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Showing posts from 2013

12 Years A Slave

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Finally, a Steve McQueen movie comes to the shores of Singapore, and for those who may have missed his previous 2 works Shame and Hunger, this is definitely an excellent introduction to this director. Again, he reunites with Michael Fassbender to bring us a a harsh, brutal and direct look at black slavery in 19th century America. However, this time the lead role belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It is amazing how a mainly British team came together to give us an amazing film about a piece of American shame. Almost every aspect of the movie was without a doubt top notch. From the sound mixing and editing, to costumes and sets, the very fitting score by Hans Zimmer, the gorgeous cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and of course the first class acting and directing.

From the get go, McQueen has got us hook, line and sinker into the film. There was minimal dialogue during the first 10 minutes with just Zimmer's wondrous score coupled with the harsh, raw directing and filming. And throughout th…

American Hustle

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David O. Russell has hit it 3 for 3 with this latest flick. This is a compelling love story wrapped in a con-heist featuring complex leads that are likably unlikeable. Russell seems to have a knack for drawing such characters. Bringing together the stars from his previous two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, the expectations of the audience, critics and the actors themselves must be undoubtedly high. Especially for the new guy(s). This film is without a doubt, like Silver Linings Playbook, going to be a major awards contender. Director, Picture and even Screenplay seems to be a lock for nominations. However, surprisingly, it is the acting category that will be rather challenging. In here we have 2 Academy Award winners and both for Russell's movies in Christian Bale (The Fighter) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), and 3 Oscar nominees in Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and, new guy, Jeremy Renner. This movie might break the trend of producing an Academy Awa…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [3D/HFR/IMAX]

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Like the first instalment, this movie suffered from poor pacing and extraneous scenes. It could definitely been have at least 1/3 shorter and that could have made it more impactful and memorable. Nonetheless, it was still stunning movie, gorgeously rendered and directed. I am still a believer in the HFR technology, and over here, it was actually less distracting than before. In addition, the 3D was less obtrusive here, although some scenes were clearly created just to show it off with no real benefits to the story; and IMAX is always excellent especially to fully appreciate the grandeur of Peter Jackson's world. The biggest problem with "The Hobbit" trilogy that separates it from LOTR is that the main cast is too big, what with all the dwarves. This results in insufficient screen time for the main leads: Bilbao, Thorin and Gandalf, and insufficient audience empathy to care deeply for their quest. Unlike destroying the ring to save the world, what will re-establishing Th…

Ilo Ilo 爸妈不在家 [SQ Inflight]

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The best Singapore movie since Roystan's controversial "15". Both may appear different at first glance but thematically they could be brothers, albeit likely from different fathers. Homegrown son Anthony Chen has given us a heartwarming, simple story of the modern Singapore family. However, despite its sincerity, the Romanticising of the central characters frequently rang false. Which led to an unabashedly shameless, emotional-baiting, penultimate scene. Having said that, the scene would not have worked if not for the wonderful performances by Yeo Yann Yann (who really ought to run for Lead Actress rather than Supporting Actress) and Filipina actress Angela Bayani. Chen Tianwen also gave a career best performance, and young actor Koh Jia Le was believable in his more emotional-heavy scenes. Unfortunately, the writing was the biggest let down. Other than the extremely grating use of blatant Singlish which truly does not sound like that (Learn from Roystan Tan and not Jack…

Diana

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This a horribly chauvinistic movie that portrayed the late Lady Di as a simpering, wanting, lonely woman. It minimised her social and humanitarian work and impact, the footnotes at the end of the movie is a joke, when director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Stephen Jeffreys barely spent any time on screen regarding her work with land-mines and other charitable organisations. Based on the book by Kate Snell, "Diana: Her Last Love", this movie absolutely fails the Bechdel's Test. Naomi Watts has her moments of brilliance but this is a far cry from her Oscar-nominated work in last year's "The Impossible". Even her Oscar-baiting scene felt weak and uninspired. She could not keep in character throughout the movie and frequently we see glimpses of Watts on the screen rather than the Queen of Hearts. But one of the biggest fault in the failure of this movie is the casting. Naveen Andrews is grossly miscast. He and Watts have zero chemistry and yet we the audience…

Old Boy

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Disclaimer: In my opinion, Park Chan-Wook's "Old Boy" is one of the best movies of this generation. I have watched it once in the cinema, once on an airplane and once at home going through his The Vengeance Trilogy. I still get chills and flashbacks whenever I hear the first movement of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons: Winter. 


