Eat Pray Love, the reader is privy to the private and personal thoughts of the protagonist, while the viewer is not and therefore would not sympathise with her.

In Something Borrowed, pretty much the same thing happens: without the explanatory narrative of the written word, we get tired of the dithering and manipulative characters rather quickly and lose our patience with them. To make things worse, director Luke Greenfield employs so many rom-com cliches that the title sounds pretty apt.

Hudson and Egglesfield

SYNOPSIS: New York lawyer Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) has been in love with Dex (Colin Egglesfield) since law school. However, she refuses to acknowledge it and allows her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson) to date him.

Six years later, Darcy and Dex are engaged. One night, after a wild birthday party, Rachel drunkenly tells Dex that she had a crush on him in law school. The two end up in bed together after he says he felt the same way. They wake up the next morning to frantic phone calls from Darcy who is trying to find out what happened to her fiance last night. When will the true lovers own up to the selfish and overbearing Darcy?

REVIEW: Love triangles involving best friends are as old as the hills. Everyone in the audience must have encountered one or two in real-life, so what's the big deal here? The story, by Jennie Snyder Urman (adapted from the novel by Emily Griffin), is basically lame and sloppily contrived.

Despite commendable performances by Goodwin and Hudson, their characters seem only able to exist in fiction. Goodwin's Rachel, for instance, is so deep into self-denial that we wonder how she has managed to get to where she is in life. Ditto that for Dex, the poor rich kid who is so scared of hurting his obnoxious dad and fiancee.

There is the subplot with Evan (John Krasinski) as Rachel's buddy and confidant so that she can pour out her feelings to the audience through him. However, their relationship is left underdeveloped (Evan is obviously in love with Rachel, but again, he is too shy to admit it) until almost at the last minute. Meanwhile, the ridiculous crush that Darcy's friend Claire (Ashley Williams) has on Evan is repetitive and unfunny.

And that dance routine with Hudson and Goodwin jiving to Salt 'N Pepa's Push It seem so out of context that it can only be to 'sell' the movie on Youtube. With her signature high-voltage smile, Goodwin is capable of charming anyone. However, she has the bad luck to play a character that few would sympathise with.

THE LOWDOWN: Disappointing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PUNISHED - Rivetting and Classy

PUNISHED (crime drama in Cantonese & Mandarin)
Cast: Anthony Wong, Richie Jen, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Janice Man, Candy Lo, Lam Lei and Jun Kung
Director: Law Wing-cheong
Screenplay by: Fung Chih-chiang and Lam Fung.
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Candy Lo, Richie Jen and Anthony Wong

PREAMBLE: After the usual dosage of mindless and brutal crime thrillers that has been the staple of Hong Kong fare, this one comes as a refreshing change. Directed by Law Wing-cheong, it has the trademarks of a sleek Johnny To production - and with film noir tone.

One thing I can say is that I have never seen Richie Jen performed better than this role.

SYNOPSIS: Punished opens at the end of a botched kidnap - with ruthless property developer Wong Ho-Chiu (Anthony Wong) crying over the body of her daughter Daisy (Janice Man) at a make-shift grave. Wong blames himself as much as he does the kidnappers for the girl's death. His relationship with his drug-addict daughter had not been good lately and he had suspected Daisy of planning her own abduction to get her hands on his cash.

Anthony Wong and Janice Man

And as he has promised the kidnappers that he would do anything in his power to wreak revenge if anything happened to his daughter, Wong sets his bodyguard Chor (Richie Jen) to investigate the case and punish the culprits. Yes, he derives great satisfaction in watching the former gangster Chor carry out his personal brand of 'justice' (which is sent to him on his i-phone) but then there is the question of his own punishment and salvation.


REVIEW: As the ruthless businessman and tyrannical father, Wong walks a thin line between protagonist and villain. And with his years of experience in such roles, Anthony Wong manages to play the tyrant and get our sympathy too. For me the surprise here is Richie Jen who imbues Chor with the sense of unfailing loyalty and calm menace requisite of his role as the punisher. Janice Man is nicely high-strung as the spoilt brat daughter while Maggie Cheung Ho-yee is impressive as the loving wife and tolerant stepmother.

