Monday, October 31, 2011

'Puss In Boots' Walks All Over US Weekend B-O

World Series and Bad Weather Affect US B-O

OCT 31, 2011 - Animated comedy Puss in Boots debuted at Number One over the US pre-Halloween period while other new releases failed to generate much excitement. The overall marketplace got hit hard by a double whammy of game seven of the World Series last Friday which attracted over 25 million viewers followed by a powerful winter storm hitting the highly populated north-east region of the country on Saturday, affecting tens of millions of people with unusually early snowfalls.

Paranormal Activity 3 drops to No. 2 with an estimated US$18.5 million, while Justin Timberlake's sci-fi thriller In Time opened in third place with a mediocre estimated US$12 million.

Studio estimates may change significantly later today depending on how much lost business gets picked up on Sunday. Films with better word-of-mouth may also grab some of that lost cash in the weeks ahead if good buzz can spread.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Oct 28-30, 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. (-) Puss in Boots (Paramount) $34.0 million ($34.0 million) 1

2. (1) Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount) $18.5 million ($81.3 million) 2

3. (-) In Time (Fox) $12.0 million ($12.0 million) 1

4. (3) Footloose (Paramount) $5.4 million ($38.4 million) 3

5. (-) The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict) $5.0 million ($5.0 million) 1

Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN - Spielberg's Thrill Ride


THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: The Secret Of The Unicorn (animated adventure in 3D)
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Sebastian Roché
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, based on the comic book series by Herge.
Time: 107 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Interpol cops, Thomson and Thompson, and Tintin

PREAMBLE: When I was a teenager, my favourite comic books were Asterix and The Adventures of Tintin by Herge. You can guess my excitement and anticipation when I learnt that none other than Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were collaborating to bring Tintin to life on the big screen. However, when I saw the trailers for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn, I was a bit apprehensive.

Will they capture the spirit of discovery and adventure of the young Belgian reporter? Can they flesh out the many wonderful characters of the comic books? The trailers weren't that impressive. Well, just after 10 minutes into the media screening last Friday, my fears were dashed - and I was transported back to my childhood again!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The movie contains elements from three of Tintin's adventures: The Secret of the Unicorn (published in 1945), with some parts of The Crab With the Golden Claws (1943), and a bit from Red Rackham's Treasure (also 1945). It opens with Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) buying a model of an old ship called the Unicorn at an outdoor market in an unnamed European city. As soon as he pays for it, two other guys come along to try and buy the ship too! They are a sinister-looking Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and an American named Barnaby (Joe Starr).


Expectedly, Tintin refuses to sell, and he soon discovers that the model ship contains vital clues to hidden treasure involving a Capt. Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis). The ensuing adventure takes Tintin, Haddock and the boy's faithful dog Snowy over the seas to the Sahara and a fictional Moroccan city of Bagghar in search of hidden treasure.

HITS & MISSES: For me the most important part of the movie is its richly detailed retro charm that coloured Herge's comic strips of the early 20th Century. Tintin and Snowy are rendered in the performance-capture shots exactly as they were in the comics and the ageless boy reporter seems to be a tad more mischievous than his comic book persona. Serkis' alcohol-loving Haddock looks so realistic that we mistake him for a live character.


Enhanced by 3D, CGI animation affords all sorts of 'impossible' action and stunts and Spielberg exploits this to the full with almost non-stop chases and spectacles. Tintin's chase of a thieving bird through the streets and rooftops of Bagghar is one of the most exhilarating chases I have come across in the cinema. Herge's brand of humour is reflected in the comic relief provided by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as Interpol officers Thomson and Thompson, respectively. The gags are all very PG-type comic relief, and not hilariously funny.

Some Herge purists may argue that the movie lacks resonance and an emotional connection to its protagonist. That may be true but personally, I don't remember having much emotional connection to Tintin when I read the comic books. He was a young hero with whom I identified, that's all. Also, watch out for Spielberg's tribute to Herge in the opening scene at the open market. The legendary Belgian author is shown as a street artist who does a sketch of Tintin, looking like one of the original strips. Good for you, Spielberg.

