Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Top 10 Movies of 2011

DEC 31, 2011 - It's the time of year for making lists again - and here's my Top 10 Films of 2011. One glance at the list below and you will see that it consists almost solely of blockbusters, except for Drive, my No.1 pick.

Unfortunately, Drive was pulled out of the Malaysian cinema at the eleventh hour, due to technical reasons. After watching the media preview, I was astounded by its 3-in-1 blend of genres: crime thriller, revenge caper and love story.

Also in the list is Punished, the sole Hong Kong entry. If you can't see any of the so-called 'probable Oscar nominees' in the list, it is probably because movies like Iron Lady, The Artist and being released in the last weeks of December so that they can qualify for the 84th Academy Awards. Other notables like War Horse, The Ides Of March, The Help, Hugo and The Descendants had not been released in Malaysia. (As I am now in the US, I will be catching some of these films and review them in this blog).

And in the spirit of the season, here's a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all readers and movie fans.

The Top 10 of 2011

1.
Drive

2. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

3. Captain America: First Avenger

4. X-Men: First Class

5. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

7. Cars 2

8. Kungfu Panda 2

9. Punished (HK crime thriller)

10. Bridesmaids

The Biggest Disappointment: Sucker Punch

Thursday, December 29, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Dec 30 - Jan 1, 2012

GUIDE TO THE NEW YEAR WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK

a) THE DARKEST HOUR (sci-fi thriller with Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella and Joel Kinnaman) Rating * * (2 stars): Set in Moscow, this doomsday alien invasion thriller may keep our interest for about 20 minutes. Then, when we get over the novelty of the uninspired plot (and how Earthlings get vaporised by invisible aliens), we start to realise how utterly silly the script is. Reminds me of Skyline, but with even less IQ.


b) JACK AND JILL (comedy with Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Allen Covert, Dana Carvey, Natalie Gal, Tim Meadows, Katelyn Pacitto, Valerie Mahaffey and Regis Philbin) Rated * (one star): The big deal here is seeing Sandler playing both the title characters - as twins. However, he makes no attempt to flesh out the role of Jill - but merely puts on a wig and dress and speaks in falsetto. And the idea of Al Pacino wooing Jill makes us cringe rather than burst out in mirth. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (action thriller with Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, Ving Rhames and Anil Kapoor) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): With Brad Bird (of The Incredibles) at the helm, we have a more compleat M:I caper - nicely coated with typical English humour (courtesy of Pegg), narrative depth and a plot we can sink our teeth in. The set pieces are not bad either, especially the Burj Khalifa building stunts and sand storm in Dubai, and the climactic face-off in Mumbai. This M:I 4 is arguably the best of the franchise. (Reviewed below)

2. SHERLOCK HOLMES: A Game of Shadows (mystery thriller with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdams) Rated * * * (3 stars): Guy Ritchie's bastardisation of Arthur Conan Doyle's icon continues - with the wedding of Dr Watson and a nefarious plot by Dr Moriarty (Harris). Again, the emphasis is on elaborate action set pieces at the expense of intellectual intrigues that is typical of Holmes' capers. Still, with Downey Jr and Law in the lead, this romp is sheer popcorn entertainment fit for the holiday season. (Reviewed below)

3. WE BOUGHT A ZOO (family drama with Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Stephanie Szostak, Colin Ford, John Michael Higgins and Desi Lydic) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The movie, about how a widowed dad and his two children take over a decrepit animal park and turn it into a zoo, is rather formulaic but the main lure is the cast that includes heart-throbs like ScarJo and Elle Fanning. Another flaw is its long running time that takes a toll on our concentration. (Reviewed below)

3. NEW YEAR'S EVE (romantic comedy with Lea Michele, Michele Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl and Hilary Swank) Rated * * (2 stars): After Valentine's Day, Garry Marshall comes out with another ensemble flick centred around the traditional Ball Drop at Manhattan's Times Square, NYC. It comprises a bunch of vignettes involving that special day and night but only a few are worthy enough of their starry cast. Many of the romantic threads are implausible while some are overly sentimental. Good for gawking at your idols, though. (Reviewed below)

4. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 3 (animated and live action comedy with Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) Rated * * (2 stars): The Chipmunks and Chipettes (female version) are cute. They can sing and dance. They are also 'rodents' and they can be pesky and annoying. How much of these attributes can you take in a movie about the whole gang of them ending up on a deserted island? The answer, I believe, depends on how young your accompanying kid is. Suitable for those below five. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards Nominees

DEC 27, 2011 - The nominees for the 18th annual SAG Awards were announced on Wednesday, Dec. 14. The Help led with four nominations, earning a leading role nomination for Viola Davis who plays the maid Aibileen Clark, supporting nods for Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, and a motion picture ensemble nomination. Other films nominated for best motion picture ensemble include The Artist, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids.

For the television nominations, ABC’s Modern Family leads total of five nods, including outstanding comedy ensemble. Dexter and 30 Rock follow with three nominations each.

The 18th annual SAG Awards will take place on Sunday, Jan. 29.

- MOTION PICTURE -

Outstanding Cast In A Motion Picture

Bridesmaids

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris


Outstanding Male Actor In A Leading Role

George Clooney, The Descendants

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Outstanding Female Actor In A Leading Role

Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help (pic)
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Outstanding Male Actor In A Supporting Role

Nick Nolte, Warrior
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Outstanding Female Actor In A Supporting Role

Octavia Spencer, The Help
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Outstanding Stunt Ensemble In A Motion Picture

The Adjustment Bureau
Cowboys & Aliens
Harry Potter and the Deahtly Hallows: Part II
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
X-Men: First Class

- TELEVISION -

Outstanding Male Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries

Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Greg Kinnear, The Kennedys
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
James Woods, Too Big to Fail

Outstanding Female Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries

Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Emily Watson, Appropriate Adult (pic)
Betty White, The Lost Valentine
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce

Outstanding Male Actor In A Drama Series

Patrick J. Adams, Suits
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter

Outstanding Female Actor In A Drama Series
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Glenn Close, Damages
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Julianna Margules, The Good Wife
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Outstanding Male Actor In A Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Steve Carell, The Office
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

Outstanding Female Actor In A Comedy Series

Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Betty White, Hot In Cleveland

Outstanding Ensemble In A Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire
Breaking Bad
Dexter
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife

Outstanding Ensemble In A Comedy Series
30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Glee
Modern Family
The Office

Outstanding Stunt Ensemble In A TV Series
Dexter
Game of Thrones
Southland
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
True Blood

The 69th Golden Globe Awards Nominations

DEC 27, 2011 - The Hollywood Foreign Press announced nominees for the 69th annual Golden Globes on Thursday, Dec. 15. The Artist led film categories with six nominations, including best motion picture, comedy or musical. The Descendants and The Help followed with five nominations, with Moneyball, Ides of March and Midnight in Paris each earning four.

In the television categories, Downton Abbey and Mildred Pierce both lead with four nominations, while series Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family and newcomers The Hour and Homeland each earned three nominations a piece.

The Golden Globes will be presented on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

- MOVIES -

Best Movie - Drama

The Descendants

The Help
Hugo
The Ides of March
Moneyball
War Horse

Best Performance By An Actress – Drama

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (pic)
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin

Best Performance By An Actor – Drama

George Clooney, The Descendants

Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar (pic)
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
50/50
The Artist
Bridesmaids
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn

Best Performance By An Actress – Comedy Or Musical
Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Best Performance By An Actor – Comedy Or Musical
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Best Animated Feature Film
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

Best Foreign Language Film
The Flowers of War (China)
In the Land of Blood and Honey (USA)
The Kid With A Bike (Belgium)
A Separation (Iran)
The Skin I Live In (Spain)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Director – Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendants
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Abel Korzeniowski, W.E.
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, War Horse

