Monday, March 30, 2009

TALENTIME: Another Serving of Malaysiana

TALENTIME (comedy/drama)
Starring: Jaclyn Victor, Adibah Noor, Mahesh Jugal Kishor, Mohd Syafie Naswip, Pamela Chong, Azean Irdawaty and Sukania Venugopal
Director: Yasmin Ahmad
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Mahesh Jugal Kishor and Pamela Chong in Talentime

PREAMBLE: Yasmin Ahmad's Talentime serves up another array of Malaysiana, this time around, with scenes that will pluck at our heart-strings. Those who have seen her previous efforts - Sepet, Gubra and Mukhsin - may find familiar themes repeated here but they are never boring. Highly sentimental and predictable, maybe, but never boring.

THE SKINNY: As per the title, it is about a talent contest organised by Cikgu Adibah (Adibah Noor) at a school in Perak. The story centres around three contestants - singer and pianist Melur (Pamela Chong), singer Hafiz (Mohd Syafie Naswip) and erhu player Kahoe (Hon Kahoe) - a 'transporter' (Mahesh Jugal Kishor as Mahesh) and their families. In the course of the rehearsals, we see how the lives of these people intertwine, including a blossoming romance between the bubbly Melur and the silent Mahesh.

THE REVIEW: Talentime is not so much about the talent competition as it is about relationships, love interests and prejudices. Its good parts are the subplots, vignettes and the music. Ah, the music..., but more on that later. Let's deal with Yasmin's romantic snippets first.

The main love story here involves Mahesh and Melur but Yasmin does not delve too much into how they fall in love. However, there is enough chemistry between the two to pull it off. The other relationships, like those between Hafiz's mother (Azean Irdawaty) and a fellow patient (Jit Murad) at the hospital, and between Cikgu Adibah and another teacher at school are also by-the-way sort of thing.

The most poignant subplot involves Mahesh's family - his mother (Sukania Venugopal), his sister (Jaclyn Victor) and uncle. For them traditional beliefs still hold sway and they threaten to tear them asunder. Yes, in Talentime, Yasmin also has her share of social, racial and religious issues that she wants us to mull over. As before, we laugh at some of them, cringe at others and we cry at the end. So don't forget the hankies and tissues.

Then there are the 'fun parts' - and these involve dances and catchy songs, including the foot-tapping Hindi hit O Re Piya, and Kasih Tak Kembali (by Yasmin's dad, Ahmad Hashim). My favourite dance number is the mock fan dance by a Malay teacher in drag. However, Yasmin seems to go overboard with the cute fun scenes among Melur's family. Some of them look forced and phoney. Also, at more than two hours, some scenes are draggy and some are repetitious. Still, a lot of them will touch us.

THE LOWDOWN: It's Yasmin Ahmad, predictably witty and entertaining.

Friday, March 27, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - March 27 - 29, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:

a. 12 ROUNDS (action thriller with John Cena, Ashley Scott, Brian J. White, Taylor Cole, Aidan Gillen, Steve Harris, Lara Grice and Billy Slaughter) Rated * * * (3 stars): It is heart-pounding action from start to end in this race-against-time story about a criminal out for revenge. Wrestling star Cena makes a refreshing new action hero. (Reviewed below)

b. KNOWING (sci-fi thriller with Nicolas Cage (pic), Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Adrienne Pickering and Lara Robinson) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The plot is messy and defies logic but the action sets are the highlights of this combination of X-Files and Independence Day thrillers. (Reviewed below)

c. CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (romantic comedy with Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow and Kristin Scott Thomas) Rating: * * (2 stars): Shoddily written rom-com that is neither funny nor romantic. Doesn't come close to The Devil Wears Prada.

d. THE UNBORN (horror thriller with Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Jane Alexander, Idris Elba and Carla Gugino) Rated * 1/2 (1.5 stars): Copycat horror that allows you to play a game guessing which famous movie a particular scene is stolen from. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. THE INTERNATIONAL (suspense thriller with Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Brían F. O'Byrne) Rated * * * (3 stars): Tom Tykwer's 'expose' on an international bank that deals in arms and murders people is serviceable, sans humour and romance. Its piece de resistance is a shootout at the Guggenheim Museum that has the Tykwer trademark. (Reviewed below)

2. TAKEN (action thriller with Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Xander Berkeley) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 out of 4 stars): This daddy-to-the-rescue-of-kidnapped-girl story has its own built-in emotional power but the one-man-against-Paris thingy is incredulous. It's like Neeson doing a Jack Bauer. (Read the DVD review here)

3. RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (sci-fi fantasy with Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Everett Scott) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A re-imagined version of the Witch Mountain series of the 70s, this one is pure Disney fare, catering to the undemanding family audience.

4. HOTEL FOR DOGS (comedy with Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Lisa Kudrow and Don Cheadle) Rating: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): If you can't get enough of doggie comedies like the recent Marley & Me, this kiddie fare should help you with your fix of cute canines.