THE LOWDOWN: One of the best animated films of the year.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 28 - 30, 2011

GUIDE TO HALLOWEEN WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (supernatural thriller with Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Alan Dale, Julia Blake, Eliza Taylor-Cotter, Emelia Burns and Garry McDonald) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Touted as the 1975 TV-movie that scared film-maker Guillermo del Toro as a kid, this one is rewritten by him for modern audiences. The atmosphere and the location settings are first class, as with the performances. Alas, the plot and scares seem to have been written for children and non-horror fans. (Reviewed below)



b) THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE (biodrama with Crystal Huang Yi, Anthony Wong, Patricia Ha, Suet Lam, Kevin Cheng, Dennis To and Rose Chan) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): After Jackie Chan's 1911, here's another biodrama on another Chinese revolutionary hero. Qiu Jin is the first woman activist in China and the movie chronicles her exploits as a child, wife, mother, feminist and revolutionist. Director Herman Yau opens the movie at the time of her capture in 1907 - and squanders the potential for suspense that the story would have. Again, Anthony Wong shines in his role as a sympathetic Manchu official.
(Reviewed below)

c) IN TIME (sci-fi thriller with Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettfyer, Olivia Wilde and Vincent Kartheiser) Rated * * (2 stars): The premise, in a futuristic world where time is literally money and people stop aging at 25, is novel and intriguing. However, our interest vanes when disturbing questions arise over the plot mechanisms. Also the main story - about Timberlake's and Seyfried's characters engaged in a Robin Hood game of robbing banks - is too difficult for us to swallow. At the end, it is a sheer waste of time. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. REAL STEEL (sci-fi drama with Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, Phil La Marr, Olga Fonda and James Rebhorn) Rated * * * (3 stars): Imagine Rocky played by a cute robot, throw in the ring action of The Fighter and add some father-son bonding and you get Real Steel, a typical Disney entertainment for the family. What's more Jackman and kid star Dakota Goyo display good chemistry as father and estranged son going on a road trip. The fight plot may seem formulaic, with the underdog versus unbeatable champ schtick but it is bearable. (Reviewed below)

2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (supernatural thriller with Chris Smith, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden and Lauren Bittner) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you just can't get enough of this faux videocam documentary franchise, this third instalment can be satisfying. It is actually a prequel, a flashback to 1988 to show how siblings Katie (Katie Featherston in the first film) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden in the second) were traumatised during their childhood. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman stick to the tried and tested - and deliver the scares too.

3. TRESPASS (crime thriller with Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Liana Liberato, Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok and Jordana Spiro) Rating * * (2 stars): With Nic Cage headlining this movie, I had suspected that it would be another Nic Cage flop. After half-an-hour, my suspicion was confirmed. Cage seems trapped in a curse and this house break-in tale is so full of awful dialogue and lame plotting that even the presence of Kidman and Gigandet cannot alleviate. It seems relegated to the DVD shelves where it is actually heading come Nov 1.

IN TIME - A Waste of Time

IN TIME (sci-fi drama)
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettfyer, Olivia Wilde and Vincent Kartheiser
Director: Andrew Niccol
Screenplay by Andrew Niccol
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Timberlake and Seyfried on the run in IN TIME

PREAMBLE: When film distributors slap an embargo on the reviews of critics, it usually means that the movie in question stinks so much that they don't want bad reviews to spoil the movie's opening. This one was embargoed until yesterday - and you guessed it, it's a waste of time. The premise, about time as currency, is flimsy at best - and it provokes more questions than answers.

Vincent Kartheiser, Timberlake and Seyfried

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: It's the future and it's a world where time is literally being used as money. Aging somehow stops at 25, and the only way to stay alive is to earn, steal, or inherit more time. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives from hand to mouth in a slum-like sector of the city, until a windfall of time gives him access to the world of the wealthy and powerful.

There, he meets beautiful young heiress Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) and they team up to become a futuristic Bonnie & Clyde, despite being relentlessly pursued by a 'Timekeeper' cop (Cillian Murphy).

HITS & MISSES: The sci-fi world where people stop aging at 25 - is novel and attractive, until you start thinking about the mechanics of it. One of the most disturbing is the LED timer embedded in the left hand of everyone. Is this timer embedded at birth? If so, it is curious how it stays on when the child grows up. What if the timer is discarded before the age of 25? Will the person die at once?

