Family films and franchise movies are the name of the game in December.
With the festive period imminent, it’s not unusual to see feel-good films and comedies with broad appeal take to the screen. Characters that used to be a staple of children’s television, Yogi Bear and Doraemon, both get the big-screen treatment.
In terms of adventure, the continuation of the Narnia series, a massive family franchise, takes younger ones on flights of fantasy based on C.S. Lewis’ classic yarns. At the same time, another literary great, Jonathan Swift, is also having his work interpreted in a modern way.
The long-awaited Tron sequel is the latest offering from what’s become a film-and-video-game franchise, while a third film featuring the dysfunctionally funny Focker kin is also on tap this holiday season.
This month is a good time, too, for fans of the horror genre and of foreign-language films. Wes Craven directs his first film in 16 years with his latest scary movie, while Cloverfield director Matt Reeves tries his hand at remaking a Swedish horror hit.
There are also films from Belgium, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China to savour, not to mention two documentaries, one on the immortal Muhammad Ali and the other based on a surprise literary success.
Week of 2 December
Movie details | Photo gallery | Trailer
The Stars: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Liam Neeson, Simon Pegg
The Story: King Caspian (Barnes), along with two of the Pevensie children (Henley, Keynes) and their cousin Eustace (Poulter), go on a sea-faring mission to strange islands where they must overcome numerous obstacles to save the magical realm of Narnia from a dire fate.
The Buzz: The project was delayed in order to accommodate the working schedules of the young actors. There was also a wrangle and eventual split between Disney and Walden Media, who were to have co-produced this third Narnia film.
Shrek director Andrew Adamson, who directed the first two Narnia films, was replaced by Michael Apted. The second film, Prince Caspian, was less well-received than the first, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It also made some US$300 million less at the box office.
inSing.com says: The visual effects for this film are expected to be of top-notch quality, while the filmmakers are expected to avoid ‘mistakes’ that made Prince Caspian less successful. It seems reasonable to hope that this instalment can hit the heights of the series opener.
Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take, a thriller about a group of friends stalked by a serial killer; The Haunted House Project, a Korean scare-fest about paranormal investigators entering a notorious house; Skyline, an alien invasion story by the Brothers Strause; and the Thai romantic comedy Hello Stranger, about two complete strangers brought together by fate.
Week of 9 December
The Stars: Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Carla Buono
The Story: A meek young boy (Smit-McPhee), who has trouble with bullies, befriends a strange new girl (Moretz) in his neighbourhood who turns out to be a child vampire.
The Buzz: A remake of the excellent 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, this feature was written and directed by Matt Reeves, whose last film was the sci-fi monster flick Cloverfield. Since the remake was announced, many doubters, including original film’s director, have expressed unease about the decision.
Reeves subsequently reassured that he was not remaking the film, but rather adapting the bestselling John Ajvide Lindqvist novel it was based on his way. He also called his leading actors Moretz (Hit Girl from Kick-Ass), Smit-McPhee (The Road) and former Oscar nominee Jenkins (The Visitor) his ‘dream cast’.
inSing.com says: The Swedish film was truly outstanding, and early notices for Reeves’ film have thankfully been positive. If nothing else, you should watch both versions, so as to better understand the differences in the filmmaking and the audiences they cater to. This film was originally due for release here in October.
Two family friendly features: Doraemon Movie: Nobita’s Mermaid Legend, based on the popular anime series, and the Belgian-made English-language animated film Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage; Box!, a Japanese drama about two friends who become rivals in the boxing ring; and Taiwan’s The Fourth Portrait, a family drama that garnered three Golden Horse awards.
Week of 16 December
Movie details | Photo gallery | Trailer
The Stars: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Sheen, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner
The Story: The son (Hedlund) of a missing video-game developer (Bridges) is pulled into a fantastical computer world where his father has been trapped for 20 years. Opposed by malevolent being and his minions in this digital universe, father and son attempt to return to the earthly realm with the help of a friendly program (Wilde).
The Buzz: Hedlund is a rising star, but his star isn’t rising quite as fast as that of Wilde, it seems. Wilde, formerly of The OC and currently a member of the House team, has been getting plenty of media attention ahead of this film’s release, and is fast becoming known as a sex symbol.
