Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MADE IN DAGENHAM - The Fight For Equal Pay

MADE IN DAGENHAM (drama)
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff, Geraldine James, Rupert Graves, Robbie Kay, Joseph Mawle and Daniel Mays
Director: Nigel Cole
Screenplay: Billy Ivory
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Miranda Richardson (centre) flanked by Geraldine James and Sally Hawkins

PREAMBLE: I must confess that I was not very excited about watching this 2010 movie about a bunch of British women staging labour protests in the Sixties. However, when I finally got down to it, Made In Dagenham turns out to be an enjoyable and even entertaining effort. Directed by Nigel Cole, the guy who gave us Calendar Girls in 2003, the movie captures the Sixties mood and ambience rather vividly, and even plays the period's pop songs on the sound track.

Of course, the narrative, based on real-life events about one woman's guts and grit in fighting for equal pay, helps a lot in keeping the audience interested.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Dagenham is a small town in England where the Ford factory employs 187 women 'machinists' and 55,000 men in 1968. The women, who sew car seats together, work in appalling sweatshop conditions, many having to loosen their dresses to counter the summer heat. When the female workers are labelled 'unskilled' and forced to take a pay cut, a union rep (Bob Hoskins) urges them to take their grievances to the top management. (PIC RIGHT: Jaime Winstone as Sandra)
A spunky Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) is picked to be the spokeswoman and her quest for 'a fair shake' and equality (women get 15 per cent less pay than men) leads to protests and strikes. Rita's own family and those of the others are also hurt by the industrial actions but they are determined to win. After a while, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, sees it fit to intervene in the cause.

HITS & MISSES: Director Cole resists the temptation to go for the melodramatic, opting for the soft and more realistic approach where we see how an ordinary and unassuming Rita and her gang quietly push for their rights. This is a fitting vehicle for Hawkins whose nervousness belies an iron will and determination to 'do the right thing'. It is easy to see how she can win over so many people. Hawkins is supported by a sterling cast including Geraldine James as the wife of a World War II veteran with mental problems; Daniel Mays as Rita's long suffering husband, Eddie; and Rosamund Pike (left) as Lisa, the resentful wife of an executive (played by Rupert Graves) at the plant.

I also like the little details Cole includes to remind us of the Sixties - smoking indoors, the a-go-go parties and the shock in men's faces at the thought of women getting the equal pay as men. Understandably, 'Dagenham' is not going to do as well as Calendar Girls, which is a comedy with controversial delights. Still, for those who appreciate good acting and a bit of nostalgia, this one more than fits the bill.

THE LOWDOWN: An inspiring and uplifting story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

PETALING STREET WARRIORS - More Spoof than Kungfu

PETALING STREET WARRIORS (comedy in Mandarin and Cantonese)
Cast: Mark Lee, Yeo Yann Yann, Chris Tong, Namewee, Frederick Lee, Henry Thia, Ramasundran Rengana and Alvin Wong
Directors: James Lee and Sampson Yuen
Screenplay: Lim Boon Siang & James Lee
Time: 106 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Sunny Pang (left) Mark Lee and Yeo Yann Yann (centre) and Namewee (right)

PREAMBLE: With a title like Petaling Street Warriors, many local movie fans and the media have imagined it to be James Lee's version of Stephen Chow's Kungfu Hustle. They had expected it to be another kungfu comedy but that is not what it turns out to be.

'PSW' is a spoof on Hong Kong's martial arts/gangster movies and on Malaysian foibles. Pirated merchandise could not have been on sale at Petaling Street in 1908, yet there is a standing joke about piracy in the movie. The same goes for that "looks like me, sounds like me but it's not me" gag.

Yeo Yann Yann and Chris Tong in a fighting scene

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Shi Duyao (Mark Lee) and his wife Zhung Lichun (Yeo Yann Yann) operate a Hokkien mee stall in Petaling Street, circa 1908. As hawkers trying to eke out a living, they face oppression by the colonial government as well as extortion by local gangs who demand all sorts of protection money.

One day, Duyao encounters a mysterious but beautiful kungfu exponent, Xiaoju (Chris Tong), who seduces him because she believes that Duyao is a descendant of the fugitive Emperor Jianwen of the Ming Dynasty. To stop a group of Qing warriors and Japanese ninjas from getting their hands on a treasure map that Duyao doesn't even know he has, Lichun and her cousin, Liu Kun (Namewee), must reveal their true identity and kungfu prowess, turning Petaling Street into a battleground. Is Duyao really who they think he is?

The cast and crew at a Press Conference on Nov 25 at GSC MidValley

HITS & MISSES: The film has a cast comprising Singaporeans and Malaysians - augmented by Hong Kong's Yuk-Sing Ma (of Storm Riders 2 fame) in martial arts choreography. I wouldn't expect too much of the kungfu sequences here, though, as it is more a comedy than action flick. Shot in the town of Siputeh (near Batu Gajah) in Perak, the production values and location are rather credible in masquerading as Petaling Street of one century ago.

With Singapore's Mark Lee in the lead, the movie maintains a tongue-in-cheek mood, as its plot delves into the controversial legend of dethroned Ming Emperor Jianwen who was rumoured to have fled to Southeast Asia in 1402. (Some historians have gone on to argued that the real purpose of the voyages of Admiral Zheng He - which began three years after Emperor Yongle's ascension to throne - was not just for trade or national pride, but to seek out Jianwen who was believed to be hiding in the Malay peninsula). Fast-forward five centuries later, the descendants of Jianwen can be anywhere and everywhere and thus the narrative is moot.