I had expected a few wild twists in the movie but the fact that the screen-writers resisted the temptation to hype up the plot is a credit to them. There are some minor flaws in the plot but on the whole, it is an engaging study of an individual's brand of crime and punishment. Also, I like the subplot involving Chor's young son from his estranged marriage. It presents a positive side to the movie's other themes about tyrannical upbringing and neglecting one's children.

THE LOWDOWN: An engaging drama with top class performances.

PRIEST - Dull, Derivative Drivel

PRIEST (sci-fi actioner in 3D)
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer and Christopher Plummer
Director: Scott Stewart
Screenplay by: Cory Goodman from graphic novels by Hyung Min-Woo
Time: 87 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Bettany (left) and 'vampire'

PREAMBLE: Based on the graphic novel series by Hyung Min-Woo, Priest re-teams Legion director Scott Stewart and Paul Bettany for another tale about fighting marauding monsters. Here, Bettany plays the title character - not unlike the albino masochist he played in Da Vinci Code.

I don't care much for Bettany in what must be a familiar role by now. It is Maggie Q who interests me - and I am sure most of the guys in the audience too. For the ladies, there is Cam Gigandet.



SYNOPSIS: In an 'alternate world', a warrior priest (Bettany) from the last Vampire War now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden inhabitants in walled-in cities ruled by the Church led by Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer). When his niece Lucy (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, the Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find her before the vampires turn her into one of them.

He is joined on his mission by his niece's boyfriend Hicks (Gigandet), a trigger-happy young sheriff, and a former warrior priestess (Maggie Q, pictured above) who possesses extraordinary fighting skills.

REVIEW: I have not seen or read Hyung's graphic novels upon which this film is based but I can't imagine Hyung borrowing and recycling ideas and themes from movies like Blade Runner, Star Wars and Mad Max 2 like what Stewart does here. Priest opens like last year's turkey Jonah Hex - and degenerates into a shoot-'em-up type of video game with its leads blasting away scores of eyeless ghouls that are meant to be vampires.

The dialogue is badly written and, as expected, Bettany, Maggie Q and Gigandet (right) get lots of ass-kicking time, especially against a Black Hat villain played by Karl Urban. Stephen Moyer (aka Bill Compton in TV's True Blood) has a cameo here as Lucy's father, Owen Pace, with Madchen Amick as his wife.

Don't bother watching this in 3D as it has nothing to enhance visually. The one thing about Priest that I am thankful for is its short running time - at a forgettable 87 minutes.

THE LOWDOWN: A dark, dour and derivative drivel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

'Thor' Tops US Weekend B-O

MAY 9, 2011 - Thor hammered out an estimated US$66 million at 3,955 locations, dominating the US weekend. The Marvel Comics adaptation's opening salvo wasn't as thunderous as Fast Five's US$86.2 million last weekend nor recent summer starters like the Iron Man movies and X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85.1 million), but it was bigger than 2010's Clash of the Titans ($61.2 million).


Meanwhile, Fast Five slammed on the brakes in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $32.5 million. It was down 62 percent, falling about as hard as Fast and Furious. Something Borrowed was heavily pushed, but was held back by its bland premise of best friends after the same man, and it lacked a key ingredient to romantic comedy success - a strong male lead - focusing instead on the antics of Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin.

Rio rounded out the Top Five with an estimated $8.2 million, off 45 percent for a $114.9 million tally in 24 days. In milestone news, Insidious and Source Code each crossed the $50 million mark.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for May 6 - 8, 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. (-) Thor (Paramount) $66.0 million ($66.0 million) 1

2. (1) Fast Five (Universal) $32.5 million ($139.8 million) 2

3. (-) Jumping the Broom (TriStar) $13.7 million ($13.7 million) 1

4. (-) Something Borrowed (WB) $13.1 million ($13.1 million) 1

5. (2) Rio (Fox) $8.2 million ($114.9 million) 4