Wednesday, August 31, 2011

YOUR RAYA WEEKEND MOVIE PICK - 2-4 Sept 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO RAYA & WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) SACRIFICE (period drama in Mandarin with Ge You, Wang Xueqi, Fan Bing Bing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chiu, Zhang Fengyi and William Wang) Rated * * * (3 stars): Chen Kaige's third adaptation of a Chinese stage play deals with court intrigue, assassination, massacre and revenge. However, the revenge plot here is not your run-of-the-mill type. It involves elements worse than death, like familial bond, trust and then learning the truth about a tragic sacrifice. (Reviewed below)

b) THE SMURFS (live action cum animated comedy with Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Sofia Vergara) Rating * * (2 stars): This Smurfs movie unleashes the blue critters from their fantasy village into the streets of New York for some ruckus and mayhem. Like on the TV series, the Smufs are both adorable and annoying but the movie seldom rises above the level of childishness of Alvin And The Chipmunks. Mainly for kids who have been on a diet of Smurfs on TV.

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. CARS 2 (animated comedy with Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro and Bonnie Hunt) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): Highly energetic and action-packed, this sequel is even better than its predecessor. This time around, we find tow truck Mater (Larry) and his buddy Lightning McQueen (Wilson) going to Japan, Italy and England on a World Grand Prix tourney during which Mater is mistaken for an American spy. What I like about the movie is that its 'car-acters' are nicely developed with their own personalities, especially British newcomers Finn (Caine) and his sidekick Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer). (Reviewed below)

2. CONAN THE BARBARIAN (fantasy actioner with Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman and Leo Howard) Rated * * (2 stars): One thing to bear in mind is that there are lots of violence and nudity and a bit of sex in this movie, so you can expect our censors to have a field day with it. However, the much touted scene with Momoa's butt is uncut. Indeed, except for the gratuitous violence and a mundane mythical story, its strengths and weaknesses are similar to the 1982 film starring Arnie the Governator. (Reviewed below)

3. FINAL DESTINATION 5 (thriller with Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, P.J. Byrne and Ellen Wroe) Rated * * (2 stars): The first 10 minutes of the movie, featuring its premonition sequence, is gripping and nail-biting. However, what follows are just more of the same stuff which details how Death claims its victims in the most melodramatic ways. The 3D effects just make the CGI gimmicks more 'in-your-face'. (Reviewed below)

4. SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (kiddie comedy in 3D with Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): When Spy Kids 3 was released in 3D in 2003, it did not do so well and many people complained about the 3D effects giving them a headache. Worse, Sylvester Stallone earned a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance. This one is proffered in 4D - with a scratch-and-smell card to provide the sensation of scent by the number. This is a childish gimmick and it helps to distract us from the silly kids' stuff suitable only for those under five. (Reviewed below)


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SACRIFICE - Chen Kaige Back in Form

SACRIFICE (period drama in Mandarin)
Cast: Ge You, Wang Xueqi, Fan Bing Bing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chiu, Zhang Fengyi and William Wang
Director: Chen Kaige
Screenplay adapted from Chinese opera, Orphan of Zhao
Time: 122 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Zhang Fengyi, Hai Qing and Ge You in SACRIFICE

PREAMBLE: The big deal with this movie is that it is the work of Chen Kaige, a director famous for turning Chinese plays into cinema epics like Farewell My Concubine and Forever Enthralled. Sacrifice is adapted from a Yuan Dynasty opera, Orphan of Zhao. It was a box-office hit in China, staying at No. 1 for 16 days and earning US$27.7 million. This sum may seem paltry even by Chinese standards, but the movie should pique the interest of most Chinese cinema fans.

SYNOPSIS: Set in the Warring States period, the opening sequences show an excited Cheng Ying (played by the cool and talented Ge You) welcoming the birth of his son. As the court physician, Cheng Ying is also thrilled about delivering the child of General Zhao, whose wife Zhuangji (Fan Bing Bing) gives birth at a tragic time when the mutinous General Tuan Gu (Wang Xueqi) stages an elaborate assassination of his lord and pins the blame on General Zhao. This gives Tuan Gu the perfect excuse to wipe out the entire Zhao clan.

Fan Bing Bing and Ge You

However, the newborn Zhou prince - and heir to the throne - is placed in the care of Cheng Ying (Ge You), forcing Tuan Gu to order all babies in the city be rounded up as hostages. In a cruel twist of fate, Cheng's own baby is killed, and poor doctor is left to raise the Zhao boy, nicknamed Bo'er, as his own. As a form of revenge, Cheng schemes to have Bo'er become the godson of Tuan Gu so that he may one day learn the truth and claim the throne.