5. CITY OF EMBER (sci-fi fantasy with Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Martin Landau, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones and Mary Kay Place) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The sets of this underground city looks so fabulous and cool that they become the star of the show. Storywise, nothing much happens until the end of the movie. (Reviewed below)

6. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (animated comedy with voices of Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Frances Conroy, Tony Hale, Ciaran Hinds and Dustin Hoffman) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This mouse tale from Pixar is not as funny or energetic as Ratatouille but it is adequate enough to serve as family entertainment for the kids.

KNOWING: Flawed But Engaging

KNOWING (sci-fi thriller)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Adrienne Pickering and Tamara Donnellan
Director: Alex Proyas
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: Would some superior alien being communicate through a human child in whispers? Would the message be in the form of seemingly random numbers that only a certain astrophysicist can decipher? And what is the point of the whole exercise when the agenda and the outcome has been planned?

This is the conceit of Knowing, a sci-fi venture that is reminiscent of X-Files, Independence Day and Armageddon. We get involved in the mystery because we root for the characters involved. The plot boggles the mind.

THE PLOT: A group of students is asked to draw pictures to be stored in a time capsule as part of a dedication ceremony of a new primary school. However, instead of drawing pictures, Lucinda (Lara Robinson) fills her sheet of paper with random numbers instead. Fifty years later, a new bunch of students receives the capsule's contents and Lucinda's cryptic message ends up in the hands of Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), a boy who has recently lost his mother.

That night, Caleb's father John, an astrophysicist at MIT, accidentally discovers that the encoded message predicts with the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years. As John further unravels the document's secrets, he realises the numbers foretell three more disasters.

When his attempts to alert the authorities fall on deaf ears, he takes it upon himself to try to prevent the destruction from taking place. He tracks down Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne) and her daughter Abby, and they start a race against time to prevent the ultimate disaster - and the ultimate sacrifice.

HITS & MISSES: It is difficult to understand how John can make sense of the sets of numbers that have no punctuation marks or spaces. It is even more difficult to understand how he intends to stop some tragedy without knowing what it is. So the best way to enjoy the movie is to stop thinking and go along with Alex Proyas' narrative, which, we suspect, is more of an excuse to show off the mind-boggling special effects pieces that he has set up.

One of these is a frenzied smash-up in a New York City subway, and another, a horrific plane crash with passengers scurrying about in flames. The third is highly controversial and derivative.

There is no doubt that Cage's performance helps to sustain our interest in a messy script and the supporting cast is solid too. The best performances, however, come from youngsters Canterbury and Robinson - as children caught in something they cannot understand but have to accept.

THE LOWDOWN: Flawed, but engaging.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

THE UNBORN: Copycat Exorcist

THE UNBORN (horror thriller)
Starring:Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Jane Alexander, Idris Elba, Rachel Brosnahan, Rhys Coiro, Carla Gugino, Gene Fojtik
Writer, director: David S. Goyer
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Gary Oldman and Odette Yustman in THE UNBORN

PREAMBLE: Now, how do I like this film, let me count the ways:
1. Its cinematography, by James Hawkinson, is top class, with great camera angles;
2. It has as its lead, Odette Yustman, the eye-catchingly slim starlet from Cloverfield and TV's October Road, and she prances around outdoors in her jogging suit, and indoors, mostly in her underwear. Cool;
3. The Unborn is so derivative, it keeps you guessing which famous movies the scenes are borrowed from...


THE SKINNY: When Casey Beldon (Yustman) starts seeing images of a pale young boy and has nightmares about him, she begins to probe into her past, especially into the death of her mother (Carla Gugino). She learns that she had a twin brother who had died in the womb.

Later, when her investigation takes her to an Auschwitz survivor named Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander), Casey discovers that the unborn twin is now a restless demon or 'dybbuk' who is trying to take possession of her mind and soul.

AND HOW IS THE MOVIE DERIVATIVE? Let me count the ways:
1. We get visions of the pale white boy with dark eyes from Japanese and Korean horror flicks like The RIng and Ju-On';
2. We have weird reflections like those from Mirrors, and scenes of breaking mirrors;
3. We see swarms of bugs like those in The Exorcist;
4. We also have the head twisting 180-degree scenes, a'la Linda Blair in Exorcist;
5. There are frantic chase sequences like those of The Shining;
6. And of course, we have Gary Oldman as Rabbi Sendak performing a Jewish-style exorcist!

THE LOWDOWN: Well, if you are still interested in the Unborn, enjoy yourself with your date.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

12 ROUNDS = One Helluva Ride

12 ROUNDS (action thriller)
Starring: John Cena (pictured), Ashley Scott, Brian J. White, Taylor Cole, Aidan Gillen, Steve Harris, Lara Grice and Billy Slaughter
Director: Renny Harlin
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: If you are longing for an action thriller you can sink your teeth into, this one should fit
the bill. 12 Rounds is packed with chases and crashes, shootouts and blow-ups and surprises. Sure, plotholes abound but with such a fast-paced script that keeps you on the edge of your seat, you are not going to bother too much about them. Leave your brain in neutral and enjoy the ride...

