31 October 2013

Thor: The Dark World [IMAX/3D]

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 definitely grown more comfortable in his role, and without the fish-out-of-the-water scenario, one can see that Hemsworth is a very decent actor (if in doubt, go watch Rush). Unfortunately, the biggest fault of the movie is the still total lack of chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hemsworth. She is, without a doubt, a very good actress, but, nonetheless, chemistry is difficult to act out. Besides, she was essentially a plot device to advance the narrative until the Final Act. Tom Hiddleston again steals the show. His Loki gets most of the best lines and moments...oh man, that scene with him and Thor in the hallway, had me laughing so hard! He has gotten that mischievous, God of Trickery look down pat. But Hiddleston needs to stop flogging his own brilliance/role otherwise he might end up getting typecast. Although he is a brilliant actor, but don't push too hard. Christopher Eccleston, though not easily recognisable, was rather terrifying. As were his Dark Elves, they would make a good Halloween costume. Kat Dennings, again, brought the comedic moments, but this time she was paired with Jonathan Howard to bring the laughs. Speaking of laughs, this movie had a good balance of wit and comedy against the drama and tension, and none of it was farcical unlike IM3. And some of the quips were so Whedonian that I would not be surprised if Mr Joss Whedon himself had written those scenes. Nonetheless, the screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the latter two wrote, and will be writing, Captain America 1 & 2) was tight and well paced. There were not many glaring plot holes or leaps of logic that interfered with the enjoyment of the movie (unlike IM3). Prologue established the direction, First Act set up the conflict, Second Act threw in the wrench, and the Third Act was the climax. Alan Tyler did a great job directing this period/dystopic future/modern day era mesh-up. His action scenes were clear and easy to follow; this is what directing Games of Thrones get you. He has a sense of grandeur and complexity, and many scenes does call to mind similarity to moments in GOT. That being said, he did the smaller moments very well too, bringing us a sense of the characters' feelings. Brian Tyler did a much better job here with the music/score than the unmemorable one he did for IM3 (I sense a trend...). This time round the music was supportive and aided the action sequences, but did not overwhelm the drama nor the moment with aural melodramatics. IMAX and 3D may not be necessary here, and I think the 3D may have dimmed down a few moments, but it was a rather well done 3D-effects; not obtrusive or in your face, and it does rather nicely bring you into the scene. Stay to the end of the first credits for a HUGE Easter Egg that tied in with The Avengers', surely to be re-introduced in the next Captain America, brought to the fore in Guardians of the Galaxy, hinted at in the next Avenegers, before reaching the inevitable movie event of the decade in Avengers 3!! But also to stay all the way to the ultimate end for a sweet little epilogue.

30 October 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

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's script. It covered such a wide time-span but majority of the show was focused on a particularly short period, and in that period, both Whitaker's and David Oyelowo's characters had no character development. They were essentially one-dimensional portrayals of two sides of a coin. They were clean, dry and factual. Then, towards the end, time sped up and wham! a moment of clarity, a life-changing experience, and we dealt with that for barely 15 minutes and are supposed to accept some drastic character change. This would have been great for another HBO-esque mini-series, but I guess Strong got bored of winning Emmys. Now, it just ended up as being another excuse for a movie to pile on as many famous names on its poster and marquees as possible. That being said, most of these big names did work, albeit in their small roles: Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman. The others not so much. The main supporting casts like Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz and Terence Howard were not terribly memorable (although Howard did give out a rather intense skeevy vibe).  The soundtrack was melodramatic and suited the mood of the show, however, it was too blatantly obvious a tool to manipulate the audience's emotion, also a pity they did not get Mariah Carey (who was on in the first 5 minutes) to do a (Gospel) song for the show. Throughout the show, we get a rather factual depiction of the racial situation in US in the past, the one outstanding scene was an early-years demonstration/sit-in. Subsequently, though it became rather dry and cold. And since, as foresaid, there was barely any character development at that time, it did feel like watching a History film. The White voice comes from the feeling that no blame is ever laid on the whites. The film daftly waylaid assigning blame for the situations, and on top of it, goes out of the way to show the empathy of the Big White Man (aka POTUS). But being "politically correct" they had to throw Nixon into the mix and under the bus. Similarly, the movie also obviously skipped out on Malcom X, Bloody Sunday and Martin Luther King's speeches, instead we have Eisenhower's, JFK's and Reagen's TV moments. And throughout all that, we know this is a Lee Daniels' movie, so what is this black man trying to show? If this is not a movie about Racism, then is it a movie about a butler? If so, why do we not feel like we know this butler anymore in the end then in the beginning? If this show is about exploring a Father/Son dynamics, then why do I not care that they grew apart, or got back together? If this show is a Family drama set against a backdrop of the civil rights movement, then where is the drama? And why is the civil rights movement more front and centre than the Family? If this show is about America, what about America is it trying to highlight? It lost a great opportunity when the show's MLK said how the butlers are bringing about change in the country through not their subserviency but through subversion. Fruitvale Station was a more complex and more provoking study of racism in America.