HITS & MISSES: The first half hour of the movie is totally riveting. The tale of Tuan Gu's betrayal is lavishly portrayed in detailed settings and sets. The assassination conspiracy is mind-bogglingly complicated, involving a killer dog, a poisonous insect and a case of harmless wine. These court intrigue scenes alternate with those involving Cheng and the birth of Zhuangji's baby, raising the movie's tempo and our pulses, culminating in Cheng's shocking 'sacrifice'.

Indeed, after this sort of build-up, what follows has to be somewhat of a lull. Still, director Chen Kaige tries to work up our anticipation with the 'revenge' plot involving Cheng, a rather mellowed Tuan Gu and the Zhao boy, Bo'er. The pace slackens a great deal here and it is Ge You's performance that keeps our minds from wandering off.

Chen keeps the revenge plot morally ambiguous (and not very convincing) but the sacrifice of one's son cuts deeply into China's audiences who have experienced the Government's one-child policy. Orphan of Zhao was a feudalistic propaganda that exalts loyalty to the aristocracy. Chen’s adaptation offers an interesting study on how fatherly love can be used as a tool for vengeance, to cultivate pain and regret.

THE LOWDOWN: Not Chen's best work, but highly watchable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

'The Help' Stays Strong at US Weekend B-O

AUG 29, 2011 - The Help seemed relatively unfazed by Hurricane Irene over the weekend, while the three new nationwide releases Colombiana, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Our Idiot Brother were blown away. The drama packed an estimated US$14.3 million, down just 28 percent from last weekend, lifting its total to US$96.6 million in 19 days, surpassing the final gross of Julie & Julia.

The weekend as a whole, though, was the second-slowest of the year so far, ahead of only Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 4-6), but business was poised to flounder, hurricane or no.

Colombiana was the most successful debut with an estimated $10.3 million on approximately 2,900 screens at 2,614 locations. On the bright side, it improved on the US$9.4 million first weekend of Zoe Saldana's last action turn in the ensemble The Losers as well as producer Luc Besson's last action movie, From Paris with Love (US$8.2 million), but it was otherwise tepid as late August action movies often are.

Last weekend's flops showed no traction. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World tumbled 51 percent to an estimated US$5.7 million for a paltry US$21.7 million sum in ten days. Conan the Barbarian crumbled 69 percent to an estimated US$3.1, mustering just $16.6 million in ten days. Fright Night bled 61 percent to an estimated US$3 million for an anaemic US$14.2 million tally in 10 days.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Aug 26-28, 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) The Help (Buena Vista) $14.3 million ($96.6 mil) 3

2. (-) Colombiana (TriStar) $10.3 million ($10.3 mil) 1

3. (-) Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (FilmDistrict) $8.7 million ($8.7 mil) 1

4. (2) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $8.7 million ($148.5 mil) 4

5. (-) Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein Company) $6.6 million ($6.6 mil) 1


Thursday, August 25, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Aug 26 - 28, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

Wishing Muslim Readers Selamat Aidilfitri and drive safely

NEW THIS WEEK

a) CARS 2 (animated comedy with Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro and Bonnie Hunt) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): Highly energetic and action-packed, this sequel is even better than its predecessor. This time around, we find tow truck Mater (Larry) and his buddy Lightning McQueen (Wilson) going to Japan, Italy and England on a World Grand Prix tourney during which Mater is mistaken for an American spy. What I like about the movie is that its 'car-acters' are nicely developed with their own personalities, especially British newcomers Agent Finn (Caine) and his sidekick Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer). (Reviewed below)

b) CONAN THE BARBARIAN (fantasy actioner with Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman and Leo Howard) Rated * * (2 stars): One thing to bear in mind is that there are lots of violence and nudity and a bit of sex in this movie, so you can expect our censors to have a field day with it. However, the much touted scene with Momoa's butt is uncut. Indeed, except for the gratuitous violence and a mundane mythical story, its strengths and weaknesses are similar to the 1982 film starring the Governator Arnie. (Reviewed below)

c) FINAL DESTINATION 5 (thriller with Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, P.J. Byrne and Ellen Wroe) Rated * * (2 stars): The first 10 minutes of the movie, featuring its premonition sequence, is gripping and nail-biting. However, what follows are just more of the same stuff which details how Death claims its victims in the most melodramatic and incredulous ways. The 3D effects just make the CGI gimmicks more 'in-your-face'. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. GLEE THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE (concert musical with Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, Darren Criss, Chord Overstreet, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling and Gwyneth Palthrow) Rated * * * (3 stars): If you are a Gleek (or Glee fan) you are gonna rock to this movie. The performances, filmed over two days at the Glee Live! In Concert! events at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, include some of the show’s most memorable numbers, like I’m a Slave 4 U, Raise Your Glass, Teenage Dream, and Lucky, as well as the original songs that became chart-toppers such as Loser Like Me, and of course, the show’s anthem, Don’t Stop Believin. And if you don't know what the hell is Glee, you will come to understand how the TV show has changed the lives of some of its fans. (Reviewed below)