While Singapore stalwarts like Henry Thia and John Cheng have cameos as a money lender and gang leader, respectively, Malaysia is aptly represented by Namewee, Chris Tong, Alvin Wong and Ramasundran Rengan. Namewee, starring in his first full-length movie (Nasi Lemak 2.0 is the second), has rather few lines ostensibly because his Liu Kun has speech problems due to his short tongue. Chris Tong provides the sex appeal - and a touch of enigma in her role as seductress. Alvin Wong and Ramasundran provide the laughs in the same way they do on TV. It is not fair to lump PSW with Stephen Chow's mo-lei-tau comedies. At least PSW has an engaging narrative and some hearty laughs. Also watch out for an uncredited appearance by Jack Neo in drag.

THE LOWDOWN: Interesting local popcorn flick.

Monday, November 28, 2011

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS - Fitting Yuletide Fare

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (animated adventure in 3D)
Cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen
Directors: Sarah Smith and Barry Cook
Screenplay by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith
Time: 97 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Bryony and Arthur Christmas among the elves

PREAMBLE: If you ever have to explain to a kid how Santa Claus can deliver millions of presents all over the world in the course of one night, just take the child to watch Arthur Christmas. This British animated comedy has not only updated the Santa logistics lore but also injects a heavy dose of high-tech ideas into the whole affair.

Well, the new 'space age' premise is not 100 per cent plausible, but it tickles the intellect and opens up lots of possibilities.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It's Christmas eve and Santa's elves are delivering presents all over the world via a giant spaceship and a new high-tech operation presided over by an ageing Santa (Jim Broadbent). This once-a-year operation is based in the North Pole and run by Santa's oldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie).

However, when a present falls off a conveyor belt and gets left behind, Steve and Santa are prepared to write it off as an acceptable margin of error, and it's up to Santa's gawky younger son, Arthur (James McAvoy), to make sure that no child is gift-less on Christmas day. With the help of Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and an elf skilled in present-wrapping (Ashley Jensen as Bryony), Arthur sets off in an old-fashioned sled to finish the job.

Arthur and GrandSanta (voice of Bill Nighy)

HITS & MISSES: Arthur Christmas reminds me of the old Rankin-Bass TV cartoons, especially in the way the Yuletide legends are explored and expanded. What I like best is the way the writers put a new spin on the Santa myths - even to the point of suggesting that the Claus clan is dysfunctional. Yes, the plot and subplots are creatively written, complete with a few twists and generous dollops of British humour. And unlike most Christmas movies, there is even a little subversive humour here - that even Santa is not the ho-ho-ho good guy but a lot more human.

The animation is delightfully done. I watched the film in 3D which enhances the thrills of the 'space ship' and flying sledge sequences considerably. The pace drags a bit in the middle section but picks up towards the end.

THE LOWDOWN: A fitting entertainment for the Yuletide holidays.

'Breaking Dawn Pt 1' Stays On Top US B-O

NOV 28, 2011 - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 easily repeated in first place at the box office over Thanksgiving weekend, while The Muppets revived the long-dormant franchise with a strong second place debut. Arthur Christmas and Hugo weren't quite as fortunate, though the true measure of their success will be determined over the next month.

Breaking Dawn added an estimated US$62.3 million for the five-day weekend, which is a bit off from New Moon's US$66.3 million over the same time period in 2009. On Saturday, Breaking Dawn passed US$200 million, and through its first 10 days the penultimate Twilight movie has earned US$221.3 million.

The Muppets opened to an estimated $42 million, which is down from past Disney Thanksgiving entries Tangled ($68.7 million) and Enchanted ($49.1 million). Arthur Christmas debuted in fourth place with an estimated US$17 million. It's US$12.7 million three-day start ranks at the bottom of Aardman Animation wide releases, though it surely relieved some demand with its Wednesday opening.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 25-27, 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) Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt 1 (Sum) $42.0 million ($221.3 million) 2

2. (-) The Muppets (BV) $29.5 million ($42.0 million) 1

3. (2) Happy Feet Two (WB) $13.4 million ($43.7 million) 2

4. (-) Arthur Christmas (Sony) $12.7 million ($17.0 million) 1

5. (-) Hugo (Paramount) $11.3 million ($15.3 million) 1

Thursday, November 24, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 25 - 27, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) PUSS IN BOOTS (animated comedy in 3D with Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Rich Dietl, Ryan Crego and Tom Wheeler) Rated * * * (3 stars): As the Shrek franchise closes, the saga of Puss In Boots begins. It has done very well Stateside and looks to do well at the Malaysian box-office too, especially for this long school holidays. Nicely fleshed out by Banderas, the swashbuckling feline is fun and charming and is well supported by Hayek's role as Kitty Softpaws as they embark on a quest for the Magic Beans and the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. Just purr-fect for the family. (Reviewed below)

b) 50/50 (comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Marie Avgeropoulos, Julia Benson and Philip Baker Hall) Rated * * * (3 stars): Dealing with an unpopular subject like cancer, 50/50 is not as depressing as you would expect. The protagonist (played by Gordon-Levitt) is likeable and it is easy for the audience to relate to him. Wel, it is not an outrageous comedy like The Hangover but there are enough laugh-out-loud moments as well as touching ones to sustain our interest. (Reviewed below)

c) TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN Pt 1 (fantasy romance with Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed and Kellan Lutz) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): With Part One, Twilight fans get what they have always wanted: ogling time with their idols (yes, Jacob still rips off his shirt and there are close-up of Bella's body and wedding dress); the lavish nuptials, the mystery-shrouded honeymoon (what the hell happened to their bedroom?) and the big fuss over a pregnant Bella! Well, there isn't enough narrative to propel the action so director Bill Condon prolongs the events of the book even to the point of milking every scene. (Reviewed below)

d) EAST MEETS WEST 2011 (fantasy comedy with Eason Chan, Karen Mok, Kenny Bee, Jaycee Chan, Ekin Cheng, William So, Huang Yi and Stephy Tang) Rated * (1 star): A voice-over tells us that the movie is about the exploits of eight demi-gods demoted to Earth as humans. However, from the nonsense we see on-screen, they can also be fugitives from the Planet of Idiots and Buffoons. What a waste of talents like Karen Mok, Kenny Bee, Ekin Cheng and Eason Chan! It makes me wonder what hallucinatory drug the film-makers were smoking when they did this movie. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (animated adventure in 3D with Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Sebastian Roché) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): This was my favourite comic book adventure during my teenage years and Steven Spielberg has managed to capture its wonderful sense of mystery and discovery that was alive in Herge's strips. It is like another Indy Jones-type caper - but with more spectacular chases and effects augmented by 3D. Easily one of the best animated movies of this year! (Reviewed below)

2. YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (romantic comedy with Ko Chen-Tung, Michelle Chen, Steven Hao, Ao-Chuen, Tsai Chang-hsien and Wan-Wan) Rated * * * (3 stars): This rom-com by Giddens swept Taiwan's box-office for over a month and had sold-out halls when it sneaked in Malaysia two weeks ago. It's popularity with the young Chinese-educated crowd is understandable: the cast is lovable and the leads, Ko Chen-Teng and Michele Chen will steal your heart away with their performances. The movie centres a lot on sex - like masturbation and porn - but these are mostly in the dialogue. Certainly a crowd-pleaser with young lovers. (Reviewed here)

3. HAPPY FEET 2 (animated musical with voices of Elijah Wood, Pink, Elizabeth Daily, Sofía Vergara, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Hank Azaria, Magda Szubanski and Eddie Tang) Rating: * * * (3 stars): While the 2006 original won an Oscar for Best Animated Film, this sequel is no award-winning material. It offers more of the same cute, saccharine-sweet stuff that should pull in the kids and their parents but the vitality and charm of George Miller's original has faded. It is predictable and popcorn entertainment for the young 'uns, no doubt.

4. SEEKING JUSTICE (crime drama with Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Carpenter, Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, Monica Acosta, Joe Chrest and Donna Duplantier) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Featuring commendable performances by Cage and Jones, this vigilante caper seems to lose steam and sidetracks into a subplot. Still, I am glad that it is not an updated version of Death Wish or Taken. I only wish that director Roger Donaldson had developed its 'vigilante group cleans up New Orleans after Katrina' plot satisfactorily. (Reviewed below)

5. IMMORTALS (fantasy adventure with Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Robert Maillet, Corey Sevier, Alan Van Sprang, Neil Napier and Mercedes Leggett) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot is somewhat like that of Clash Of The Titans and the action is like those of 300. So you can expect mythical Greek gods and titans getting involved with the bloody and gory action generated by the ambitious and brutal Hyperion's (Rourke) quest for conquest of the 'world'. The plot is wafer thin but the blood and violence is as thick as those of 300. And expectedly, the love scenes have been censored. (Reviewed below)

EAST MEETS WEST - Stay Away

EAST MEETS WEST (fantasy comedy in Cantonese)
Cast: Eason Chan, Karen Mok, Kenny Bee, Jaycee Chan, Ekin Cheng, William So, Huang Yi and Stephy Tang
Director: Jeffrey Lau
Screenplay by Jeffrey Lau
Time: 96 mins
Rating: * (out of 4)

Karen Mok and Kenny Bee

PREAMBLE: One thing that comes to mind after 10 minutes of this movie is: What the hell were the people smoking when they did this gad-awful trash of a movie? Jeff Lau's East Meets West is apparently an attempt at spoofing the Hong Kong music industry and a host of popular Cantonese comedies. However, it ends up making a sorry ass of itself.

It boggles the mind how so many famous and talented stars are involved in crazy cinematic circus.

Huang Yi

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? I really don't know but the synopsis provided in the Production Notes is as follows:

Ten thousand years ago eight gods fought incessantly, not realizing that by doing so they were securing their own demotion into the secular world. They can only return to heaven once they can get along with each other harmoniously. Ten thousand years later a stereotypical Hong Kong girl Zhong Xiaoming, and her smart father Ah B, have no idea why they are being chased up for a debt. Having no alternative, they flee to Guangdong to search for the girl’s unreliable mother Jia Jia to find out the reason. From antiquity to the present, East and West, dance and flight, a pleasantly surprising cast, magnificent and happy, no great disparity between rich and poor, success and prosperity!