People transfer time by clasping each other's hands and even in arm-wrestling. How does the exchange really work, especially in cases of robbery? These questions mar our acceptance of the movie's premise - and makes the whole idea trashy. And even if we can overlook this set-up, the main plot of Will and Sylvia robbing banks of their time and giving it away sounds so implausible that we feel cheated. Will has spent his whole life fighting for time and he has even lost his mother (played by Olivia Wilde as Rachel, pictured) because of just a few seconds. To see him squandering it in that Robin Hood manner is just bad writing and poor motivation.

Timberlake and Seyfried are acceptable in their questionable Bonnie & Clyde roles (where a titillating underwater scene is cut for Malaysian audiences). Basically, they just need to look macho and pretty respectively, and they succeed. Murphy (right), as expected, shines in his portrayal of a 'time sheriff' where he is part villain and part hero!

THE LOWDOWN: This is one movie where you look at your watch and realise how much time you have wasted.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK - Creepy Kids' Stuff

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (supernatural thriller)
Cast: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Alan Dale, Julia Blake, Eliza Taylor-Cotter, Emelia Burns and Garry McDonald
Director: Troy Nixey
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins, based on the teleplay by Nigel McKeand
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce at 'Blackwood Manor'

PREAMBLE: If you are looking for a scary thriller to go with your Halloween fun, this one should fit the bill. Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark was a 1973 made-for-TV movie (starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton). Story has it that the movie scared a young Guillermo del Toro so much that he decided to rewrite the story (by Nigel McKeand) for modern viewers.

Unlike the currently showing Paranormal Activity 3, this is an old-fashioned haunted house tale, so if you are used to faux documentaries and CGI-rendered blood and gore, this one is going to seem tame to you. Still, the atmosphere is pervasive and creepy...

Bailee Madison in Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: A prologue set in the 1800s gives us a backgrounder to a Gothic-styled Rhode Island mansion own by an Emerson Blackwood. Next, in a fast-forward to modern day, we find eight-year-old Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison) flying from LA to stay with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at the newly renovated Blackwood manor.

Of course, Sally is upset at being 'dumped' by her mother and as she mopes around the sprawling estate, she comes across 'things that go bump in the night'. The trouble is, no one would believe her when she claims that those little monsters made all that mischief.

HITS & MISSES: It is a credit to director Troy Nixey that he has resisted the temptation to use cinematic cliches like creaking doors and loud sudden noises to jolt the audience. However, there are still many holes in the plot that mar the movie - like the incredulous behaviour of Sally when she ventures into the dark basement at night despite warnings that it is dangerous. In the 1973 movie, Sally was an adult (played by Darby) but here, she is a young girl, raising the emotional stakes and controversy.


Indeed, much of the movie is seen through the eyes of the child, and young Madison is credible enough to pull it off. Pearce and Holmes (above) are largely relegated to supporting roles of which they are more than capable. Holmes is especially appealing as a caring adult who goes all out to befriend Sally. As usual, there is a 'mysterious' caretaker (played by Jack Thompson) who warns of evil behind bolted grilles but could do nothing to stop it. The suspense is thick as long as the scares remain unseen, but when they are revealed, the supernatural thriller turns into a monster show.

THE LOWDOWN: Creepy enough for the kids at Halloween.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE - Story of Qiu Jin

THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE (biographical drama)
Cast: Crystal Huang Yi, Anthony Wong, Patricia Ha, Suet Lam, Kevin Cheng, Dennis To and Rose Chan
Director: Herman Yau
Screenplay by Erica Li
Time: 110. mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Huang Yi as Qiu Jin the Woman Knight of Mirror Lake

PREAMBLE: 2011 is the centenary of the overthrow of Imperial Rule in China and this is the second film made to commemorate it - after Jackie Chan's 1911. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake is the biography of Qiu Jin, the first woman revolutionist in Chinese history. She is not as famous as Sun Yat Sen but Qiu Jin also appeared in Jackie Chan's movie.