2. COWBOYS & ALIENS (western and sci-fi thriller with Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford,Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera and Noah Ringer) Rated * * * (3 stars): Aliens invade a cowboy town in New Mexico! That's all there is to the plot but the fun is in the blend of these two genres that stir up our curiosity and wonder. Craig is back in his silent hero/gunslinger mode; Wilde is still smouldering hot but Ford appears to be past his prime, sporting his standard sneer throughout the film. (Reviewed below)

3. HORRIBLE BOSSES (comedy with Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx) Rated * * (2 stars): This comedy, about three guys who come up with an idea to have their horrible bosses killed, leans too much on the illogical and sometimes even insulting our imagination. It is fun watching A-list stars like Spacey, Farrell, Aniston and Foxx playing offbeat characters but many of the scenes are just too ridiculous to stomach. And the situation is made worse by the many censorship cuts. (Reviewed below)

4. ZOOKEEPER (romantic comedy with Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg and Joe Rogan and voices of Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau) Rated * * (2 stars): Written by no less than five guys, this clunky comedy seems to have been the result of the proverbial 'too many cooks'. The main plot about the relationship between a zookeeper (James) and a sexy model (Bibb) is highly implausible to start with, and sequences of talking animals are just not as hilarious as they should be. Throw in a clownish Ken Jeong and the movie goes further south. (Reviewed below)

5. SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (kiddie comedy in 3D with Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): When Spy Kids 3 was released in 3D in 2003, it did not do so well and many people complained about the 3D effects giving them a headache. Worse, Sylvester Stallone earned a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance. This one is proffered in 4D - with a scratch-and-smell card to provide the sensation of scent by the number. This is a childish gimmick and it helps to distract us from the silly kids' stuff suitable only for those under five. (Reviewed below)

FINAL DESTINATION 5 - More Tussles With Death

FINAL DESTINATION 5 (thriller in 3D)
Cast: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, P.J. Byrne and Ellen Wroe
Director: Steven Quale
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer and Jeffrey Reddick
Time: 92 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Emma Bell, Nicholas D'Agosto and Miles Fisher in FD5

PREAMBLE: This is one review that can have no spoilers no matter what I reveal. This is because from the title, you will know that everyone who cheats Death gets killed. And it is the aim of the movie to conjure and design their deaths in the most horrific ways. And yes, FD5 also has an intriguing concept for the affected victim to escape his or her turn.

SYNOPSIS: While travelling on a bus to a company retreat, Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a startling vision of a bridge collapsing, with each of his friends and colleagues meeting gruesome deaths. Snapping out of his nightmarish reverie, Sam herds those around him to safety - just before the bridge collapses in line with his premonition. While at the funeral of a colleague, some guy in a suit (Tony Todd) tells Sam what everyone in the audience knows - that "Death doesn't like to be cheated".

Thereafter, Sam and his girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) learn that one by one, the survivors die tragic deaths, and Sam knows he will be next.

Jacqueline MacInnes Wood as Olivia

HITS & MISSES: The main offering of the FD franchise are sequences of how gruesome and gory the freakish deaths can get. In this instalment, the first 10 minutes of the opening are riveting. After that, it is all the same old schtick. So if you are one who likes to watch such horrors, FD5 should be your cup of tea, aided by the latest CGI effects and 3D glasses. Yes, the 3D provides the sense of stuff protruding and even flying into your face. Indeed, these choreographed horrors seem to be the film-makers main concern that nothing substantial is done to develop the characters or make them likable.

The cast of 'survivors', including corporate climber Peter (Miles Fisher), bespectacled beauty Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), gymnast Candice (Ellen Wroe), plant foreman Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), skirt-chaser Isaac (P.J. Byrne) and sleazy boss Dennis (David Koechner), are after all 'dead meat' and we are not made to care for them. In some cases, we may even cheer for their demise. Somehow, director Steven Quale sees it fit to show the gory recaps of previous instalments with the closing credits, giving us a feeling of how tired and tiresome the Final Destination series have become over the decade.

THE LOWDOWN: Mainly for those who stop and stare at road accidents.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CONAN THE BARBARIAN - Violent and Irrelevant

CONAN THE BARBARIAN (fantasy actioner)
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman and Leo Howard
Director: Marcus Nispel
Screenplay: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood, based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Jason Momoa and Rachel Nicols as Conan and Tamara

PREAMBLE: This Conan the Barbarian reboot is more like the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand than the 1982 film starring Arnie Schwarzenegger or the original story by Robert E. Howard. Working on a new 'origin story', director Marcus Nispel almost drowns viewers in a whirlpool of violence, gore and smut effects.

Yes, the uncut version shows plenty of brutality and nudity - but thankfully that celebrated scene of Jason Momoa's bare behind remains intact for Malaysian audiences. You guessed it: many people will be waiting for the DVD version.

