Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Green Lantern' Among Top 2011 Flops in US (so far)

JUNE 30, 2011 - Industry rag Hollywood Reporter has published its 10 Biggest Flops of 2011 (So Far) in America and Canada, and not surprisingly, Green Lantern is one of them.

Of the list below, some are bigger flops than others, depending upon their production budgets and marketing expenditures. The list doesn't account for how much was spent on marketing, since studios hold those figures closed to their chests, but we're talking many, many millions. The figures are in USD (US$1 = RM3).

1. MARS NEEDS MOMS

Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture pic was one of the most expensive bombs in Hollywood history, costing at least US$150 million to produce and grossing US$21.4 million at the domestic box office. Overseas, it didn't do much better, grossing US$17.6 million for a total US$39 million.

2. YOUR HIGHNESS

The raunchy comedy, set in medieval times, didn't go over well with audiences, even if it starred newly anointed Oscar winner Natalie Portman (along with James Franco and Danny McBride). Costing US$50 million to produce, the film earned US$21.6 million domestically and a paltry US$3 million overseas.

3. ARTHUR

The remake of the classic Dudley Moore comedy failed to rustle up many laughs, topping out at US$33 million domestically. Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner, Arthur did even less overseas, earning US$12.7 million for a global total of US$45.7 million. The production budget was reportedly US$40 million.

4. PROM

"Prom, earning a mere US$10.1 million at the US box office, was the first movie launched by newly installed Disney chairman Rich Ross to hit theaters. It's the lowest grossing studio film of the year so far, but luckily for Ross, "Prom" cost only US$8 million to produce.

5. JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER

The producers of Precious were hoping to launch a new film franchise based on the popular kids book series. But the US$20 million film, distributed by Relativity Media in the U.S., has grossed just US$13.4 million to date.

6. GREEN LANTERN

Costing at least US$200 million to produce, Green Lantern needed to do a big number worldwide to be financially solid (think US$500 million plus). Now, it seems the Ryan Reynolds superhero pic will top out at roughly US$250 million or US$260 million worldwide. It didn't help that the movie was bashed by critics.

7. PRIEST

The supernatural action film, based on the Korean graphic novel, was the most expensive movie ever made by Screen Gems, costing $60 million to produce. It earned US$29.1 million Stateside, but made up some ground overseas, where it earned US$46 million.

8. SUCKER PUNCH

Zack Snyder's female action-fantasy couldn't find its groove, grossing US$36.4 million domestically and US$53.4 million overseas for a worldwide total of $89.8 million. The movie, which cost roughly US$82 million to produce, came in No. 2 on its opening weekend behind Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

9. HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL

The first "Hoodwinked!" was a sleeper hit at the worldwide box office, grossing US$51.4 million domestically and US$58.6 million internationally. The sequel, however, came and went quickly, earning only US$10 million in North America and US$3.6 million overseas. Its production budget was a reported US$30 million.

10. THE BEAVER

There was heat around actor/director Jodie Foster's high-profile movie for months, but it quickly disappeared at the American box office, grossing less than US$1 million. Many saw it as a referendum on Mel Gibson, who stars in the US$20 million film.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON - Visually Stunning But Soulless

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (fantasy adventure)
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Peter Cullen and Tyrese Gibson (with robot voices by Leonard Nimoy, Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving)
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay by Ehren Kruger
Time: 154 mins
Overall Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
CGI effects rating: * * * *


PREAMBLE: It's 'Bayhem' time again - and this time around demolition expert Michael Bay is presenting his trademark six-Cs in glorious 3D! In case you don't know, the six 'Cs' are: clashes, crashes, chases, combustions, carnage and cleavage. Spread over a bottom-numbing two-and-a-half hours, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon can also induce mental and metal fatigue, especially with the clanging robots smashing one another - and the whole exercise making little sense.

Technologically, however, Dark Of The Moon is Bay's best work so far - and action fans looking to be awed by scenes of massive mayhem and destruction would be thrilled. Story-wise, this one is better than Revenge Of The Fallen, but not as fun and emotionally-connecting as the first.

SYNOPSIS: Dark Of The Moon opens with the Sixties Apollo landing mission where history is rewritten (by Ehren Kruger) to incorporate the cover-up of an alien spaceship crashing on the moon. That spaceship, of course, is one of the remains of the epic battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and its 'discovery' sparks off another war that threatens to destroy planet Earth. Or at least the face of Chicago as we know it.

On the human level, we find that Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has traded in his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) for a newer model (a Victoria Secret one, to be exact) in the shape of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly (pictured right with LaBeouf). Sam is being offered a job by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich) but we soon learn that Carly's boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) may be up to no good. Then, when the conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons hots up, Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) of the elite Government squad NEST are summarily called into action.