Karen Mok & Eason Chan

HITS & MISSES: It is a put-off to see characters dressed outrageously and acting ridiculously even if they are gods incarnate. There is absolutely no emotional connection between the cast with the audience and for the most part we don't know what is happening or why. Is the sight of Kenny Bee in Beatles or Elvis hairstyle funny? No one laughed or even sniggered at the media screening I attended. Will anyone laugh at Ekin Cheng covered in flour and communicating in sign language? Again, no one found it funny enough to laugh.

Besides the iconic hairstyles, the cast also don crazy-looking eyeglasses and idiotic wigs and make-up. The big name cast, especially Karen Mok, are largely wasted in a movie that largely requires them to make a fool of themselves. Mok is supposed to be playing a woman who yearns for love and affection but is too shy to show it. However, she appears to be just clowning around in a meaningless role. Jaycee Chan has a cameo ostensibly to make fun of his father Jackie. Kenny Bee just looks lost throughout the movie while Ekin Cheng looks pathetic.

THE LOWDOWN: Let East Meet West. Just stay clear of this trash.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BREAKING DAWN Part 1 - All To Please The Fans

TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN Part 1 (fantasy romance)
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed and Kellan Lutz
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on novel by Stephanie Meyer
Time: 116 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: We gotta take our hats off to Bill Condon, an art film director tasked with making this wildly popular Twilight project. He seems to know what the legions of Twilight fans want - and he gives it to them. Trouble is, the powers-that-be got cold feet and started practising self-censorship, turning what would easily have been an R-rated film into a PG-13 one. Yes, Condon gives us a grand wedding befitting a now-famous vegan vampire and a virginal lass; he has many scenes of Taylor Lautner ripping off his shirt; and included lingering scenes of Bella and Edward frolicking in the buff at a scenic waterfall. What more can a fan ask for?

Well, watching Part 1 of Breaking Dawn leaves me with some nagging and disturbing questions: What the hell happened in Edward and Bella's honeymoon chalet at the break of dawn? Why does the bedroom look like a tornado has hit it? Why is Ed so sorry over the multiple bruises on his new wife's body? Why does Bella look so worn out but elated? So much anxiety over Bella losing her virginity and then turning it into a mystery!

WEDDING GUESTS: Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Raeser and Peter Facinelli

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The narrative opens with preparations for Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen's (Robert Pattinson) wedding. When news of this gets to Jacob (Taylor Lautner), he dashes off into the woods - going MIA for a good part of the wedding day. He shows up to provide some drama to an otherwise boring ceremony.

With the drinking and dancing over, Bella and Edward fly off to an idyllic island for their honeymoon. This is where they finally consummate their love - leaving not only a scene of destruction and bodily bruises, but also a 'by-product' that threatens Bella's life. Soon, Edward is forced to seek Jacob's help to protect the woman they both love from beings they both fear.
Nikki Reed and Taylor Lautner

HITS & MISSES: Splitting Meyer's fourth book into two parts may be a good marketing strategy but it offers the film precious little narrative to go on with. Most parts, like the wedding preparations, the ceremony, etc, seem to have been stretched and prolonged - moving the plot at a snail's pace. Fans of the book may not mind as this allows them to 'spend' more time ogling at their idols (the camera often closes in on Bella, especially in her wedding dress) but the scenes can be vacuous, if not irrelevant.

Of the cast, Stewart's acting skills are still found wanting but at least Condon is clever enough to show off her other assets - and later dramatises her growing tummy. Pattinson's Edward is as cool as always but here it is obvious that Lautner is better showing off his pecs than his emotions. The most dramatic acting is in the sequence where a pack of wolves engage in a quarrel over Bella! Billy Burke and Ashley Green get more screen time playing Bella's parents - and they tend to make the best of it. Those who have not read the book, like yours truly, may also find the fuss over Bella's pregnancy rather melodramatic. Like, why is it such a big deal that it should involve humans, vampires and werewolves? On the plus side, a touching music score enhances the requisite mood to the drama and I also like the way Part One ends.

THE LOWDOWN: Again, what the hell happened on the honeymoon?

PUSS IN BOOTS - Sexy, Swashy and Fun

PUSS IN BOOTS (animated comedy in 3D)
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Rich Dietl, Ryan Crego and Tom Wheeler
Director: Chris Miller
Screenplay by Tom Wheeler
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Humpty (Galifianakis), Softpaws (Hayek) and Puss (Banderas)

PREAMBLE: The Shrek franchise ends and the Puss In Boots saga begins... This is how it should be even for blockbuster movie ideas like Shrek - to fold when the going is at its best so that the fans will always have fond memories of it.

If there is any doubt that Antonio Banderas' swashbuckler kitty is going to be another big hit at the cineplexes, it gets slashed away just 10 minutes into the show. Okay, okay, Banderas is merely reprising his Zorro persona here, but as Puss, he has a wider comic range and a lot more hilarious lines. With Salma Hayek's support as Kitty Softpaws and Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty, we have an almost purr-fect fantasy adventure nicely enhanced by 3D.

Puss and Softpaws

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Of course, it is about the quest by Puss, Humpty and Softpaws to find the magic beans and the Goose that lays golden eggs up in the giant's castle. The other nursery rhyme characters include Jack and Jill (played by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) and Mother Goose itself.