THE PLOT: New Orleans cop Danny Fisher (John Cena, above) and his partner Hank Carver (Brian J. White) are on their routine rounds when they encounter international thief Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen) trying to flee an FBI manhunt clutching a briefcase full of stolen diamonds.

When Danny tries to arrest the suspect, Miles' girlfriend is accidentally killed. A year later, Miles escapes from prison and plans an elaborate revenge. He tracks down Danny, kidnaps his girlfriend
Molly (Ashley Scott) and demands that he completes 12 tasks in order to save Molly's life.

Meanwhile, Special Agent George Aiken (Steve Harris), who has been tracking Miles for years, goes all out to make sure his target does not get away this time around.

HITS & MISSES: Finnish director Renny Harlin, who gave us Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea, is back on the saddle with this one. 12 Rounds looks set to open with a bang in Malaysia (the first country slotted for the film's release) and it should boost Harlin's career, especially after that dismal failure that was Cutthroat Island which he made with his wife Geena Davis in 1995.

In John Cena (a wrestling superstar like Dwayne Johnson, et al), Harlin has a new action hero whose relationships with his girlfriend Molly and partner Hank are nicely developed in between the action sequences. Cena's role is not a demanding one but we can all root for him in his frantic bid to save the woman he loves. Harris, too, is memorable as the federal agent who also has an agenda of his own.

The most implausible character is Gillen's Miles who seems to be endowed with superhuman powers in being able to execute complex plots seemingly by remote control. Still, Gillen is menacing enough to give us goose bumps whenever he confronts Danny and Molly.

THE LOWDOWN: Be among the first in the world to play 12 Rounds with Cena.

Friday, March 20, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - March 20 - 22, 2009

Align CenterYOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW This Week:

a. THE INTERNATIONAL (suspense thriller with Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Brían F. O'Byrne) Rated * * * (3 stars): Tom Tykwer's 'expose' on an international bank that deals in arms and murders people is serviceable, sans humour and romance. Its piece de resistance is a shootout at the Guggenheim Museum that has the Tykwer trademark. (Reviewed below)

b. TAKEN (action thriller with Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Xander Berkeley) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 out of 4 stars): This daddy-to-the-rescue-of-kidnapped-girl story has its own built-in emotional power but the one-man-against-Paris thingy is incredulous. It's like the recently widowed Neeson doing a Jack Bauer. (Read the DVD review here)

c. RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (sci-fi fantasy with Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Everett Scott) Rating * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): A re-imagined version of the Witch Mountain series of the 70s, this one is pure Disney fare, catering to the undemanding family audience.

d. HOTEL FOR DOGS (comedy with Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Lisa Kudrow and Don Cheadle) Rating: * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): If you can't get enough of doggie comedies like the recent Marley & Me, this should help you with your quest of cute canines.

STILL GOING STRONG:

1. WATCHMEN (with Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson) Rating * * * (3 out of 4 stars): Adapted from a 12-part graphic novel, this long-awaited opus, about a reunion of sorts for costumed crime-fighters, is a treat for comic book fans. (Reviewed below)

2. MARLEY & ME (with Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner and Alan Arkin) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): This doggie biopic of sorts has the twin aim of making us laugh and cry. Director David Frankel achieves this by over-manipulation, repetition and other tactics.(Reviewed below)


3. CITY OF EMBER (sci-fi fantasy with Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Martin Landau, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones and Mary Kay Place) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The sets of this underground city looks so fab and cool that they become the star of the show. Storywise, nothing much happens until the end of the movie (Pic above, reviewed below)

4. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (animated comedy with voices of Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Frances Conroy, Tony Hale, Ciaran Hinds and Dustin Hoffman) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This mouse tale from Pixar is not as funny or energetic as Ratatouille but it has enough ingredients to serve as family entertainment for the school holidays.

5. DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION (sci-fi fantasy with Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun Fat, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters and Jamie Chung) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Adapted from a Japanese children's comic book series, this one is mainly for the kids, especially those who are fans of the TV show and manga books. Chow is the main attraction here. (Reviewed below)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson Succumbs To Skiing Injuries

IT is confirmed: actress Natasha Richardson passed away in New York City yesterday (March 18) after suffering injuries in a ski accident, a family statement said. She was 45.

Richardson's family released a statement saying: "Liam Neeson, his sons, and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."

Richardson was critically injured after a fall during private skiing lessons at the Mont Tremblant resort on Monday. However, she didn't appear hurt and was walking around shortly after the incident. Later, she complained of a headache and was taken to the hospital.

On Tuesday (March 17), she was transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City where she was put on life support to await last goodbyes from members of her family.

Richardson was practically born into 'acting royalty'. Her grandfather, Sir Michael Redgrave, was a famous British actor and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, is an Oscar-winning actress. Her father, the late director Tony Richardson, helmed such films as Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer and the Oscar-winning Tom Jones.

Natasha's first film role was in her father's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), made when she was four years old. She played Mary Shelley in Ken Russell's film "Gothic," and followed that up as Patty Hearst in Paul Schrader's 1988 film of the same name.