HITS & MISSES: We get lulled into believing that there may somehow be an intelligent plot coming from the conspiracy of the NASA lunar-landing cover-up which also involves the Russian space programme and Chernobyl. These turn out to be just an exercise in 'historical name-dropping' to spur our interest before we get to the demolition derby created by the Transformers. Indeed, some of the robots seem to emote better that the live cast. Cybertron leader Sentinel Prime, for example, is even designed to look like Leonard Nimoy (who provides its voice), complete with stuff that looks like beard. Again, the problems of the previous instalments recur - like the confusion between the good and bad robots in the clashes.

Unlike the first two movies, there are no more gags about the shock of humans interacting with the mechanical 'bots. Bay, however, insists on some comic sequences and he has hired Ken Jeong to do his in-your-face schtick as Jerry Wang. John Turturro reprises his role as former FBI agent Simmons but this time around, Turturro finds it fit to ham his role. The most striking inclusion to the cast is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Sam's love interest. However, with limited acting talent, she provides only eye-candy and beside her, Megan Fox would look like an Oscar-calibre actress.


Like the first Transformers, this one is also a live-action cartoon on a grand scale. Scenes of Chicago buildings being toppled and destroyed can be as spectacular and brain-numbing as those of September 11; and the wingsuit flying sequences (above) are breath-taking. Indeed, these are what most of Michael Bay's fans pay for and they will not be disappointed. The only problem for me is that Bay prolongs and repeats the robotic clash sequences to the point of being self-indulgent.

THE LOWDOWN: Technically brilliant and visually arresting, Dark Of The Moon lacks heart.

Monday, June 27, 2011

MONTE CARLO - Another Vehicle For Selena Gomez

MONTE CARLO (romantic comedy)
Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Corey Monteith, Pierre Boulanger and Andie MacDowell
Director: Tom Bezucha
Screenplay by Bezucha, April Blair and Maria Maggenti
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

BELLES OF THE BALL: Leighton Meester, Selena Gomez and Katie Cassidy in MONTE CARLO


PREAMBLE: The big buzz about Monte Carlo is that Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts were originally picked for the leads - and then the film-makers decided to go with a younger cast, probably to attract the huge 'Glee' crowd. While that may be a good decision, the biggest 'downside' to the movie is not just its casting but the derivative, uninspired and predictable script.

Well, that, plus we suspect that Kidman and Roberts must have turned down this project after reading the script!

SYNOPSIS: High school student and part-time waitress Grace (Selena Gomez, below) has always dreamed of going to romantic Paris with her best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy). However, as luck would have it, her uptight stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) also tags along for the trip which turns out to be a huge disappointment.

Things change when the trio pop into a five-star hotel and Grace is mistaken for a spoilt British socialite. The three friends are then whisked off to Monte Carlo where they have to attend a charity ball, meet the men of their dreams - and get involved in the case of a missing multi-million-dollar necklace!

HITS & MISSES: As soon as the girls get to Paris, the movie is shrouded in a pervasive mood of sloppily contrived events and 'convenient' coincidences. Even if we accept the odds that Grace gets to meet her lookalike Cordelia Winthrop Scott (Gomez) at a place and time when Cordelia plans to 'disappear', we are 'forced' to accept many other ridiculous plot contrivances - just so that the mistaken identity caper can run its course. Indeed, the storyline reminds us of a host of other mistaken identity tales - and it is utterly predictable. Ditto that for its love stories.

Monte Carlo is obviously another vehicle for Disney starlet and singer Selena Gomez (after last year's Ramona & Beezuz). While it is obvious that Gomez has great potential as an actress, she doesn't exploit her talents here. There is little chemistry between her Grace and Theo (Pierre Boulanger) and her portrayal of Cordelia borders on 'campy'. Meester fares better as the cautious Meg; at least her relationship with Aussie Riley (Luke Bracey) has its sparks. Glee's Corey Monteith is largely wasted as Emma's boyfriend, Owen. The technical credits are okay.

THE LOWDOWN: Strictly for the 'tween set' and Gomez fans.

Dabangg Wins Best Film at International Indian FIlm Awards

JUNE 27, 2011Dabangg and My Name Is Khan were the top winners at the 12th Annual International Indian Film Awards, or IIFAs, in Toronto last Saturday night.

The show, which aired on Saturday night, provided the climax for three days of movie going, dancing, fashion, music and a business forum aimed at strengthening ties between Canada and India -- something event organisers hope to do around the world, too.

"Toronto is definitely the gateway to North America and we hope to maintain a great relationship with this amazing country for many years to come," Sabbas Joseph, Director of Wizcraft International, a Mumbai based entertainment group who produced the IIFAs, told a press conference.

