Thursday, September 29, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) DRIVE (romance/crime thriller with Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): It is a combination of a crime thriller, a revenge caper and a love story - and it looks like a movie that Quentin Tarantino would make. However, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn keeps us enthralled with its unpredictable story and lead character played by Gosling. There is also a palpable screen chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan - as neighbours who befriend each other and gradually develop a relationship. A rare treat. (Reviewed below)

b) DREAM HOUSE (psychological thriller with Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Claire Geare, Taylor Geare, Rachel G. Fox, Mark Wilson, Jonathan Potts and Lynne Griffin) Rated * * * (3 stars): It takes a while to get used to seeing Bond star Craig as a loving father and hubby in his 'dream house'. However, all these gradually dissipates when we unravel the murder mystery in this suspense thriller. Besides Craig, Weisz is both charming and sexy as the wife, while Watts provides the requisite enigma as the neighbour who may have the answer to the murders. (Reviewed below)


c) KILLER ELITE (action thriller with Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Grant Bowler, Michael Dorman, Ben Mendelsohn and Aden Young) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Claiming to be based on a true story, this one seems too far-fetched to be a slice of real-life. What it really is is a Statham staple - with chases, shootouts and punch-ups every few minutes. What's more, we have Owen and De Niro providing well-needed support as rival and friend respectively. (Reviewed below)

d) THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (fantasy tale with Jet Li, Eva Huang Sheng Yi, Raymond Lam Fung, Charlene Choi, Wen Zhang, Vivian Hsu, Miriam Yeung, Lam Suet and Chapman To) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Basically, this is yet another rendition of the Madam White Snake myth with Jet Li providing the star attraction as the sorcerer monk. The other attraction is of course the CGI effects of snakes and bats - but they are more tacky and childish than scary. What's more there is also an 'animal farm' show with Miriam Yeung, Lam Suet and Chapman To playing kiddie characters like chicken, rabbit, mice and tortoise. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:


1. FRIGHT NIGHT (horror spoof with Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, Imogen Poots and Toni Collette) Rating * * * (3 stars): This remake of the 1985 horror-comedy is actually better than the original, with a good mix of laughs and scares. Why, it even takes pot-shots at the Twilight flicks, claiming that real vampires are nothing like the sissy types played by Robert Pattinson. Now, any movie that takes a swipe at Twilight is okay by me. What's more, Farrell proves he can do comedy and get away with it.

b) WARRIOR (martial arts drama with Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison and Kevin Dunn) Rating: * * * (3 stars): This one deals with the Mixed Martial Arts tournaments but you don't really need to know what the MMA is about. Like Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter, Warriors is about how two brothers Tom and Brendan Conlon (Hardy and Edgerton) and their father Paddy (Nolte) are caught in the dark conflicts of the human heart. They must fight for a living, culminating in a winner-takes-all match in Atlantic City.

3. JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (comedy spoof with Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff and Ben Miller) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Those who like the childish antics of Mr Bean will be laughing at Atkinson's Johnny English. However, those who want something new and witty in terms of gags and plot will not find any here. The best laughs are those shown in the trailers - and what we have left is a predictable and inane story about an assassination plot against a Chinese premier - for dubious reasons. It's nice to watch Anderson, Pike and newcomer Kaluuya, though. (Reviewed below)

4. ABDUCTION (mystery drama with Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, Antonique Smith and Denzel Whitaker) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Aimed at screaming female fans of Twilight, Abduction is just a showcase for Lautner to show off his abs at the slightest excuse - since he has no acting talents to display. And despite the big names like Weaver, Nyqvist and Molina, the movie stinks. The plot is lame and even though there's no vampire here, the dialogue sucks. (Reviewed below)

KILLER ELITE - A Statham Staple

KILLER ELITE (action thriller)
Cast: Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Grant Bowler, Michael Dorman, Ben Mendelsohn and Aden Young
Director: Gary McKendry
Screenplay by Matt Sherring, inspired by the book The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes.
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Statham and De Niro as Danny and Hunter

PREAMBLE: Whenever a movie claims to be "based on a true story", you can be sure that it is going to be so far-fetched the film-makers need to assure audiences that it truly happened. And that is how it is with Killer Elite which was inspired by Ranulph Fiennes' book titled The Feather Men published in 1991.

What really happened was that the book was so controversial that Fiennes also claimed it was 'factional' (part fact and part fiction) on the alleged involvement of Britain's SAS (Special Air Services) in Oman to halt the spread of communism in the Middle East. In this film, it is easy to determine the fictional parts.

