26 December 2014

Saint Laurent


Disclaimer: Expectations were high going into this film for two reasons: (1) it triumphed over the superbly brilliant and universally acclaimed Blue Is The Warmest Colour as France's entry for The 87th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film; (2) this is the second of two Yves Saint Laurent biopics of the year - the first being: Yves Saint Laurent.

Saint Laurent was a stylish movie with a disjointed and non-cohesive narrative, saved by the charismatic Gaspard Ulliel as the eponymous fashion savant and Yves Saint Laurent's gorgeous designs.

At about 30 minutes too long, director Bertrand Bonello's 150 minutes biopic gave the audience no insight into mind and inner workings of fashion's enfant terrible. It focused on a brief chapter of his life but yet in choosing just that short time-frame, Bonello was not able to find any focus for his story: his fashion? his ideas? his relationships? his scandals? It was a hotchpotch of ideas and imageries. With the camera fleeting from one scene to another, never really lingering long enough for the scene to develop beyond the initial planned shock and awe.

At least Yves Saint Laurent was unabashedly proud of its focus towards the more salacious details of Saint Laurent's life. Also, granted, neither the sex nor nudity was as explicit as in Yves Saint Laurent, and we did get some gratuitous, and entirely superfluous and irrelevant, male frontal nudities of the stars - Ulliel and Jeremie Renier - but that could be a byproduct of Singapore's censors. That may account for the feeling of narrative disjointedness - which is very unfair to Bonello.

The true saving grace of the movie was Ulliel. He was a very different Saint Laurent from Pierre Niney's version, having had the luxury of bypassing Saint Laurent's more difficult growing years. However, physically, Niney was more alike Saint Laurent; Ulliel's prettiness and physique occasionally was a bit too distracting. But having said that, Ulliel's charisma helped to translate this enigmatic character more easily for the audience.

However, as aforementioned, Ulliel was let down by the script of Bonello and co-writer Thomas Bidegain. With no anchor for him to center his character on, Ulliel did his best to try relay the emotions of such a difficult man.

Bonello was also responsible for the music of the show and that yielded similarly mixed results. The disco-scenes had great authentic soundtracks, but the rest of the show was aural white noise.

The best scene of the whole movie - like what Saint Laurent himself said about his collections - was the 1976 show. Perhaps it was the clothes.

22 December 2014

Predestination


An entertaining Australian sci-fi movie that had a very cool concept and story, but perhaps got a bit too lost in its own perceived smarts that if you just tug a bit at the logic thread, the whole tapestry will unravel.

For fans of the sci-fi and time-travelling genres, the - inevitable - twist could be guessed within the opening minutes of the movie, and writers/directors The Spierig Brothers had padded the whole 97 minutes with enough clues and hints that even Elle Woods would have solved it.

In addition, if The Spierig Brothers had focused less on the crime noir sub-genre and made a film exploring the psychology behind the concept, this movie might have been even better, Although, realistically, a more intelligent movie would also mean less box office receipts.

Ethan Hawke was competent in the role, but to be honest, other than when he was working with Richard Linklater, Hawke's characters tend to blend in with each other.

The real stand out here was Aussie actress Sarah Snook. She was an interesting mix of old school Jodie Foster bundled with the effervescent charm of new kid Emma Stone. Her scenes and delivery in the first two acts easily eclipsed that of Hawke's. If Snook was given material that elevated the movie out of the depth of pop-intelligentsia, I am quite confident that she can meet the challenge.

This was definitely an entertaining movie that will appeal to the masses, but the concept could have been toyed with so much better. Perhaps, a new lease of life in the future as a series or mini-series.



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [IMAX/3D]


The final chapter of this drawn out trilogy is unfortunately the weakest of the lot, and that is saying something since The Hobbit is already incomparable to The Lord of the Ring.

At 144 minutes, this is the shortest entry of the lot, but yet it felt so bloated. There is essentially only one set where the whole story is based on (yes, we do venture to other locales briefly, but those scenes were mere interludes), and there really was not any substantial plot to sustain the length.

In addition, everything we see had a been-there-done-that feeling to it. Peter Jackson did not give us anything new or innovative to distract us from the thinness of the plot and the repetitiveness of the action.

The biggest problem with this trilogy is that we do not care about this "fellowship". There was not really any character development or investment by Jackson and company to make the audience feel attached to the characters. Likely because Tolkien himself did not really intend for this story to be so long.

The only character we really do care about is Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins - and we all know he survives. It says a lot when its the well-being of the lovers of the fictional - and frankly, unbelievable - love story (Evangeline Lily and Aidan Turner) that got us most concerned about.

No disrespect to Richard Armitage who portrayed Thorin with great gravitas, but his character's life or death was not something that we root for. Especially since we do not know why we would want him to survive. Even Luke Evan's Bard was so one-dimensional and boring.

Sadly, it was the auxillary star-casts which stole the limelight here. Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug was fun while he/it was on screen; as were the holy-unholy trinity of Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee. That scene with the latter three should have been in the LOTR instead.

Ryan Gage's Alfred is the Jar Jar Binks of this prequel trilogy.

The highlight of this "defining chapter" is when Howard Shore's familiar Fellowhsip theme mildly rises when Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is sent to look for Aragon. Just that brief moment is enough to conjure up the majesty of the original LOTR trilogy and make The Hobbit pale in comparison.

Speaking of Howard Shore, even his score here just felt tired and generic.

I still appreciate the High Film Rate (HFR) that Jackson utilised here. It did make the action clearer and the image crisper, although the "hyper-realistic" feel to it may not be to everybody's liking. The movie was filmed in 3D so it is worth to watch it in 3D just to give a better sense of depth and scale to the battle. But do not expect the 3D gimmicks. IMAX was a plus just for the scale of it.

Overall, watching this concluding chapter, it made me miss the original trilogy. Perhaps, that was the ultimate in the grand scheme of things.

14 December 2014

The Flash


Disclaimer: Doing things differently for some shows now because of personal time constraints. Binge-watched The Flash from its Pilot to the Winter Finale over two days. Previously, I had watched Arrow but did not make it through the first season, although from what I hear, Arrow has vastly improved.