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
“Hello Hello” — Gnomeo & Juliet (Music by: Elton John, Lyrics by: Bernie Taupin)
“The Keeper” — Machine Gun Preacher (Music & Lyrics by Chris Cornell)
"Lay Your Head Down” — Albert Nobbs (Music by: Brian Byrne, Lyrics by: Glenn Close)
“The Living Proof” — The Help (Music by: Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason Jr., Lyrics by: Mary J. Blige, Harvey Mason Jr., Damon Thomas)
“Masterpiece” — W.E. (Music & Lyrics by: Madonna, Julie Frost, Jimmy Harry)

- TELEVISION -

Best TV Series – Drama

American Horror Story, FX

Boardwalk Empire, HBO
Boss, STARZ
Game of Thrones, HBO
Homeland, Showtime

Best Performance By An Actress – TV Drama
Claire Danes, Homeland
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Madeleine Stowe, Revenge
Callie Thorne, Necessary Roughness

Best Performance By An Actor – TV Drama
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Kelsey Grammer, Boss
Jeremy Irons, The Borgias
Damian Lewis, Homeland

Best TV Series – Comedy Or Musical
Enlightened, HBO
Episodes, Showtime
Glee, FOX
Modern Family, ABC
New Girl, FOX

Best Performance By An Actress – TV Comedy Or Musical
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Performance By An Actor –TV Comedy Or Musical
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
David Duchovny, Californication
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Thomas Jane, Hung
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TV
Cinema Verite, HBO
Downton Abbey, PBS (Masterpiece)
The Hour, BBC America
Mildred Pierce, HBO
Too Big to Fail, HBO

Best Performance By Actress In A Mini-Series Or Made For TV Movie
Romola Garai, The Hour
Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey
Emily Watson, Appropriate Adult
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce

Best Performance By Actor In A Mini-Series Or Made For TV Movie
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Idris Elba, Luther
William Hurt, Too Big to Fail
Bill Nighy, Page Eight
Dominic West, The Hour

Best Performance By Actress In Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series, Or Made for TV Movie
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce

Best Performance By Actor in Supporting Role in Series, Mini-Series Or Made For TV Movie
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
Tim Robbins, Cinema Verite
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

JACK AND JILL - And All Came Tumbling Down

JACK AND JILL (comedy)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Allen Covert, Dana Carvey, Natalie Gal, Tim Meadows, Katelyn Pacitto, Valerie Mahaffey and Regis Philbin
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenplay: Steve Koren and Robert Smigel
Time: 91 mins
Rating: * (out of 4)

Katie Holmes and Adam Sandler

PREAMBLE: I wouldn't say that Jack And Jill is the worst movie of 2011, but I can safely attest that it is the worst Adam Sandler movie I have seen. Basically, this one-joke comedy is about watching Sandler in drag as Jill, a crude woman who is generally out of touch with the world. And the fun wears out after 10 minutes of seeing Sandler playing Jill.

It says a lot about a movie when Al Pacino, who plays himself in the film, is funnier than lead star Sandler.
Sandler, Holmes and Rohan Chand

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Jack Sadelstein (Sandler) is a thriving advertising executive in Los Angeles with a beautiful wife (Katie Holmes) and kids (Elodie Tougne, Rohan Chand). Presently, Jack has two problems: His agency stands to lose a major client if he can't persuade Al Pacino to sign on as a Dunkin' Donuts spokesman; and his twin sister Jill is coming to spend Thanksgiving with him. A lonely spinster still living in the siblings' Bronx home, Jill has never heard of the Internet, has the manners of a sailor and a pet bird named Poopsie.

Now, would you believe that a guy like Pacino can be attracted to Jill?

Sandler and Al Pacino

HITS & MISSES: The one 'hit' in this screechy mess of a film is Pacino's cameo - including poking fun at his films like Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather Part 2. It sets us wondering how much they are paying him to appear in this trash. The comedy seems forced and senseless - like Jill jet-skiing in the swimming pool and getting knocked unconscious on the set of "The Price Is Right." Indeed, Sandler makes no attempt to flesh out his role as Jill. He merely puts on a wig and dress and speaks in falsetto. The idea of Pacino wooing his Jill makes us cringe rather than burst out in mirth.