SYNOPSIS: After a hit-job goes terribly wrong in Mexico in the 1980s, mercenary Danny (Jason Statham) informs his mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) that he wants to call it a day - and he retires on a farm in the Australian bush with his girlfriend (Yvonne Stahovski, left). Soon after, he gets word that Hunter has been kidnapped by an Omani sheikh (Rodney Afif) who will only release him if Danny does a little contract work for him.

The ailing sheikh wants revenge, he wants Danny to wipe out a bunch of SAS commandos who killed his sons! For this, Danny has to travel to London, Paris, and wherever in pursuit of those retired soldiers. He is in turn pursued up the so-called British Feather Men led by Spike (Clive Owen) who is as dogged and ruthless as they come.


HITS & MISSES: Based on real-life or not, Killer Elite is basically a Jason Statham vehicle like Transporter and Crank. It definitely feels like one, with chases, shoot-outs and punch-ups every few minutes or so. Statham's lone tough guy demeanour does not win him any credit as a talented actor and he needs lots of support. Besides De Niro, we have Owen playing another 'loose cannon' to pit against Statham's. Indeed, the touted showdowns between Statham and Owen (above) seem to be the main attractions of the movie.

Director Gary McKendry's action sequences can be rather repetitious and tedious but I appreciate the care and details he and his crew have put in to set the Eighties time frame and Cold War facade. Acting-wise, Statham is Statham, no matter who he plays. No one in the audience would feel that he is in any danger, given his expressionless performance. However, Owen makes a memorable 'Feather Man', complete with a 'bad eye' and a perpetual snarl. De Niro has only a few scenes but he shines in all of them as a veteran hit man.

THE LOWDOWN: All in all, Killer Elite has enough action to sustain our interest but it lacks a 'purpose' or a back story to provide that wow factor.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE - CGI Display

THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (fantasy romance in Cantonese)
Cast: Jet Li, Eva Huang Sheng Yi, Raymond Lam Fung, Charlene Choi, Wen Zhang, Vivian Hsu, Miriam Yeung, Lam Suet and Chapman To
Director: Tony Chin Siu-Tung
Screenplay by Zhang Tan, Tsan Kan-cheong and Szeto Cheuk-hon
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Jet Li as The Sorcerer and Eva Huang as White Snake

PREAMBLE: This is another adaptation of the White Snake myth of forbidden love between humans and demons but the good news is that it is hyped up with so much CGI wizardry that it looks almost like an Avatar clone, complete with copious amounts of 'wire-fu'. However, the bad news is that director Tony Chin sees it fit to keep the film's IQ at kiddie level with talking mice and clownish rabbits.

What's more is that Jet Li, obviously the star attraction here, is caught in a difficult position, having to mouth silly lines and perform unintentionally funny stunts instead of actual kungfu.


SYNOPSIS: Like in A Chinese Ghost Story, we have a tale of young herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) and a thousand-year-old snake demon (played by Eva Huang Shengyi, above, with Lam). It all starts with an underwater kiss with which the sexy snake incarnate rescues the hapless young man from drowning. After that, she continues to pursue him, against the advice of her close friend Green Snake (Charlene Choi) - until he agrees to marry her.

The match is against the law of nature and sorcerer Fa Hai (Jet Li) of Jinshang temple has sworn to trap and slay all such demons before they wreak havoc on the villagers. Trouble is, the kind-hearted Xu Xian has befriended the sorcerer monk and slaying the White Snake would hurt her innocent hubby.


HITS & MISSES: The spectacular opening sequences of a battle between Fa Hai and the Ice Witch (Vivian Hsu, above) gives us a taste of what is to come. One thing we can be sure of is that Tony Chin spares no expense over the sets and period setting that provide a deliciously rich fantasy just like those of Jame Cameron's Avatar and Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. The animation is a bit tacky though, considering how far CGI has gone today.

Still, the make-or-break factor in any romance flick is the performance of its leads and here Eva Huang and Raymond Lam are not just a good-looking couple but they managed to look like young lovers. Juxtaposed against them are the ghoulish and comical relationship between Charlene Choi's Green Snake and Wen Zhang's novie monk Nen Reng (both pictured below) who gets 'converted' to the other side early in the movie. Other stars to look out for include Chapman To, Miriam Yeung and Lam Suet who seem to have fun playing farmyard characters like chickens and rabbits.