There is a little 'origin' story about how little Puss befriends the inventive and scheming Humpty at an orphanage, and how the feline turns into an outlaw with a price on his head.


HITS & MISSES: Like the earlier Shrek films, Puss In Boots also works on many levels. The visuals are stunning, creating the mood and feel of Mexican villages and deserts; the main characters are interesting and captivating, with Hayek's Softpaws evoking sexual allure and dangerous feline charm; the narrative is loaded with engaging twists and turns, and there are loads and loads of gags and puns about cats and eggs to last us a lifetime.

As mentioned, Banderas provides Puss with his 'own' screen characteristics - like the love 'em and leave 'em Casanova-type; the Zorro-hero who is adept at swordplay as well as wordplay, and the animated tom cat who melts hearts with its pitiful round black eyes. As Jack & Jill, Thornton and Sedaris paint a rugged Wild West picture of a Bonnie & Clyde couple but the most interesting role belongs to Galifianakis. The Humpty character is the most developed in the entire film and Galifianakis is at his whiny best.

THE LOWDOWN: Puss In Boots looks like another Golden Goose for Dreamworks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

50/50 - Good Odds for Entertainment

50/50 (comedy)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Marie Avgeropoulos, Julia Benson and Philip Baker Hall
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay by Will Reiser
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in 50/50

PREAMBLE: The title refers to a young man's odds at beating cancer. Yes, I know. For most people, cancer is a bad word and this comedy about fighting cancer will put most people off. However, it is not as depressing as I had thought it would be and the movie has a nice balance of humour and characterisation (or information) that offers insights into fighting the disease.

Kendricks and Gordon-Levitt

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: Radio-writer Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is understandably shocked when he is told that he has malignant tumours along his spine. His oncologist gives him an even chance of beating the disease, but his friends and family react differently to the problem.

His artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) promises support and to nurse him back to health but would not even step inside the hospital; his mother (Angelica Huston) goes into panic mode and tries to smoother him with care; and his best buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen) offers to keep his spirits up by taking him to meet girls and party. Meantime, Adam has to work with a therapist (Anna Kendricks as Katherine) to help him cope with his disease...

Howard and Gordon-Levitt

HITS & MISSES: One of the strengths of the script by Will Reiser (based on personal experience) is that Gordon-Levitt's protagonist is a likable, self-effacing guy with whom the audience can easily identify and sympathise. His Adam does not smoke, drink or do drugs - and is even cautious crossing the street, unlike Kyle who instigates him into such bad habits. Cancer has picked another nice guy!

As expected, the first half of the movie seems more like black comedy as director Jonathan Levine piles on the gags and black humour. However, it settles into a nice balance in the later parts when we tend to understand the characters and the situations better. Howard's Rachael, for example, feels compelled to commit to taking care of Adam but is quite incapable of it. Kendricks (of Up In The Air and Twilight films) provides one of her best performances as the nervous therapist who gives Adam more than professional care. The role of Katherine is a difficult and complex one and Kendricks pulls it off admirably. Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer also shine in their roles as Adam's pot-smoking fellow patients.

THE LOWDOWN: The odds are that you will enjoy 50/50.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Breaking Dawn Pt 1 Tops US Weekend B-O

NOV 21, 2011 - While it wasn't quite able to reach the series high mark, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1's outstanding estimated US$139.5 million opening indicated that the sexy teen vampires are as popular as ever. What does appear to have lost some of its appeal, however, is dancing penguins: Happy Feet Two struggled to even open to half as much as its popular 2006 predecessor. Overall box office was up around 14 percent to at least US$221 million, and the weekend could wind up ranking as the fifth-highest on record.

Breaking Dawn's estimated US$139.5 million opening is second-best among Twilight movies behind 2009's New Moon ($142.7 million). That's a small gap, though, and Breaking Dawn still managed to claim fifth place on the all-time opening weekend chart behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3 and New Moon.

Immortals plummeted 62 percent to an estimated US$12.3 million. That's an improvement over August's Conan the Barbarian (68 percent), but it's off from Clash of the Titans (57 percent) and 300 (54 percent). Through 10 days in cinemas, the fantasy epic has earned just shy of US$53 million.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 18-20, 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. (-) Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt 1 (Summit) $139.5 million ($139.5 million) 1

2. (-) Happy Feet Two (WB) $22.0 million ($22.0 million) 1

3. (1) Immortals (Relativity) $12.2 million ($52.9 million) 2

4. (2) Jack and Jill (Sony) $12.0 million ($41,0 million) 2

5. (3) Puss in Boots (Dreamworks) $10.7 million ($122.3 million) 4

Thursday, November 17, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 18 - 20, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) HAPPY FEET 2 (animated musical with voices of Elijah Wood, Pink, Elizabeth Daily, Sofía Vergara, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Hank Azaria, Magda Szubanski and Eddie Tang) Rating: * * * (3 stars): While the 2006 original won an Oscar for Best Animated Film, this sequel is no award-winning material. It offers more of the same cute, saccharine-sweet stuff that should pull in the kids and their parents but the vitality and charm of George Miller's original has faded. It is predictable and popcorn entertainment for the young 'uns, no doubt.