Her other notable films included The Handmaid's Tale (1990); the TV movie "Zelda" (1993); "Nell (1994), alongside Neeson, whom she married in 1994; the 1998 remake ofThe Parent Trap; and Wild Child (2008).

She won a Tony for her role as Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival of Cabaret and earned acclaim for her performance in a 2005 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She was scheduled to perform in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music this year.

May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: Censored Slasherporn

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (horror thriller)
Starring: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, Megan Boone, Tom Atkins and Kevin Tighe
Director: Patrick Lussier
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)


LET'S CUT TO THE CHASE: Titled My Bloody Valentine 3D in the States, this slasherpic is a remake of the 1981 horror of a movie made by Canadian director John Beaird (from a story by Stephen Miller). The main reason for this remake is to have images of blood, axes and body parts flying off the screen and into our faces in glorious 3D.

It is mainly to pander to fans of cult horror flicks. If you are squeamish about blood and guts spilling all over the screen even in 2D, then stay away...

THE PLOT: The movie opens with newspaper reports about an accident at a coal mine in the town of Harmony that leaves five dead and a survivor in a coma. When the survivor regains consciousness a year later on Valentine's Day, he goes on a killing spree that leaves more than 20 people horribly butchered.

Years later, a bunch of teenagers revisit the mine for a party - and are attacked by a gas-masked guy wielding a pickaxe. Three of them, Sarah (Jamie King), Axel (Kerr Smith) and Tom (Jensen Ackles) manage to escape the massacre.

Cut to 10 years later. Tom returns to Harmony on Valentine's Day and ill feelings start to resurface. Axel, who is now the town sheriff, suspects Tom of trying to rekindle his relationship with Sarah, who is now his wife. Sarah suspect Axel of infidelity. Meanwhile, people get brutally murdered and Tom and Axel accuse each other of being the murderer!

GOOD NEWS & BAD NEWS: The good news is that there are loads of mutilation, decapitation and sex scenes in this movie to make your eyes pop. The camera angles are set in such a way that we get to see the chest cavities after hearts are ripped out and various objects jut out of the screen and into our faces.

The bad news is that the movie is not shown in 3D in Malaysia - and the gratuitous sex and nude scenes have been cut. What remains of this 'slasherporn' is a badly contrived horror story that defies common sense and logic.

I have no complaints about the cast, who are fairly competent in undemanding roles, or the technical crew who manage to impress us. The one sequence that makes an impact is the chase scene at a convenience store where Sarah and her assistant (Megan Boone) are under siege by the masked killer.

THE LOWDOWN: Like eating cake with the icing and cream removed.

Injured Natasha Richardson Flown to NYC

LATEST reports said that actress Natasha Richardson arrived in New York City from Canada on Tuesday afternoon in serious condition with head injuries suffered the day before in a skiing accident north of Montreal.

According to two friends close to her family, the plane had arrived in New York on Tuesday evening, but declined to say where the actress was being treated.

Richardson, 45, is married to the actor Liam Neeson (picture) and is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and the director Tony Richardson. Neeson was seen inside an ambulance beside his wife on Tuesday afternoon at Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal, as she lay heavily wrapped in blankets with tubes around her face.

Richardson was critically injured after a fall during private skiing lessons at the Mont Tremblant resort on Monday. However, she didn't appear hurt and was walking around shortly after the incident. Later, she complained of a headache and was taken to the hospital.

Rumours and gossips on the net have even suggested that she is dead. Richardson
and Neeson married in 1994 and they have two children.

Monday, March 16, 2009

THE INTERNATIONAL: Action We Can Bank On

THE INTERNATIONAL (suspense drama)
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Brían F. O'Byrne

Director: Tom Tykwer
Time: 118 mins

Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Run Owen Run: Clive Owen in THE INTERNATONAL

PREAMBLE: Ever since he gave the world Run, Lola, Run in 2001, German director Tom Tykwer has gradually made a name for himself as one of the most creative film-makers in the world. After Lola, he followed up with Heaven (with Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi in 2002), and the controversial Perfume: The Story of a Murderer in 2006.

The latter efforts are nowhere as successful as Run, Lola, Run but they established Tykwer as a director to watch out for. Those who have seen his eye-popper of an ending in Perfume would understand why. I had expected Tykwer to surprise us again with The International - and I was not disappointed.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Written by Eric Warren Singer, The International is inspired by an expose on the Bank of Credit and Commercial Intl., a Pakistan-based institution that specialised in money laundering, arms-dealing and financing Third World warlords from the 1970s to 1991. Here, it is changed to the International Bank for Business and Credit (IBBC), the subject of a worldwide investigation by Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and New York assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).

When Salinger's colleague suddenly dies of 'heart attack' after a meeting in Berlin, he cries murder and takes it upon himself to bring the culprits to book. Meanwhile, the IBBC, led by Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen) and its Mr Fix-it Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), takes down anyone and everyone who is deemed as a threat to it.