18 October 2013

Blue Jasmine

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 Morality and Tragedy. He effectively toys with our perspectives and our own moral compass, juggling our moral judgments throughout the 98 minutes and playing with our sympathies for both Blanchett's and Sally Hawkins' characters. The other 3 main supporting actors: Hawkins, Bobby Canavale and Alec Baldwin are sadly over-shone by Blanchett, and although they, especially Hawkins, do hold their own, when they are not sharing the screen with her. Like all his recent previous films, Allen's directing style is constant and has not changed which serves his script very well. But in the end, the show starts and ends with the gorgeous, even in her worst state, and astounding Cate Blanchett. Perhaps, justice for "Elizabeth" will finally be served.

17 October 2013

Nara

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 the taste of the crabs, but at least it was more generous than the chicken. The small mango sticky rice was really small, and the rice/coconut was not warm or salty enough. The mango also was not sweet although they did give half of a small mango. The coconut ice cream is a winner though, but the extras for the mixed condiments is essentially more a money making gimmick than anything else.

Verdict: A good, decent Thai restaurant that deserved a repeat trial to try the rest of their menu, but just beware of the pricing. 




Marukyu まるきゅう


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 (before the fish entered the river) amongst the usual suspects. The accompanying miso soup was average but the dessert was a yummy yuzu ice-cream. Also had a grilled sanma on Chef's recommendation and that fish was really fresh and very reasonably priced. They only had 1 waitress at the moment, so chef is also helping with the waiting duties. Hence, tea serving and serviettes were wanting. The second waitress will join them next week. As a new restaurant, teething problems are expectant but hopefully they can iron it out within 2 weeks.

Update (22/10/13): Service has slightly improved with a new staff, but still not as attentive. No tea refills and no serviettes. Chef is still a delight to converse with and today I left it to him to serve us, we just asked for a fish and some sashimi. Ended up with a kodai which was served sashimi'ed  and yaki'ed; the former was really fresh and sweet, but it is the latter which was superb especially with the special ponzu sauce. The sashimi served included a really good shimaji, a scallop/shiso/umi/yuzu combo which was a delightful explosion of flavours and texture in the mouth, and another combi which included tuna(chutoro? otoro)/something and something (was not memorable and I forgot to ask Chef Derrick about it). Price-wise for the fish meal was compatible with most other restaurants that does seasonal whole fishes, and it was definitely fresh, although may not be a filling choice. 

Verdict: Should come back for dinner one day or try their non-fish items, but lunch is definitely an option when in that area. 