b) SEEKING JUSTICE (crime drama with Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Carpenter, Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, Monica Acosta, Joe Chrest and Donna Duplantier) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Featuring commendable performances by Cage and Jones, this vigilante caper seems to lose steam and sidetracks into a subplot. Still, I am glad that it is not an updated version of Death Wish or Taken. I only wish that director Roger Donaldson had developed its 'vigilante group cleans up New Orleans after Katrina' plot satisfactorily. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (animated adventure in 3D with Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Sebastian Roché) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): This was my favourite comic book adventure during my teenage years and Steven Spielberg has managed to capture its wonderful sense of mystery and discovery that was alive in Herge's strips. It is like another Indy Jones-type caper - but with more spectacular chases and effects augmented by 3D. Easily one of the best animated movies of this year! (Reviewed below)

2. YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (romantic comedy with Ko Chen-Tung, Michelle Chen, Steven Hao, Ao-Chuen, Tsai Chang-hsien and Wan-Wan) Rated * * * (3 stars): This rom-com by Giddens swept Taiwan's box-office for over a month and had sold-out halls when it sneaked in Malaysia two weeks ago. It's popularity with the young Chinese-educated crowd is understandable: the cast is lovable and the leads, Ko Chen-Teng and Michele Chen will steal your heart away with their performances. The movie centres a lot on sex - like masturbation and porn - but these are mostly in the dialogue. Certainly a crowd-pleaser with young lovers. (Reviewed here)

3. TOWER HEIST (crime drama with Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch and Gabourey Sidibe) Rated * * * (3 stars): At a time when the 'working class' is protesting against the 'cheating class' (represented by Wall Street), this crime thriller has its built-in lure. Its A-list cast is another attraction - including the motor-mouthed Murphy who, surprisingly, provides most of the laughs in this premise about how a gang of workers plan to steal back their money from a Ponti scheme organiser (Alda). (Reviewed below)

4. IMMORTALS (fantasy adventure with Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Robert Maillet, Corey Sevier, Alan Van Sprang, Neil Napier and Mercedes Leggett) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot is somewhat like that of Clash Of The Titans and the action is like those of 300. So you can expect mythical Greek gods and titans getting involved with the bloody and gory action generated by the ambitious and brutal Hyperion's (Rourke) quest for conquest of the 'world'. The plot is wafer thin but the blood and violence is as thick as those of 300. And expectedly, the love scenes have been censored. (Reviewed below)

5. SHARK NIGHT (horror thriller with Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Donal Logue, Joshua Leonard and Joel David Moore) Rating * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Wow, American Idol heart-throb Katherine McPhee used as shark bait! This is the main lure for me but it fizzles out quickly when I realise that this is another rip-off in 3D. If you expect to see blood and gore and pretty nubiles in various states of undress, forget it because this is rated PG-13 in the States and nudity would have been cut here anyway. As for gore, it is disappointing too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

SEEKING JUSTICE - Cage Back In His Element

SEEKING JUSTICE (crime drama)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Carpenter, Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, Monica Acosta, Joe Chrest and Donna Duplantier
Director: Roger Donaldson
Screenplay by Todd Hickey
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Nicolas Cage and January Jones in SEEKING JUSTICE

PREAMBLE: Dogged by box-office flops over the past few years, Nic Cage's jinx seems to cast a pall over this suspense thriller. The title, revised from 'The Hungry Rabbit Jumps', sounds rather mundane to begin with but this is definitely one of the 'better' Nic Cage films and it certainly benefits from his performance.

The problem with this movie lies in its script. Set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Seeking Justice has an interesting premise. However, director Roger Donaldson fails to explore it fully - and opts for more melodramatic but semi-relevant conclusion.

Guy Pearce and Cage

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: Nick Gerard (Cage) leads an uneventful life as a school teacher and a loving husband to Laura (January Jones). He spends his evenings playing chess with his colleague Jimmy (Harold Perrineau) while Laura rehearses her part in an orchestra. This routine changes when Laura is brutally raped one night. At the hospital, as Nick agonises over his wife's assault, a man who calls himself Simon (Guy Pearce) approaches him with an offer to deal with his wife's rapist in the way that the police and the justice system cannot. In return, he has to do some 'favours' for the group that Simon represents.

Initially, Nick is appalled by the idea of vigilante justice. However, when he sees what the rapist has done to Laura's spirit, he agrees. Indeed, Nick is glad that the rape trauma is finally over... but his nightmare is just starting!

HITS & MISSES: I am glad that this one does not play like an updated version of Death Wish or Taken. Seeking Justice is more complex and complicated than those flicks - before the plot gets sidetracked after the second half, that is. Cage and Jones are highly creditable for their roles as an ordinary couple trapped in extraordinary circumstances and situations. And it is easy to sympathise with them, especially with Cage's Nick as he grapples with the problem of shaking off from the shackles of Simon's vigilante group. Jones's Laura seems to have been dismissed rather early in the movie. Donaldson would not delve into the after-effects of her trauma, opting to concentrate on Nick instead.

Jennifer Carpenter (of TV's Dexter fame) is also underused as Laura's best friend, while Pearce is suitable enigmatic and menacing as Sam, a role he can play in his sleep. Another thing I like about Donaldson's directing is his allusions to Hurricane Katrina, comparing its devastation of the city to the psychological assault faced by Nick and Laura. The movie claims that after Katrina, New Orleans folk have taken it upon themselves to keep the city safe, doing whatever it takes. However, Donaldson and scripter Todd Hickey fail to explain how the city-wide vigilante scheme works, and they leave gaping holes in the narrative.