Here are the winners:

Best film: Dabangg

Best direction: Karan Johar (My Name Is Khan)

Leading role male: Shahrukh Khan (My Name Is Khan)

Leading role female: Anushka Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat)

Supporting actor: Arjun Rampal (Raajneeti)

Supporting actress: Prachi Desai (Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai)

Contribution to Indian cinema: Dharmendra Deol

Achievement in Indian cinema: Sharmila Tagore

Achievement in international cinema: Irrfan Khan

Lifetime achievement: Asha Bhonsle

Comic role: Riteish Deshmukh (Housefull)

Negative role: Sonu Sood (Dabangg)

Debut male: Ranveer Singh (Band Baaja Baaraat)

Debut female: Sonakshi Sinah (Dabangg)

Best story: Shibani Bhatija (My Name Is Khan)

Best screenplay: Dilip Shukla, Abhinav Kashyap (Dabangg)

Best dialogue: Vishal Bhardwaj (Ishqiya)

Music direction: Sajid - Wajid & Lalit Pandit (Dabangg)

Best lyrics: Niranjan Iyengar (Sajdaa, My Name Is Khan)

Playback singer male: Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (Tere Mast Mast Do Nain, Dabangg)

Playback singer female: Mamta Sharma (Munni Badnam, Dabangg)

Special "green" award: Priyanka Chopra

Best on-screen jodi: Anuksha Sharma and Ranveer Singh (Band Baaja Baaraat)

'Cars 2' Tops US Weekend B-O

JUNE 27, 2011 - Pixar's reliability was on display again with the roll-out of Cars 2. The manufacturer's latest model generated its 12th No. 1 opening in a row with an estimated US$68 million over the weekend. Moviegoers were also hot for Bad Teacher as well, but Green Lantern flamed out.

Riding on approximately 7,700 screens at 4,115 locations, Cars 2 delivered the fourth highest-grossing June opening weekend ever and the fifth highest-grossing opening weekend yet for a Pixar movie, behind Toy Story 3's $110.3 million, The Incredibles' $70.5 million, Finding Nemo's $70.3 million and Up's $68.1 million. The talking car sequel out-grossed the first Cars' $60.1 million opening weekend from June 2006, but trailed it in terms of estimated attendance. Cars 2's weekend was towards the back of the Pixar attendance pack, ahead of only A Bug's Life, Ratatouille and Toy Story.

Critics, however, lambasted Cars 2. The Wall Street Journal said the film "seldom gets beyond mediocrity," while the Chicago Tribune said it was "virtually joke-free." By contrast, Pixar's Toy Story 3, which opened to $110 million a year ago, was among the best reviewed films of 2010.


Elsewhere, in the overseas market, Cars 2 opened to an estimated US$42.9 million from 18 territories (or around 25 percent of the foreign market). According to Walt Disney Pictures, this opening was up 127 percent from the first Cars in the same markets and was also a marked improvement over Up and Ratatouille. Remarkably, though, Cars 2 also tracked four percent ahead of Toy Story 3, which went on to earn a Pixar-best US$648.2 million overseas last year.

Green Lantern descended to third with an estimated US$18.5 million. Its fall was a steep 65 percent and was more severe than both Thor and X-Men: First Class.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for June 24-26, 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. (-) Cars 2 (Buena Vista) $68.0 million ($68.0 million) 1

2. (-) Bad Teacher (Columbia) $31.0 million ($31.0 million) 1

3. (1) Green Lantern (Warner Bros.) $18.4 million ($89.3 million) 2

4. (2) Super 8 (Paramount) $12.1 million ($95.2 million) 3

5. (3) Mr. Popper's Penguins (Fox) $10.3 million ($39.4 million) 2

Friday, June 24, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - June 24 - 26, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) ATTACK THE BLOCK (sci-fi adventure with Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Flaminia Cinque and Joey Ansah) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you like Shaun Of The Dead, you will love this scary, fun and funny caper about how a teenage hoodie gang team up with a gutsy trainee nurse (Whitaker) to protect their housing estate in England from an alien invasion. Written and directed by Joe Cornish this one is refreshing and promising as his feature debut.

b) SACRED AND SECRET (documentary co-written and directed by Basil Gelpke, with Adrian Paul) Rating * * * (3 stars): This documentary on the social and spiritual complexities of Bali offers insights into some of the islands' occult ceremonies, guarded since the times of the Majapahit Kingdom. One of the highlights of the film is its sequence on the preparations and rituals surrounding the death of Agung Suyasa, the head of the royal family of Ubud.

c) TREASURE INN (comedy in Cantonese with Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Charlene Choi, Huang Yi, Liu Yang and David Tong) Rating * * (2 stars): Hong Kong writer-director Wong Jing is back with his ludicrous tricks in this low-brow comedy about how two rookie cops (Tse and Cheung) try to solve the case of a stolen jade statue of the Goddess of Mercy. There are some attempts at spoofing the murder thrillers bit the movie is utterly derivative and a rip-off of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer.