I applaud Spike Lee for adapting, rather than re-creating, this brilliant movie. However, this American end product though competent, lacked the heart and soul, and undeniable psychological tension and thrills that was so prevalent in Park's Grand Prix-winning film. Ignoring the fact that the basic storyline is the same, the biggest stumbling block here are the characterisations of the leads. All three of them. Josh Brolin: we spent much time in the beginning but his transformation lacked the intensity and instability that Choi Min-Sik's Oh Dae-Soo had which illuminated the screen. We do not get a sense of Brolin losing his humanity nor regaining …

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Disclaimer: I read the books when they first came out and was really into them until Book 3 where the ending was, in my opinion, hastily concluded. Book 2 was the best read of the trilogy. Oh, and I'm Team Peeta.

The review for: The Hunger Games (23 March 2012)

The best thing about this instalment is, like its predecessor, Jennifer Lawrence. Although she is let down by her director Francis Lawrence here and the general direction of this cinematic franchise. By focusing on the YA market and the general dumbing down of Hollywood productions, the socio-political commentary and satirical aspect of Suzanne Collins novels is lost. Although we spend the First Act establishing the political background of the show, we do not spend time in it to understand much about it. Similarly, this made villain Donald Sutherland rather un-intimidating. Jennifer Lawrence, does however, have her fine acting moments when she finally comes to terms with her role in the situation, but sadly those are far an…

The Suit

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The third, and final, play of the SRT's "3 Titans of Theatre" is a singularly, powerful production that not only challenges you intellectually but tugs at the emotional heartstrings effortlessly. Strength in its simplicity, director Peter Brook has given us a simple stage, a small cast paired with a three-piece live band on stage, and showed us that did not limit his ability to provide variety, engage the audience - across the 4th wall from the get-go, no less - and wrought them through all the subtle complexities of the play, the music and the actors. At a tight 70-odd minutes, Can Themba's play appeared on the surface to be a simple story of a adulteress and her husband, but beneath that simple tale is a Morality play (not entirely different from Musashi), an Apartheid play, a Romantic play of Greek Tragedy and Shakespearean Comic proportions, a statement about Feminism and Feminity, and even a brief subtext on Religion, Sin and Forgiveness. Who the owner of the su…

Bolshoi Ballet: Swan Lake

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Disclaimer: I distinctly remembering having watched 3 others "Swan Lake" performances before: New York, Tokyo and a foreign staging in Singapore and also vaguely recalling at least once in Paris I believe.

Up front, purists will be disappointed by Yury Grigorovich's version of this seminal, classic ballet. Secondly, the touring company is made up of mainly "young talented artists", so expectations should be adjusted. With that in mind, or if you read the programme before the show started which I did not, perhaps one would have been more entertained than I was. I have nothing against directors putting their own stamps on others' work, but sometimes, too radical a change may not be beneficial nor befitting the wondrous score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And the whole last scene is proof of that. I have no doubt about the dramatic/narrative effectiveness of the new ending, but the build-up to that - the new choreography and new story - just did not convey the …

Captain Phillips

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Disclaimer: I was in the Navy when the events of the movie was underway, and was also involved in parts of the ops planning. 
Paul Greengrass has again demonstrated that he is the premiere director for handheld camera action sequences especially in tight frames/spaces. However beyond the action-packed First and Third Act, Greengrass shortcoming has a dramatic director shows in the slow, plodding Second Act. Screenwriter Billy Ray is also partially to be blamed for he gave no added dimensions to Tom Hanks' eponymous protagonist. For viewers who followed the real life events, we would know what happened to Captain Phillips in the end, so how do you engage these people who knows what your hero's fate is? Despite having a stellar actor like Hanks who can still command a screen, the material left him with barely anything much to work with. The faint and clumsy attempts to inject familial ties and emotions in the Third Act just felt cheap and appeared like vainglorious attempts for …

Rigor Mortis 殭屍 [HK]

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Disclaimer: I watched this in HK in cantonese; the review is a quick one that I wrote while commuting.