THE LOWDOWN: A CGI extravaganza with Jet Li in it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

DREAM HOUSE - A Thinking Guy's Thriller

DREAM HOUSE (psychological thriller)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Claire Geare, Taylor Geare, Rachel G. Fox, Mark Wilson, Jonathan Potts and Lynne Griffin
Director: Jim Sheridan
Screenplay by David Loucka
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

The Dream House at night

PREAMBLE: Dream House is not a suspense thriller that will jolt you out of your skin with sudden loud music and cheap scares. Instead, it plays games with your mind, keeping you guessing about what's happening and making you sort out the plot yourself. Now, if you like your thrillers done this way, then go for it.

If not, this one is going to be your nightmare...

The Loving Family: Claire Geare, Craig, Taylor Geare and Weisz

SYNOPSIS: Author Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quits a high power job in Manhattan to relocate his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two girls to a quaint New England town. However, as they settle into their new life, they discover that their house was the murder scene of a mother and her two children. Will tries to befriend his neighbour Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts) and find out from her what happened but she is not eager to talk.

Meanwhile, Will's younger daughter keeps seeing someone lurking outside the window. As Will pieces together the haunting puzzle, he must find out who murdered the family in his dream house before the culprit returns to kill again.

HITS & MISSES: Director Jim Sheridan's plot build-up is almost by-the-book and he makes no apology for it. The opening scenes show Will as a devoted father and loving hubby to his family. At first, his daughter's shadowy visions are dismissed quietly, but when Will gets physical evidence of someone lurking around, our curiosity heightens. Sheridan, who gave us My Left Foot and In The Name of The Father, is not delivering the thriller to us in a platter. He just dishes out the cards and let his audience sort them out - at least until the closing sequences.

At first, it feels rather weird to see beefcake Craig as a family guy. However, there is a good chemistry between he and Weisz who lends a loving and tender touch to the proceedings. The kids, played by Claire and Taylor Geare, are also convincing and adorable. It would have been great to see more of Naomi Watts (above, left) but her role is rather limited - and she acquits herself professionally. Fans of Rachel G. Fox (the Scarvo girl in TV's Desperate Housewives), will find her in a cameo as Ann's daughter Chloe.

THE LOWDOWN: A suspense thriller for the thinking viewer.


Lion King 3D Stays Enthroned at US Weekend B-O

SEPT 26, 2011 - Four newcomers, two of which opened to over US$20 million, weren't quite strong enough to unseat The Lion King 3D, which held the top spot for the second weekend in a row. Moneyball and Dolphin Tale had strong starts and are currently neck-and-neck for second place, while Abduction and Killer Elite both underperformed.

Overall, the weekend box office tallied at least US$116 million, which makes it the highest-grossing September weekend ever.

The Lion King was off a light 27 percent to an estimated US$22.1 million, bringing the re-release's 10-day total to US$61.7 million. When added to previous Lion King grosses, the movie has now made a whopping US$390.2 million, which is good for 12th place on the all-time US domestic chart. The movie is poised to easily top US$400 million and move in to the all-time Top 10, but that's probably going to require extending the run past the two-week engagement that was initially planned.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 23-25, 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 Lion King (3D) (Buena Vista) $22.1 million ($61.7 million) 2

2. (-) Moneyball (Sony/Columbia) $20.6 million ($20.6 million) 1

3. (-) Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros) $20.3 million ($20.3 million) 1

4. (-) Abduction (Lionsgate) $11.2 million ($11.2 million) 1

5. (-) Killer Elite (Open Road Films) $9.5 million ($9.5 million) 1

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cinema Online Hosts Break Time Again

(From left: Zee, Fei Tseh, from right: Jannice, Moo Hon Mei, Grace Tan,
Irving Chee, Kara Lee, Samantha Surin and Chin Vin Sen (standing)


SEPT 24, 2011 – Malaysian movie portal Cinema Online hosted a dinner and drinks function for cinema industry folks called BREAK TIME at Frontera in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, last night.

Candidly, the recurring event is a thinly veiled excuse for friends of CO boss Chin Vin Sen to meet up, catch up, and more importantly, down a pint or two of Guinness, considering that it was also Arthur's Day.