Pilot: A very good pilot - did everything that a pilot is meant to do. Introduced the protagonist and the main cast, developed a potential long term (or at least a season-long) mystery, start the conflicts between various aspects of The Flash's life, and most importantly, not laden it with too much exposition. Trusting the audience to know enough on their own - which is important in a comic-book adaptation, especially of a more well-known hero. Grant Gustin was an interesting choice to play Barry Allen, but his dorkiness is adorable - a lot like New Girl's Jesse - and instantly a lot more relatable to the average audience. Especially as this is an origins story, it make sense for him to start off as such before he matures (both physically and mentally). Tom Cavanagh - missed him since the days of Ed - was sufficiently creepy and enigmatic as Dr Wells. All the other support cast/characters were also clearly developed with clear-cut roles which hopefully will evolve as the series proceeds.

Episode 2 - Episode 9 (Winter-Finale): 
It is a testament to the show's strength that I managed to binge through 8 episodes in 2 days (6 on the second to be precise), but of cause it has its weak points too.

The show is geared towards The CW's target audience (teens and young adults mainly) and it shows. Greg Berlanti is a great producer and he understands what a TV audience want. However, a lot of things are simplified and continuity is not the greatest strength of this show, and that is only within the first 9 episodes! Too many deus ex machina moments dilute the tension and stunts character development for the sake of plot development.

The metahuman-of-the-week format also has got to changed. How many super villains can you introduce to the mix, although it is a good way for us to see how The Flash's super-speed can adapt and change, a serialised comic story-telling can be much more enjoyable. See what happened to Marvel's Agents of SHIELD in season 2, when they serialised their overall story-telling (it is almost like as Whedon's Buffy).

I miss opening credits. Almost on every new shows. (That's one thing that American Horror Story got right through the years). That introduction VO by him was way too earnest and annoying - it was like a robotic Carrie from Sex and the City - but thankfully that was lost towards the end, hope it stayed away.

Gustin is a relatable leading man but his whining and over-enthusiastic urge to be a hero needs to stop and evolve, and, as they say in The Book of Mormon: man up! On the other hand, it is also his adorkiness that makes him stand out, so they have to find that balance. Most importantly, stop pining like a little puppy for Iris - thankfully, the winter finale finally addressed that issue head on.

Gustin and Emily Bett Rickards' Felicity had great chemistry and were highlights whenver she came on; much better than Gustin and Candice Patton's Iris (a poor man's Lois Lane). Not so much with Steven Amell's Oliver.

The love triangle between Barry, Iris and Eddie (Rick Cosnett) needs to be resolved soon and hopefully the winter finale will be the last of it. Eddie and Iris are cute together, although it looks like Eddie will slowly be getting more interesting.

The most interesting character at the moment is Cavenagh's Dr Wells. Good guy or villain? Seriously, too early to tell which way the showrunners are really heading towards. All his actions thus far could just be misdirections to the bigger arc. It will be a pity if Cavenagh is only here for one season. Barry still needs a mentor.

Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) are great as the sidekicks. Cisco - the token comic relief - was surprisingly not annoying but is now bordering on being boring. Caitlin, on the other hand, has a more interesting backstory but she is in danger of becoming overly mopey. They worked best as Barry's friends and confidantes.

It will be interesting to see how the show develop and who Reverse-Flash is going to turn out to be. Future-Eddie? Or Eddie's father? Or future Wells? Future Barry? I am almost sure there is a time travelling element involved. And that is sufficient  to keep its audience hooked until 2015.

8 December 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings [IMAX/3D]

 

2 words to describe this movie: Epic. Spectacle. 

Ridley Scott is a masterful storyteller - Prometheus, for all its plot holes and heightened expectations, had a great story to tell - and he knows how to direct big set pieces without getting too complicated. Together with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski - gorgeous wide-angle lensing - and composer Alberto Inglesias - epic, awe-inspiring score - this is a visual and auditory spectacle that is worth to be seen and heard in an IMAX theatre. The 3D, however, not very much so.

Pacing-wise, the movie did slowed down a bit too much towards the end of the first act, and, as gorgeous as they were visually, the plagues dragged on too. For most audience, they would be familiar with the plagues, but if you were going to add internal conflict for your protagonist, then you better be willing to explore it more. Especially since, ironically or not, or purposely or not, Moses felt like a terrorist at one point. That angle should have been explored more by Scott and the four writers involved.

A lot like Noah, there was no outright theophany of God, but unlike Aronofsky, Scott did try to establish a more realistic and probable cause for many of the events - yes, even for the parting of the red sea. However, the choice to use a child actor - or this particular actor - to suggest His presence may not have been wise especially given the dialogue the child had to utter.

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton led the cast and both were stellar in their roles. 

Edgerton infused Ramesses with a sense of humanity and brought out a sympathetic angle in a potentially one-dimensional figure.

Bale - as per his usual flair - morphed himself both physically and inwardly to portray a reluctant hero and eventual believer. But surprisingly, it was his relationship with Maria Valverde's Zipporah that felt the most authentic and provided the real emotional core of the movie.

Wolski cinematography was outstanding throughout. The amazing use of wide-angle lens to capture the epic-ness of Scott's imagination made the trip to the IMAX worth it. From the first 10 minutes on, the beauty of Wolski's eye is undeniable. But, the 3D really did nothing to enhance the entertainment - not even for the special effects.

Inglesias' score was able to match Scott;s vision and brought out the awe within the audience. In particular, during the "Parting of the Red Scene" scene, those horns and bass really drove it in. All we lacked was Whitney and Mariah from Prince of Egypt.

Tony Scott would have been proud of this.

Nightcrawler


What an original and darkly engaging directorial debut from director/writer Dan Gilroy! Jake Gyllenhaal was mesmerising as he disappeared into a role that is wholly unique, with equal parts charming and frightening.

Gilroy gave us a story with a relatively original concept, bringing us into the world of news video capturing. But at the same time, it was also a satirical rift on modern news channel relentless focus on crime and violence which is only because of the viewers' insatiable appetite for such "news". Aaron Sorkin will have such a field day with this - oh wait, he did already with The Newsroom.

Watching the movie itself leads the audience to question not only their own morality but also the ethics behind journalism.