SYNOPSIS: While most newborns get their first taste of milk from their mother, infant Conan reportedly gets his first taste of blood from his mother. Brought up by his father Corin (Ron Perlman) in a small Cimmerian village, the Barbarian boy (played by Leo Howard) learns the art of killing and hunting.

When his entire village is destroyed by warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar’s Stephen Lang) and his witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), Conan swears revenge (what else?). This vengeance trail takes Conan (now played by Momoa) to a slave village and later a monastery where he rescues Pure-Blood priestess Tamara (Rachel Nichols, pic, left) from Khalar Zym's henchmen. Tamara is sought by Zym because her blood is needed for a ritual to resurrect his sorceress wife.

HITS & MISSES: Basically this version has the same strengths and weaknesses as the 1982 film. Like that Austrian muscleman Arnie, Momoa the Hawaiian (who starred in TV's Game Of Thrones) is well-built and pleasant to the eyes. However, like Arnie's Conan, his too cannot and does not 'connect' emotionally with the audience. His Conan remains a two-dimensional character - even in 3-D - because we do not, even for a moment, feel that he is ever in danger, especially when, as a youth, he single-handedly lobs off the heads of four enemy warriors.

This Conan's personal mantra, "I live, I love, I slay and I am content", is appropriately campy and borders on the comical. Indeed, Nispel's scenes work best when they are self-deprecating and comical. The sequence with the sand-men is a good example. Like the rest of the movie, the fighting sequences are ostensibly violent but emotionally detached, leaving us numbed in a blurry mess of action. The same detachment also applies to the roles of Lang and McGowan whose Marique (above) looks more like a Lady Gaga impersonator than a Dominatrix with iron claws. Remakes and reboots should aim to be better than the predecessor.

THE LOWDOWN: This is just a flash (and flesh) in the box-office pan.

Monday, August 22, 2011

CARS 2 - Another Winner for Pixar

CARS 2 (animated adventure in 3D)
Cast (voices): Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro and Bonnie Hunt
Director: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
Screenplay: Ben Queen
Time: 105 mins mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Finn, Mater and McQueen in Tokyo

PREAMBLE: After watching the utterly childish and shallow Spy Kids: All The Time in the World, Cars 2 comes as an inspiring and refreshing change. The folks at Pixar have always been both creative and wacky - and these elements come to the fore in Cars 2. It is a movie that will not only delight the kids but will also dazzle the grown-ups.


SYNOPSIS: As usual, before we get to the main feature, Pixar serves up a little appetiser in the form of a Toy Story short about Ken and Barbie's 'Hawaiian Holiday'. And after the seven-minute 'quickie', we plunge into the 60's-styled espionage setting as British agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine, voicing for an Aston Martin) infiltrates and records some night time events at an oil rig. The main plot involves Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) being 'persuaded' by his tow truck buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) to compete in the World Grand Prix, a tripartite tournament across Japan, Italy and London, to test a new fuel created by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard).

In Japan, Mater is mistaken by Finn and his sidekick Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) for an American agent and he gets embroiled in a hunt for a camera with hidden powers.


HITS & MISSES: Cars 2 is not only an improvement on the original, it brings new life to the 'cars with human personalities' animation concept. And true to its Formula One racing subplot, director John Lasseter and his team keep their feet on the accelerator, revving up the action into almost a frenzy and adding on some of the most visually inspiring sights. While the first movie is centred around American cars and the iconic Route 66, Cars 2 takes on an international flavour with an eco-saving theme about alternative energy. It entertains the kids and keeps the adults thinking as well.

The espionage plot isn't as complex as a spy story should be but then it should be obvious that the plot is not the main attraction for the viewers. The big deal are the visual treats, the clever puns and gags 'embedded' in the animation. These are enhanced by the 3D effects but they should work just as well for 2D. The 'car-acters' are nicely rendered (thanks to an accomplished voice cast like Caine and Mortimer) and cities like Tokyo, Rome and London, are pictured in all their historical and neon glory.

THE LOWDOWN: I see this one as a 'collector's item' - destined for the DVD shelf when the Blue-Ray issue arrives.

'The Help' Moves Up to Top Spot at US B-O

'Spy Kids 4', 'Conan' and 'Fright Night' dusted away

AUG 22, 2011 - It was a box-office bloodbath for Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night among other releases over the weekend. On the bright side, The Help climbed to the top spot, due to a combination of a strong hold and those weak new releases, while Rise of the Planet of the Apes took second.

