20 Reasons for Popcorn

The Christmas stocking is bursting at the cinemas this holiday season, with more than two dozen movies opening this month.

There is something for every discerning taste, from major blockbuster films such as Peter Jackson's much-anticipated The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, to Steve McQueen's acclaimed drama 12 Years A Slave.

Then there is horror flick In Fear, about a couple's night drive gone terribly wrong, and irreverent comedies such as Last Vegas starring heavyweights Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline.

For fans of Chinese films, there are several major flicks featuring big-name stars, including Benny Chan's The White Storm starring top actors Lau Ching Wan and Nick Cheung, as well as Firestorm starring the evergreen Andy Lau.

The packed film schedule is due to the healthy Christmas box-office receipts, second only to earnings during the Chinese New Year period.

A spokesman for Golden Village, which is releasing the likes of Firestorm and Roman Polanski's drama Venus In Fur, says this is "a very special year-end for cinemagoers as there are really a lot of movies to choose from".

She adds: "This is especially so for the Asian films, as usually it is the Hollywood titles that fill up most of the dates during this time. So there is something for everyone."

Mr Rudy Marianto, vice-president of marketing and sales of Shaw Organisation, says: "During the holiday season and with the expected increase in attendance, we always provide patrons a variety of movies to choose from."

His company is distributing upcoming films such as 12 Years A Slave and children's animation title House Of Magic.

From French to Korean, Bollywood action to Hollywood- style samurai intrigue, Life! picks 20 movies for all tastebuds.


1. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitrage and Evangeline Lilly

Opens: Dec 12

What: In this second part of the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) continues his journey into the Kingdom Of Erebor along with his team of 13 dwarves and wise wizard Gandalf (McKellen), in order to take down Smaug the dragon (Cumberbatch).

It will be the first time Cumberbatch of Sherlock Holmes fame shows off his silky voice as the dragon here, which fans of Hollywood's It boy will surely be excited about.

2. 47 Ronin

Director: Carl Rinsch

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi and Tadanobu Asano

Opens: Dec 19

What: This is Hollywood's take on a classic Japanese tale about a group of samurai who avenge their master's death. What it means is that a Caucasian actor is thrown in the mix - in this case, a "half-breed" played by Reeves.

First-time feature film-maker Rinsch also added plenty of fantasy elements, including a sultry witch character (Kikuchi), to spice things up.

Watch out for a cameo by Rick Genest, the model known for his full-face and body skeleton tattoos, who shot to fame in Lady Gaga's 2011 music video, Born This Way.


3. The Last Days On Mars

Director: Ruairi Robinson

Stars: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai and Elias Koteas

Opens: Tomorrow

What: This sci-fi thriller follows a research crew on their first manned mission to Mars. When one of the crew members discovers what appears to be fossilised evidence of life on the planet, the team is clearly excited - that is, until a mysterious force starts terrorising it.

4. Homefront

Director: Gary Fleder

Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth

Opens: Tomorrow

What: Former drug enforcement agent Phil Broker (Statham) wants to only live a quiet life with his daughter, but that notion goes out the window when he crosses paths with a violent meth kingpin (Franco).

Action superstar Sylvester Stallone adapted the screenplay from best-selling author Chuck Logan's novel of the same name, and with action stalwart Statham in the lead, you can almost guarantee this to have plenty of thrills.


5. The White Storm

Director: Benny Chan

Stars: Nick Cheung, Lau Ching Wan and Louis Koo

Opens: Tomorrow

What: This action flick follows three cop best friends who collaborate to bring down a powerful drug lord known as the Eight-faced Buddha (Lo Hoi Pang).

One week after opening in China, the film has already earned an impressive 80 million yuan (S$16.5million). And no wonder, too, as big-star names Cheung, Lau and Koo should be enough of a draw for most Chinese film fans. See review on Page C3.

6. Control (main picture)

Director: Kenneth Bi

Stars: Daniel Wu, Yao Chen, Leon Dai, Simon Yam and Kara Hui

Opens: Dec 12

What: This noirish thriller is about insurance salesman Mark (Wu) whose life is turned upside down when he starts getting calls from a creepy mystery man who uses him to commit crimes.

Mark continues to do his bidding to prevent the mystery man from hurting his mentally unstable mother (Hui).

Fans of hunky Wu will be pleased to see him take the lead role again, his first since 2011's Overheard 2.

7. Firestorm

Director: Alan Yuen

Stars: Andy Lau, Gordon Lam and Yao Chen

Opens: Dec 12

What: This Hong Kong action flick has the always reliable leading man Lau in the role of seasoned cop Inspector Lui, who is eager to nab mob boss Cho Nan (Hu Jun) once and for all, a criminal who has gotten away with jail sentences once too often due to lack of court evidence.

At the same time, the inspector is unsure whether to trust his old schoolmate and ex-con Pong (Lam), who volunteers as informant on an upcoming job.

8. Police Story 2013

Director: Ding Sheng

Stars: Jackie Chan, Liu Ye and Huang Bo

Opens: Dec 24

What: In the latest reboot of Chan's popular Police Story series, the Hong Kong action superstar plays detective Zhong Wen, who finds himself taken hostage in a crowded bar by its angry owner.