THE LOWDOWN: One of Nic Cage's better efforts.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NASI LEMAK 2.0 - Trashy Comedy With a Few Gems

NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysian comedy)
Cast: Namewee, Karen Kong, Adibah Noor, Afdlin Shauki, Kenny & Chee, Reshmonu, Dennis Lau, Nur Fathia, Nadine Ann Thomas and Pete Teo
Director: Namewee (Wee Chee Meng)
Screenplay by Namewee and Fred Chong
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: For Malaysians of all races, Nasi Lemak 2.0 has a built-in lure. Its film-maker and rapper, Wee Chee Meng (better known as Namewee) has attained such notoriety on YouTube and in the news (for various offences which I don't care to mention here) that his name has become synonymous with rebelliousness and subversiveness.

If anything, the public would want to know what he's up to this time around with this movie called Nasi Lemak 2.0. Is he going to make an ass of himself again? Or make asses out of his cast?

But wait, the so-called '1-Malaysia comedy', reportedly made on a shoe-string RM1-million budget, has grossed RM7 million at the local box-office! That should raise a lot of eyebrows, especially of people like me who consider this production a low-brow comedy. Of course, the clamour by a group for the movie to be banned must have given a new boost to its takings.


Namewee and Karen Kong

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: Namewee plays Chef Huang, a young cook who sets out with his new-found friend Xiao K (Karen Kong) to find the ingredients and make the best nasi lemak in the country. In his quest, he meets up with various local celebs like Datuk David Arumugam, Afdlin Shauki, Reshmonu and Kenny and Chee, and learn what being in a multi-racial country like Malaysia is all about - besides how to make
good sambal and curry, of course.

Adibah Nor (centre) as a nasi lemak seller

HITS & MISSES: The movie, mostly in Mandarin and local Chinese dialects, looks like it has been rewritten from Stephen Chow Sing-chi's 'mo-lei-tau' (or nonsense) comedies, especially the 1996 God Of Cookery. Having Karen Kong made up in such clownish-looking eyebrows and spectacles reminds us of the Smoking Landlady (Yuen Qiu) in Chow's Kungfu Hustle, except that Karen Kong's Xiao K just looks silly and not funny. Ditto that for most of the so-called comic sequences in the movie.

The narrative is illogical and messy but in the absurdist sequences can be found a few comic gems. The main plot about the quest for the best nasi lemak recipes is really the 'side dish'. The real garnishings are those little gestures, the song and dance numbers, and visuals that take a swipe at Malaysian culture, society and politics. Examples of these are a kris-wielding scene reminiscent of the exploits of an Umno personality; the famous "looks like me, sounds like me, but is not me" quote refuting a video-clip; and allusions to other Malaysian politicians.

Namewee and David Arumugam

I would like to think that Namewee had fun as the 'hero' in this movie, but his efforts are too self-indulgent and crude to be hilarious. Again, he opts to use obscenities, naming his characters Lan Qiao (colloquial for 'penis') and Gong See Fatt, and idiotic situations that make us cringe rather than laugh. However, his use of local celebs, like Adibah Noor, Afdlin Shauki, David Arumugam, Patrick Teoh and Kenny & Chee help to spark and sustain audience interest in the plot. As director, he seems to have allowed his 'guest stars' to run loose and do whatever they want with their cameos.

THE LOWDOWN: A derivative and trashy comedy but there are some comic gems to be found.

'Immortals' is Tops at US Weekend B-O

NOV 14, 2011 - Immortals may not have been the next 300, but it was at least strong enough to claim the top spot at the box office this weekend. Jack and Jill opened lower than most major Adam Sandler movies, and only US$500,000 currently separates it from strong holdover Puss in Boots.

The weekend's third new movie, J. Edgar, failed to exceed modest expectations. With three movies over US$25 million, overall box office was up at least 12 percent from the same period last year.


Tower Heist fell 45 percent to US$13.2 million for a total of US$43.9 million. Thanks to Tower Heist's grosses, distributor Universal Pictures passed US$1 billion for the year on Saturday. This is the first year Universal has reached this milestone since 2008, and it's the fifth studio to do so in 2011 after Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney and Sony.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Nov 11-13, 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. (-) Immortals (Relativity) $32.0 million ($32.0 million) 1

2. (-) Jack and Jill (Sony) $26.0 million ($26.0 million) 1

3. (1) Puss in Boots (Paramount) $25.5 million ($108.8 million) 3

4. (2) Tower Heist (Universal) $13.2 million ($43.9 million) 2

5. (-) J. Edgar (WB) $11.4 million ($11.5 million) 1

Friday, November 11, 2011

IMMORTALS - All Flesh & Blood, No Plot

IMMORTALS (fantasy adventure)
Cast: Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Robert Maillet, Stephen Dorff, Corey Sevier, Alan Van Sprang, Neil Napier and Mercedes Leggett
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenplay by Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Henry Cavill (centre) in IMMORTALS

PREAMBLE: If ever there's a movie made for the fan-boy crowd, this is it. Reminiscent of the popular 300, Immortals teems with sexy costumes and bare flesh, blood and gore, eye-boggling CGI-rendered locations and mythical fantasy settings, and Arabian Nights-styled love scenes (which have been snipped in Malaysia, of course).