The Help eased 21 percent to an estimated US$20.5 million, lifting its total to US$71.8 million in 12 days. It marked the first time since early January that a movie has risen to No. 1 after previously debuting lower. The last instance was True Grit, but the more thematically comparable The Blind Side also did it. The Help has dusted Julie & Julia and Eat Pray Love, the past female-driven August book adaptations that inspired its release, by a wide margin.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, mustered just US$12 million on about 4,400 screens at 3,295 locations. It's the worst-performing Spy Kids movie by far, grossing a little over a third of the last one, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (and trailing even further in attendance). It even fell short of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore from last summer. Conan the Barbarian went the way of past August fantasy action movies and flopped hard, grabbing less interest than even The 13th Warrior.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Aug 19-21, 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. (2) The Help (Buena Vista) $20.5 million ($71.8 million) 2

2. (1) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $16.3 million ($133.8 mil) 3

3. (-) Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Dimension) $12.0 million ($12.0 mil) 1

4. (-) Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate) $10.0 million ($10.0 million) 1

5. (4) The Smurfs (Sony / Columbia) $8.0 million ($117.7 million) 4

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Aug 19-21, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) GLEE THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE (concert musical with Diana Agron, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, Darren Criss, Chord Overstreet, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling and Gwyneth Paltrow) Rated * * * (3 stars): If you are a Gleek (Glee fan) you are gonna rock to this movie. The performances, filmed over two days at the Glee Live! In Concert! events at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, include some of the show’s most memorable numbers, like I’m a Slave 4 U, Raise Your Glass, Teenage Dream, and Lucky, as well as the original songs that became chart-toppers such as “Loser Like Me,” and of course, the show’s anthem, Don’t Stop Believin’. And if you don't know what the hell is Glee, you will come to understand how the TV show has changed the lives of some of its fans. (Reviewed below)

b) SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (kiddie comedy in 3D with Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): When Spy Kids 3 was released in 3D in 2003, it did not do so well and many people complained about the 3D effects giving them a headache. Worse, Sylvester Stallone earned a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance. This one is proffered in 4D - with a scratch-and-smell card to provide the sensation of scent by the number. This is a childish gimmick and it helps to distract us from the silly kids' stuff suitable only for those under five. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (fantasy adventure with Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): Coming after The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, Captain America is a lot more entertaining than Green Lantern and even the critically-acclaimed Thor! Thanks to the wonderful performances by the leads, as well as Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci; to a gradually built up romance between Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell's agent Peggy Carter; and to the old-style Saturday matinee look and feel that director Joe Johnston provides. Remember to stay back during the closing credits for a glimpse of what The Avengers has to offer next year. (Reviewed below)

2. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (sci-fi thriller with James Franco, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, David Hewlett, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson and Jamie Harris) Rated * * * (3 stars): This is not a remake but a reboot of the Planet Of The Apes franchise based on the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle. Set in modern-day 'Frisco, the movie follows the adventures of Caesar (played by Serkis), a highly intelligent primate brought up by a genetic scientist (Franco). As an origin film, it details the start of the Ape Revolution and the roles Caesar and his friends play in transforming the face of our planet. (Reviewed below)

3. COWBOYS & ALIENS (western and sci-fi thriller with Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford,Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera and Noah Ringer) Rated * * * (3 stars): Aliens invade a cowboy town in New Mexico! That's all there is to the plot but the fun is in the blend of these two genres that stir up our curiosity and wonder. Craig is back in his silent hero/gunslinger mode; Wilde is still smouldering hot but Ford appears to be past his prime, sporting his standard sneer throughout the film. (Reviewed below)

4. HORRIBLE BOSSES (comedy with Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx) Rated * * (2 stars): This comedy, about three guys who come up with an idea to have their horrible bosses killed, leans too much on the illogical and sometimes even insulting our imagination. It is fun watching A-list stars like Spacey, Farrell, Aniston and Foxx playing offbeat characters but many of the scenes are just too ridiculous to stomach. And the situation is made worse by the many censorship cuts. (Reviewed below)

5. ZOOKEEPER (romantic comedy with Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg and Joe Rogan and voices of Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau) Rated * * (2 stars): Written by no less than five guys, this cluncky comedy seems to have been the result of the proverbial 'too many cooks'. The main plot about the relationship between a zookeeper (James) and a sexy model (Bibb) is highly implausible to start with, and sequences of talking animals are just not as hilarious as they should be. Throw in a clownish Ken Jeong and the movie goes further south. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD - Juvenile Indulgence

SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (kiddie comedy)
Cast: Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Robert Rodriguez
Time: 84 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

SPY TOYS: Mason Cook and Alexa Vega as Cecil and Carmen

PREAMBLE: I have often said that in order to enjoy mindless movies like Transformers, we should "leave our brains at the door of the cineplex". Well, in order to enjoy this Spy Kids sequel, we need to work harder; we have to lower our IQ to the level of four-year olds! 'Mindlessness' doesn't quite cut it, it is juvenile indulgence, meaning, it is only for kids below five.