Gilroy framed the movie in three distinct Acts, making Gyllenhaal's character's story easy to follow as we see him dip his toes, then start to swim, and finally dive all the way. In addition, the character himself was written very well, as his full character slowly emerges as the movie unfolds, and the audience, after connecting with him in the first act, may find themselves in a moral quandary as they realised that they may be slowly rooting for this anti-hero...or not.

However, none of all the above would have been possible without the fantastic portrayal by Gyllenhaal. This may possibly be his finest work and in an ideal world, would surely ensure him an Oscar nomination (but the race for that seemed rather tight this year). Gyllenhaal created a whole new person complete with mannerisms, ticks, walk and talk. That really is dedication to the craft. He was at times utterly charming, and at other moments totally frightening. Even just those little eye movements make his character all that more real.

Rene Russo - wife of Gilroy - was a good match for Gyllenhaal and her scenes with him were equally intense.

Cinematography by Robert Elswit had a very news-footage feel to it and the crime scenes were gorgeously shot. Music by James Newton Howard was also appropriate, moving the action and tension along.

A brilliant movie with a star performance by Gyllenhaal.

5 December 2014

State of Affairs



Pilot: NBC is taking a gamble with this new series, not only because Katherine Heigl is in the lead (for the record, I personally think she is a good actress with on-screen presence and I do not really give a damn about her PR-drama), but because how do you properly do a spy-drama when there will be inevitable comparison with the revitalised Homeland and consistently excellent The Americans over on cable? Nonetheless, the premise is interesting enough and at least the showrunners show us a different aspect of the CIA: the President's Daily Briefing. But herein lies the biggest trouble. Heigl is too glamorous and inappropriately dressed for her supposedly high-security clearance character (according to Wikipedia, she should be the Director of National Intelligence). and consequently, she lacked that necessary gravitas to give her role and credit. Nonetheless, Heigl has screen presence and is relatable but not convincing. Alfre Woodard, on the other hand, eased into her role as the first black female president with all the necessary gravitas and some. Everybody else in the show seemed to be there to support Heigl and will need to be crafted out more. Adam Kaufman looks like an exposition tool; Sheila Vand is the best friend. Pity James Remar is only listed as recurring. But the final act placed a thread for a continuing mystery which may be rather interesting.

Episode 2, "Secrets & Lies": Heigl is still too glamourous for her role which now seemed like she was/is (?) an operative. Her makeup is too thick and way too Botox-ed. Let's hope the MO of the show is not really turning it into a case-of-the-week with the ongoing mystery peppered throughout until Sweeps month. This may turn out better if they keep it serialised. Woodard needs more to do. As does Remar. The other briefers need to be more fleshed out. Nestor Carbonell is an interesting addition and David Harbour as the Chief of Staff seemed to know something. 

Episode 3, "Half The Sky": A much improved episode. With much less make up, Heigl is finally looking less glamourous and more like a CIA operative. They are also finally bringing more of the backstory to the foreground and shining a bit more light on the supporting cast/briefers. Both of which help to smooth out the edges. But most importantly, Woodard has a much larger role here which she tackled with vigour. Similarly, her interactions with Heigl and the First Gentleman are the highlights, especially the former which should be the central driving force of the series. One thing the show needs to explore is Heigl's character work-relationship. How does Charleston relate with the Director of CIA?

4 December 2014

Maps to the Stars


Bolstered by a powerful female cast - from the raw and vanity-free Julianne Moore to the cold and yet fragile Mia Wasikowska and the always talented and under-rated Olivia Williams - David Cronenberg's latest is a dark, strange satire on the dysfunction of Hollywood that lies below all the glitz and glamour.

The story, written by Bruce Wagner, unfold in layers and in pieces, with each piece slowly falling into place as the layers are slowly peeled off. All that happened as Wagner and Cronenberg satirised the dark comedic truths behind the Hollywood machine. With name-droppings like snow in Winter, the pop-savvy and intelligent audience will get the comedy behind the darkness. However, if not, some parts may not make much sense.

Moore was riveting throughout the movie as we see her character morph and change through the 112 minutes. The accolades were justified as was her Best Actress win at Cannes'. The role was vanity-free and Moore really let herself go and embraced all the idiosyncrasies, the outrageous-ness and the narcissism of her character and made her feel real and not a caricature.

Moore was matched by Wasikowska. This girl is going to win an Oscar really soon - her body of work is phenomenal! Thank you, Tim Burton for bringing her to the masses! But, Wasikowsa, please stick to these brilliant indies. Wasikowska definitely had the more complicated character to play - and some may argue the real lead of the movie - and she did it with aplomb! That raw, naked vulnerability mixed with a strange innocent maleficence is creepy yet alluring. She draws you in to her story and keep you there - locked, chained and possibly drugged.

Williams had a smaller role compared to Moore and Wasikowsa, but what she did with her screen time was truly amazing. She was equally magnetic as the strong, take-no-BS momager and as the frightened, teetering-on-a-breakdown mother.

The men in the show were sadly not up to the strength of the ladies, and the writing may have been at fauly. Robert Pattinson was actually understatedly appropriate for his I'm-there-only-to-move-the-plot-along role; John Cusack's character was not well written which may have led to his rather boring and one-dimensional portrayal; Evan Bird's neck is too long which was distracting, but other than that, his make up was too thick and distracting, although his character was actually quite interesting.


24 November 2014

How To Get Away With Murder


Pilot: First time really watching a Shonda Rhimes series, so am expecting much and yet also at the same time not expected to be blown away. And that was what I came away with after the pilot episode. The premise is interesting and the likely series-long mystery does seem intriguing, however the flash forward technique is getting more and more contrived every year we move away from Lost. Viola Davis is a fabulous actress but her character is such a contrived mess. There had better be a good back story to explain her character. None of the other main cast appear to be likable or relatable, not even the underdog, perhaps only Connor is mildly interesting because he turned out to be gay. Liza Weil is underutilised. The case-of-the-week structure so far is fairly interesting as it at least it involved the interns - whom we are supposed to be invested in - vying to get Davis' attention.

Episode 2, "It's All Her Fault": The case-of-the-week concept got a big boost here if Davis' clients are really always guilty. At least that would give it a twist from the other legal dramas out there. However, for a Shonda Rhimes series, I am still surprised how unlikeable the cast are and how I really do not care about their personal drama. At least the flash forward scenes are asking the "whys". Davis' character is such a cliche - poor Davis if she thought she was going to sink her teeth into a complex role. In the end, Annalise is just a stereotypical female - what a slap to the feminists. Bright side: they may have found their Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker) with Steven Weber.