HITS AND MISSES: It may be a sign of the times as bankers seem to have taken over from lawyers and politicians as the baddies of the day. Their villainy, however, is disguised, but Salinger's anger and frustration are not. Owen goes through the paces looking tensed and all set to implode. There's no wit or humour as we would expect from Bond 007.

There is no romance either. Naomi Watts (pic, right) is under-employed in the movie, playing an obviously under-developed role, especially when it concerns Eleanour's husband and children and the danger they may be facing.

Only Mueller-Stahl appears to have a great time with his role as the bad guy who is so much more charming and interesting than the good guy!
Tykwer's forte here is not in the narrative. It is in the action sequences especially the much-touted shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This well-choreographed series of violence and mayhem is the movie's piece de resistance and the main highlight of this movie. It may even make up for the lame dialogue and lines - and the anticlimactic way Tykwer ends the film.

THE LOWDOWN: It's not Tykwer's best, but it has the kind of action we can bank on.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

WATCHMEN: Alternate Side of Dark Knight

WATCHMEN (fantasy adventure)
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey
Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson
Director: Zack Snyder

Time: 163 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)


Akerman (as Laurie Jupiter), Osterman (Dr Manhatan) and Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach)

PREAMBLE: First, my apologies for this late posting of the review. As such, I will be brief and get right to the point: Zack Snyder's Watchmen is a bold and thought-provoking adaptation of the 1986 original graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. However, at 165 minutes long, the narrative tests our patience and concentration. Sometimes, it can be an exercise in toleration...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Set in an alternate era of 1985, with Richard Nixon still in in the White House and the Cold War with the Soviet Union simmerimng, the narrative starts with a costume hero called the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brutally murdered in his New York apartment. The murder starts a reunion of sorts for several of the Comedian's friends, who, before Nixon outlawed masked heroes - were collectively known as the Watchmen.

Trying to solve this 'whodunit' are Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), formerly known as the birdlike Nite Owl, his friend and ex-partner Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, wearing a mask bearing an inkblot pattern), and the curvaceous Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), who inherits her superhero legacy from her mother and predecessor, Sally (Carla Gugino).


The other members of the Watchmen are Laurie's lover, Jon Osterman, better known as Dr Manhattan, and the smug Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), who has now become a tycoon and dubbed "the smartest man in the world".


HITS AND MISSES: While unravelling the whodunit, director Snyder takes many detours to provide us with glimpses into the origins of the Watchmen and women, and giving us a tour of the 'alternate 80s world'. Yeah, Snyder renders the scenes like they were transferred from the graphic novels, with visuals of sawed-off limbs and dangling organs, and randomly cross-cutting to scenes on planet Mars with Dr Manhattan.
Indeed, many of these are spectacular, even to non-fans of Moore's comics.

We also get the Sixties and Seventies nostalgia both in the soundtrack that is packed with hits from singers like Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday, and in characters like Nixon and Dr Henry Kissinger.
Best of all, I like the way the superheroes are portrayed as human beings bearing grudges as well as sentiments.

THE LOWDOWN: If you like The Dark Knight, catch this as an 'alternate viewing'.

Friday, March 13, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - March 13 - 15, 2009

YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW THIS WEEK:


a. CITY OF EMBER (sci-fi fantasy with Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Martin Landau, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones and Mary Kay Place) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): The sets of this underground city looks so fabulous and cool that they become the star of the show. Storywise, nothing much happens until the end of the movie. (Review below).

b. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (animated comedy with voices of Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Frances Conroy, Tony Hale, Ciaran Hinds and Dustin Hoffman) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): This mouse tale from Pixar is not as funny or energetic as Ratatouille but it is adequate enough to serve as family entertainment for the school holidays.

c. DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION (sci-fi fantasy with Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun Fat, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters and Jamie Chung) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Adapted from a Japanese children's comic book series, this one is mainly for the kids, especially those who are fans of the TV show and manga books. Chow is the main attraction here. (Review below)

STILL GOING STRONG:


1. MARLEY & ME (with Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner and Alan Arkin) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): This doggie biopic of sorts has the twin aim of making us laugh and cry. Director David Frankel achieves this by over-manipulation, repetition and other tactics. (Review below).


2. WATCHMEN (with Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson) Rating * * * (3 out of 4 stars): Adapted from a 12-part graphic novel, this long-awaited opus, about a reunion of sorts for costumed crime-fighters, is a treat for comic book fans. (Pictured above)

3. THE READER (with Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Cross and Lena Olin) Rated * * * (3 stars): Basically a character study of a German woman accused of atrocities in the Holocaust, it has Winslet in her Oscar-winning role. However, censorship cuts make watchig the movie rather frustrating. (Review below).

4. JONAS BROTHERS: The 3D Concert Experience (musical with Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas, "Big Rob" Feggans, Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Gimmicky and high-energy concert show in 3D - with brief glimpses to the Brothers' lifestyle and fandom.
(Review below).

5. SEVEN POUNDS (mystery drama with Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper and Michael Ealy) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): After Pursuit of Happyness, director Gabriele Muccino collaborates with Smith to make an enigmatic weepie. With so many plotholes, it's not quite there.
(Review below).