And if you have been following the cinema ads and promos, you would know that this movie comes in 4D - with the added dimension of 'smell'. For that, viewers are given a numbered card (called Aroma-Scope) so that they can scratch-and-smell when the number appears on the screen. This is a childish gimmick for the kids and for adults, it is more of a nuisance because the scents are faint and the exercise distracts us from the action on the screen. Although there are many fart and poop scenes, the Aroma-Scope only provides scents of chewing gum and other edible stuff (thank goodness for that). History has told us that all smell-o-vision gimmicks mostly stink.

Rowan Blanchard as Rebecca Wilson

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba) is such a dedicated spy that even when she is nine months pregnant, she manages to take down notorious villain Tick Tock (Jeremy Piven) before going into labour and retiring from her spy duties. Her aim is to devote all her time to her newborn and her stepkids, Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook) and hubby Wilbur (Joey McHale).

Soon, however, she may not have that much time. One year later, Tick Tock and accomplice, The Timekeeper (also Piven), are back at their attempt to rob the world of 'time' - and Rebecca, Cecil and their 'guard dog' Argonaut (voice of Ricky Gervais) must save the world (what else?). Also, they team up with Marissa's niece and nephew, Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara reprising their former Spy Kids roles) to make this mission a family reunion of sorts.

HITS & MISSES: Writer-director Robert Rodriguez seems to be milking the same old cinema-script cow, urging parents to spend more time with their kids. This 'message' has been used by almost all family movies throughout the decade. The time-theft and time-travel conceits can be puzzling to children even if they allow Rodriguez to make use of all sorts of time-related gags. Of course, Rodriguez cannot resist the poop and fart gags, as well as throwing food all over the place. These, I understand, are the laugh-out-loud staple for American kids below five.

Among the cast, Blanchard and Cook are suitably cute and effective as the new title characters. Bringing back former Spy Kids, Vega and Sabara, is a good idea, adding a nostalgic touch for parents in the audience. Ditto that for Danny Trejo's short cameo as Uncle Machete. However, the irony of Daddy Wilbur being a 'Spycatcher' on TV is lost on the kids and scores no points with the adults.

As for Jessica Alba (as Marissa the younger sister to Antonio Bandera's character), she provides the main box-office lure to the movie, nothing more.

THE LOWDOWN: Only for those with young kids.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

GLEE THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE - Watch It and Try Not to Tap Your Feet

GLEE THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE (concert musical)
Cast: Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, Darren Criss, Chord Overstreet, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling and Gwyneth Palthrow
Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Time: 118 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

The Glee cast with their personal quirks emblazoned on T-shirt

PREAMBLE: I unabashedly proclaim that I am a Gleek. Have been since I caught the first season (2009) of the TV series in the US. And for once, I am grateful that this concert film is shot in 3D. That way, we get the feel and the pleasure and 'pressure' of 'being there' at the high-energy concert.

Now, if you followed the exploits of the Glee Club on TV, you are going to enjoy watching them perform on stage. And as for the movie's dismal weekend opening (at 11th place with only US$5.9 million), I put the blame squarely on Sue Sylvester who told people to "Please, save your money. This thing sucks!"


WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The movie is a blend of concert footage from the Glee Live! In Concert tour, interviews with fans (or Gleeks) and backstage snippets with the performers who remain in character. The performances, filmed over two days at the Glee Live! In Concert! events at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, include some of the show’s most memorable numbers, like I’m a Slave 4 U, Raise Your Glass, Teenage Dream, and Lucky, as well as the original songs that became chart-toppers such as “Loser Like Me,” and of course, the show’s anthem, Don’t Stop Believin’.

Unlike in the trailers and stage shows, the snippets with teachers Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) have been cut. Gwyneth Paltrow, who guests on the show as substitute teacher Holly Holliday, has a surprise number, strutting Cee Lo Green's 'Forget You.'


HITS & MISSES: The youngsters, especially Lea Michele (as Rachel, singing Barbra Streisand songs), Amber Riley (Mercedes, doing a soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way”) and Darren Criss (as Blaine, rendering 'Teenage Dream') are pitch-perfect and mesmerising. However, the one performance that is worth the price of the ticket is Heather (Britanny) Morris's 'I'm A Slave 4 U'. Her version (pictured above) is even more eye-popping than the original by Britney Spears.

In his interviews with fans, director Kevin Tancharoen wants to show how the TV series has inspired and empowered the underdog and people who are 'different' to take better charge of their lives. Personally, I don't care much for these 'feel good' lulls between the musical numbers but there is one that stole the show. It is of a little boy doing an imitation of Blaine in one of his numbers. Boy, he is so good that Tancharoen ends the movie with the tyke dancing gleefully in front of the TV.

THE LOWDOWN: Watch this and try not to tap your feet or rock your body!