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (fantasy adventure with James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon) Rating: * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): A first class prequel (of the origins of Professor X and Magneto et al) done in style and wit by Matthew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass fame). The performances by MacAvoy and Fassbender are excellent, the state-of-the-art effects are impressive and there are many surprises in store for X-Men fans. Arguably, the best X-Men film so far. (Reviewed below)

2. 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)

3. SUPER 8 (sci-fi adventure with Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Jessica Tuck, Amanda Michalka, Joel McKinnon Miller, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Garbiel Basso, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich and Glynn Turman) Rated * * * (3 stars): An absorbing tale about a bunch of kids caught in 'alien invasion' in a small American town circa 1979. Directed by J.J. Abrams, this adventure is reminiscent of Spieberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - with a good mix of monster action and kiddie interactions. What's more, you will be bowled over by the performances of the young cast, especially by Dakota Fanning's sister, Elle. (Reviewed below)

4. GREEN LANTERN (fantasy adventure with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard and Temuera Morrison) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): With a rather muddled-up opening and a storyline that recalls the exploits and romantic tangles of other comic book renditions like Superman and Spider-Man, Reynolds' Green Lantern only serves as another summer cinema fodder. There are some memorable moments with Lively as the hero's girlfriend and a few action pieces, but the overall effect is a feeling of mediocrity. (Reviewed below)

5. LADDALAND (Thai supernatural thriller with Saharat Sangkapreechat, Piyathida Woramuksik, Suthatta Udomsil and Atipit Chutiwatkajornchai) Rated * * (2 stars): This second feature of Sophon Sakdaphisit - about how a 'normal' family becomes dysfunctional after moving into their new home - aims at a more sophisticated, Hitchcock-styled way of story-telling. This works well for a while until the narrative gets too contrived and implausible - incorporating actions that make no sense. (Reviewed below)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 is Top Animated Film in Malaysia

JUNE 23, 2011 – UIP has reported in a media release that KUNG FU PANDA 2 has become the highest grossing animation film of all-time at the Malaysian box-office.

In a mere 28 days, the sequel achieved a significant milestone in Malaysia by beating the previous record held by Madagascar 2 as the biggest animation in Malaysian history.

The DreamWorks animation – which was released in 3D on 26 May – now ranks as Malaysia’s top animation movie, followed by Madagascar 2 in second place and the first Kung Fu Panda which is now in third place in the Malaysian box office ranking.

Nicholas Yong, managing director of the film’s local distributing arm, United International Pictures (Singapore & Malaysia), said, "We’re awed and thrilled with the results! When the first Kung Fu Panda broke records as the country’s biggest animation in 2008, it was indeed a feat. We had hoped that Kung Fu Panda 2 would be able to trump the box office numbers of the first instalment, but to see it beat the animation record held by Madagascar 2 and Kung Fu Panda to become the biggest animation film of all-time is truly awesome. This means our panda ‘Po' is the undisputed biggest animation champion of all-time now whilst DreamWorks Animation holds the top three biggest animation titles of all-time locally!”

The English and Cantonese versions of Kung Fu Panda 2 are currently showing in cinemas nationwide. The movie is also available on 3D format at selected cinema location.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aishwarya's Expecting, Amitabh Bachchan to be Grandpa!

JUNE 22, 2011 - Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is elated that he is going to be grandfather to Aishwarya Rai's (pictured) first child.

"I am going to become a grandfather. Aishwarya expecting. So happy and thrilled!!!" Bachchan tweeted, confirming the subject of weeks of speculation.

Rai, 37, a former Miss World, has been married to actor Amitabh's son, Abhishek Bachchan, for more than four years and the couple had been fending off pregnancy rumours in the past year. Yesterday, Rai's media manager confirmed the pregnancy but did not give details. Rai starred in Bride And Prejudice, The Mistress Of Spices (2005) and Pink Panther 2.

Rai has no film under production but has signed up to film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine, which was announced at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern Tops US Weekend B-O

JUNE 20, 2011 - Green Lantern's light was more red than green, but the comic book adaptation still drew an estimated US$52.7 million on approximately 7,200 screens at 3,816 locations. Green Lantern's start landed behind X-Men: First Class's $55.1 million and Thor's $65.7 million, and its Friday-to-Saturday drop of 22 percent was steeper than those movies' eight percent. The gross was also less than The Incredible Hulk and the two Fantastic Four movies, and the attendance disparity was only greater. Green Lantern's estimated attendance was even lower than Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

Green Lantern continued the tradition of B-list superheroes failing to soar to blockbuster heights (with the exception of Iron Man), despite an enormous marketing push. But an onslaught of ads is not necessarily the same thing as an effective campaign. The bottom line is that Green Lantern simply didn't have that appeal of a premise with its distancing sci-fi fantasy angle, and no amount of ads could make it look less awkward.