Among the guests were Irving Chee of GSC, Sanjay K. Makhijani (above, third from left) of Nusantara Edaran Film (NEF), Thila Chandran of Cathay; Moo Hon Mei, and Jessica Au Yong of 20th Century Fox; Jannice Yong of Warner Bros; Kara Lee of UIP, Raymond Liew of TGV, Grace Tan of NEF, special guest Keh Chooi Yiang of Osram (Malaysia) in her role as the fiancee of CO's Zee, and yours truly.


Among the CO stalwarts present were Marcel Lariche, Samantha Surin and Fei Tseh.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 23-25, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) FRIGHT NIGHT (horror spoof with Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, Imogen Poots and Toni Collette) Rating * * * (3 stars): This remake of the 1985 horror-comedy is actually better than the original, with a good mix of laughs and scares. Why, it even takes pot-shots at the Twilight flicks, claiming that real vampires are nothing like the sissy types played by Robert Pattinson. Now, any movie that takes a swipe at Twilight is okay by me. What's more, Farrell proves he can do comedy and get away with it.

b) WARRIOR (martial arts drama with Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison and Kevin Dunn) Rating: * * * (3 stars): This one deals with the Mixed Martial Arts tournaments but you don't really need to know what the MMA is about. Like Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter, Warriors is about how two brothers Tom and Brendan Conlon (Hardy and Edgerton) and their father Paddy (Nolte) are caught in the dark conflicts of the human heart. They must fight for a living, culminating in a winner-takes-all match in Atlantic City.

c) ABDUCTION (mystery drama with Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, Antonique Smith and Denzel Whitaker) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Aimed at screaming female fans of Twilight, Abduction is just a showcase for Lautner to show off his abs at the slightest excuse - since he has no acting talents to display. And despite the big names like Weaver, Nyqvist and Molina, the movie stinks. The plot is lame and even though there's no vampire here, the dialogue sucks. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. CONTAGION (drama with Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle) Rated * * * (3 stars): Don't expect Contagion to be as critically-acclaimed as the 2000 drug flick, Traffic. However, director Steven Soderbergh's docudrama style keeps the pace tensed and engaging. The big name cast is not allowed to overshadow the dramatic impact of the virus, which remains the main invisible star of the film. Some of his subplots are weak and even ridiculous but the film is believable on the main. (Reviewed below)

b) BRIDESMAIDS (comedy with Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Jon Hamm and Matt Lucas) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you enjoyed The Hangover and its sequel, you are gonna like this one. The first half is rather revolting but the laughs come on regularly and lead star Wiig manages to shine in a role that seems to have been tailor-made for her. Indeed, she makes the film seem like an American version of Bridget Jones. (Reviewed below)


3. JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (comedy spoof with Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff and Ben Miller) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Those who like the childish antics of Mr Bean will be laughing at Atkinson's Johnny English. However, those who want something new and witty in terms of gags and plot will not find any here. The best laughs are those shown in the trailers - and what we have left is a predictable and inane story about an assassination plot against a Chinese premier - for dubious reasons. It's nice to watch Anderson, Pike and newcomer Kaluuya, though. (Reviewed below).

b) CITY ON FIRE aka 5 DAYS OF WAR (war drama with Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Mikko Nousianen, Richard Coyle and Rade Serbedzija) Rating * * (2 stars): If there is any doubt that Renny Harlin's days as a hotshot director are over, this movie will only confirm it. Instead of making a tensed and well-researched film about the August 2008 flare-up between Russia and Georgia, he made an action-packed 'propaganda' movie centred around a war reporter (Friend) and his cameraman (Coyle) in a quest to get the message out at a time when the eyes of the world are on the Beijing Olympics. The production values are strong but the story sucks.

ABDUCTION - ABS-olutely For Lautner Fans

ABDUCTION (mystery drama)
Cast: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, Antonique Smith and Denzel Whitaker
Director: John Singleton
Screenplay by Shawn Christensen and Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Lautner and Collins in ABDUCTION

PREAMBLE: If you are a female teenage fan of Twilight, there is probably only one thing you need to know about this movie: yes, lead star Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt at the slightest excuse to show off those washboard abs.

For those who are not interested in Lautner, I am afraid there's nothing in Abduction for you - unless you like half-baked spy thrillers, lame acting and asinine script.

SYNOPSIS: When high school student Nathan Price (Taylor Lautner) stumbles upon an image of himself as a little boy on a missing persons website, he realises that his parents (Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs) are not his own and his life is a lie. As Nathan starts to search for his true identity and his biological parents, he is being targeted by a team of rogue agents, forcing him to flee with his neighbour, Karen (Lily Collins, right). He begins to realise that his fabricated life is hiding a dangerous truth.