1911 is not doing so well at the Malaysian box-office and I do not expect this one to do that well too.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT: Born into a well-to-do family in the late 19th Century, Qiu Jin refuses to have her feet bound according to custom. Also, unlike girls of her era, she excels at calligraphy, poetry as well as in martial arts, archery and horse-riding. When Qiu Jin (Crystal Huang Yi) learns about what is happening to her country, which is being ravaged by foreigners, she is determined to change the lives of the people, especially women.
Anthony Wong and Huang Yi

After a quarrel, with her husband Ting-jun (Kevin Cheng), Qiu Jin leaves for Japan where she enrols in a college, joins social activists and meets Xu Xi Lin (Dennis To), the would-be leader of the revolution in China. When Qiu Jin returns to Beijing, she continues her revolutionary work as headmistress of the Da Tong Military School.

HITS & MISSES: The movie's inherent weakness lies in its format. It opens with the capture of Qiu Jin in 1907 - at the hands of Provincial Governor Gui Fu (Lam Suet) and a sympathetic official Li Zhong-yue (Anthony Wong). When she refuses to divulge the names of compatriots, she is tortured and later sentenced to death. This takes away much of the suspense that the biodrama affords, as the rest of the story is told in flashbacks, going back and forth from her past to the events of her imprisonment.

Understandably, director Herman Yau and scripter Erica Li are sympathetic in their portrayal of the martyr Qiu Jin, showing her as a feminist and heroine and downplaying the fact that she abandons her children to flee to Japan. Also, it is not easy to root for Huang Yi's protagonist as she is too aloof and seemingly infallible. Kevin Cheng is admirable as her long-suffering husband while Rose Chan (another Herman Yau regular) plays the mute Fu-Sheng whom Qiu Jin rescues from 'slavery' earlier.

Again, the best performance comes from Anthony Wong who not only helps to uphold Qiu Jin's reputation as a poet and educationist but also has to confront his conscience with his sense of duty. And as with 1911, those who expect lost of martial arts action will be disappointed.

THE LOWDOWN: A fairly good biodrama, especially for history buffs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 Tops US Weekend B-O

OCT 24, 2011 - Blame it on the Halloween season, but Paranormal Activity 3 proved there's definitely still a lot of life left in the franchise by opening to an estimated US$54 million this weekend. Besides marking a significant improvement over Paranormal Activity 2's US$40.7 million, it also topped last year's Jackass 3-D to claim a new record for highest Fall opening ever (September and October). Paranormal Activity 3 also bested its predecessor to take the top opening ever for a pure horror movie.

Unfortunately, newbies The Three Musketeers, Johnny English Reborn and The Mighty Macs all missed modest targets, and as a result the weekend fell a bit short of the same frame last year.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Oct 21-23, 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. (-) Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount) $54,020,000 ($54,020,000) 1

2. (1) Real Steel (BV) $11,319,000 ($67,226,640) 3

3. (2) Footloose (Paramount) $10,850,000 ($30,863,031) 2

4. (-) The Three Musketeers (Summit) $8,800,000 ($8,800,000) 1

5. (4) The Ides of March (Sony) $4,900,000 ($29,159,326) 3


Thursday, October 20, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 21 - 23, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (supernatural thriller with Chris Smith, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden and Lauren Bittner) Rating * * * (3 stars): If you just can't get enough of this faux videocam documentary franchise, this third instalment can be satisfying. It is actually a prequel, a flashback to 1988 to show how siblings Katie (Katie Featherston in the first film) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden in the second) were traumatised during their childhood. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman stick to the tried and tested - and deliver the scares too.

b) TRESPASS (crime thriller with Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Liana Liberato, Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok and Jordana Spiro) Rating * * (2 stars): With Nic Cage headlining this movie, I had suspected that it would be another Nic Cage flop. After half-an-hour, my suspicion was confirmed. Cage seems trapped in a curse and this house break-in tale is so full of awful dialogue and lame plotting that even the presence of Kidman and Gigandet cannot alleviate. It seems relegated to the DVD shelves where it is actually heading come Nov 1.

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. REAL STEEL (sci-fi drama with Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, Phil La Marr, Olga Fonda and James Rebhorn) Rated * * * (3 stars): Imagine Rocky played by a cute robot, throw in the ring action of The Fighter and add some father-son bonding and you get Real Steel, a typical Disney entertainment for the family. What's more Jackman and kid star Dakota Goyo display good chemistry as father and estranged son going on a road trip. The fight plot may seem formulaic, with the underdog versus unbeatable champ schtick but it is bearable. (Reviewed below)

2. THE LION KING 3D (animated feature reissued in 3D) Rated * * * (3 stars): This one has been roaring at the top of the American box-office for weeks despite the fact that every kid has seen it in 2D before. Indeed, the 3D effects lend a new dimension to the well-loved tale of Simba the lion.

3. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (fantasy adventure in 3D with Matthew MacFadyen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz and Gabriella Wilde) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A lavish and almost spoofy version of the Alexandre Dumas tale with mind-boggling sets and exe-popping costumes. Alas, the 'futuristic' embellishments of flying airships and Matrix-styled slow-mo bullets are tempered by a retro-styled narrative. Still, it is a popcorn flick for action fans and videogamers who love the sight of heaving bosoms mixed with fencing and brawling. (Reviewed below)

4. WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? (comedy with Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Zachary Quinto, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Martin Freeman, Matt Bomer, Chris Pratt, Ivana Milicevic and Joel McHale) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): With a foregone conclusion that everyone is aware of (except the lovers), the 'courtship' of the leads, played by Faris and Evans, seem like a prolonged foreplay. The two have good chemistry and the jokes are bawdy but the movie is spoilt by a generic plot and needless melodramatic ending. (Reviewed below)

5. THE CAT: TWO EYES THAT SEE DEATH (Korean horror with Park Min-young, Kim Dong-wook and Shin Da-eun) Rating * * (2 stars): For those who are new to the Asian horror genre, this generic flick will seem scary and engaging. However, if you have your fair share of films like The Eye and Ju-On, this will be more of a copy-Cat film, with sudden loud noises and cheap scares to jolt you. On the plus side, we have a rather notable performance from Park Min-young.

Monday, October 10, 2011

YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE - Lost Youth Revisited

YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (romantic comedy)
Cast: Ko Chen-Tung, Michelle Chen, Steven Hao, Ao-Chuen, Tsai Chang-hsien and Wan-Wan
Director: Giddens Ko Ching Teng
Screenplay by Giddens Ko
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

The Ching-Cheng High gang, with Ko Chen-Teng and Michele Chen (3rd and 4th from left, respectively)

PREAMBLE: There has been a clamour for this Taiwanese coming-of-age film among Chinese youth in Malaysia ever since it opened at the Hong Kong Summer International Film Festival in August this year. Indeed, Giddens Ko Ching Teng's directorial debut is based on his semi-autobiographical novel, The Girl We Chased Together in Those Years (the Chinese title), which was a best-seller among online readers.

Needless to say, 'Apple' reigned at the Taiwan box office for over 40 days, landing at second place on the nation's chart of all-time box office hits. For viewers young and old, it is a nostalgia trip to their carefree school days when hormones rage and hope abounds.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The narration, by Ko Chen-Tung who plays Giddens (or Ching-Teng), starts off in 2005 when protagonist Ching-Teng is dressing up for a wedding. Next, it takes us back 10 years earlier (1995) to Ching-Teng's school days when he and his buddies, Boner (Yen Sheng-yu), Cock, Groin (Tsai Chang-hsien) and A-Ho (Steven Hao) are students of Ching-Cheng High, a backwater school in Changhua in central Taiwan.

All these boys admire ace student Shen Chia-Yi (Michelle Chen) and many of them even have a crush on her. However, Chia-Yi is closest to Ching-Teng because she has been instructed by a teacher to tutor Ching-Teng in his studies and help him stay out of trouble. The two gradually fall in love but have to separate when they go to college. Staying apart, the couple face many challenges and temptations which threaten to tear them from each other...


HITS & MISSES: The school pranks and events are seen from Ching-Teng's point-of-view and he pulls no punches to show us what it is like during those heady days. We see the boys masturbating, courting girls and handling heartbreak and separation. One college scene explains why the boys jerk off with their left hand while watching online porn - the right hand is needed to move the mouse. We see how the girls have to put up with these pranks and crass jokes and manage to hold their own.

The best part of Giddens' direction is that we can easily identify with the protagonist and the lead cast. In any co-ed class, there will always be a beautiful bookworm like Chia-Yi whom all the boys will admire and even try to court; and there will be the resident sex maniac, the fat slob, and other weirdos. All these characters are credibly developed although there are some sequences, like Ching-Teng going naked in his house, that are not satisfactorily explained.