In second place, Super 8 had a decent hold, retreating 40 percent to an estimated US$21.3 million while Mr. Popper's Penguins slid in to third with an estimated US$18.2 million on around 4,200 screens at 3,339 locations.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for June 17-19, 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. (-) Green Lantern (Warner Bros.) $52.7 million ($52.7 million) 1

2. (1) Super 8 (Paramount) $21.3 million ($72.8 million) 2

3. (-) Mr. Popper's Penguins (Fox) $18.2 million ($18.2 million) 1

4. (2) X-Men: First Class (Fox) $11.5 million ($119.9 million) 3

5. (3) Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.) $9.6 million ($232.7 million) 4

Friday, June 17, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - June 17 - 19, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) GREEN LANTERN (fantasy adventure with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard and Temuera Morrison) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): With a rather muddled-up opening and a storyline that recalls the exploits and romantic tangles of other comic book renditions like Superman and Spider-Man, Reynolds' Green Lantern only serves as another summer cinema fodder. There are some memorable moments with Lively as the hero's girlfriend and a few action pieces, but the overall effect is a feeling of mediocrity. (Reviewed below)

b) LADDALAND (Thai supernatural thriller with Saharat Sangkapreechat, Piyathida Woramuksik, Suthatta Udomsil and Atipit Chutiwatkajornchai) Rated * * (2 stars): This second feature of Sophon Sakdaphisit - about how a 'normal' family becomes dysfunctional after moving into their new home - aims at a more sophisticated, Hitchcock-styled way of story-telling. This works well for a while until the narrative gets too contrived and implausible - incorporating actions that make no sense. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (fantasy adventure with James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon) Rating: * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): A first class prequel (of the origins of Professor X and Magneto et al) done in style and wit by Matthew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass fame). The performances by MacAvoy and Fassbender are excellent, the state-of-the-art effects are impressive and there are many surprises in store for X-Men fans. Arguably, the best X-Men film so far. (Reviewed below)


2. 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)

3. SUPER 8 (sci-fi adventure with Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Jessica Tuck, Amanda Michalka, Joel McKinnon Miller, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Garbiel Basso, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich and Glynn Turman) Rated * * * (3 stars): An absorbing tale about a bunch of kids caught in 'alien invasion' in a small American town circa 1979. Directed by J.J. Abrams, this adventure is reminiscent of Spieberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - with a good mix of monster action and kiddie interactions. What's more, you will be bowled over by the performances of the young cast, especially by Dakota Fanning's sister, Elle. (Reviewed below)

4. HENRY'S CRIME (comedy with Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan, Judy Greer, Peter Stormare, Fisher Stevens, Bill Duke, Currie Graham, Danny Hoch and Heather MacRae) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Reeves sort of sleepwalks through his role as the title character in this one-joke comedy about a guy who after serving time, decides to commit the crime he is accused of. Reeves aside, we have virtuoso performances from Farmiga and Caan who provides some bright sparks in this otherwise dull and languid comedy. (Reviewed below)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

GREEN LANTERN - Summer Cinema Fodder

GREEN LANTERN (comic book adventure)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard and Temuera Morrison
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green (VII), Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg based on DC comic book heroes.
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: If there were no comic book-based Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men films, this cinema rendition of the Green Lantern would easily have wowed audiences. Alas, having so many superhero fantasies that were so well fleshed out on the screen before, this one looks sloppily-done and derivative. And with its convoluted background mythology that the film-makers seem to be throwing at our faces instead of allowing us to 'experience' it, we are left feeling detached about the whole Green Lantern stuff. And maybe a little deja vu...

SYNOPSIS: Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky test pilot who's still haunted by the death of his father in an aircraft accident. After his latest stunt gets him grounded, Hal finds himself enveloped by a strange green light which takes him to a crash-landed spaceship where a dying alien (Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur) passes him a ring and tells him that he has been 'chosen' to join an inter-planetary peace-keeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps. The ring enables him to create anything his mind can imagine.

Meanwhile, an evil entity known as Parallax is planning to destroy the Earth and when scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) becomes infected with Parallax's powers, he goes after Hal's partner, test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Thus Hal is burdened with the tasks of saving the universe, the world - and his girlfriend.