The other 'fun' stuff that director Dennis Dugan includes in the movie are blatant product placements, the poop, fart and sweat gags, and celebrity cameos (yes, there's an uncredited Johnny Depp among them).

THE LOWDOWN: For those who find idiocy funny.

Monday, December 26, 2011

'M:I 4' Claims No 1 Spot at US Weekend B-O

DEC 26, 2011 - Even with three new movies entering the market this week, the top of the box office charts looked awfully familiar. After expanding to 3,448 locations, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol jumped ahead of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked to claim first place, a position it should be able to hold throughout the remainder of the holiday weekend.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took fourth place, while The Adventures of Tintin and We Bought a Zoo were unable to lure family audiences in large numbers. The Top 10 earned over US$37 million on Friday, which is just a tad up from the same date in 2005 (the last time Dec. 23 landed on a Friday), and it doesn't look like this batch of movies is going to do a whole lot to end 2011 on a high note.

We Bought a Zoo debuted in sixth place with an estimated US$7.8 million in weekend gross. That's not an overly impressive start, though the movie does still have a chance to turn things around with children off from school next week.

Here are the Top 5 North American B-O studio estimates for Dec 23-25, 2011 weekend, in terms of rank, (previous week ranking), Movie name (studio), Weekend takings in USD, (Cumulative gross, USD) and week on chart, courtesy of Boxofficemojo. (US$1=RM3)

1. (3) Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Paramount) $26.5 million ($58.9 million) 2

2. (1) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (WB) $17.8 million ($76.5 million) 2

3. (2) Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Fox) $13.3 million ($50.2 million) 2

4. (-) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony) $13.0 million ($21.4 million) 1

5. (-) The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount) $9.1 million ($17.1 million) 1

Thursday, December 22, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Dec 23 - 25, 2011

GUIDE TO CHRISTMAS WEEKEND MOVIES
(Merry Christmas to all Readers. I am presently blogging from Atlanta, USA)

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) SHERLOCK HOLMES: A Game of Shadows (mystery thriller with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdams) Rated * * * (3 stars): Guy Ritchie's bastardization of Arthur Conan Doyle's icon continues - with the wedding of Dr Watson and a nefarious plot by Dr Moriarty (Harris). Again, the emphasis is on elaborate action set pieces at the expense of intellectual intrigues that is typical of Holmes' capers. Still, with Downey Jr and Law in the lead, this romp is sheer popcorn entertainment fit for the holiday season. (Reviewed below)

b) WE BOUGHT A ZOO (family drama with Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Stephanie Szostak, Colin Ford, John Michael Higgins and Desi Lydic) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The movie, about how a widowed dad and his two children take over a decrepit animal park and turn it into a zoo, is rather formulaic but the main lure is the cast that includes heart-throbs like ScarJo and Elle Fanning. Another flaw is its long running time that takes a toll on our concentration. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (action thriller with Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, Ving Rhames and Anil Kapoor) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): With Brad Bird (of The Incredibles) at the helm, we have a more compleat M:I caper - nicely coated with typical English humour (courtesy of Pegg), narrative depth and a plot we can sink our teeth in. The set pieces are not bad either, especially the Burj Khalifa building stunts and sand storm in Dubai, and the climactic face-off in Mumbai. This M:I 4 is arguably the best of the franchise. (Reviewed below)

2. PETALING STREET WARRIORS (comedy with Mark Lee, Yeo Yann Yann, Chris Tong, Namewee, Frederick Lee, Henry Thia, Ramasundran Rengana and Alvin Wong) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Set in KL's famous Petaling Street circa 1908, this Malaysia-Singapore effort is more of a spoof than a martial arts actioner. There is a nice historical twist to the plot about a hokkien mee seller (Mark Lee) and his wife (Yeo Yann Yann) whose marriage has something more than meets the eye. Also, there are some surprising cameos from celebs of both sides of the Causeway. (Reviewed below)