HITS & MISSES: In writing this screenplay, I suspect that scripters Shawn Christensen and Jeffrey Nachmanoff must have pieced together ideas from The Bourne Identity and the recent Hanna - and come out with this harebrained plot. But then the truth is that director John Singleton and the film-makers do not care about the plot: they just want an excuse to show heart-throb Lautner and Collins on the run from some baddies (who included Swedish icon Michael Nyqvist of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) in order to film some action sequences.

Indeed, many films have gotten away with idiotic plots - provided they have stars that audiences could root for. Alas, Lautner seems incapable of having more than a couple of expressions and he can't act to save his life. Neither can Collins despite the strong support of veterans like Sigourney Weaver (as Nathan's shrink) and Alfred Molina (as a CIA exec). All through the first half, Singleton keeps the audience wondering why Nathan is being chased and in the second half, his aim must be to keep them from walking out of the cineplex.

THE LOWDOWN: ABSolutely for Lautner fans.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DRIVE - Stylish and Suspenseful

DRIVE (romance/crime thriller)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay by Hossein Amini from the book by James Sallis
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Ryan Gosling as the Driver

PREAMBLE: Drive combines a heist thriller with a revenge caper as well as a love story! It is somewhat like a movie that Quentin Tarantino would make because each of these three 'genres' threatens to break at the seams. The fact that they don't bodes well for the work of relatively unknown Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (who gave us Valhalla Rising).

Refn is known among cult movie fans for the Pusher trilogy and Bronson. And as you may suspect, Drive has greater appeal for those who like arty and cult flicks.

Gosling and Mulligan as neighbours

SYNOPSIS: Gosling plays an unnamed Driver and mechanic in L.A. who does stunt-driving for the movies by day - and drives getaway cars for robbers by night. His modus operandi is to give his customers a waiting period of five minutes for him to drive them to safety; anything past that, it's goodbye.

Staying alone and detached helps him in his 'work' until he meet his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos) and starts a relationship with them. Later, when he tries to help Irene's paroled hubby (Oscar Isaac) with a robbery that will clear his debts to some nasty people, he finds himself getting deep into trouble.

HITS & MISSES: The biggest thrill we get in watching Drive is that we never quite know what's going to happen - or what the protagonist is going to do. Rosling's Driver is interesting. We see him as a silent loner who takes pride in his 'work' but doesn't quite care about money. He has decided to care for Irene and her son but doesn't really know how to go about it. We sympathise with him and root for him even when he makes mistakes and bad judgements.

It is also easy to root for BAFTA award winner Mulligan's Irene, a stoical mom who works as a waitress to support her family. And yes, Gosling and Mulligan exhibit a palpable chemistry that keeps us in suspense and anticipation. Then there is the affable Bryan Cranston (of TV's Breaking Bad) who plays the Driver's boss Shannon, and Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman in baddie roles that reminds us of Robert De Niro. Christina Kendricks has a small role as a gang moll.

It is convenient to compare Refn with Tarantino, but he is fast developing a style all his own, combining the classic styles with modern
techniques. Indeed, Refn is one director to watch.

THE LOWDOWN: A romance/action-thriller that's both stylish and suspenseful.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS - Kristen Wiig's Vehicle

BRIDESMAIDS (comedy)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jon Hamm and Jill Clayburgh
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo
Time: 122 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

From left: Kemper, McCarthy, Wiig, Byrne, Maya Rudolph and McLendon-Covey

PREAMBLE: Promoted as the female version of The Hangover, Bridesmaids starts off going way over-the-top to the point of being 'disgusting' but later redeems itself amicably. It ends up not as a comedy about a wedding, but as an inspiring treatise on friendship, love and picking up the pieces of one's life. At over two hours, the comedy is rather long-drawn but bearable.

SYNOPSIS: Annie (Kristen Wiig) sucks at her job selling greeting cards and romantic stuff, and sleeps with a guy (Jon Hamm) who doesn't care for her. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces that she’s getting married and wants Annie to be her maid of honour, Annie starts to discover what a loser she really is. The one who makes her feel like dirt is bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), a wealthy and well-organised wife of the groom's boss who suddenly claims Lillian as her best friend.


The more Annie tries to please Lilian her friends, the deeper she gets into trouble. This gets to the point that even when a romantic prospect (Chris O'Dowd as police officer Nathan Rhodes) pops up, she somehow rejects it.