Episode 3, "Smile, or Go to Jail": Poor Liza Weil, so wasted here. The main mystery finally goes into the fore here and this may be when the series finally get interesting. Although this episode's COTW was rather boring. Similar, the interns' drama is just as boring. Davis is really the only real draw here, but unless Annalise gets more real and interesting, this show ain't landing on the same-day watch list.

Gone Girl


Disclaimer: I really didn't like the book by Gillian Flynn. I could understand why people liked it - especially the concept - but I didn't like how the book/story was presented. 

Gone Girl is a typical David Fincher movie, i.e. smart (if you have never read the book), stylised and strangely sexy, but at the same time it is also a typical David Fincher movie, i.e. the style palette, directing and soundscape. Nonetheless, Fincher's hands definitely improved the telling of Flynn's story. 

Without ruining the plot, the story unfold closely to the book in terms of structure and was presented smartly and smoothly by Fincher.

For those who do not know the book, the movie was well paced, gripping and tense throughout its 2.5 hours run. 

Even those who knew the plot, the movie was still stylised enough to hold your attention. But then the faults become more apparent and jarring especially the music by Fincher's frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the rather strange - in my opinion - miscasting. 

Firstly, Rosamund Pike was surprisingly well cast. Yet at the same time also could have been cast better. Pike got the role down pat in the Third Act but was rather unconvincing in the first two, particularly the second. I see Naomi Watts or even Claire Danes in the role. 

Then we have Ben Affleck. He's too muscled up in this role - prepping for his role as Batman, perhaps? That's not how an impoverished writer "should" look. Neck up on the other hand, he has the all American good-guy look which is what the character ought to be. However, his acting here is unlikely to bring him much actual accolades come award season. 

Kim Dickens as Boney was great but I kept picturing Julianne Moore. Did the budget ran out or they feared Affleck will get out-classed? Neil Patrick Harris as the rich, over-entitled ex was too stiff and lacked any depth which made his character un-sympathetic at all. Carrie Coon as Margot was the only one that was well cast. 

Cinematography - by another frequent collaborator, Jeff Cronenweth - as usual was similar to all Fincher's other recent works: gorgeous and filled with door knobs and close ups. Music, as aforementioned, was distracting: more mood-accompaniment rather than mood/story setting.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1


Expanding the third book into two parts may be the best thing this series has done. With the increased length time, they are now able to tackle the more substantial issue of a revolution - giving it more depth and showing the broader country-wide social impact - rather then the slightly more juvenile - albeit more personal - survival game itself. This was also something that Suzanne Collins was not particularly good at when writing book 3, so kudos to writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig, and director Francis Lawrence.

All the old cast were great and were welcomed back like old friends especially Effie, Elizabeth Banks - who was not in the book. She was the definite comedic highlight of the show; even more so than in the previous installments where she tend to be too screechy. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson had smaller roles here but those roles were vital and showed what great actors they are. 

Liam Hemsworth, on the other hand, was not missed, and he did nothing outstanding in his expanded role here to be missed. Sure, Gale is vital to the plot but Hemsworth less so. 

Kudos to Joel Hutcherson on going all method. He definitely brought something of his own to an otherwise one dimensional Peeta and you can really believe that he and Katniss have a connection despite the separation. 

As for Jennifer Lawrence, she has grown more comfortable into the role, but as her star gets bigger, her persona outshines that of Katniss'. She is a good actress no doubt, but now it is time for Lawrence to find that next level of greatness. 

Julianne Moore is the best actor in the movie. She is the best actor to be cast in this franchise since Donald Sutherland, bringing gravitas and likability to an otherwise stale character. 

Cinematography by Jo Wilems was a mix bag: the wide-angle, outdoor shots were gorgeous but the close ups less so. Katniss' song was surprisingly catchy and haunting but the rest of James Newton Howard score was a generic adventure theme. 

17 November 2014

The Babadook


The best horror movie since Insidious and if only its Third Act could have maintained that level of creepiness, horror and originality, this would have easily been one of the best horror film in a long time.

Like Insidious, this movie focused its horror using old-school techniques of ratcheting up the tension, with the use of music and edits, and very, very minimal jump scares. The whole movie felt scary and the psychological terror that imbued in the audience was extremely effective.

Unfortunately, the final act fell apart. Not greatly, but still it felt flat compared to the excellent first two acts. It became rather generic and run-of-the-mill, and even then, because of the low budget, the run-of-the-mill-ness felt broken. Which was a real pity.

But nonetheless, the whole movie was definitely worth a watch for horror fans and even just the casual movie goer looking for a good scare.

Boyhood [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


Possibly the best movie of 2014 thus far, and this is saying a lot considering that it was out in Summer and I had only just watched it in Fall.

Amazing, epic and ambitious scope by writer/director Richard Linklater that was matched only by its heart and sincerity. Narratively, it was rather weak but taken as a whole it showed a rare heartfelt glimpse into the growth of a child.

Granted that character development was not significant for many of the characters of the show, but our titular hero was a boy who grew up (over 12 years) into a man and this movie was a depiction of that passage. In many respects this was like the Up series.

Patricia Arquette provided the anchor for the series as the main adult figure for which the parent-child relationship resolved, and she held herself well as we see the changes to her life over the 12 years.

Ethan Hawke was also present throughout the movie and his character gave the boy a father-figure to look up to and possibly even aspire. Again, we see how a parent-child relationship can mould a child's growth.

Ellar Coltrane was a breath of fresh air and his innocence, and the lost of that innocence, was a treat to watch in this real-time, time-lapse film. Similarly, Lorelai Linklater - as the elder sister - grew up in front of us over 2.5 hours, although her character was more generic.

I doubt both the show and Richard Linklater would be forgotten come Oscar time, but whether it will win over the more showy titles is anybody's guess.

8 November 2014

Interstellar



Interstellar is like the illegitimate love child between Gravity and Contact with The Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy and Space Odyssey 2001 both fighting to be its godparent. You know you are in trouble when the best thing about the movie is the wise-cracking robot a la Marvin from THHGTTG. 