The summit conference at Oa

HITS & MISSES: Although Reynolds (who was picked for the role over Sam Worthington ad Chris Pine) provides the requisite brash personality and glib jokes as Hal Jordan, he can't shake off his own Ryan Reynolds-ness to be the conflicted superhero, Green Lantern. Thus the sequences of his Green Lantern at the 'summit conference' at Oa with Sinestro (Mark Strong) look badly contrived and phoney. For me, the best parts of the movie are when Hal/Green Lantern interacts with Lively's Carol. At the media screening I attended, the loudest laugh was when Carol recognises Hal in his silly green mask. Indeed, Lively provides more than just eye-candy as Hal's sexy girlfriend and daughter of his 'boss' (Jay O. Sanders), she is the centre of attraction whenever she appears.

Tim Robbins, Peter Sarsgaard and Angela Bassett

Sarsgaard can be compelling as the accidental and tragic villain - and he even manages to convey his feelings through his Elephant Man make-up. Tim Robbins has a cameo as Senator Hammond, Hector's domineering father, while Angela Bassett plays a (forgettable) doctor.

As far as action set pieces go, there are a few mayhem sequences - but none to beat those of Fast Five and Transformers. The 3D effects are just serviceable, not spectacular.

THE LOWDOWN: Basically, Green Lantern is summer action cinema fodder.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LADDALAND - More of a Psychological Thriller

LADDALAND (supernatural thriller in Thai)
Cast: Saharat Sangkapreechat, Piyathida Woramuksik, Suthatta Udomsil and Atipit Chutiwatkajornchai
Director: Sophon Sakdaphisit
Screenplay by Sophon Sakdaphisit
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

The dysfunctional family in LaddaLand

PREAMBLE: LaddaLand is the second feature directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, the guy who co-wrote such popular Thai horrors as Alone and Shutter. His feature debut was Coming Soon, a somewhat derivative film-within-a-film released in 2009. LaddaLand, however, shows a more matured Sakdaphisit trying his hand at the supernatural thriller instead of the usual horror genre.

His LaddaLand aims to be like Hitchcock in style - but with mixed results.

SYNOPSIS: Theera (Saharat Sangkapreecha) is excited about his new house in a gated community called LaddaLand in Chiang Mai. He spares no expense to decorate it so that his family - wife Parn (Piyathida Woramusik), daughter Nan (Suthatta Udomsil, pic, right) and son Nat (Atipit Chutiwatkajornchai) - would feel welcome. Indeed, he has uprooted them from their apartment in Bangkok, hoping to spend more time together as a happy family. Teenager Nan, however, resents her new home and is unhappy about having to leave her grandmother who has brought her up.

And before Theera and Parn can begin to cultivate familial bonds, the news of a gruesome murder of a Burmese maid rocks the neighbourhood - and somehow sends Theera on a downward spiral to despair.

HITS & MISSES: Many in the audience will be able to relate to Theera's excitement of moving into a spanking new house in a gated resort. This makes the 'horrors' he is about to face seem more profound and destructive. I am glad that Sakdaphisit has resisted the temptation to film creaking doors and dripping faucets - the staple of haunted house flicks, although he relies heavily on sudden loud blasts on the speakers to jolt us. However, LaddaLand is not about supernatural horror or scary ghosts although there are some of them here.

It is about how a seemingly 'normal' suburban family slowly disintegrates and self-destructs! In this department, a lot has to do with character portrayal and performance. As a caring father, Sangkapreechat has the audience rooting for him right from the start but he is not commanding enough to carry the show. His Theera is overbearing and mule-headed and some of the things he does makes no sense. This is because they are just badly written or contrived by Sakdaphisit and they take away much of the thunder (and realism) from the story. Woramuksik (pic, left) is credible enough as the long-suffering wife and the kid stars are good supports. However, as a thriller, LaddaLand is weak, with lots of red herrings but little in terms of real scares.

THE LOWDOWN: Mostly for dating couples.

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Super 8' Leads US Weekend B-O

JUNE 13, 2011 - After months of hype, Super 8, the trumped-up J.J. Abrams-Steven Spielberg production was rather uneventful. It collected an estimated US$37 million on approximately 5,500 screens at 3,379 locations, after making an additional US$1 million with its Thursday Twitter sneaks. While that was two thirds of The Karate Kid's US$55.7 million on the same weekend last year and less than Cloverfield's US$40.1 million, it was close to District 9's US$37.4 million.

Super 8's marketing was conducted as if the movie were an intended blockbuster: the campaign was massive, ranging from a Super Bowl spot through a raft of TV ads as well as promotions on American Idol and the MTV Movie Awards. US$37 million is not a blockbuster opening for this type of movie in this day and age. Super 8's attendance wasn't even much higher than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial's on the same weekend back in 1982, and Super 8 had over three times the locations.