And just as all the boys fall in love with Michele Chen's Chia-Yi, we too are charmed by her. Chen is such a natural that her Chia-Yi reminds us of the girl-next-door, captivating our hearts especially in the scene where she is summarily punished with the boys for being disrespectful of the teacher. This is one movie from which you will leave the cineplex with a smile on your face and feeling warm in your heart.

THE LOWDOWN: Here's one love story that's pleasing to the eye but will steal your heart away...


Real Steel Tops US Weekend B-O

OCT 10, 2011 - Real Steel fought its way to the top of the North American box office this weekend, though its debut didn't quite reach heavyweight levels. The Ides of March was the runner-up with a standard George Clooney opening, while Dolphin Tale and Moneyball continued to hold well in their third frames.

Real Steel scored an estimated US$27.3 million, which tops Rocky IV's US$20 million for highest boxing debut ever (though it obviously lags in estimated attendance). It was also the second highest-grossing opening for a sports drama behind The Blind Side's US$34.1 million.

50/50 had the best hold among last weekend's newcomers. It declined 36 percent to an estimated US$5.5 million, and the movie has now earned $17.3 million. With the Blu-ray version finally in stores, The Lion King 3D plummeted 57 percent to US$4.55 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Oct 7-9, 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. (-) Real Steel (Buena Vista) $27.3 million ($27.3 million) 1

2. (-) The Ides of March (Sony/Columbia) $10.4 million ($10.4 million) 1

3. (1) Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) $9.2 million ($49.1 million) 3

4. (2) Moneyball (Sony/Columbia) $7.5 million ($49.3 million) 3

5. (4) 50/50 (Summit) $5.5 million ($17.3 million) 2

Friday, October 07, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Oct 7 - 9, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) THE THREE MUSKETEERS (fantasy adventure in 3D with Matthew MacFadyen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz and Gabriella Wilde) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A lavish and almost spoofy version of the Alexandre Dumas tale with mind-boggling sets and exe-popping costumes. Alas, the 'futuristic' embellishments of flying airships and Matrix-styled slow-mo bullets are tempered by a retro-styled narrative. Still, it is a popcorn flick for action fans and videogamers who love the sight of heaving bosoms mixed with fencing and brawling. (Reviewed below)

b) THE CAT: TWO EYES THAT SEE DEATH (Korean horror with Park Min-young, Kim Dong-wook and Shin Da-eun) Rating * * (2 stars): For those who are new to the Asian horror genre, this generic flick will seem scary and engaging. However, if you have your fair share of films like The Eye and Ju-On, this will be more of a copy-Cat film, with sudden loud noises and cheap scares to jolt you. On the plus side, we have a rather notable performance from Park Min-young.

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. 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 enigma as the neighbour who may have the answer to the murders. (Reviewed below)

2. 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)

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. 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-within-a-show with Miriam Yeung, Lam Suet and Chapman To playing kiddie characters like chicken, rabbit, mice and tortoise. (Reviewed below)

5. 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 washboard abs at the slightest excuse - since he has no acting talents to speak of. And despite the big names like Weaver, Nyqvist and Molina, the movie stinks, even when compared to Hana. The plot is lame and even though there's no vampire here, the dialogue sucks. (Reviewed below)



Thursday, October 06, 2011

THE THREE MUSKETEERS - Fantasy Popcorn Trip

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (fantasy adventure in 3D)
Cast: Matthew MacFadyen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz and Gabriella Wilde
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Screenplay by Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

All for One and One for All - the Musketeers against the Cardinal's Guards

PREAMBLE: Two words come to mind when I was sitting through this lavish adaptation of the Three Musketeers: ostentatious and foppish. Or, to put it another way, when you take a theme park idea like Pirates Of The Caribbean and throw in all sorts of crazy stuff and stunts, it is creative; but when you take Alexandre Dumas' classic and throw in ninja divers, flying airships and Matrix-style dodging of bullets, that is nothing short of sacrilege.

In fact, I can't quite decide if this rendition by Paul W.S. Anderson is a parody, a fashion fantasy or just a noisy, messy romp.