Christopher Nolan has not made a good movie since The Dark Knight and even then his best movie still remained Memento. Perhaps responding to criticisms about Inception, this movie has been dumbed down exponentially definitely as a bid to wow all of Nolan's new found fans. But there is a difference between dumbing down to appeal to the masses and dumbing down to being outright stupid. For the former, see Michael Bay's Transformers; the latter - I can't even think of one now.

Jonathan and Christopher Nolan's script was filled with such bad writing. Clunky dialogue and heavy handed exposition. Poor line readings also did not help matter - will get into that soon. The robots had the best lines and their delivery were spot on. 

The concepts are great and interesting but the execution was horrendous. So many leaps of logic were necessary and even then one would even need to bend the whole space-time contiuumn to make sense out of it. Plots lines would just appear and disappear like wormholes. Just stay and accept the fact that things happen because the Nolans say so. 

Christopher's directing were also suboptimal. The pacing dragged and scenes stretched. Gravity has given all subsequent space-movies a new benchmark to hit and Interstellar unfortunately is too far down the new hierarchy. 

The movie lacked heart. The idea is there but neither the script nor the directing managed to bring it out. However, the fault would also have to lie on the actors. Without a good script some actors can still sell you the moon, but here we see Matthew McConaughey for what he can really do. There was no emotional connect between him and the audience not do we feel the emotional tie between him and his family. 

Anne Hatheway had the thankless honour of trying to sell the movie's clunkiest bit of dialogue. She did her best but the words failed her. 

Then we have Jessica Chastain. Suffice to say her younger self was more convincing than she was, but then again she did throw the most emotional punch of the movie. And she did that spectacularly. If I cared more about that relationship I might have teared. 

Hans Zimmer's score was also not the strongest. Ironically, at some points it was too strong and over-shadowed the movie itself. Hoyte van Hoytema lensed the film and there were some gorgeous shots but nothing too memorable. 

2 November 2014

Constantine


Pilot: To be fair, I do not really know much about Constantine the DC comic that this is based on, and as for the Keanu Reeves movie back in 2005, I vaguely remembered that it was entertaining for a Keanu Reeves movie. Anyways, Matt Ryan seems like a good fit thus far, although surprisingly un-british enough: his Constantine needs to be a bit more sardonic and deadpanned (Johnny Lee Miller's Sherlock in Elementary comes to mind, but less eccentric). Thankfully, the show is losing Lucy Griffith's Liv. Unfortunately she really did not fit the show, seemingly awkward and lacking chemistry with Ryan. There were some good scares in this pilot - kudos to director Neil Marshall - and hopefully the show runners can maintain that level of creepiness. However, David S. Goyer remains one of the most over-rated writer in Hollywood. His script was the second weakest link (after Griffith) with pokey dialogue and clunky exchanges. The idea is there but the execution lacked polish. Hopefully it can remain watchable until Hannibal returns.

Episode 1 - 7: The show has steadily improved, and Matt Ryan is an engaging protagonist. He makes Constantine relatable but yet symptathetic. More back history would be fun, and the show really shines when they focused more on the "rising darkness" plot-line involving God and The First of The Fallen (a hypothesis). Angelica Celaya is a better match for Ryan, however her character needs more growth and history; similarly her powers needs to be more defined. Currently she is more there to move the narrative along. Same thing for Charles Halford whose character - Chas - is more interesting than Zed. Then lastly, we have Harold Perrineau's Manny who is underused and over-enigmatic.

31 October 2014

Words and Pictures [SQ Inflight Entertainment]



A more matured-directed rom-com that had its heart in the right place but the soul itself fleeting in and out. Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche are great in their own roles (come on...a Brit as a literary supporter and a French as the snobbish artist - Perfect!) but together their chemistry was stronger when they started out as frenemies than when they became lovers. 

The concept is strong and the material funny, and using a rom-com as a premise to discuss the age old question of words or pictures was a smart decision. A more intellectual discussion would not be very fitting to a movie structure. However, they may have answered their own debate with Music; first there were neither words or painting but sound. 

The Immigrant [SQ inflight entertainment]



An achingly sad yet paradoxically hopeful period drama about one woman's struggle to survive wrapped enigmatically in an unlikely love story. Excellent and touching performances by both Marion Cortillard and Joaquin Phoenix, with Jeremy Renner in an outstanding supporting role. 

Director and co-writer James Gray (the latter with Richard Menello) painted a portrait of a bleak and desperate woman but also one who has immense strength in character and faith. Well directed with a good pace and sharp focus on characters. Interesting themes explored particularly sin and survival vs salvation, and forgiveness. 

Cotillard was outstanding as the titular main character: raw, fragile yet her steely gaze can stare down the hardest man. In this case, we have Phoenix giving us another one of his brilliant character creation as the anti-hero that you are secretly rooting for even if pretty boy Renner came in and swooned you/us over. 

Cinematography by Darius Khondji was equally as bleak as the story needed but the moments of light and salvation was equally as measured. Gorgeous use of lights and shadows in certain scenes. Music by Christopher Spellman carried a Polish theme and was similarly bleak with tinges of hope. 

23 September 2014

The Mysteries of Laura


Pilot: I will admit that I had never watched Will & Grace but, other than her scarves, Debra Messing was rather charismatic on Smash, so I approached this seemingly procedural drama with a bit of trepidation. Usually I am not a fan of criminal procedurals, however if done right, they can be range from absolutely brilliant and mind-blowing like Hannibal (which admittedly became less procedural) to good and interesting like Elementary and the late, under-rated Prime Suspect. But the key to the aforementioned shows is the fascinating and riveting chemistry the main cast has. So can Laura do the same? The case-of-the-week itself was rather silly and does not really involve the audience, so is that a hint for the future? Where the case itself is secondary to the drama of Messing's messy life? She definitely has the screen charisma to carry it off and Josh Lucas as her soon-to-be-or-maybe-not ex husband and her have good chemistry together (he as eye candy does help too). As for side-kicks, detective aide Max Jenkins is quirky enough like a young Giovanni Ribisi to be entertaining in small doses; Janina Gavankar provides the female sex appeal but her character needs more reason rather than just being antagonistic to Messing. Definitely watchable at the moment just to see in which direction this series will evolve towards to.