A frightless, plotless, squandered effort of an otherwise potentially exciting/intriguing concept that could have revived this nostalgic genre for the Gen X/Y-ers; the director Juno Mak was more interested in imageries and fancy angles, that served no reasons, rather than a solid story and plotting.

Musashi ムサシ

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Part of SRT's 3 Titans of Theatre series, this was an extremely well-directed Morality dramedy (for a lack of a better word) play by legendary director Yukio Ninagawa that daftly balanced comedy with Bhuddist teachings (without ever being preachy) and serious philosophical questions on Morality, Government and Self, the Philosophy of War, and Redemption/Revenge that echoes that words of Kant, Hobbes, Machiavelli,Locke and Rousseau. The biggest challenge in bringing this play to Singapore is translating the Japanese historical culture and making it accessible to Singaporeans. And in this case, I think they did a brilliant job. However, most of my audience were, unfortunately, lost in this non-familial cultural abyss. It is therefore essential to not only know about the basic background of Musashi Miyamoto and his duel with Sasaki Kojiro, but also understand, appreciate and differentiate Noh and Kyogen theatre (the website at SRT's page gives a good primer). The many inappropri…

Thor: The Dark World [IMAX/3D]

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Disclaimer: Going to watch this in 3D because I really want to watch it in IMAX, but there ain't a 2D IMAX version here.

Alan Tyler did a fantastic job in bringing Thor: TDW to the big screen. This was a brilliant, taut comic-movie that was well-paced, exciting, had a great balance of brevity and seriousness, and a good ensemble. Better than the first Thor instalment, and way, way better than the farce that was Iron Man 3. Chris Hemsworth is as much Thor as Robert Downey Jr was (yes, was...back in Iron Man 1) Tony Stark. Although, I guess after Rush, Hemsworth had a bit of trouble getting back to Thor's buffness. (Maria Hill's line in SHIELD kept coming to mind: "You have not been near his arms."). Oh, and SHIELD was mentioned many a times, which I'm sure the series would then refer to the movie too. In case anybody was wondering, there is a rather plausible reason for the absence of the rest of the Avengers this Thor outing. Back to Hemsworth, he had definite…

Lee Daniels' The Butler

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Lee Daniels' latest effort, after the Oscar winning "Precious" and the not-seen in Singapore's "The Paperboy", is a history film disguised under an Oscar-baiting sheen. But like History, in whatever context, perspective is key, and here, we end up with a rather schizophrenic movie: a distinctively White voice in a Black-handed movie. Through all that mess, the one bright, Best Supporting Actress spark is Oprah Winfrey. She brought a strong intensity interlaced with a feminine fragility in the one character that had any consistency amid the two male leads who were painted in broad strokes and had broad, sweeping changes which were barely touched on by the narrative. Yes, Winfrey's character may not have any "character growth" or "development" but at least she was arresting at what and who Gloria Gaines was; Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor and he did his best with what was given to him. The biggest problem laid with Danny Strong&#…

Blue Jasmine

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A tour de force performance by the magnetic, luminous and all round brilliant Cate Blanchett! She is the star and the main attraction of Woody Allen's newest picture, eclipsing even Allen himself who wrote and directed this modern day satire of American consumerism, materialism and self-absorption. Blanchett draws your attention from the moment she appears on screen all decked out in luxe, and as we shifts forwards and backwards in time, her attire, poise, mannerisms, graces all changes in and out of flux; she goes raw, un-made up and connects with a deep, ugly part of every human being and brings it out untainted, naked and fresh. How she managed to tap into those moments to bring such a complex character out and enthralls us is a marvel of unrivaled acting that we seldom see. This is her Oscar to lose (thus far). Allen has scripted a more darkly comic satire this time round compared to his odes to Europe, and shifting from NYC and SF, to bring us a comedy that is steeped in Mor…