3. NEW YEAR'S EVE (romantic comedy with Lea Michele, Michele Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl and Hilary Swank) Rated * * (2 stars): After Valentine's Day, Garry Marshall comes out with another ensemble flick centred around the traditional Ball Drop at Manhattan's Times Square, NYC. It comprises a bunch of vignettes involving that special day and night but only a few are worthy enough of their starry cast. Many of the romantic threads are implausible while some are overly sentimental. Good for gawking at your idols, though. (Reviewed below)

4. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 3 (animated and live action comedy with Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) Rated * * (2 stars): The Chipmunks and Chipettes (female version) are cute. They can sing and dance. They are also 'rodents' and they can be pesky and annoying. How much of these attributes can you take in a movie about the whole gang of them ending up on a deserted island? The answer, I believe, depends on how young your accompanying kid is. Suitable for those below five. (Reviewed below)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WE BOUGHT A ZOO - Nice But Formulaic

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (family drama)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Stephanie Szostak, Colin Ford, John Michael Higgins and Desi Lydic
Director: Cameron Crowe
Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe, from the book by Benjamin Mee
Time: 123 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Here's another contender for the sentimental Yuletide fare at the cineplex. From the title and poster, you should be able to guess that it is soppy family stuff with some animal antics thrown in. However, with such a crowded list of offerings in store, I don't expect this Matt Damon-ScarJo vehicle to do well at the holiday B-O stakes.

We Bought A Zoo is adapted from a true story and book by Benjamin Mee.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a recently widowed dad struggling to raise a teenage son (Colin Ford as Dylan) and a young daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie). Taking advice from his elder brother (Thomas Haden Church) to start anew, Benjamin goes looking for a new house. When he finds the perfect place he discovers that it has a catch: it’s actually a defunct zoo.

For Rosie's sake, Benjamin decides to invest in the Rosemoor Animal Park and, with the help of its zookeeper, Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), and her motley crew, try to restore the park to its former glory.

HITS & MISSES: This is Cameron Crowe's comeback film after Elizabethtown in 2005. It is definitely not his best work (which is still the 1996 Jerry Maguire) but his talent for bringing out the best in his cast is evident. Damon carries the movie solidly as its lead, ScarJo (pic left with Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is a bit underwritten but her Kelly is compelling whenever she is onscreen, and Church provides some comic relief.

The star who attracts us most is Elle Fanning who plays Lily, an assistant at the zoo and romantic foil for Colin Ford's Dylan. Fanning's is a small role but she brightens up the screen whenever she appears, providing the star attraction for youngsters in the audience - besides Spa the tiger and Buster the bear, of course.

On the minus side, the film is rather long drawn with many repetitive scenes; there are some loose ends and plot holes, while some attempts at comedy fall flat (especially those by John Michael Higgins as the zoo inspector).

THE LOWDOWN: Its heart is in the right place, everything else is formulaic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS - Popcorn Flick

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (mystery thriller)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdams
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenplay: Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney, based on characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Time: 128 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr as Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes

(Sing to the tune of Do You Hear What I Hear?):

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy, Do you hear what I hear?
A turn, a turn, Turning in his grave,
That's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
Yes, it's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

PREAMBLE: Another Christmas season, another Sherlock Holmes flick. But wait, this is Guy Ritchie's sequel to the 2009 blockbuster and if you expect a mind-teaser of a thriller worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you are in the wrong movie.

Under Ritchie's direction, Holmes and Watson are more like a European Indy Jones and Sidekick, dodging bullets, explosions and fists. It is a see-and-forget guilty pleasure, really, so pass the popcorn, please.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? In the first film, we learned that Dr Watson (Jude Law) has a girlfriend named Mary (Kellly Reilly). At the start of this sequel, they are set to wed and Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) does not look too pleased by the nuptials of his buddy, even though he is Watson's best man and organiser of his stag party. No, Holmes does not really hate Mary even though he throws her off the train during their honeymoon. You see, this is all for her own good and part of the detective's quest to foil the nefarious plot of Dr Moriarty (Jared Harris).

The 'mission' takes Holmes and Watson to Paris, Germany and ultimately Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls and it involves Madam Sim (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a gypsy whose missing brother holds the key to Moriarty's fiendish plans.