14 September 2014

Magic in the Moonlight


Woody Allen's newest movie is definitely not one of his finest work, or perhaps we judged him too harshly now after his recent run of spectacular films starting from Midnight in Paris and the last one: Blue Jasmine. And unfortunately, the bulk of the blame lay squarely on both Allen and his two leads: Collin Firth and Emma Stone.

Firth and Stone are undoubtedly one of the best actors of their time (him) and their generation (her), but here, as leads in a romantic comedy - even one written and directed by Allen - they lack chemistry. And that is essentially the death knell of any rom-coms. Singularly, they are fine actors. Firth has the whole English snobbish, eccentric, rational wit going on, and Stone is fine on her own as the seemingly naïvete but romantically passionate American. However, between them, not even ice would melt.

Furthermore, another sorely lack piece of puzzle in this movie is the lack of an outstanding supporting cast. Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins were the exception but they just had too little to do. Poor Marcia Gay Harden was under-utilised - that woman has a mean funny bone! Just watch Trophy Wife!

Allen's script had his usual wittiness and some great one liners. His clearly defined Three Parts Acts also made the movie straightforward and easy to digest. What started of a typical rom-com, became Allen's short Gatsby-esque dissertation on Love, Religion (or Atheism) and Sociology. and then finally back to the Romanticism and irrationality of Love.

The directing was even with some good shots and angles. The images looked like they were appropriately aged, and south of France looked amazing as always.

Kudos to the set designers and costumers. And also to the florists, gardeners and floral designers!


12 September 2014

Planet Earth in Concert


Documentaries like these always fill me with a profound sense of wanderlust, and when backed up with a live orchestra like the SSO, this wanderlust just gets amplified.

Regardless whether you have watched this series before or not, it is impossible not to be awed by awesomeness and mysteries of Mother Nature and Planet Earth. But undoubtedly, some of that awe is blunted with prior exposure. Although seeing half a million snow geese take flight and the money-shot of the orca leaping out of the water on a big screen is beyond words.  

One of the downside to this presentation is that David Attenborough was sorely missed! kJoshua Tan performs better with his back to the audience, and his narration lacked the grandeur and wisdom so inherent in Attenborough's narration. 

Nonetheless, kudos to the film-making team at BBC Earth - although this was so clearly an unabashed money grab.
Looking forward to Frozen Planet in Concert!




11 September 2014

Mies Julie [Miss Julie]


A brilliant play that was wonderfully adapted to the South African context, using the apartheid to broach themes of social equality, power, self-identity, and even love.

Fearless performance by the two leads who deftly handled the emotional range and depth that was required of them, and the constant evolution of power between the characters. However, ultimately, this play still bore the mark of chauvinism and that was starkly unaddressed in a play that juggled bigotry and inequality.

Nonetheless, the play itself was written and directed beautifully with rich imageries, clever juxtaposition, and subtle yet inevitable foreshadowing.

Wonder how the movie will be like...

22 August 2014

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgramage



Decidedly different from Murakami's past works in that this was grounded more in reality and lacked the magical realism he was known for. However, Murakami replaced that with a stronger emotional core throughout the novel. 

This was  essentially a story about self, love and happiness. A dark story - possibly one of his darkest - that only had occasional glimmer of hope and light. But those glimmer are enough to sustain optimism...or are they? That oscillating hope illustrates Murakami's skill as a storyteller (not so much a wordsmith per se since this is a translated work). 

This is Murakami's most emotionally resonant work since Norwegian Wood and also perhaps one of the most easily accessible to new readers.  

20 August 2014

Under The Skin [SQ Inflight Entertainment]



Director Jonathan Glazer and co-writer Walter Campbell have crafted what is definitely one of the strangest, most WTF, yet strangely alluring art house alien/sci-fi movie ever based on a novel by Michael Faber. 

However, beneath all that strangeness, there lies an oddly sad story and commentary about human nature which was brought to life in all in muteness by the magnetic screen presence of Scarlett Johansson. 

In a role that is a total opposite of that in Her, Johansson barely spoke here, but yet she and Glazer had managed to make her character highly intriguing and the story oddly engaging. 

As an audience we are constantly asking ourselves "What is happening?" and "What is going to happen next?" - and that in itself is excellent storytelling that is so rare in Hollywood these days. 

Cinematography by Daniel Landin was raw and naturalistic with some amazing shots, and music by Mica Levi was hauntingly effective and memorable especially in such a dialogue-free movie. 

Yves Saint Laurent [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


The biopic of the tulmultuous life of troubled fashion savant and enfant terriblé Yves Saint Laurent started of with a lot of promise but midway, like Saint Laurent himself, director Jalil Lespert got lost in the debauched excess, losing focus on the main subject and his relationship with both Fashion and Pierre Bergé. 

Pierre Niney as Saint Laurent got his shy demeanour in the beginning down pat, however as the story progressed, Niney slowly failed to capture that lost, desperation and maniac dependency that plagued Saint Laurent. 

Guillaume Galliene as Bergé, however, was a constant rock throughout much like how his character was portrayed. Though biasness would be inevitable since the story is told from his point of view. 

The sweeping piano and violin score by Ibrahim Maalouf was a highlight. And of course also the gorgeous costumes by Madeline Fontaine throughout. 

No surprise this film was not screened in Singapore. 

Les Modes Passant, Le Style est Éternel. 

6 August 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


The heroes in a half-shell are back in a brand new, reboot origins story. Jonathan Liebesman does a competent job in giving us a relatively fun romp re-introducing the turtles to a new generation. At least he understood that the storyline cannot support too long a show time, and during the snappy 101 minutes focused mainly on Megan Fox and action - unlike producer Michael Bay. The turtles are slightly different from their cartoon counterparts but broadly retained their basic characteristics. Surprisingly, Raphael got the lead here.

Liebesman gave us a fairly straightforward origin story but other than a very good action set towards the end of the Second Act, the rest of the movie was fairly simple with no real big twists or unexpected results. Although the origin story itself was a departure from the story that we grew up knowing.

Cinematography was also rather flat throughout which did not help to make the movie more visually appearing. Likewise, frequent comic/super-hero music collaborator Brian Tyler was also, as usual, generic and un-inspiring. Someone need to come up with a new iconic Superhero score like John Williams' Superman Theme or Zimmer/Howard's Batman score.