Meanwhile, Bridges, a 60-year-old winner of the best actor Academy Award this year for Crazy Heart, is enjoying a resurgence in his career. After this sequel to his 1982 film, he will next appear in the Coen brothers’ upcoming Western, True Grit, with Josh Brolin and Matt Damon.
inSing.com says: The visuals that have been released thus far – there was a special worldwide 23-minute ‘TRON Night’ preview in October – look absolutely mind-boggling. Many will want to be plugged into to this long-lost, much-upgraded digital world.
The documentary Facing Ali, where the great boxer Muhammad Ali’s rivals recount their bouts; the Japanese film Time Traveller – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a live-action version of a 2006 hit anime movie; and the Japanese comedy Go Find a Psychic!, about a gathering of psychics which is interrupted by a clumsy TV director and an impostor.
Week of 23 December
The Stars: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel
The Story: Now the father of five-year-old twins, Greg (Stiller) is facing a mid-life crisis as he frets about raising his children and being able to adequately provide for his family. His actions arouse the suspicions of his ex-CIA father-in-law (De Niro), leading to tensions and conflicts.
The Buzz: All the players in this madcap marriage of two very different families are back – just barely. Hoffman had not been keen to return as Greg’s father over the script and the change of director, from Jay Roach to Paul Weitz of American Pie and About a Boy fame, and could only be persuaded to return to shoot six scenes.
New to the mix? Jessica Alba, playing a ‘sexy’ pharmaceutical representative, and Harvey Keitel, as a contractor, to prove that they, too, can be funny.
inSing.com says: It would be a crime if Stiller, still at the top of his game, De Niro and Wilson don’t get a script to harness their collective comedic talents. A pity that Hoffman has a limited turn, but still expect predictable, yet not unpleasant, laughs.
The animated family film Yogi Bear, starring Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris, and the voices of Dan Aykroyd, Christine Taylor and Justin Timberlake; a modern-day take on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, with Jack Black, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet and Emily Blunt; and Ann Hui’s All About Love, a dramedy with Sandra Ng and Vivian Chow as old flames.
Week of 30 December
The Stars: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton
The Story: An unwitting American tourist (Depp) is enchanted by a beautiful woman (Jolie) while on vacation in Italy. Sparks fly, yet she is not who she seems, and the pair are thrust into situations of escalating danger, manipulated by sinister forces at large.
The Buzz: This is a remake of the 2005 French box-office flop – but critical success – Anthony Zimmer, which starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal, by German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others).
With stars of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that the tabloid press would get excited. The gossip mill tells of Depp’s wife, Vanessa Paradis (Heartbreaker), reportedly jealous and suspicious of Jolie. Much has also been written of Depp and Jolie in handcuffs and in a shower together – in the film, mind you!
inSing.com says: Both stars are undoubtedly talented, but the question is if they would be able to generate any chemistry. Arguably the last time she really hit it off on screen with someone – a guy named Brad Pitt – she hooked up with him.
The Korean remake of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, which originally starred Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung; Chow’s latest film, Jiang Wen’s action-comedy Let the Bullets Fly; the Dutch film The Last Days of Emma Blank, about a woman with outrageous demands; and a documentary based on the surprisingly best-selling book of the same name, Freakonomics.
Organised by the Singapore Film Society, the festival features films such as My Dog Tulip,with the voices of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini; the sci-fi thriller Metropia; Japanese films Book Girl, Tokyo Onlypic, Time of Eve, Oblivion Island and more.
Also at the National Museum is the latest installment of the World Cinema Series; the film on 11 December is the classic Japanese silent film Kurutta Ippeiji (A Page of Madness), which will be accompanied by music written and performed by local band The Observatory.
Meanwhile, the independent theatre Sinema showcases Singapore’s very own Doris Young, aka Marrie Lee, as the fiesty leading lady Cleopatra Wong in the 1978 Filipino action flick They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong in a series of screenings from 1 to 11 December.
The theatre at Mount Sophia also features the debut theatrical run (3 to 19 December) of local director Han Yew Kwang’s latest comedy, When Hainan Meets Teochew, with a homegrown cast including Yeo Yann Yann, Alaric Tay, Marilyn Lee, Tan Hong Chye and Lee Chau Min.
Last, but not least, SAM at 8Q, an extension of the Singapore Art Museum, is presenting the Films from Japan programme at its Moving Image Gallery. The programme runs from 10 to 18 December, with tickets at $10 each.
(Note: All release dates are subject to change; all information correct as of press time.)