Chan previously said in interviews that last year's movie CZ12 would be his final full-blown action flick, but going by the stunt sequences in the trailer for this movie, it appears he has not retired from the genre yet.


9. Walking With Dinosaurs

Director: Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale

Voiced by: John Leguizamo, Justin Long and Tiya Sircar

Opens: Dec 19

What: Produced by BBC Earth, this drama is about three pachyrhinosaurus, following their lives from birth all the way into adulthood.

Said to be accurately based on natural history and scientific research, this US$85-million (S$106.8-million) flick looks set to be as educational as it is entertaining.

10. House Of Magic

Director: Jeremy Degruson and Ben Stassen

Opens: Dec 26

What: This animation flick from nWaves Pictures (Sammy 2, 2012) is about a stray cat whose life is changed forever when he is welcomed into the enchanted home of an old magician.

Cute character designs and colourful backdrops make this movie the perfect choice to bring your kids to.

Foreign language

11. No Breathing

Director: Jo Yung Sun

Stars: Seo In Guk, Lee Jong Suk and Kwon Yuri

Opens: Tomorrow

What: This South Korean sports drama centres on two competitive swimmers who are rivals not only in the pool, but also in romance as they fall for the same girl.

Female viewers will lap up the shirtless Korean hunks, while fans of popular K-pop group Girls' Generation will have plenty to smile about with group member Kwon as the female lead.

12. Venus In Fur

Director: Roman Polanski

Stars: Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner

Opens: Dec 12

What: Based on David Ives' 2010 play of the same name, this French-language drama from Oscar-winning director Polanski (The Pianist, 2002) is about a woman named Vanda (Seigner) who is determined to prove to writer-director Thomas (Amalric) that she is the perfect actress to play the lead in his new play.

The film lost to Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Colour for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, but Polanski (with Seigner and Amalric) is always a director to watch.

13. Chinese Puzzle

Director: Cedric Klapisch

Stars: Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou

Opens: Dec 12

What: In this third instalment of the Spanish Apartment trilogy (following L'auberge espagnole, 2002, and Russian Dolls, 2005), the director and cast reunite to continue the story of estranged couple Xavier (Duris) and Wendy (Reilly).

When Wendy takes their two children to move to New York to live with her new boyfriend, Xavier follows quickly, determined not to have his kids grow up without their father.

Tautou, often described as France's Audrey Hepburn, reprises her role as Maxine, Xavier's former flame.


14. Last Vegas (main picture)

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Stars: Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline

Opens: Dec 12

What: Think The Hangover (2009-2013) movies, but with a group of older guys.

The cast of heavyweight actors play four friends who go off to Las Vegas to have a bachelor party when one of them, Billy (Douglas), finally decides to get married. It is always refreshing to see such big stars take things less seriously, at least once in a while.

15. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Director: Ben Stiller

Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn

Opens: Dec 25

What: Based on James Thurber's 1939 short story of the same name, this comedy-drama revolves around Walter Mitty, a staff of Life magazine with a penchant for fantastical daydreaming.

When he sets off on a journey around the world to source a picture for the final issue of the magazine, he discovers that there is even more adventure in the real world than he could ever have dreamt of.

16. Thanks For Sharing

Director: Stuart Blumberg

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow

Opens: Dec 26

What: This romantic comedy follows a group of very different people all struggling to overcome their addiction to sex. Sounds scintillating enough for a lighthearted movie afternoon.


17. 12 Years A Slave

Director: Steve McQueen

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch

Opens: Dec 19

What: Based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, this film from award-winning director McQueen (Shame, 2011) is about a free black man who gets sold into slavery in America in 1841.

Northup ended up working in plantations for 12 years before getting released.

Since the film's premiere in the United States in October, it has gotten wide acclaim from critics and is considered a frontrunner for the Oscars.

18. American Hustle Director: David O. Russell

Stars: Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence

Opens: Dec 26

What: This crime drama explores the story of a con man (Bale) who is recruited to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper).

All eyes will be on the award-winning trio of director Russell and his Silver Linings Playbook (2012) stars Lawrence (who got the Oscar for Best Actress for the role) and Cooper, to see if they have as much chemistry in a crime drama as they did in the comedy.


19. Dhoom 3

Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya

Stars: Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra

Opens: Dec 20

What: In this third instalment of the popular Dhoom action series, Bachchan and Chopra reprise their roles as police officers Jai Dixit and Ali, while stars Khan and Kaif are introduced as the new baddies.

More intrigue, more death-defying stunts, more colourful dance sequences? Why not?


20. In Fear

Director: Jeremy Lovering

Stars: Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker and Allen Leech

Opens: Dec 19

What: Young couple Tom (De Caestecker) and Lucy (Englert) stop over at a rural hotel and soon discover that they are the target of a scary stranger.

Driving off in their car to escape, they are trapped in a maze of dark and creepy countryside roads that seem to lead to nowhere.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.