Christoph Waltz and Milla Jovovich as the Cardinal and Milady

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The three Musketeers and the sexy Milady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich) are introduced to the audience in a botched heist in Venice where Da Vinci's plans for a fighting airship is stolen. Then we follow the cocky D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) as he journeys to Paris and meets Athos (Matthew MacFadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) - and the Queen's handmaid Constance (Gabriella Wilde). He arranges a duel with the three Musketeers but their brawl is interrupted by the Cardinal's Guards.

D'Artagnan and the 3Ms are then involved in a mission to recover the Queen's (Juno Temple) jewels from Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, in a role that is largely wasted) in London.

HITS & MISSES: On the plus side, the leads are nicely fleshed out especially MacFadyen's Athos whose heart is broken by the conniving Milady (pic, right). Stevenson's Porthos is pompous and a drunkard while Evans portrays Aramis as a brooding ex-clergy. Lerman's D'Artagnan may attract his female fans but his is the weakest role that is more like a pretty boy always spoiling for a fight with all and sundry. Freddie Fox fares better even as he hams his role as the childish King Louis VIII. Christoph Waltz is at his best as Cardinal Richelieu.

Also, the costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud are eye-poppingly gorgeous, especially those worn by Jovovich and Wilde, with added heaving bosoms. The mid-air cannon battle scenes are pretty ridiculous but the swordfight between D'Artagnan and Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) is breath-taking. The closing scenes set the narrative hooks for the inevitable sequel.

THE LOWDOWN: A fantasy popcorn trip for the undiscerning.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

REAL STEEL - Rocky Played by a Robot

REAL STEEL (sci-fi family drama)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, Phil La Marr, Olga Fonda and James Rebhorn
Director: Shaun Levy
Screenplay by John Gatins
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo in REAL STEEL

THE BIG DEAL in this Disney movie set in the 2020s is robot-boxing. The idea is adapted from Richard Matheson's 1956 short story Steel previously shown as an episode of "The Twilight Zone." Just think of Rocky being played by a robot and you are as close to what Real Steel is about as you can get.

Besides the novelty of Robot Rocky, there is only the usual estranged dad-and-son storyline with a little uncanny romance thrown in. Considering that this is a Disney film, you can expect to have your heartstrings tugged - and other predictable stuff.

Atom sparring with Charlie (Jackman)

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a has-been boxer who now travels the country promoting his tin-can fighter robot. He owes a lot of people money and he finds a way out of his predicament when he gets news that his ex-wife has died in an accident, and he must attend the custody hearing of his son Max (Dakota Goyo, who was last seen in Thor). Charlie practically "sells" his son off to his sister-in-law (Hope Davis) and her filthy-rich hubby (James Rebhorn) for adoption.

For the time being, however, Charlie is stuck with Max who also happens to be a fan of video games and robot boxing. Together, and with the help of Charlie's girlfriend Baily (Evangeline Lilly), they patch up used robots for tournaments. When they come across an obsolete sparing 'bot named Atom, Max sees potential in it as an underdog droid capable of taking on the top robots in the Real Steel matches.

Lilly and Goyo

HITS & MISSES: Real Steel holds thrills for boxing fans because the action is as gruelling and crunching as the human matches. Top that up with realistic-looking effects, we even feel for those boxing machines - just as we have felt for droids like R2D2 and C3PO in the Star Wars sagas. Among the human cast, Jackman is in top form as the debt-ridden hustler of a dad who finds a match in his own flesh-and-blood. Indeed, Goyo steals the show as the Dr Prpper-guzzling kid who is highly confident in himself and his abilities. Together, Jackman and Goyo exude fantastic screen chemistry.

Lilly (of TV's Lost) provides the requisite feminine presence as Charlie's long-suffering girlfriend but the relationship poses some disturbing questions for viewers: like, what is a pretty girl like her doing, waiting for a loser like Charlie when she can have any guy she wants? And as can be expected, another winning performance comes from Atom the cute 'junkyard dog' that dances like a butterfly and takes heavy beatings without flinching.