It seems like the du jour thing now to litter superhero/comic-book movies with pop culture references. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't; and sometimes there can be too much (see: Guardians of the Galaxy). In TNMT, it only worked when the references came from Michaelangelo - because at least here we have an established character who is likely to spew such gems and not seemed to come out as smart-alecky or self-referential.

Not much acting going on here. None of the actors hired to be the turtles are Andy Serkis. Megan Fox looked better after child-birth but definitely less sexploited here than in Bay's Transformers. Will Arnett was genuinely funny.

Ultimately, a fairly entertaining romp that did not take itself too seriously and the short run time was to its favour.





2 August 2014

Anna Karenina [Blu-Ray]


Joe Wright's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy beloved classic is extremely stylised, uniquely presented and a gorgeously sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. However, the directing, although unique, was inconsistent, occasionally bordering on simplicity, with style over substance; the storytelling deceptively simple with all of Anna's complexities and Tolstoy's social/political commentary lost. Wright again brought out the best of Keira Knightley, and similarly Jude Law also stood out, but young Aaron Johnson (now Taylor-Johnson) was badly miscast.

Wright chose a very unique way to present this story, and although it took a few minutes to get use to it, it was nonetheless arresting and visually spectacular. However, Wright noticeably got lazy and this technique became inconsistent, and when it did not serve the narrative was abandoned without forewarning.

Luckily for us, he had Seamus McGreary as his cinematographer. When the scenes were set indoors, McGreary shots ranged were heartbreakingly tender to sumptuously spectacular. However, when we move outdoors, the wide-angled lens captured the country in all its raw natural beauty. The balance of lights and shadows were sublime throughout.

Then we had Dario Marianelli's score which like his award-winning score for Atonement echoed the era of which the show was set in. With Russian strings and folk themes weaved within the emotional tapestry of Anna's heart.

The last production praise goes to costume designer Jacqueline Durran who deservedly won the Academy Award that year. Her costumes were all simply astounding. The details for all the dresses and head gears. Every single piece of clothing that Knightley wore was a work of art. Although none reached the status as that infamous green dress from Atonement (one barebacked moment came close!). Based on that year's nomination, only Eiko Ishioka's equally sumptuous work on Julia Robert's disastrous Mirror, Mirror was her closest rival, but Anna Karenina could likely had won because of sheer quantity.

The screenplay by Tom Stoppard was oversimplified both in terms of plot, characterisations and dialogue. Tolstoy's prose - although translated - was much more piercing than what the actors were asked to say.

Knightley gave a good performance. Not her best but she carried the film ably on her shoulders and Wright definitely knew how to get the best out of her. However, she was betrayed by the lack of substance and depth a character like Anna should have.

Law was surprisingly mesmerising. He had a refined, restrained dignity that was magnetic.

Unfortunately Johnson was at the other of the spectrum. Way otherside. He is too young and lacked the skill to portray a deceptively simple character like Count Vronsky- who is actually not as simple as he appeared in the movie. His youth disallowed the audience to engage with him and his love affair with Anna. And this was further compounded by the absolutely frigid chemistry between him and Knightley.

A visual and aural feast of a movie that lacked a heart and soul.

1 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy [IMAX/3D]


Marvel and James Gunn have on their hands a new space-movie franchise. This was a fun, enjoyable ride that would definitely appeal to the majority of the public as evident by my audience's response. The two best elements were the awesome 70/80s mixtape playlist peppered throughout and the incredible creature (and floral) design and directing of Groot. However, it does not really stand out amongst past Marvel movies and Gunn's voice can be best described as the poor man's Joss Whedon.

Gunn gave us an incredible introduction that quickly set the tone for the rest of the movie. However, other than the aforementioned playlist choices and Groot, nothing else really stood out in the remaining 100-odd minutes. What was lacking throughout was a strong emotional core to anchor the movie with the audience. Things just happen and get resolved. Our heroes do not really suffer any significant, damaging, personal, soul-crushing, emotionally tense setbacks. There were definitely enough action sequences and they surely will keep the action-fans happy. However, the sequences were nothing spectacular and the action choreography basic.

Gunn's script, co-written with Nicole Perlman, had its moments especially when the movie referenced 80s pop culture. However, the humour was on the broad side. Also, there were too many moments where Gunn and Perlman tried to capture that elusive Whedon-esque banter, and it just fell flat. Perhaps it was likely because the group was actually only two actors, 2 CGI creations and Dave Bautista. The banter here just did not work. And solely relying on Chris Pratt to deliver the humour will need him to be a stronger actor/comedian - and that is where Robert Downey Jr. succeeded brilliantly.

Then we have the characterisation of the core group. The First Act tried to establish that. Like above, it did not succeed very well. There was basic motivation but nothing deeper was explored to establish these bunch of renegades as true friends.

Pratt is a good comedic actor. On the small screen. Where he had a great array of comedic talents to work opposite with. Here, he was the sole (lead) comedian, and that responsibility was too much for his very-much buffed shoulders to carry. He lacked that self-depreciating vulnerability that would have made his character more human.

Zoe Saldana was a pretty face, even in green, and she did give her best shot to try to emote. But it felt like she playing the same character as she did in the 2 Star Trek movies. Heck, even the setting felt like a copy cat of Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Groot was the surprising scene-stealer. Not Rocket. I will admit that I might partially be biased against Bradley Cooper, but objectively, Groot's simplicity and emotive eyes were crowd pleasers. Kudos to the creature designs for both Groot and Rocket, and also definitely applause to the floral designer for that penultimate climatic scene.

Poor Lee Pace and Karen Gillan were barely recognisable under all that makeup. They were definitely hamming it up as the villains.

Lots of big names too throughout: Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, John C. Riley, Djimon Hounsou and Josh Brolin but they are really just there to add credence to Marvel.

The score by Tyler Bates was unimpressive. Generic super-hero movie score. Marvel really needs to up its game on this aspect. Cinematography by Ben Davis had moments of cosmic, intergalatic beauty, but generally the lensing was also generic and run of the mill.

IMAX was definitely fun and the IMAX moments really popped. The 3D here was also more subtle and submissive but not necessarily a deal breaker.