6. LOVE MATTERS (Singaporean comedy with Henry Thia, Mark Lee, Lai Ming and Yann Yann Yeo) Rating: * * (2 stars): This Jack Neo comedy about marriage, sex, porn and whatever is far from being Neo's best. Rather, it is a scattershot amalgam of his previous films.

7. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI (action adventure with Kristin Kreuk, Moon Bloodgood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough and Robin Shou) Rated * (1 star): Brainless, plotless and utterly hopeless sequel to the 1994 turkey that was Street Fighter. (Review below).

CITY OF EMBER: Kiddie-style 'Glade Runner'

CITY OF EMBER (fantasy adventure)
Starring: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Martin Landau, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Mary Kay Place, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Harry Treadaway and Liz Smith

Director: Gil Kenan

Time: 92 mins

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: The first thing that strikes us about City Of Ember is its fabulous underground metropolis set a post-apocalypse future. The set designs are so detailed and realistic that we get the impression that more surprises are in store. Perhaps, this retro movie, adapted from Jeanne DuPrau’s novel, is some sort of Blade Runner for children. Alas, it soon becomes clear that the sets are the star of the show and the much awaited action only comes at the end of the movie...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? On the thematic level, the movie is a warning against mankind's dependence on machinery and technology and forgetting their past. For 250 years, the city of Ember has been run by a generator. The generator is breaking down and no one seems to know how to repair it or build another one. Worse, no one knows anything about life beyond the city's walls. Blackouts occur daily, food is running out and giant bugs and moles are preying on the people.

Hope for salvation lies in two youngsters, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) who have just started work as messenger and pipeworks mechanic, respectively. Lina and Doon soon learn that time is running out on Ember and they must solve the puzzle left by the city’s mythical Builders and find a way out of their problem.


HITS AND MISSES: While director Kenan takes his own sweet time showing off the wonderful sets (above) and the city's maze of sewers, pipes and tunnels, little is done in terms of plot development. Veteran stars like Martin Landau (as the sleepy Sul), Tim Robbins (as Doon's inventor dad) and Bill Murray (as Mayor Cole) help to flesh out their roles and provide star-power to the movie.

Ronan and Treadaway, who carry most of the movie, are credible enough but they have little to do other than run around the sets. Ditto that for Marianne Jean-Baptiste who plays Lina's friend Clary in brief appearances. Kenan seems to perk things up and shifts the action into overdrive at the end but it is too little too late.


THE LOWDOWN: OK, it's Glade Runner for kids.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION - Kame Hame Ha Ha Ha!

DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION (fantasy adventure)
Cast: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun Fat, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters and Jamie Chung
Director: James Wong
Time: 85 mins

Rating: * *
(out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Kame Hame-Ha! If this phrase sounds alien to you, then you are alien to the world of Dragon Ball manga. Listening to it for the first time, it may sound ridiculous and funny, as in "Kame Hame-ha ha ha!" However, if you remember it as a warrior's call to summon mystical martial arts energy, you are back in the company of Goku and Master Roshi, heroes of the Dragon Ball comics (pictured, above) and TV series!

The Japanese Dragon Ball cartoon series was the creation of Akira Toriyama in the Weekly Shonen Jump in 1984. The comics spawned best-selling graphic novels, a hugely successful TV series and role-playing videogames. The Dragon Ball cartoons had more than 500 episodes which were made in Japan, and shown all over the world.

It is from such kiddie cartoons that 20th Century Fox has turned into a live action movie - and that itself is a feat given that Toriyama's Dragon Ball world is a realm where race and colour has no bearing, and the past and future are merged into the present.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Based on the 'King Piccolo Saga', it is about the adventures of Goku (Justin Chatwin) and his bid to stop the evil Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) from taking over the world. After being captured and banished for two thousand years, Piccolo has returned to seek the seven Dragonballs so that he can conquer Earth!

First off, Goku's grandpa's house is destroyed by Piccolo in his bid to find the old man's Dragonball. In his quest to save the world, Goku not only has to train under the eccentric Master Roshi (Chow Yun Fat) but he also has to collect all of the seven magical orbs (Dragonballs) so that he can be granted one 'perfect wish' by the dragon. Later, Goku teams up with the pretty Bulma (Emmy Rossum) and a highway robber named Yamcha (Joon Park) in a race to find the Dragonballs before the eclipse of the sun.


HITS AND MISSES: If you are not familiar with the manga series, this movie will look totally childish to you. Director James Wong (of Final Destination) and screenwriter Ben Ramsey are working on Toriyama's ideas that seem to have been 'inspired' by the Monkey King tales from the Chinese classic Journey To The West. Many of them sound ridiculous now, especially when it involves lighted balls, elusive dragons and 'perfect' wishes.


Another problem is that Wong has not done enough to flesh out the lead roles. Goku, Bulma, Yamcha and Piccolo's sidekick Mai (Eriko) look like cliched cardboard characters. The only exceptions are Chow's Roshi and Jamie Chung's Chi Chi, a girl-next-door-type who can also kick butt when challenged. As for Chow, it is fun to see how he shamelessly steals the show from the others in almost every scene he appears in.