Noomi Rapace as Madam Sim

HITS & MISSES: Again, there are some entertaining and nail-biting set pieces, like the train and Reichenbach Falls sequences, that are the trademarks of Ritchie's films. The most enjoyable elements are still the homoerotic chemistry between Downey Jr and Law as the opium-addict detective and adventurous doc, respectively. For good measure, Ritchie and his scripters involve the duo in a fight during which Watson rips Sherlock's clothes off.

We also get to meet Holme's brother Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry who puts in an irrelevant nude romp for the benefit of Watson's bride. One of the film's biggest flaws is that the action overwhelms the narrative so much so that we lose sight of the plot. What's worse, we don't care about it. Some sequences seem long drawn and repetitive, while the roles of Rapace and Rachel McAdams (as Irene Adler) are not as well-written and juicy as the men's. (Pic right: Jared Harris as Dr Moriarty)

THE LOWDOWN: Just another option for the holiday entertainment.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Sherlock Holmes Is No. 1 at US Weekend B-O

DEC 19, 2011 - While franchise titles did claim the top three spots at the Norh American box-office this weekend, it wound up being a very mixed frame for sequels. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 both tallied solid grosses, though they were notably down from their predecessors. On the other hand, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol had a robust start in limited release. Even with all of these established brands entering the marketplace, the Top 12 wound up down roughly 13 percent from the same period last year.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opened to an estimated US$40.02 million, which is way down from the original Sherlock Holmes' US$62.3 million over Christmas weekend in 2009. In what could be an even more concerning comparison, the movie wound up lower than Tron Legacy's US$44 million start at the same time last year. That's shocking, considering Game of Shadows opened just two years after a well-received original while Tron hit cinemas 28 years after a first movie that wasn't even widely available on DVD or Blu-ray until after Legacy's release.

M:I - Ghost Protocol was the one bright spot at the box office this weekend. Opening at just 425 locations, Ghost Protocol earned an estimated US$13 million for an impressive per-theatre average of US$30,588. By releasing the movie five days early in IMAX and consistently pushing the format's immersive benefits, distributor Paramount Pictures managed to at least initially turn Ghost Protocol in to an event movie that demands to be seen on the big screen.

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

1. (-) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (WB) $40.0 million ($40.0 million) 1

2. (-) Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 (Fox) $23.5 million ($23.5 million) 1

3. (-) Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (UIP) $13.0 million ($13.6 million) 1

4. (1) New Year's Eve (WB) $7.4 million ($24.8 million) 2

5. (2) The Sitter (Fox) $4.4 million ($17.7 million) 2

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WEEKEND PIC - Dec 16 - 18, 2011

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a) MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (action thriller with Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, Ving Rhames and Anil Kapoor) Rated * * * 1/2 (3.5 stars): With Brad Bird (of The Incredibles) at the helm, we have a more compleat M:I caper - nicely coated with typical English humour (courtesy of Pegg), narrative depth and a plot we can sink our teeth in. The set pieces are not bad either, especially the Burj Khalifa building stunts and sand storm in Dubai, and the climactic face-off in Mumbai. This M:I 4 is arguably the best of the franchise. (Reviewed below)

b) ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 3 (animated and live action comedy with Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) Rated * * (2 stars): The Chipmunks and Chipettes (female version) are cute. They can sing and dance. They are also 'rodents' and they can be pesky and annoying. How much of these attributes can you take in a movie about the whole gang of them ending up on a deserted island? The answer, I believe, depends on how young your accompanying kid is. Suitable for those below five. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. 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)

2. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (animated comedy with James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen) Rated: * * * (3 stars): A highly inventive and at times riotous British comedy about an attempt to deliver a forgotten present to a little girl. Besides putting a new spin on the Santa myths, we also get a rather different look at the Claus clan. Should go down well with today's inquisitive and 'thinking' child. (Reviewed below)