Nara

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Ion's newest Thai restaurant is apparently a famous/popular restaurant back in Thailand. Well, it's definitely popular since I still had to wait 20 minutes for a single person seat on a weekday night dinner. However, their wait staff to customers ratio is still wanting with inattentive service but at least prompt when on demand. Main course coming before starters is always a big no no. The curries are clearly catered to a more western tastebud than authenticity. They run on the sweet, peanuty side rather than a spicy fiery palate. The red curry chicken was served with chicken slices on a shallow plate, hence not enough of that sweet curry for eating with their $2.50 Jasmine rice. The pork balls were good, well fried with a crispy outer layer but the inner meat still retained some juice and an interesting spicy/soury taste, however it was too expensive for a starter (likewise for the rest of the starters). The fried curry soft shell crabs was similarly too sweet overpowering t…

Marukyu まるきゅう

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Disclaimer: I'm friends with one of the owners/partners. 

A new Japanese restaurant that opened at Telok Ayer Road giving the business folks there one more place to dine in during lunch and dinner. Went there for lunch on their second day of business, and for a new place it has a rather respectable crowd at lunch time. No doubt because of location, type of cuisine, and the influence of their head chef: Chef Derrick formerly from a Japanese restaurant at Circular Road (Dezato Desserts and Dining), and before that at Nadaman, Shangri-La for 15 years. To be honest, I have never tried either of these 2 establishments before. Anyways, like almost all new Japanese restaurants that is worth their salt, the fish is imported from Japan. The difference here is that the fish comes in on four days, 2 of which are from Tsukiji and another 2 from Kyushu. The set lunches are very business-lunch priced, and the chirashi sushi bowl was a generous portion of fresh fish including uni and ocean ikura…

Gravity [IMAX/3D]

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This is another Alfonso Cuarón cinematic triumph. An exciting, and most exhilarating, adrenaline ride for almost 90 minutes. This is what "Life of Pi" was to Ang Lee; a directorial superclass in long shots and 3D but tied to a script/movie that was good but not as superlatively great. Just the first scene itself is an amazing wonder to watch and marvel as the narrative unfolds and the action kicks in, all within one very long shot. Try not to be too distracted by the science of it all and the plot is straight forward enough. Cuarón's direction is the real star of this show, with impressively long takes, alternating point of views (first to third to first) and even extreme closeups to heighten the sense of claustrophobia and, ironically, the vastness of space. Other than the technical aspects of the show, Sandra Bullock is the other star, and Clooney is nothing more than just a glorified cameo (Ed Harris is the real cameo as the voice of "Houston, Mission Control&qu…

"Before..." Trilogy

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Richard Linklater's "Before..." Trilogy

Finally caught it all in a marathon on a SQ flight. And Bravo! This has become one of my favourite trilogy and love story, or even Story, ever. 
Before Sunrise: The start of this unique romantic love story. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke has an undeniable chemistry that is both believable and palpable as their characters grow to understand each other better. The story really does make one believe in Romance (with a capital R) and The One, however cynics may find the plot and narrative to be too idealistic and unrealistic. But all stories are based on a seed of realism, and this movie triumphs because of the script and the interaction between Delpy and Hawke. The movie is definitely talky and there are moments where it stalled, however luckily those are far in between. The verbal connections between these two are amazing and their sparring are riveting. The script main themes are Romance and Love, but it touches on topics as broad as re…

The Market Grill

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A western grill joint tucked away in Telok Ayer road which serves both chargrilled seafood and meat for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat. Cozy, modern bistro atmosphere with friendly wait staffs, however friendliness does not equate to competence (more on that later). The frog legs specials was fantastic, easily one of the best I have ever eaten. Sautéed and served with a generous olive oil/butter and garlic-herbs dressing (cuisses de grenouilles a la bourguignonne). The down side was no toast was served alongside to sweep up the sumptuous dressing. It was a $3 extra for a side of toasted sour dough. The chargrilled lobster was fresh but a tad over priced for the size and simplicity of presentation. Comes in 2 sizes and the large one (650g) is good for sharing. When the dishes was served the waitress did not even give a brief description of the accompaning sides, etc. Definitely can be easily improved.