HITS & MISSES: Actually, it is the first half of the movie that is a bit like The Hangover. And it goes from merely annoying to utterly revolting as we see the cast mired in vomiting and sh*t jokes. Here too, we find Wiig (who also co-wrote the script) unreasonably making her Annie odious and spoilt. However, the plot takes a turn for the better in the second half when the movie transforms itself from comedy to drama. This is when we see Wiig shine as a dramatic/romantic actress the likes of Meg Ryan. Another show-stealer is Melissa McCarthy (above) who plays the groom's sister, Megan. It comes as no surprise that McCarthy has just won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.

The late Jill Clayburgh (left) and Wiig

Byrne supports credibly as the attention-grabbing Helen while O'Dowd gets us rooting for him as a 'nice cop' and enthusiastic suitor. On a more sombre note, Bridesmaids marks the final movie for the late Jill Clayburgh who plays Annie's mom.

THE LOWDOWN: A fitting choice for a hens' night out and as a chick flick.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Lion King Reclaims Throne at US Weekend B-O

SEPT 19, 2011 - Just as it did 17 years ago when the original version first hit the cinemas, new updated The Lion King 3D opened in first place ruling the North American box office. Doubling industry expectations, the Disney smash grossed more than the weekend's three other new films combined. The action drama Drive generated a moderate debut in No. 3, while the remake thriller Straw Dogs and the comedy I Don't Know How She Does It both failed to excite audiences.

Contagion dropped to No. 2, earning an estimated US14.5 million while The Help is still in the Top 5 list at No.4.

On the surface, The Lion King 3D's success seems surprising, given the declining interest families have shown towards 3D lately and the fact that the Blu-ray is set for release just a few weeks from now. That's failing to take in to account the incredible popularity of The Lion King, though: between its original 1994 release and its 2002 IMAX re-release, the movie was the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated movie of all-time with US$328.5 million, or the equivalent of over US$600 million adjusted for ticket price inflation.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 16-18, 2011 weekend, in terms of rank, (previous week ranking), Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo. (US$1=RM3)

1. (-) The Lion King (in 3D) (Buena Vista) $29.3 million ($29.3 million) 1

2. (1) Contagion (WB) $14.5 million ($44.2 million) 2

3. (-) Drive (2011) (FilmDistrict) $11 million ($11 million) 1

4. (2) The Help (Buena Vista) $6.4 million ($147.4 million) 6

5. (-) Straw Dogs (2011) (Sony/Screen Gems) $5 million ($5 million) 1

Thursday, September 15, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 16 - 18, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK


a) JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (comedy spoof with Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff and Ben Miller) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Those who like the childish antics of Mr Bean will be laughing at Atkinson's Johnny English. However, those who want something new and witty in terms of gags and plot will not find any here. The best laughs are those shown in the trailers - and what we have left is a predictable and inane story about an assassination plot against a Chinese premier - for dubious reasons. It's nice to watch Anderson, Pike and newcomer Kaluuya, though. (Reviewed below).

b) CITY ON FIRE aka 5 DAYS OF WAR (war drama with Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Mikko Nousianen, Richard Coyle and Rade Serbedzija) Rating * * (2 stars): If there is any doubt that Renny Harlin's days as a hotshot director are over, this movie will only confirm it. Instead of making a tensed and well-researched film about the August 2008 flare-up between Russia and Georgia, he made an action-packed 'propaganda' movie centred around a war reporter (Friend) and his cameraman (Coyle) in a quest to get the message out at a time when the eyes of the world are on the Beijing Olympics. The production values are strong but the story sucks.

STILL GOING STRONG:


1. CONTAGION (drama with Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston,
Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle) Rated * * * (3 stars): Don't expect Contagion to be as critically-acclaimed as the 2000 drug flick, Traffic. However, director Steven Soderbergh's docudrama style keeps the pace tensed and engaging. The big name cast is not allowed to overshadow the dramatic impact of the virus, which remains the main invisible star of the film. Some of his subplots are weak and even ridiculous but the film is believable on the main. (Reviewed below)

b) BRIDESMAIDS (comedy with Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Jon Hamm and Matt Lucas) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you enjoyed The Hangover and its sequel, you are gonna like this one. The laughs come on regularly and lead star Wiig manages to shine in a role that seems to have been tailor-made for her. Indeed, she makes the film seem like an American version of Bridget Jones!

