28 August 2013

Kick Ass 2

A fairly entertaining movie on its own but when compared to its predecessor, it was clearly a rung (or two, or even three at points) below. Hard to imagine saying this, but without Nicholas Cage, this show suffered. An adult was needed to ground the fantastic realism of this High Schoolers-as-Superheros flick and sadly, Morris Chestnut (Hit Girl's guardian), Garrett M. Brown (Kick Ass's father), and Jim Carrey (as Kick Ass's surrogate Big Daddy), are lacking the screen gravitas to grab your attention in a sort of campy way that this show demands. The plot itself is a natural sort of progression from the first installment, but it tried too hard to shoehorn the theme in an adult (read: less comic-book way) way. Unfortunately, that led to a silly "Mean Girl"-esque interlude that could have been so much better, a wannabe Avengers team-up that was just redundant, a total waste of Iain Glen, and a ridiculous arc for Red Mist/The Motherfucker. In additional, the violence was noticeably toned down as was the swearing, but despite all the criticisms on that, it was precisely those aspects that made "Kick Ass" such a spectacular success. Sweet innocent Chloe Grace Moretz violating the pride of grown men and putting them down with harsh vitriol. That was lacking here, but when it came out, the show really stood out. I think that is more a testament to Moretz and this amazing character that she and Matthew Vaughn had created. Sadly, her Lohan-esque "Mean Girl" turn was a total mis-step, and that whole 2nd Act was snooze fest. As for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he is more mopey this time round, which I guess is his interpretation of growing up. His lines lacked the crackle (though this will be more the fault of writer/director Jeff Wadlow) the funny was just taken out of him. Sure, he is more buffed up now, and more realistic as a "Superhero" wannabe, but his storyline was just so forced. He tells us what he is feeling, but we do not really feel it. Therefore, we do not accept his predicament as well as we should. A short word on Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Poor chap's character evolution was so schizophrenic. They should have stuck to either being campy like in the beginning (one of the few genuinely laugh out loud dark moments) or serious and dramatic with the oh-so-wasted-and-I-am-just-here-for-the-moolah Iain Glen. Pity. Wadlow did a competent job in directing, but as aforementioned, his script left much to be desired. And the climatic scene at the end was such a let down compared to that very memorable last 20-30 minutes by Vaugh. At least one good thing was that the soundtrack still kicked ass! Stay on till after the end-credits!

13 August 2013

Elysium [IMAX]

Lost somewhere within this big-budget sci-fi spectacular is an indie film that could. With an obviously bigger budget and canvas to express himself, writer/director Neill Blomkamp could freely let his imagination run wild, but unfortunately his idea and story is too narrow and restricted and got drowned in the expansiveness of the new world he has created. There's a chiasmatic disconnect between the audience and the events happening on the screen. Without having a hero to root for, we are just passive observers; the little kid in danger felt shoehorned and another vain attempt to elicit compassion in the viewers. However, the kid had too little screen time and similarly for the mother, that that connection Matt Damon is supposed to have with Alice Braga was barely felt. Similarly, the only feeling we end up having is the vague sense of injustice against the 1%-ers. Damon is a good action hero, and a fine actor, however, in this case, I just do not feel for him. His motivations are so selfish, but yet, he is not an anti-hero as Blomkamp (and Damon) were not able to pull that off. Jodie Foster is just wasted in this role. Her tough as nails exterior is just so one-dimensional and although believable in her role, sadly, was just too small. The real star here, as was in Blomkamp's previous movie, is Sharlto Copley. He was barely recognisable but sure as hell made for a scary antagonist to Damon's flat hero. When he actually says something nice, you don't know if he is just shitting you, or telling you the truth. And when he goes full on crazy, Copley has got that whole crazy eyes things down pat. Without a terribly strong storyline (and admittedly not a very high concept one too), this action flick further faltered by having run-of-the-mill CGIs (the droids though smoothly animated were similar to what we had seen in District 9), boring action sequences (although the final fight was well shot/directed) and a repetitive, bland score by Ryan Amon. In the end, this film may have been intended, as District 9 was, to be an allegory of the modern times, but the latter succeeded in giving us something new and fresh, with a protagonist that connected and an antagonist that we feel conflicted against. Elysium only managed to be bigger, brighter, louder but not deliver any of the three factors above. Definitely not IMAX-worthy.