THE LOWDOWN: Another entertaining family treat from Disney.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? - Farcical Fun

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? (romantic comedy)
Cast: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Zachary Quinto, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Martin Freeman, Matt Bomer, Chris Pratt, Ivana Milicevic and Joel McHale
Director: Mark Mylod
Screenplay by Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden and Karyn Bosnak
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: The main problem with most romantic comedies is that everyone knows who the female protagonist is going to end up with - except for the lead characters themselves. In What's Your Number?, the situation is worse: we all know who Ally Darling (Anna Faris) will end up with after just 10 minutes into the movie, thus making the rest of the proceedings a prolonged foreplay because she will not 'go past 20' (this will be explained later).

And talking about 'foreplay', this R-rated comedy is so full of sexy dialogue about penises and vaginas that your mom's ears will blister.

SYNOPSIS: After losing her stuffy boyfriend (Zachary Quinto) and her marketing job all in one day, Ally discovers more bad news. She learns from a magazine article that the average American woman has 10.5 lovers in her lifetime, and Ally realizes she's slept with nearly twice that number and is in danger of making herself unable to get married.

Spooked by this ridiculous fear of remaining a slut, she decides not to go past her 20 lovers and instead 'review' her old flames for marriage material. To do this she enlists her hunky neighbour, Colin Shea (Chris Evans still showing off his Captain America body) to help her track down the guys in her past, hoping that one of them will propose to her. In return, Ally allows Colin, a struggling musician, to hide from his one-night stands in her apartment.

HITS & MISSES: This flimsy excuse for a movie is based on Karyn Bosnak’s 2006 novel, “20 Times a Lady”. It is reminiscent of Bridesmaids because it has a subplot about the upcoming wedding of Ally's younger sister, Daisy (Ari Graynor) to another hunk (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Blythe Danner is an old hen (err, hand) at playing Ally's snobbish mom while Ed Begley Jr appears briefly as her father.

One thing we can delight in is Faris' performance and her bubbly chemistry with Evans. This is her movie and she is in top form playing an airhead who is good for nothing except making cute clay figurines for dioramas. Ally's exes are well picked too including Martin Freeman as her Brit lover, Chris Pratt (Faris' real-life hubby) as 'Disgusting Donald', and Joel McHale as her scratch-and-sniff boss. To be fair, there is a fair number of raunchy laughs to be had but my main peeve is that director Mark Mylod opts for the senseless melodramatic ending that seems to squeeze the last drop of humour from a hopelessly predictable script.

THE LOWDOWN: Farcical but fun.

'DRIVE' Cancelled in Malaysia


SEPT 24, 2011DRIVE will not be released in Malaysia after all. Its distributor, Nusantara Edaran Filem, said its release in Malaysia has been cancelled due to some 'technical problems'.

Drive, which stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, was scheduled to be released last Thursday. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, it was adapted from James Sallis' 2005 crime novel about an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) who also drives getaway cars at night. The screenplay was by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini.

The film has been critically acclaimed, rating 8.4/10 at IMDB and scoring 93 per cent with critics at Rotten Tomatoes. My review is here.

Link

Monday, October 03, 2011

Dolphin Tale Jumps to Top Weekend Spot

OCT 3, 2011 - On strong word-of-mouth, Dolphin Tale managed to leap over Moneyball and The Lion King 3D to take first place on its second weekend in North America. 50/50 faltered but was tops among newcomers, though faith-based movie Courageous had the most impressive showing at far fewer locations.

Dream House disappointed in its debut at No. 6, while What's Your Number? tallied one of the worst numbers for a super-saturated (3,000+ theatres) release ever. Dream House scared up a meek estimated US$8.2 million. That's just a fraction of haunted house movies like The Skeleton Key (US$16.1 million) and The Amityville Horror (US$23.5 million), and it's even off a bit from Dark Water (US$9.9 million).

What's Your Number? wound up in 8th place with a terrible US$5.6 million. That's the fifth-worst debut ever for a movie in more than 3,000 theatere, and is just over one-third of the opening of star Anna Faris's House Bunny (US$14.5 million).

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Sept 30-Oct 1, 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. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) $14.3 million ($37.5 million) 2

2. Moneyball (Sony/Columbia) $12.5 million ($38.5 million) 2

3. The Lion King 3D (Buena Vista) $11.1 million ($79.7 million) 3

4. 50/50 (Summit) $8.9 million ($8.9 million) 1

5. Courageous (TriStar) $8.8 million ($8.8 million) 1