Verdict: The frog legs won me over and I might be back to try their burgers. 

Insidious: Chapter 2

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A competent horror movie with good scares but pales to the original in terms of atmosphere and originality. In this installment, horror ingenue Jamees Wan has forsaken mood for fancy camera shots and cheap scares. The fear here is back to the the typical Hollywood-fied scares of jaunty music and sudden, in-your-face kind of scares. Granted, there were at least two or three really good ones, but there isn't much of the slow creeping fear, atmospheric tension that made "Insidious" and "The Conjuring" such stand outs. In addition, the story by Leigh Whannell and Wan, tried too hard to link up the loose threads from the first chapter to the storyline here. And by doing so, they ended up over complicating what could have potentially been a simpler story line. As such, more questions are tossed out here and less sense follows the plotting. Luckily for them, the familiarity of the cast helped to anchor the movie and audience, with Lin Shaye a clear audience favourite…

Rush

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A rousing, exciting historical drama/biopic that was superbly directed, well acted, gorgeously shot and brilliantly scored with a great script. Kudos to the whole team! Ron Howard has not made such a good movie in a long time! The POV switches between the two male leads seamlessly and the audience is brought through their stories effortlessly, allowing us to empathise, and even sympathise, with them through their triumphs, trials and tribulations. Of course, this will also not be possible if without the two lead actors. Sorry, but Daniel Brühl is really more a co-lead than supporting actor here, but he might just submit himself for the Best Supporting Actor as individually they both lack sufficient meat to wing a Best Actor. Chris Hemsworth finally gets to show off his acting chopes, and credit to Howard for not obsessing over his handsome mug. Contrarily, he might have over compensate with the frequent shots of ratty Brühl. Anyways, Hemsworth gave an applaudable performance as the pl…

Hairspray the Musical

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This was definitely one of the best musical productions to hit our local shores in a long, long time. I will be honest and say that the 2007 movie was my first introduction to this musical, so the image of John Travolta in drag is still very memorable, as was Queen Latifah. In this british production, the vocals were outstanding throughout except for Link's portrayer. Strong, powerful voices with great scatting, energetic dancing, high octane performances and hilarious line-readings. Edna Turnbull is again the most popular draw with the crowd, and she is really the emotional core of the show, despite Tracy being the main lead. The standout songs were the same as the movie, but one thing which the movie had the upper hand over was the larger sets and larger background cast, giving the big dance scenes even more energy and vibrancy. Other than the technical snafu in the beginning where the house lights did not dim, the other setbacks were the rather poor lighting, simplistic sets a…

Trophy Wife

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Pilot: A funny family-situational comedy by ABC with a very likable lead in Malin Akerman. She is equally warm and effusive without seeming too flaky or desperate, such that you do want to root for her. But hopefully, after this pilot, the rest of the series will be more about this new family dynamics rather than her trying to fit in/get accepted. Akerman's has a knack for physical comedy and that will play very well against the hilarious straight-woman Marcia Gay Hayden. Michaela Watkins seemed extraneous now, other than for the fact that they need to explain the adopted china boy, who I fear will be an amalgam of Modern Family's Manny and Lily, and who will be milked for senseless comedy. Invariably, this comedy will draw comparisons with "Modern Family", but hopefully it will be as good as the latter was in its first season and carry it through the future (which the latter did not).

Episode #2 - #5: Binged watched all 4 episodes together, and this is a delightful c…

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Pilot: Joss Whedon is back!!! But truth be told, I found this pilot rather underwhelming. Perhaps it was because of all that hype, but I was expecting more. Having said that, it was still loads of awesomeness, with crackling good lines, shout outs to most of the movie-Marvels heroes/moments, and most importantly a solid cast. The trick here is to balance the darkness of this black-ops, secret agents theme, with the lightness and brevity, and dark comic, that Whedon is known for. And I think he did a good job thus far. Pilots are always exposition heavy, and that's their role, but the next few episodes will really determine if this ABC series will take off, or will it end up like "Firefly" and "Dollhouse". Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet are the clear standouts here; I really liked the tech-and-science team of Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker (they are like the Xander and Willow on steroids, or Topher on adrenaline); Ming-Na Wen is still an enigma, but I…