The rest of the US box-office weekend Top 5 are the usual suspects - from last week's list.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for June 10-12, 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. (-) Super 8 (Paramount) $37.0 million $38.0 million) 1

2. (1) X-Men: First Class (Fox) $25.0 million ($98.9 million) 2

3. (2) Hangover Part II (WB) $18.5 million ($216.6 million) 3

4. (3) Kung Fu Panda 2 (Paramount) $16.6 million ($126.9 million) 3

5. (4) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (BV) $10.8 million ($208.8 mil) 4

Friday, June 10, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - June 10 - 12, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) SUPER 8 (sci-fi adventure with Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Jessica Tuck, Amanda Michalka, Joel McKinnon Miller, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Garbiel Basso, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich and Glynn Turman) Rated * * * (3 stars): An absorbing tale about a bunch of kids caught in 'alien invasion' in a small American town circa 1979. Directed by J.J. Abrams, this adventure is reminiscent of Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - with a good mix of monster action and kiddie interactions. What's more, you will be bowled over by the performances of the young cast, especially by Dakota Fanning's sister, Elle. (Reviewed below)

b) HENRY'S CRIME (comedy with Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan, Judy Greer, Peter Stormare, Fisher Stevens, Bill Duke, Currie Graham, Danny Hoch and Heather MacRae) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Reeves sort of sleepwalks through his role as the title character in this one-joke comedy about a guy who after serving time, decides to commit the crime he is accused of. Reeves aside, we have virtuoso performances from Farmiga and Caan who provides some bright sparks in this otherwise dull and languid comedy. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (fantasy adventure with James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon) Rating: * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): A first class prequel (of the origins of Professor X and Magneto, et al) done in style and wit by Matthew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass fame). The performances by MacAvoy and Fassbender are excellent, the state-of-the-art effects are impressive and there are many surprises in store for X-Men fans. Arguably, the best X-Men film so far. (Reviewed below)

2. 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)

3. 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)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

HENRY'S CRIME - Slow, Plodding Comedy

HENRY'S CRIME (comedy)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan, Judy Greer, Peter Stormare, Fisher Stevens, Bill Duke, Currie Graham, Danny Hoch and Heather MacRae
Director: Malcolm Venville
Screenplay by Sacha Gervasi, David N. White
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Vera Farmiga, Keanu Reeves and James Caan in HENRY'S CRIME

PREAMBLE: First, let me state that this is not a zombie movie - despite criticisms that lead star Keanu Reeves acted like a zombie in Henry's Crime. As the title character, Reeves' Henry Torne is supposed to be a dull, almost zonked-out loser of a guy who doesn't know what's happening most of the time. Some people may say that Reeves does a good job playing Henry as some sort of zombie while others may consider his portrayal as the real crime.

SYNOPSIS: Henry is a toll booth worker in the bleak city of Buffalo, New York, who seems to be sleepwalking his way through life. Henry gets an unexpected wakeup call when he becomes an unwitting participant in a bank heist. Rather than give up the names of the real culprits, he takes the fall and discovers his true calling. Having done the time, Henry reasons he may as well do the crime. Discovering a forgotten tunnel connecting the bank to a nearby theatre, Henry recruits his old cell mate Max (James Caan) in the heist.

He also finds himself falling for the feisty Julie (Vera Farmiga), the leading lady in a play called "The Cherry Orchard"...

Reeves' Henry at his toll booth

HITS & MISSES: The most incredulous part of the movie is the conceit that Henry would take the fall for his so-called friends (played by Fisher Stevens and Danny Hoch) and languish in jail. Once we get over this implausible 'joke', it is easier to accept the fact that Henry the dullard needs to have things 'knocked' into him. Thus, after getting run over by Julie, his life changes - just as it did after meeting confidence trickster Max, who wants him to fulfill his dream.

Reeves may be playing Henry as a guy who sleepwalks through life but he is hopeless as a comedian. The laughs and the best lines are provided by Caan and Farmiga - the two artistes who can mouth ridiculous lines and get away with them. As the romantic lead, Reeves is perhaps better, but only by a notch or two - especially in a scene when he realises that he loves Julie more than money. Henry's Crime is more of a dark 'comedy of the absurd' - so don't expect gags like those of The Hangover kind. Directed by Malcolm Wenville, the pace is rather languid for a summer movie and it looks like this one is heading for the DVD shelves.