I have no complaints about Chatwin and Rossum's performance. They are just in need of better lines, proper development and more time for the audience to get used to them. Marsters' Piccolo, however, is hopelessly undeveloped - and he remains a gimmick, not a character.

THE LOWDOWN: Given the original comic characters, I would say Dragonball: Evolution is a lot better than Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. At least this one is childishly funny while the latter insults our intelligence.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dakota Fanning Joins 'New Moon' Cast

She Will Play Jane the Vampire

DAKOTA Fanning (pictured) will join Twilight's Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and company in the hit movie's highly anticipated sequel, New Moon.

Entertainment Tonight confirmed that Fanning, 15, will be sinking her teeth into the role of the young vampire, Jane, in the film which is scheduled to open shortly after Halloween on Nov. 20, 2009.

The sequel, based on the second book in author Stephenie Meyer's popular vampire series, will be directed by Chris
Weitz. Fanning recently starred in The Secret Life of Bees and Push, and gave her voice to Coraline. She's currently negotiating to play lead singer Cheri Currie in "The Runaways," the biopic of the '70s all-girl band that has already booked Twilight star Kristen Stewart to play Joan Jett.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

WEEKEND PIC - March 6 - 9, 2008

GUIDE TO EXTENDED WEEKEND MOVIES

NEW This Week:


a. MARLEY & ME
(with Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner and Alan Arkin) Rated * * * (3 out of 4 stars): This doggie biopic of sorts has the twin aim of making us laugh and cry. Director David Frankel achieves this by over-manipulation, repetition and other tactics. (Reviewed below)


b. WATCHMEN (pic, right, with Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson) Rating * * * (3 stars): Adapted from a 12-part graphic novel, this long-awaited opus, about a reunion of sorts for costumed crime-fighters, is a treat for comic book fans.

c. THE READER
(with Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Cross and Lena Olin) Rated * * * (3 stars): Basically a character study of a German woman accused of atrocities in the Holocaust, it has Winslet in her Oscar-winning role. However, censorship cuts make watching the movie rather frustrating.
(Reviewed below)

d. JONAS BROTHERS: The 3D Concert Experience (musical with Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas, "Big Rob" Feggans, Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): Gimmicky and high-energy concert show in 3D - with brief (2D) glimpses to the Brothers' lifestyle and fandom. (Reviewed below)

STILL GOING STRONG:


1. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (drama with Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan) Rated *
* * * (4 stars): With eight Oscars including one for Best Picture and Best Director, are you going to miss this one (my first 4-star movie of the year)? (Reviewed here)

2. SEX DRIVE (comedy with Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Clark Duke, James Marsden, Seth Green, Alice Greczyn
and Katrina Bowden) Rated * * * (3 stars): Somewhat like American Pie-meets-Road Trip involving a trio of best friends. Passable teen comedy with enough humour, fun and heart. (Reviewed below)

3. SEVEN POUNDS (mystery drama with Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper and Michael
Ealy) Rated * * 1/2 (2.5 stars): After Pursuit of Happyness, director Gabriele Muccino collaborates with Smith to make an enigmatic weepie. With so many plotholes, it's not quite there. (Reviewed below)

4. LOVE MATTERS (Singaporean comedy with Henry Thia, Mark Lee, Lai Ming and Yann Yann Yeo) Rating: * * (2
stars): This Jack Neo comedy about marriage, sex, porn and whatever is far from being Neo's best. Rather, it is a scattershot amalgam of his previous films.

5. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (action thriller with Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug
Hutchison, Dash Mihok, Wayne Knight and T.J. Storm) Rating: * * (2 stars): This third reincarnation of Marvel Comics' The Punisher (Stevenson) for the big screen may be an improvement on the earlier efforts but it is way below the standard of Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Why punish yourself?

6. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI (action adventure with Kristin Kreuk, Moon Bloodgood, Michael Clarke
Duncan, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough and Robin Shou) Rated * (1 star): Based on the videogame, this is a brainless, plotless and utterly hopeless sequel to the 1994 turkey that was Street Fighter. (Reviewed below)

THE READER: Winslet's Winner

THE READER (drama)
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz and Lena Olin

Director: Stephen Daldry

Time: 120 mins

Rating: * * * (out of 4)


Kate Winslet and David Kross (as The Reader)

POINTS TO NOTE: 1. The Reader is one of a slew of movies dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust that was released last year. These include award-worthy films like and Valkyrie, Defiance and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

2. Released specially to coincide with the Oscar Race, The Reader offers up Kate Winslet at one of her most powerful performances, including many scenes in the nude (of which she has no qualms about).

3. Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Hanna Schmitz - her first win after being nominated five times over the years.