c) MY KINGDOM (drama in Cantonese with Wu Chun, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Liu Qian, Yuan Biao and Yu Rongguang) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): After a promising start, My Kingdom slowly falls apart. This may be due to director Gao Xiaosong trying to reach out for more than he can grasp. He extends the kungfu flick into a multi-genre effort, resulting in a messy revenge film that is part costume drama and part soap opera and even a love story. Also, the three young leads seem unable to carry the movie. They were obviously picked for their looks than talent. (Reviewed below)

4. 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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN - Mr Bean Returns

JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (comedy spoof)
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff and Ben Miller,
Director: Oliver Parker
Screenplay by Hamish McColl and William Davies
Time: 92 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: We saw Johnny English in the 2003 spoof of British secret agent flicks like the James Bond series. Rowan Atkinson (above) is back in this sequel (and not a reboot as the title suggests). If you have seen the 2003 film, you will realise that Johnny English is nothing more than TV's Mr Bean in a bow-tie playing an idiotic version of Bond, James Bond.

In Reborn, it is no different. You can see the Bean-type jokes a mile away.

SYNOPSIS: Since his last screw-up (or "Balls-Up" as the British tabloids said) MI-7 spy Johnny English (Atkinson) has been virtually in hiding. However, he is shown to be in a remote area in Asia, honing his martial arts skills at a Tibetan monastery. But not for long, obviously.

When MI-7 chief Pamela Thornton (Gillian Anderson, pic) learns of an attempt against the visiting Chinese premier's life, she somehow must resort to bringing back English into action. Now, English must employ the latest in the usual array of hi-tech gadgets to unravel a web of conspiracy that permeates the KGB, CIA and even MI-7. He has a young sidekick in Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuva) to help him, and some technical help from behavioural expert Kate Summer (Rosamund Pike).

HITS & MISSES: To the newcomer, Atkinson's Mr Bean may be ludicrously hilarious. Children, especially, are attracted to his bumbling British character. However, after a season or two of Mr Bean, most people will find him overly slapstick and contemptuous. Worse, the gags get very predictable. And this is how it is with Johnny English Reborn. All we see is Atkinson as Mr Bean playing a fumbling spy. Many of the opening gags are laughable, especially those dealing with his kungfu training. However, the laughs and the fun fade when we are faced with an inane assassination plot that any cinema-goer can unravel. If we compare this with Mike Myers' Austin Powers we would find this one a bit more childish.


Most of the funny gags are already shown in the trailers and Atkinson's clownish agent does not endear himself to the audience. The others, however, fare better. Rosamund Pike and Gillian Anderson are a welcome sight, counter-playing Atkinson's silliness. It is nice to see Richard Schiff (of TV's West Wing fame) in a cameo. Another star to watch out for is Kaluuva (pic, above) who supports solidly as the bugged-eyed Agent Tucker.

THE LOWDOWN: Mainly for those who can't get enough of Mr Bean's nonsense.

Monday, September 12, 2011

'Contagion' Infects US Weekend B-O

SEPT 12, 2011 - Contagion shot to the top of the North American box office, as one would expect of such a high-profile thriller, while Warrior mustered little support and Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star and Creature ranked among the worst openings ever.

Not quite in the hot zone, Contagion's spread was contained at an estimated US$23.1 million on close to 3,900 screens at 3,222 locations. Among September opening grosses, it ranked 15th, and it was a bit behind last September's top thriller The Town (US$23.8 million). In second place, The Help continued its hearty run, despite taking its steepest hit yet. The book adaptation was down a respectable 40 percent from last weekend's.

Colombiana rounded out the Top Five with an estimated US$4 million (US$29.8 million sum in 17 days), followed closely by Rise of the Planet of the Apes with US$3.9 million (US$167.8 million sum in 38 days). In a minor surprise, Colombiana held a bit better than Apes, dropping 46 percent versus 51 percent.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 9-11, 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. (-) Contagion (WB) $23.1 million ($23.1 million) 1