Hostages

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Pilot: The 2 best thing about this new CBS drama is the premise and Toni Collette. Think of this at a network neutered version of "Homeland", i.e. without the violence, the grit or the subversion. The bad guys who, so far, aren't really that bad, and the good guys (or girl, in both cases) who's a strong, independent bitch. However, count on them to always have annoying children. The premise itself is the hook, but how can this lead to beyond 15 episodes is as good a guess as anybody's. Even "Under The Dome" is going on to Season 2! Collette is amazing to watch, and her eyes are powerful and emotional. She's one of the few actors who can really convey emotions with a look, although not many looks thus far (but, hey!, she was in "United States of Tara"), and it's kind of cute when her Aussie accent slips out. McDermott bores me, as he did in "American Horror Story". He has always been looking/acting the same ever since "Th…

The Blacklist

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Pilot: NBC's newest crime drama (?procedural...still hard to tell with this first episode) has gotten me hooked onto it within the opening minute. An enigmatic and intriguing start, which got weighed down by too much exposition over the course of the pilot. James Spader has got the creepy vibe emanating throughout (echoes of James Purefoy's Joe Carroll from "The Following") and director Joe Carnahan's penchant for close ups is definitely not helping. Although Spader should cut down on the over-acting. Megan Boone on the other hand, well, let's hope she turns out like Anna Torv from "Fringe" but don't take too long to thaw. As for that whole family angle, without spoiling too much, at first I thought they were going to go all first season "Alias" on us, but then, they spin it around in the second Act with a second/third season "Alias" scenario, but in the end, I was just hoping, please just don't let it be final season &qu…

The World's End

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The last chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a delightful, fun, subversive romp through the genre of the "Buddy Road Trip" and Alien Invasion/Independence Day, and even a dash of Western and Apocalypse. However, unlike the prior two entries, "Shaun of the Dead" (a modern zombie/horror-comedy classic) and "Hot Fuzz" (hilarious crime thriller/whodunit), the laughs were not consistent throughout its 100-minutes run, and neither were there many genuinely laugh-out-loud, choke on your snot kind of moments this time round. It could be that expectations were too high for this last hurrah, but nonetheless, this was still a great comedy! Miles ahead of the usual Hollywood tropes and pure money-grabbing schticks (looking at you: "Hangover"!). The cast has a great chemistry, even the usual dead fish-esque Rosamund Pike (still cannot imagine her in "Gone Girl", she and Ben Affleck?!!..what was David Fincher thinking?). Martin Freema…

Lolla

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They call themselves a small-plates dining experience, but in other words, tapas-like. Thankfully, the pretentiousness ends there, as the food at this small Ang Siang Hill establishment was really good. Fresh, interesting pairings which taste as good as they are presented. Price is slightly more expensive for the size of the portion but quality is undeniable. At least it's more worth it than the many other tapas/restaurants that keep springing up these days. The toasted baguette with an olive oil and tomato purée dip came with a half a roasted garlic (that itself is seldom done locally...) and was a tasty opener. The specials of the day was outstanding in particular the candied foie gras with cranberries and spanish onions and squash which was a generous portion with the sweetness complementing the savoury, generous liver although would have been better if the onions were caramelised longer; the iberico pork collar was served on a bed of crushed almonds with figs and that was perf…

Prisoners

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A riveting, engaging 153 minutes crime drama with career best performances by both Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski have given us a very well and tightly written crime drama (not thriller, per se, as this is very much a drama) that weaves red herrings, drops seemingly unimportant plot points and stretch the unwavering tension throughout in a well-paced (slow to some, no doubt, who prefers the usual Hollywood fare) and intelligent manner. Of course, all this is for nought, if there was not the very strong cast that Villeneuve has assembled. Jackman, in a role that is more deserving of an Academy Award nomination than Jean Valjean, has the more showy role and he was brilliant. He is the character that you hate yourself for sympathising with, an anti-hero due to circumstances; his choices conflict with his morality and Jackman aptly displayed the emotions and pain that such decisions has caused him. For a while, you can finally lose…