Imperial Treasure Shanghai Cuisine

Another entry in the Imperial Treasure chain here in Singapore. Its track record has been sketchy thus far with some of its eateries seemingly appearing like money grubbing copycats and opportunists. But hey, we are in a capitalistic society. So it is with this mentality that I approach eating at their new Shanghai outlet with some trepidation. First of all, service was good: prompt, polite and efficient. Perhaps because dinner was rather later after 8.30pm on a weekday and the crowd was thinning out. Nonetheless, service staffs were all laudable. The menu was vast with a wide variety of selection ranging from the prototypical Shanghainese cold dishes, to the fresh seafood selections more reminiscent of their Cantonese restaurant but mixed in with a few Shanghainese choices like river shrimps and eels. Then of course there is the Singapore favourite of la mien and xiao long bao and other assorted dumplings like jiao zi, qian bao, jiao zi, etc. I came in hungry and ordered quite a bit which was definitely more suited for 3 or 4 average eaters. The Thousand Layers Pigs' Ears was well done, and quite rare to find in Singapore. The chef has put a lot of work into it and each slice was a crunchy, tasty mille feuille of pig skin, cartilage, fats and collagen. The Agate Egg Roll was a melange of steamed egg yolk and ?salted/century egg topped with a layer of steamed egg white. It was well made but somehow the ?salted/century egg overpowered the taste. Next up was the "dim sum". The xiao long bao was very well done! Bravo! Thin skin to give Ding Tai Fung a run for it money, fresh pork and delicious soup. A bit pricey but definitely worth a second helping! The hong you cao shou was also really good with an excellent sour/spicy vinegar chilli sauce over a similarly thin-skinned dumpling. The sauce would be superb over a bowl of plain onion-oil la mien. Sadly after those two outstanding dishes, the jiao zi was a let down. Here the skin was too thick, but yet the flat surface was not pan-fried enough, although it was still packed with a good amount of juice that squirts out on the first bite. The Fried Shanghai Noodles was a bit too oily but like all good chinese food, there was enough wok hei to elevate the taste. The special order of Honey Peas with Ham was wonderfully addictive! Again the oiliness may be a turn off but the sweetness of the peas coupled with the savory pieces of yunnan ham and the smoky hint of wok hei made this an irresistible vegetable dish. Although it was surprisingly pricey, and as it was off-the-menu, came as a bit of a shock. It was the second most expensive dish. The most expensive dish, which objectively was not so bad, was the Yellow Cream Crab with Glutinous Rice. And yes, I ordered two carb dishes. But oh man, this was a winner and I don't even fancy crabs that much too. The roe-rich crab was cooked with the glutinous rice and the sinful oil that comes out from the roe gets absorbed into the glutinous rice and permeates the grain with its fragrant cholesterol-elevating goodness. The crab itself was sweet and fresh, but the winner is truely the rice which was, in a word, awesome! And even when re-heated at home via good old fashion steaming and then quickly refried with the leftover honeyed peas and ham, this was fantastic!

Verdict: Will definitely come back here again to try the other varied dishes and even the la mien and the wonderful selection of desserts.









12 August 2013

Esquina

This place has been getting some good reviews and even raves, so expectations were quite high. Personally, I was expecting a proper tapas bar. Anyways, the place was quite full even though and luckily I was there before 6.30pm and still managed to get a seat indoors at the counter. However, half hour later, even the outdoor seats were packed. Pricing wise it is definitely on the upmarket side, and essentially this is a rather upmarket place. There's a lot of effort on food presentation for the mains. However has a place that market itself as a tapas bar, there was surprisingly very little selection of tapas and drinks. Although the main courses were served in tapas-size they are not tapas-priced. Consequently, there is a disconnect between quality and value of the food. At least the alcohol was reasonably priced (in Singapore). The toasted sourdough with aioli is only worth it if the bread was baked onsite; the ham croquetas was quite good with a good balance between the savory ham and potato mash, and personally was the best of the tapas; the iberico bellota was underwhelming although it was the most expensive tapas; the crispy baby squids was similarly not outstanding and honestly felt like something I could get from a good tze char place. The main I had was the special of the day (on the blackboard): ox tongue and cheeks with blue cheese gnocchi, tarragon and hazelnut pesto. Definitely was not worth the price. The ox cheeks was soft and tender, however taste-wise it had a chinese braised/stewed taste; the tongue lacked that texture that differentiate tongue-meat from meat-meat (cheeks, steaks, etc). Surprisingly, there was a palate cleanser/pre-dessert of a refreshing ?raspberry/black berry ice-cream (further evidence that this is an upmarket place). For desserts it was the charred pineapple with basil ice-cream, lime salad and coconut jelly. The basil ice-cream was refreshing and the pineapple piece was sweet and well-charred and priced appropriately for the effort. The good thing about Esquina is that there is no service charge, however, at the end of the day, even if assuming the price had the 10% service charge factored in, it is still quite expensive. But if you come in with the expectations of eating at an upmarket establishment, then my complain would be that the quality of the food still does not really justify the price.