Monday, August 15, 2011

'Apes' Rule Again at US Weekend B-O

AUG 15, 2011 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes fended off an onslaught of four new nationwide releases to top the weekend box office again. The Help won the debut dust-up, blind-siding a tepid Final Destination 5, while 30 Minutes or Less and Glee The 3D Concert Movie floundered.

Descending 50 percent, Rise of the Planet of the Apes collected an estimated US$27.5 million. Though steep, the sci-fi thriller's second weekend slide was less severe than Planet of the Apes (2001), I, Robot, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and X-Men: First Class, among comparable titles. With a US$104.9 million haul in 10 days, Rise is tracking ahead of fellow 20th Century Fox prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class (US$98 million) and has out-grossed most of its key comps through the same point.

In third place, death started to grip the Final Destination franchise, which saw one of its sequels open lower than its predecessors for the first time. Final Destination 5 drew an estimated US$18.4 million on close to 4,600 screens at 3,155 locations. Meanwhile, few believed in Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, which ranked 11th with an estimated US$5.7 million at 2,040 3D locations. That was far worse than even Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (US$12.5 million) among comparable titles.

Cowboys & Aliens is in 6th place with US$7.6 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Aug 12 - 14, 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) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $27.5 million ($104.8 million) 2

2. (-) The Help (BV) $25.5 million ($35.3 million) 1

3. (-) Final Destination 5 (WB) $18.4 million ($18.4 million) 1

4. (2) The Smurfs (Sony) $13.5 million ($101.5 million) 3

5. (-) 30 Minutes or Less (Sony) $13.0 million ($13.0 million) 1


Thursday, August 11, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Aug 12 - 14, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) COWBOYS & ALIENS (western and sci-fi thriller with Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford,Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera and Noah Ringer) Rated * * * (3 stars): Aliens invade a cowboy town in New Mexico! That's all there is to the plot but the fun is in the blend of these two genres that stir up our curiosity and wonder. Craig is back in his silent hero/gunslinger mode; Wilde is still smouldering hot but Ford appears to be past his prime, sporting his standard sneer throughout the film. (Reviewed below)

b) HORRIBLE BOSSES (comedy with Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx) Rated * * (2 stars): This comedy, about three guys who come up with an idea to have their horrible bosses killed, leans too much on the illogical and sometimes even insulting our imagination. It is fun watching A-list stars like Spacey, Farrell, Aniston and Foxx playing offbeat characters but many of the scenes are just too ridiculous to stomach. And the situation is made worse by the many censorship cuts. (Reviewed below)

c) ZOOKEEPER (romantic comedy with Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg and Joe Rogan and voices of Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau) Rated * * (2 stars): Written by no less than five guys, this cluncky comedy seems to have been the result of the proverbial 'too many cooks'. The main plot about the relationship between a zookeeper (James) and a sexy model (Bibb) is highly implausible to start with, and sequences of talking animals are just not as hilarious as they should be. Throw in a clownish Ken Jeong and the movie goes further south. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (fantasy adventure with Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): Coming after The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, Captain America is a lot more entertaining than Green Lantern and even the critically-acclaimed Thor! Thanks to the wonderful performances by the leads, as well as Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci; to a gradually built up romance between Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell's agent Peggy Carter; and to the old-style Saturday matinee look and feel that director Joe Johnston provides. Remember to stay back during the closing credits for a glimpse of what The Avengers has to offer next year. (Reviewed below)

2. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (sci-fi thriller with James Franco, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, David Hewlett, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson and Jamie Harris) Rated * * * (3 stars): This is not a remake but a reboot of the Planet Of The Apes franchise based on the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle. Set in modern-day 'Frisco, the movie follows the adventures of Caesar (played by Serkis), a highly intelligent primate brought up by a genetic scientist (Franco). As an origin film, it details the start of the Ape Revolution and the roles Caesar and his friends play in transforming the face of our planet. (Reviewed below)

3. THE HANGOVER 2 (comedy with Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Jamie Chung, Justin Bartha, Tanner Maguire, Ken Jeong, Todd Phillips and Mike Tyson) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): It is merely a repeat of the same shit - albeit in a different venue. Instead of Vegas, the 'crazy shit' shifts to Thailand where the three Wolf Pack members (Cooper, Galifianakis and Helms) grapple with a body, a bloody finger, angry monks and a drug peddling monkey. It is deja vu right from the start but the movie gets more tolerable as it progresses. (Reviewed below)

4. THE LOAN SHARK (local drama in Cantonese with Sam Lee, Jojo Goh, Eddie Cheung, Irene Wan, Lam Suet, Fung Hak-On and Yuka Dai) Rated * * (2 stars): A rather unevenly executed movie about the scourge of illegal moneylenders in Kuala Lumpur. Sam Lee and Jojo Goh play siblings caught in the clutches of the loan sharks, while MCA Public Service and Complaints Department chief Datuk Michael Chong has a cameo doing what he does best. There are some obligatory fight scenes and stunts but the 'action' is mostly about beer bottles being thrown or cracked repetitively on someone's head. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

COWBOYS & ALIENS - Fusion Cinema

COWBOYS & ALIENS (mixed genre thriller)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford,Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera and Noah Ringer
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby and Steve Oedekerk based on the comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Time: 118 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

A UFO crashes into a cowboy town

PREAMBLE: Fusion food seems to be the rage these days, judging by the crowd at such restaurants. It is time they come up with 'fusion cinema' and you get a taste of it with Cowboys & Aliens - a mix of the Western and Sci-fi Horror genres.