What it sorely lacks is an engaging narrative and a compelling plot that will make the movie a worthwhile watch.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The story is adapted from the legend of Theseus (played by Henry Cavill), the demi-god who slayed the Minotaur. Theseus is brought up as a peasant boy, guided in no small measure by an enigmatic Old Man (John Hurt) in the ways of war and sword-fighting. The main theme here is achieving 'immortality' through seeds and deeds. Theseus is advised to achieve immortality through great deeds and feats - and he has the help of Phaedra (Freida Pinto. left), a Sybelline Oracle whose visions help to guide him in his quest.

For Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), the main villain of this piece, his aim is to achieve immortality through his seeds - by impregnating as many women as he can. Towards this, he seeks the Epirus Bow, a magical weapon that will help him conquer both humans and immortals, including Olympians like Zeus (Luke Evans) Athena (Isabel Lucas, below) and Poseidon (Kellan Lutz).

HITS & MISSES: Anyone who has seen the trailers, or 300, would have had enough glimpses of the spectacular 'worlds' that the technical crew have created from computer-rendered imagery. The precarious cliff dwellings of the mortals and the 'heavenly abodes' of the gods are awesome sights to behold. And if these are not eye-catching enough, director Tarsem Singh and his costume designers have 'fleshed out' outfits that help to enhance the beefcake and cheesecake delights. Indeed, the male cast seems to have been picked from the top body-building centres - and the camera lingers on them in close-ups and slow-mo. Ditto that for the female cast playing the goddesses and Oracles.

As far as the narrative is concerned, we are reminded of the tepid and ineffective Clash Of The Titans (of 2010). Character development is given the short shrift here - and we don't care for most of the players. Cavill's Theseus is portrayed so egoistically that we are sure no danger will befall him; Rourke is over-the-top (as usual) in hyping up Hyperion, and Pinto seems 'distracted' and 'conflicted' as the Oracle. Stephen Dorff's Stavros looks promising as an interesting sidekick to Theseus but again, the role is not properly developed.

Of course, there is a mighty climactic battle at the end of the film - and most of its fan boy crowd would have forgotten - and perhaps, forgiven - the narrative flaws of the Immortals.

THE LOWDOWN: A visual feast of blood and gore, but lacking in heart and soul.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Nov 11 - 13, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (animated adventure in 3D with Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Sebastian Roché) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): This was my favourite comic book adventure during my teenage years and Steven Spielberg has managed to capture its wonderful sense of mystery and discovery that was teeming in Herge's comic strip. It is like another Indy Jones-type caper - but with more spectacular chases and effects augmented by 3D. Easily one of the best animated movies of this year! (Reviewed below)

b) YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (romantic comedy in Mandarin with Ko Chen-Tung, Michelle Chen, Steven Hao, Ao-Chuen, Tsai Chang-hsien and Wan-Wan) Rated * * * (3 stars): This rom-com by Giddens swept Taiwan's box-office for over a month and had sold-out halls when it sneaked in Malaysia two weeks ago. It's popularity with the young Chinese-educated crowd is understandable: the cast is lovable and the leads, Ko Chen-Teng and Michele Chen will steal your heart away with their performances. The movie centres a lot on sex - like masturbation and porn - but these are mostly in the dialogue. Certainly a crowd-pleaser with young lovers. (Reviewed here)

c) IMMORTALS (fantasy adventure with Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Robert Maillet, Corey Sevier, Alan Van Sprang, Neil Napier and Mercedes Leggett) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot is somewhat like that of Clash Of The Titans and the action recalls 300. So you can expect mythical Greek gods and titans getting involved with the bloody and gory action generated by the ambitious and brutal Hyperion's (Rourke) quest for conquest of the 'world'. The plot is wafer thin but the blood and violence is as thick as those of 300. And expectedly, the love scenes have been censored. (Reviewed pending)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. TOWER HEIST (crime drama with Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch and Gabourey Sidibe) Rated * * * (3 stars): At a time when the 'working class' is protesting against the 'cheating class' (represented by Wall Street), this crime thriller has its built-in lure. Its A-list cast is another attraction - including the motor-mouthed Murphy who, surprisingly, provides most of the laughs in this premise about how a gang of workers plan to steal back their money from a Ponti scheme organiser (Alda). (Reviewed below)

2. 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)

3. SLEEPWALKER (horror thriller with Angelica Lee Sinje, Charlie Yeung, Kent Cheng and Li Zong Han) Rating * * (2 stars): This husband-and-wife (director Oxide Pang and lead star Lee) venture is derivative and cliched, employing cheap scares like sudden loud jolts and half-baked subplots in a tale about a woman who sleepwalks into a possible murder. The main attraction here is local actress Angelica Lee (of The Eye) in the title role but our patience soon runs out over its lame script and lapses in logic. The 3D effects are a waste and they cannot flesh out the movie's two-dimensional characters.

c) SHARK NIGHT (horror thriller with Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Donal Logue, Joshua Leonard and Joel David Moore) Rating * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Wow, American Idol heart-throb Katherine McPhee used as shark bait! This is the main lure for me but it fizzles out quickly when I realise that this is another rip-off in 3D. If you expect to see blood and gore and pretty nubiles in various states of undress, forget it because this is rated PG-13 in the States and nudity would have been cut here anyway. As for gore, it is disappointing too.