2. (1) The Help (Buena Vista) $8.7 million ($137.1 million) 5

3. (-) Warrior (Lionsgate) $5.6 million ($5.6 million) 1

4. (2) The Debt (Focus Features) $4.9 million ($22.0 million) 2

5. (6) Colombiana (TriStar) $4.0 million ($29.8 million) 3

Friday, September 09, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Sept 9 - 11, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) CONTAGION (drama with Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle) Rated * * * (3 stars): Don't expect Contagion to be as critically-acclaimed as the 2000 drug flick, Traffic. However, director Steven Soderbergh's docudrama style keeps the pace tensed and engaging. The big name cast is not allowed to overshadow the dramatic impact of the virus, which remains the main invisible star of the film. Some of his subplots are weak and even ridiculous but the film is believable on the main. (Reviewed below)

b) BRIDESMAIDS (comedy with Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Jon Hamm and Matt Lucas) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you enjoyed The Hangover and its sequel, you are gonna like this one. The laughs come on regularly and Wiig manages to shine in a role that seems to have been tailor-made for her. Indeed, she makes the film seem like an American version of Bridget Jones!

c) MY KINGDOM (drama in Cantonese with Wu Chun, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Liu Qian, Yuan Biao and Yu Rongguang) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): After a promising start, My Kingdom slowly falls apart. This may be due to director Gao Xiaosong trying to reach out for more than he can grasp. He extends the kungfu flick into a multi-genre effort, resulting in a messy revenge film that is part costume drama and part soap opera and even a love story. Also, the three young leads seem unable to carry the movie. They were obviously picked for their looks than talent. (Reviewed below)

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. 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 touted to be "worse than death", like familial bond, trust and then learning the truth about a tragic sacrifice. Interesting. (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.

4. 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)

MY KINGDOM - One More Revenge Tale

MY KINGDOM (drama in Cantonese)
Cast: Wu Chun, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Liu Qian, Yuan Biao and Yu Rongguang
Director: Gao Xiaosong
Screenplay by Zou Jingzhi, Gao Xiaosong
Time: 97 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Wu Chun and Han Geng in MY KINGDOM

PREAMBLE: After Chen Kaige's Sacrifice comes another Chinese effort that works on the theme of revenge. Gao Xiaosong's My Kingdom is set in the 'glamorous' world of Peking opera, with the main part of it based in the tumultuous period of 1920s Shanghai. With Sammo Hung touted as action director, many would expect hot kungfu action - and many would be disappointed.

There is a mixture of genres here, part costume drama, part soap opera, part kungfu flick and with a touch of romance. Those who like twists and turns in the plot would like the second half where the vengeance plot starts to unravel.

Barbie Hsu and Wu Chun

SYNOPSIS: During the end of the 19th Century, the Prince Regent of the crumbling Qing Dynasty orders the beheading of the entire Meng clan. Awaiting execution, a five-year-old Meng boy named Er-kui sings an aria. Deeply moved, opera Master Yu Shengying (Yuan Biao) and his seven-year-old pupil Guan Yi-long rescue the boy and the two orphans become as close as brothers. Yu, who wins a coveted golden plaque from the Prince Regent, is challenged to a duel by a Shanghai rival, Yue Jiangtian (Yu Rongguang). He loses and is forced to retire.

Master Yu trains the boys as warriors in the Peking opera and when they 'graduate' Yi-long (now played by Wu Chun) and Er-kui (Han Geng) move to Shanghai to reclaim the coveted plaque from Yue, who, together with his co-star Xi Mu-lan (Barbie Hsu), operate an opera show in the British concession of Shanghai.

HITS & MISSES: Many important scenes are left to our imagination. Er-Kui's rescue at the opening and his revenge sequences are done in quick cuts. The revenge scenes are shown in a series of flying dagger shots followed by newspaper reports announcing the murders. Also, the characters are so poorly defined and portrayed that they appear like caricatures. On the opera stage, the main cast of Wu Chun, Han Geng and Barbie Hsu may get away with unconvincing performances, but not when they are offstage.

There is no chemistry among the trio and the 'brotherhood' of Yi-long and Er-kui smacks of 'Brokeback Mountain' at times. Wu, Han and Taiwan magician Loius Liu Qian were obviously chosen for their looks. However, the biggest miscast is of Liu Qian as General Lu. His performance sticks out like a sore thumb as we would be wondering how he manages to be a police chief at such a young age.

As for Sammo Hung's kungfu choreography, we get two: one at the start of the film between veterans Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang, and a climactic duel between Er-Kui and Mu-lan in a wine cellar which is more dramatic for its wine spillage than the action. On the plus side, the locations and sets of Shanghai look lavish and fabulous. Ditto that for the opera costumes and music score.

THE LOWDOWN: A messy film punctuated by a few brilliant scenes.