To be sure, this one is a blend of a mediocre cowboy flick with a derivative outer space thriller (of Alien, Predators, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, to name just a few) but the result is an entertaining mishmash that does not take itself seriously. Directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau Cowboys & Aliens is therefore for those who do not take such nonsense seriously.

JONES AND BOND? Ford and Craig

SYNOPSIS: A craggy cowboy (Daniel Craig) awakes in the New Mexico desert and finds that he has no memory of how he got a bloody wound on his side and a metal bracelet on his wrist. A faded photograph of a woman provides some sense of connection to a recent past but he still cannot remember anything, not even his own name.

When he gets to a dusty town aptly named Absolution, he has his wound fixed by a kind preacher (Clancy Brown) and encounters some unsavoury types the likes of Ella (Olivia Wilde), a woman who stalks him, seeking information; Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the spoilt brat son of grumpy cattle-baron Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and a no-nonsense sheriff (Keith Carradine) and his grandson (Noah Ringer).

And as soon as the dramatis personae are introduced, the UFOs arrive and the mayhem starts. What's happening isn't important; the fact that it is happening is!

HITS & MISSES: Favreau cleverly targets our interest on Craig's mysterious character - and reveals bits and pieces of the puzzle as the movie goes along. He does the same for the alien monsters - we gradually see more and more of them until it feels like Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

Favreau also has a wink to Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western in the way the characters are written - and performed. Craig is the silent hero, Wilde the mystery woman, and then there is the faithful native American played by Adam Beach as Col. Dolarhyde's foreman; the peace-loving salon-keeper (Sam Rockwell) and his Mexican wife (Ana de la Reguera) - all fleshing out their role credibly, except for Ford who goes through the entire movie sporting his signature sneer. While Craig still has his Bond-like looks and charm, Ford has lost his Hans Solo and Indy Jones allure. Wilde (left), of course, is just as captivating and enigmatic as she was in Tron.

THE LOWDOWN: Brace yourself for more of such hybrid or 'rojak' films.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

ZOOKEEPER - Tame and Predictable

ZOOKEEPER (fantasy comedy)
Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg and Joe Rogan
Voices: Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau,
Director: Frank Coraci
Screenplay by Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick and David Ronn
Time: 101 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Kevin James and Leslie Bibb in ZOOKEEPER

PREAMBLE: Looking at the list of writers of this movie, one is tempted to blame this clunky comedy on the number of cooks that spoiled the broth. The Dr Doolittle caper with talking zoo animals is meant to be a fun and hilarious entertainment for the family but the comedy is so strained and predictable that few would find it fun or funny.

Movies about talking critters are now a dime-a-dozen and here, the furry cast are not as riotious as those of, say, Madagascar.
Ken Jeong, James and Rosario Dawson

SYNOPSIS: Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is a caretaker at the Franklin Park Zoo and the animals there adore him. However, when he gets a second chance at making it with his supermodel girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), he decides to quit his gritty zoo job for a more glamorous one. When they learn of his decision, the animals decide to break their time-honoured code of silence and reveal their biggest secret: they can talk! To keep Griffin from leaving, they each teach him their own rules of courtship - of the animal world.

HITS & MISSES: There wasn't much laughter at the media screening I attended. There may have been a few sniggers but I can remember many cringe-worthy moments when the film-makers try to sell us highly implausible scenarios, the chief of which is how a bumbling zoo guy can even get the attention of a hot and sociable model like Stephanie. I would gladly believe that animals can speak English than in that sort of mismatched relationship.

Things get better when the animals start talking. They are played by a formidable voice cast including Nick Nolte as a grouchy gorilla, Sylvester Stallone and Cher as a pair of bickering lions, and Adam Sandler as a cheeky monkey. I like the part where Griffin takes his gorilla friend Bernie for a night out at TGI Friday (above), and of course the plot-turn sequence of the wedding dinner where we get to confirm what we have been suspecting all along regarding Griffin's relationship with his veterinarian colleague Kate (Rosario Dawson).

Director Frank Coraci (Sandler's pal who made The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer) fails to further exploit the comedy of the chattering animals. Instead he goes for the clownish appeal of Ken Jeong (as a reptile care-giver) who never fails to overact his role.

THE LOWDOWN: I like James in the 2009 comedy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but he is just a caricature here.