THE LOWDOWN: For those who like verbal comedies.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

SUPER 8 - Nostalgic Fun for the 80's Set

SUPER 8 (sci-fi adventure)
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Jessica Tuck, Amanda Michalka, Joel McKinnon Miller, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Garbiel Basso, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich and Glynn Turman
Director: J. J. Abrams
Screenplay by J. J. Abrams
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

The young cast in the movie-within-a-movie (with Riley Griffiths, left, and Elle Fanning, right)

PREAMBLE: Super 8 takes us back to the glorious days of Spielberg treats like The Goonies, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Indeed, written and directed by Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, Super 8 is a collaboration between Abrams and Steven Spielberg who serves as producer.

As a teenager, Abrams' film-making exploits caught Spielberg's eye and it earned him a gig restoring Spielberg's own 8mm movies. And if, after viewing the movie, you thought that this is a homage to Spielberg, Abrams has denied it, saying (in an interview) that "It was never intended as homage to him, but really to that period of my life, which was really the first impulse of this movie."

For many in the audience, Super 8 will also remind them of their own childhood adventures and maybe even their first love.

SYNOPSIS: During the summer of 1979, a group of school friends led by aspiring director Charles (Riley Griffiths) and make-up trainee Joe (Joel Courtney) are making a zombie movie in a small town in Ohio when they witness a catastrophic train crash. The boys, and their volunteer actress Alice (Elle Fanning), soon suspect that there is more to the accident than meets the eye. Soon people and dogs go missing, and violent, inexplicable events begin to take place in town. And as the US military arrive, Joe's dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), the local Deputy Sheriff, tries to uncover the truth - which turns out to more terrifying than any of them could have imagined.

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney

HITS & MISSES: The first thing I noticed about Super 8 is how the young cast, led by Dakota Fanning's sister Elle, draw us into their movie-within-a-movie. Fanning's Alice may be talented and pretty and the romantic interest of the boys around her, but she is the gutsiest among the kids. Needless to say, she grabs our attention whenever she is on-screen - as do the other youngsters as they strive to make sense of what is happening from the events captured on the Super 8 camera.

As suggested in the Preamble, this one may deal with an alien 'invasion' but it is mainly about that time when adolescents learn about friendship, loyalty, survival and love. Joe, the protagonist, has admired Alice from a distance and boy, does he revel in the chance to touch her face - while doing her make-up. These 'soft' scenes are interspersed with hard-core action sequences like the train crash and the devastation by the alien (which looks quite like the monster from Alien). It is to Abrams' credit that he has resisted the temptation to give audiences a proper view of the 'extra-terrestrial'. Anyway, sustaining curiosity is Abrams' forte, having created TV's Lost and Fringe series.

Among the adult cast are Noah Emmerich, who plays the nasty military commander, and Ron Eldard as Alice's father. They put up credible performances but it is a pity to see them upstaged by the outstanding young cast.

THE LOWDOWN: Nostalgic entertainment for the 80s set and fun for the whole family.


X-MEN: FIRST CLASS - Stylish and Classy

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (fantasy adventure)
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, January Jones and Nicholas Hoult
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by: Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Time: 1301 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Michael Fassbender, Caleb Landry Jones, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence and Lucas Till

PREAMBLE: Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class should give a new lease of life to the flagging X-Men franchise. It is stylish and classy, it has a good balance of interesting narrative and action set pieces - and it maintains the X-Men's wow factor that attracts audiences in the first place.

SYNOPSIS: This 'prequel' is the origin story of Prof X and Magneto, and some of the other X-Men. Before Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) took the names, Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were arch-enemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto's Brotherhood and Prof X's mutants.

Kevin Bacon and January Jones (as Emma Frost)

HITS & MISSES: Departing from the main plot of the comics, the new caper (created by Sheldon Turner and original X-Men director Bryan Singer and written by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz along with Jane Goldman and Vaughn), makes use of historical events like the Nazi concentration camp, the US-Soviet conflict and the Bay of Pigs incident to flesh out its story. The cinematography (by John Mathieson) is first class and Chris Seagers' production design is opulently detailed. Still, the best parts are the verbal and emotional tussles between Charles and Eric, between Eric and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and between Raven and Hank 'Beast' McCoy (Nicholas Hoult).

I am not one to glaze over the CGI effects but there are lots of them here to take our breath away - sans the gimmick of 3D glasses. Vaughn's yarn is fast-paced and it flips all over the globe so much so that the 130 minutes fly by without our glancing at our watches. There are many notable performances too, the top of which is Fassbender's (right). His rendition of Eric is captivating and 'magnetic'. Kevin Bacon lends the requisite evil touch with is portrayal of Sebastian Shaw and Rose Byrne has a small but effective role as a CIA agent. The most eye-catching role is Lawrence's Raven - a huge departure from her lead in Winter's Bone. Some complaints that X-Men fans may have is that many of the characters and subplots are underdeveloped and under-explored. Which basically leaves us looking forward to more!

THE LOWDOWN: A real classy prequel.

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