3. THE MUPPETS (puppet and live action with Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other Muppets) Rated * * * (3 stars): The Muppets franchise gets a new lease on life with this inventive film co-written by Segel himself. It has everything one would expect from a Muppet movie (except Big Bird) - especially its self-effacing guests like Jack Black, Emily Blunt and Zach Galifianakis. The songs are rather catchy - and yes, they break into a song-and-dance every now and then. Don't watch this without being accompanied by a kid. (Reviewed below)

4. PETALING STREET WARRIORS (comedy with Mark Lee, Yeo Yann Yann, Chris Tong, Namewee, Frederick Lee, Henry Thia, Ramasundran Rengana and Alvin Wong) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Set in KL's famous Petaling Street circa 1908, this Malaysia-Singapore effort is more of a spoof than a martial arts actioner. There is a nice historical twist to the plot about a hokkien mee seller (Mark Lee) and his wife (Yeo Yann Yann) whose marriage has something more than meets the eye. Also, there are some surprising cameos from celebs of both sides of the Causeway. (Reviewed below)

5. NEW YEAR'S EVE (romantic comedy with Lea Michele, Michele Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl and Hilary Swank) Rated * * (2 stars): After Valentine's Day, Garry Marshall comes out with another ensemble flick centred around the traditional Ball Drop at Manhattan's Times Square, NYC. It comprises a bunch of vignettes involving that special day and night but only a few are worthy enough of their starry cast. Many of the romantic threads are implausible while some are overly sentimental. Good for gawking at your idols, though. (Reviewed below)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL - The Best So Far

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (action thriller)
Cast:Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, Ving Rhames and Anil Kapoor
Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Christopher McQuarry (based on the TV series by Bruce Geller)
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Cruise's Ethan at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

PREAMBLE: Up to now, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been trying so much to outdo its previous efforts - and other action flicks - in the stunts and crashes department that it overlooked the basic elements that power all movies: a credible plot, realistic characters that we can root for, a bit of humour and a sense of 'real' danger.

Well, director Brad Bird (who gave us The Incredibles and Ratatouille) seems to understand these flaws and has tweaked the franchise a bit to include all those elements - and more. And with some of its scenes shot with IMAX cameras, we can get totally immersed in its thrills, spills and laughs. UIP showed the film to us (the media) at TGV Sunway's spanking new IMAX cineplex so that we can experience those awesome effects.

Patton and Cruise in Mumbai

SYNOPSIS: After being falsely implicated in a bombing at the Kremlin, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his entire IMF team are shut down and termed terrorists by their own side. Ethan's new mission, dubbed Ghost Protocol, is to steal nuclear codes and devices from war-monger Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who plans to start a global nuclear holocaust so he can 'restart the world'.

This is the first time that Ethan has his team already 'picked' for him, comprising English tech specialist Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Left on their own, the team has to track down the deadly Hendricks from Russia to Dubai and Mumbai.

HITS & MISSES: The M:I franchise is nothing if not for its eye-boggling and palm-sweating stunts and elaborate set pieces. These start with a jail-break and they seem to peak midway in the movie with Ethan scaling and dangling from the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building in Dubai. Still, the pace picks up again when we get to Mumbai, India, where Ethan and Hendricks face-off at a multi-storey electric car park. (Pic, left: Patton and Pegg)

However, the best part of this M:I 4 is not its stunts, it is the cast. Cruise, at almost 50, shows he still has what it takes to be an action star. Simon Pegg is a welcome addition as he provides the much needed humour and laughs to lighten up the proceedings. The femme fatale action is courtesy of Paula Patton who sizzles as the hot Agent Carter, and French starlet Léa Seydoux (pic, bottom) whose hit-woman Sabine is so cool and efficient that she will send a chill up our spines. When the two women face-off in Dubai, expect the attendant 'catty sparks'!

Renner's Brandt is made use of to give narrative depth to his relationship with Ethan. Yes, the writers take care to tighten up loose ends too. Normally, my back and buttocks would protest at movies that are over two hours long. Well, they did not with this one. It is so seamlessly exciting that I didn't feel the drag.

THE LOWDOWN: Arguably the best Mission: Impossible instalment so far and best watched in IMAX.