4. Most of the nude scenes and 'objectionable dialogue' have been censored at Malaysian cinemas. So what remains may be rather frustrating to watch.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Adapted from Bernhard Schlink's novel, this movie is about the relationship between Hanna and Michael Berg, a student who later becomes a lawyer. They first meet in West Berlin in 1958. Hanna, in her 30s, helps a sick 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) to find his way home. When he visits her to thank her for her kindness, they start an affair.

From then on, Michael would visit Hanna after school, and he would read aloud to her from his books before or after they have sex. Hanna seems to find escapism in Michael's stories. One day, however, Hanna moves out...


The next time Michael sees Hanna is in the 60s. He is a law student under Professor Rohl (Bruno Ganz) and she is on trial for crimes committed at a concentration camp during World War Two. It is during the trial that Michael learns of Hanna's secret, something she has been trying not only to hide, but also to run away from.


HITS AND MISSES: Starting the drama from 1995, director Stephen Daldry tells the story in criss-crossing flashbacks that can be rather confusing. Here, a scowling Ralph Fiennes plays the adult Michael, a trial lawyer whose life seems as depressing as his demeanour. He is divorced, he has one-night stands and is trying to get closer to his daughter (Hannah Herzsprung). Apparently, thoughts of Hanna are still on his mind.

Personally, I don't think this is the best of Winslet's portrayals but it comes close. Her Hanna Schmitz is both strong and vulnerable at the same time and awfully full of contradictions. The one scene that strikes me most is when she retorts to the authorities at the trial. It is clear that the innocent-looking Hanna is the perpetrator but, she may also be a victim - of the demands of her job, and of the system under a ruthless dictator.


Kross is a charmer, especially when he smiles and Lena Olin has a memorable cameo at the end, playing a Holocaust survivor whom Michael visits on an errand in New York.


THE LOWDOWN: For fans of Kate Winslet, it looks like a must-see, especially on DVD!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

MARLEY & ME: Wild But Adorable

MARLEY & ME (comedy)

Cast:Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner and Alan Arkin
Director: David Frankel

Time: 120 mins

Rating: * * * (out of 4)


PREAMBLE: Attribute it to labrador appeal or puppy love or whatever, but Marley & Me topped the US box-office charts for two consecutive weekends that incorporated Christmas 2008 and New Year Day 2009. This was a mighty feat considering that this canine comedy was up against solid end-of-year biggies like Bedtime Stories, Valkyrie, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

So far, Marley & Me has collected US$166.4 million (RM615 million) worldwide. Not bad for a movie about "the world's worst dog".

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Based on the 2005 bestseller by journalist and columnist John Grogan (played by Owen Wilson), the movie is about the man and his lab retriever which he bought for his wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) way back in Florida just after they got married.
A man and his dog do not make interesting news or comedy.

However, John and Marley does. From the start, John allows Marley to run all over him and practically wreck the house. He and Jenny have tried to send the dog to obedience school under a gruff trainer (played by Kathleen Turner) but the trio get expelled!
It is a wonder that the huge but loyal Marley, who chomps up the carpet and cushions, had not eaten John and Jenny's three children when they were small.

HITS AND MISSES:
Some scenes of Marley's trail of destruction may be funny but many of them look over-manipulated. Some may even make us cringe in disbelief that some human beings can be so silly as to allow themselves to be 'bullied' by their dog. However, where the message of the book is concerned, Frankel fares better.
It is obvious that John learns some of life's lessons from Marley who is the glue that binds the Grogan family together.

Among the cast, Owen and Aniston display the requisite screen chemistry as a loving couple who seem to be living on the edge of 'Hollywoodland' - almost perfect, even with their domestic squabbles. Alan Arkin appears like a fantasy character, playing John's indulgent boss and editor, while Eric Dane plays his womanising friend and colleague. However, the star of the show is 'Marley' who is played by 22 dogs of various sizes and age.

THE LOWDOWN: Marley & Me will probably be a hit not only with dog lovers here in Malaysia but anyone who loves pets.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

'Love Matters' Leads Local Weekend B-O

JACK Neo's 'Love Matters' is the top grosser at the Malaysian B-O last weekend (Feb 26 - March 1, 2009. Curiously, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li took the No 2 spot.

Here are the Top 10 films at the local box-office, according to Boxofficemojo:
(Ranking, Movie, weekend gross, No of screens, total gross and week).


1. Love Matters RM1.169 mil (46 screens) RM1.169 mil 1st week

2. Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li RM1.165 mil (50 screens) RM1.169 mil, 1st week


3. Punisher: War Zone RM407,000 (66 screens) RM1.620 mil, 2nd week


4. Kung Fu Chef RM263,000 (25 screens) RM984,200, 2nd week

5. Seven Pounds RM218,000 (18 screens) RM218,000, 1st week


6. Curious Case of Benjamin Button RM118,000 (25 screens) RM1.228 mil, 3rd week


7. Sex Drive RM96,200 (28 screens) RM96,200 1st week


8. Role Models RM85,100 (10 screens) RM85,100, 1st week


9. Slumdog Millionaire RM74,000 (6 screens) RM362,000, 3rd week


10. Pink Panther 2 RM66,600 (37 screens) RM2.43 mil, 4th week