Verdict: A place where I would go for pre-dinner drinks and light tapas, before having a proper dinner somewhere else.













11 August 2013

Orphan Black

Came into this BBC America rather late (like now, 4.5 months after its premiere) because of time issues then. It had always been marked as something to watch based on the interesting premise and concept. As the months rolled and critical adulation keeps piling especially on star Tatiana Maslany, the anticipation and expectation grew. And I must say, it is quite well deserved. However, as feted as Maslany has been by the critics (and the awards thus far), I am not surprised that she had been left out by the Emmy voters. Back to the beginning, the series started off quite bland, with cookie-cutter characters and a rather straightforward plot. However, it kicks into gear by Episode 3 and from there on it's an exhilarating  roller-coaster ride, packed with enough twists and turns, of science fiction and conspiracy theory and mixed in with some sardonic wit and dry comedy. That is not to say the show is without its flaws. The tiresome subplots, in particular the police story line and vic, the druggie ex, do drag the pace on. And even the payoffs at the end was not really worth the effort of plodding through with the characters that populate these threads. Even the hot-Paul story line was started to feel bogged down towards the end, that character needs to be re-invented in Season 2 to stay relevant. Tatiana Maslany is a revelation! She is an amazing actress and managed to give all the characters that she play a distinctive personality, mannerisms and even accents. However, she really shined most as Helena, and Helena, as a character, was the one that was most misused in the end. A pity, cos there can be so much to be explored, both characterisation and plot-wise, between Sarah and Helena. I hope the creative team do continue to wade in that pool. If Maslany was Echo in "Dollhouse", Whedon would still be producing it now (although that might mean no "Avengers"...hmmmm). Nonetheless, despite all the praises, her character is not as showy as the Emmy nominees. Somehow, although the audience can connect with her, it may be because she is spread so thin, the emotional impact is not as heartfelt. Sure, technically it is a challenge to constantly act opposite herself and herself and herself, and as an actress it is a triumph to be able to create so many distinctive characters in one show; however, there was not any singular moment where Maslany totally capture the screen. Felix, as played by Jordan Gavaris, is someone whom you slowly grow to like and that is kudos to both the writing team and Gavaris who managed to find the emotional core within an otherwise potentially-caricature like role. His chemistry with Maslany is an important driving factor in the longevity of the show. Maria Doyle Kennedy, as Mrs. S, slowly came into her own. Appearing briefly in the first half but slowly taking more screen time towards the end, and undoubtedly, she will be featured more prominently in the Season 2 which is great as Kennedy is a brilliant actress. Cannot wait for season 2 to start but I wonder which direction they will be going down next. More science fiction or more conspiracy theory, and I do hope the Kira story line does not develop into a poor episode of late-season "Heroes".

1 August 2013

Madam Kwan's

So, the famous KLCC joint is finally in Singapore. If my memory serves me well, the famed nasi lemak there was tasty but not really memorable. What I do remember was the exceptional rice and chilli. Anyways, the Singapore branch at Vivocity opened to quite a fanfare, and after a bit I finally went down to try. 8-plus dinner on a weekday night barely had any queue. The service was acceptable and prompt and they leave you alone after taking your orders. The Nasi Lemak here was good but slightly on the higher side of average restaurant-priced local food: 2 pieces of chicken, a small bowl of rice, half an egg, some floss, cucumbers, stewed onions and ikan billis and a small plate achar. The rice was really fragrant and lemak with coconut, and the curry sauce was generous and spicy and tasty. Pity the rice was a tad too little compared to the delicious curry. The otak-otak was definitely way over-priced! And while the rice dish came out within 5 mins, the otak-otak only came out when I'm almost done with my rice. Anyways, the otak-otak itself was too dry and the spiciness overwhelmed the fish. However, regardless of all that, the most erogenous fault in the restaurant is that they do not serve water!! Instead they charge you $1 for a bottle of mineral water!!! And on top of all that, there's still 10% service charge and 7% GST. 

Verdict: Definitely over priced and only the Nasi Lemak is worth considering, however, by principle, will not be coming back since there's no free water nor waived service charge for charging for water. 




Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

This was unexpectedly good. It was not Oscar-winning good, but it was a thoroughly entertaining horror-thriller. Kudos to writer/director...