16 October 2013

Gravity [IMAX/3D]


Artwork by:   Danish Ahmad
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", flashback to "Apollo 13" the last great space/disaster movie). Unfortunately for Bullock, this is not a star-making, oscar-baiting vehicle for her. She is great but her character was written in broad strokes and almost every typical cliche was thrown at her. A pity she kind of lacked that litheness and fluidity of a dancer to add to the abstract beauty as seen with Cuarón's directorial eye (and captured by Emmanuel Lubezski's photography's). The script by Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón was quite clunky with many points whereby logic takes a backseat and I am not sure if the ending was done on purpose or manipulated by David Heyman and Hollywood, but the visual imageries and metaphors are clearly very Cuarón. Music was by Steven Price and in space, where there is no sound, music is of the utmost importance, however, the score provided by Price was adequate and not outstanding enough to help drive the the mood and ratchet up the tension. IMAX and 3D is definitely a plus to totally experience this movie. I can see this movie getting a number of technical Oscar nominations, but the big ones going for it would definitely be for Best Picture and Best Director (Best Original Screenplay will be a tough fight). And like Guillermo del Toro in "Pacific Rim", Cuarón has also thanked similar folks like del Toro, González Iñárritu, James Cameron and David Fincher amongst others.

9 October 2013

"Before..." Trilogy


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 reincarnation, feminism, gender politics, fate, birth dance, very anthropological. Ultimately, Linklater's direction is the weakest because this movie can be enjoyed without paying too much attention to it visually. Delpy and Hawke has chemistry and their acting were good (more so of Delpy) but the story and script and words really overwhelm; nonetheless, kudos to their verbal acting, all the timely pauses, hems and haws, slight mutterings and ramblings. If the time was briefly tracked then that would have added a dose of realism and elevate this movie further. 

Before Sunset: A shorter interlude that catches up with Jesse and Celine 9 years later. There's a bit of role reversal here from how they were initially, but it rings true. Hawke and Delpy still have chemistry (though time has definitely been kinder to Delpy) but interestingly enough the initial scene had them being all awkward and it did feel genuine as if the actors are also just catching up after a long break. Then the chemistry kicked back in. The words here are less Romantic and less wistfully young, but it does ring more true which thus infused this Second Act of their story with a tinge more sadness underneath that subtle Romance. A sad, bittersweet love story about missing The One and Settling, lost opportunities, wrong Times. Linklater's direction has gotten stronger and less gimmicky and helped to focus the main line of the story. I love the ending of this...as ambiguous as the first, and as teasing...I liked how the screenplay for this is by both Hawke and Delpy (and Linklater), the adlibbing worked for this.

Before Midnight: A radical departure from the first two, but it really does reflect the changing attitude of the generations; Love and its many permutations. Of cos this was emphasised by the larger cast of mixed ages in the Second Act. 9 more years have passed and Hawke and Delpy, and their characters, have grown and matured. Their problems may to appear have also grown beyond the typical Romantic boundaries, but ultimately it's still about Romance. Keeping a relationship alive, going, and the flames burning and rekindled as routine and familiarity douse the passion. The Third Act was perhaps one of the most realistic phase of a relationship ever presented. Hawke and Delpy were amazing and riveting to watch! The final scene was harsh! And this time round it really does seem final. Although the ending did have a chance of it going for a fourth act. But I guess it does reflect the maturity and growth of these characters over two decades. Bravo!

5 October 2013

The Market Grill

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. 

3 October 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2

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, and based on the epilogue, she will be in "Chapter 3". Patrick Wilson gets to play more here than in his previous outings with Wan et al, and he seemed to be relishing it; Rose Byrne was also more tolerable here as it seems she may found her niche calling (Queen of the B-Grade?); Barbara Hershey is extraneous and her storyline here just added more confusion, and without her part, the 105 minutes showtime could easily have trimmed to a more palatable 90 minutes. There are moments where was totally indulgence by the writing/directing team. Music is again by Wan's frequent horror collaborator: Joseph Bishara and the music here is very similar to that of "Insidious" besides the more blatant strings screeching. With Wan already publicly announcing that the won't be directing any more horror flicks, what will this bode for this franchise? Will it go the route of "Paranormal Activity" and "Saw" or "Scream"? Perhaps if the next Fast and Furious crash and burn, Wan might be back.

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...