Overall, a fun enjoyable movie for the masses, that brings the Marvel Cinematic Universe closer together and pulls slightly on the threads to make Avengers 2 and 3 an awesome reality.

17 July 2014

Jersey Boys


The closest Clint Eastwood got to capturing the energy and joie de vivre of the original Broadway/West End hit musical was the closing ensemble dance. And sadly, as talented as John Lloyd Young is as a musical star, he is not a big-screen actor and is unable to carry the weight of the movie on his shoulders. Ultimately, other than fans of the musical/Franki Valli and The Four Seasons/50-60s music most will actually find this movie rather bland and uninteresting.

Eastwood may seem like an interesting choice to direct the movie-adaptation of a hit musical, but theoretically he did live through that period when Franki and gang were tearing up the charts, so perhaps he could recreate that energy and buzz when the world discovered them. Unfortunately, other than his wonderful eye for capturing that period, and some beautiful camera-work, there was still a strong disconnect between us and the characters.

Even a climactic moment in the musical fell slightly flatter on the large screen. Like most of the musical moments, the stage production had more impact than Eastwood's directing.

A wooden Lloyd Young did not help things. Eastwood sure could not coax a convincing actor out of him. The make-up crew also did not do a good job in masking Young's baby face and features which was very distracting. Sure, he sang absolutely well - giving goosebumps throughout - but that is not sufficient when the camera is inches from your face and every facial twitch is magnified.

Luckily we had Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito who shone more as an actor than a singer. But at least, he could carry a tune.

Christopher Walken was just sleep walking through his scenes.

That will always be one of the challenges of translating stage musicals to the big screen. Choosing the right actors and balancing the singing with the acting. For every Chicago, Hairspray and Les Miserables there will always be a Nine, The Phantom of the Opera, and now Jersey Boys.

At least the music will always be undeniably catchy and fun.

The Strain


Disclaimer: I have read the novels that this series is based on. The novels were engaging and the mythology interesting, but as a whole, the pacing was rather slow and the dialogue uninspiring. The strong points were definitely the mythology and the depiction of the monsters, as well as the action sequence. However, towards the end, the pseudo-religious symbolism and christian parallels got just a bit too heavy handed.

Pilot: FX's newest horror series sure have a lot of pedigree. Based on a best-selling novel trilogy and with cult horror maestro Guillermo del Toro has the author/creator/EP and Carlton Cuse (for better or worse) on board too, expectations are running high. The cold opening definitely set the tone, with del Toro behind the camera and Ramin Djawadi (Pacific Rim and Games of Thrones) scoring the music. the tension, mood and scares were all on point. However, when the main cast start coming out, that's when things start getting flat and - to be honest - rather tedious. Perhaps more so for a book reader? Chuck Hogan's dialogue still has not improved. Corey Stoll does not fit the Ephram that I had in my mind: I do not see the strength behind the wishy-washiness even with all that hair; Mia Maestro (ah...Sydney Bristow's sister!) was a good choice for Nora and with her Alias background I can see her evolving to suit the development of the character; David Bradley was an excellent choice for Abraham. The others so far have minimum impact. Zack is such a over-precocious child...yikes! As the novels evolve, the relationship between Ephram, his wife and son slowly took centre-stage, but in this pilot, these three individuals do not connect. Not amongst themselves nor with the audience. And that was actually a pertinent problem throughout this 70 mins pilot. The leads have no chemistry between each other nor with their audience. There is only that much the mood, atmosphere, set designs and scares can keep the audience. Perhaps the storyline too - but that aspect may not be enough for those who have read the books (which may or may not be a good portion of del Toro's fans).

Episode 2, The Box: A much better outing. Less on the horror aspects but a slightly deeper focus on the characterisation. At least Eph is starting to get more interesting rather than a being flat, boring character. The most interesting character has still got to be Abraham. His backstory, and chemistry, with Thomas Eichorst was riveting. We got introduced to Vasiliy Fet and a better understanding of Gus (who grew as a character that I liked in the books towards the end). Sadly of the core cast, only Mia's Nora still lacked definition. Del Toro's touches are still clearly evident especially in the horror scenes. At least now, I am more looking forward to the next episode.

10 July 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes


A worthy sequel to 2011's summer box-office surprise Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but like the first instalment, the star of the show is Andy Serkis and the animation. The human actors - as awesome as Keri Russell always is (seriously, any movie with her in it instantly gets bumped up half a notch at least) - and the storyline are secondary considerations. Actually, in this case, I might actually put them as tertiary, with Michael Giacchino's outstanding score, Matt Reeves' confident directing and Michael Seresin's striking lensing as the next most outstanding aspect of this movie.

Back in 2011, I mentioned that the sequel may be Outbreak-ish in nature, but thankfully the writers (Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) and Reeves decided to skip all that and go straight to the aftermath, and we really see how "The Planet of the Apes" took its first steps into becoming a reality. A sad, but surprisingly, heartfelt and painfully truthful moment in the mythology.

Reeves' directing has improved much since Cloverfield and Let Me In. Two relatively low-budget genre films that did kind of paved his way to this big budget, special-effects, sci-fi movie. And, boy did he deliver. Reeves managed to capture the emotional struggle of an ape fighting for what he believes in spite of doubt and betrayal. Humans, with all their hubris and short-sightedness, are really just part of the landscape as we watched more in fascination the internal politics of the apes - and how scarily it mirrored humanity.

The action sequences were very well done and choreographed. In particular the penultimate clash and the final, climatic fight. Also a stand out was the scene when Caesar spoke to the humans.

Keri Russell - Matt Reeves' was her ex-boss on Felicity - was wasted here. Have they not witnessed the astounding work she is currently doing on Showtime's The Americans? And also seriously, this film embarrassingly fails Bechdel's Test (J.J. Abrams influence is showing...).

Jason Clarke was alright. Gary Oldman was so wasted too. And Kodi Smit-McPhee (the boy from Reeves' Let Me In - this movie is getting incestuous!) has sure grown up.

Giacchino's score is amazing. In a movie where for most parts there are no verbal dialogue, the music will then surely come to the fore. And Giacchino's penchent for strings and brass really facilitated the audience's connection with the show and the digital cast.

Seresin does not lens much but there were two striking and memorable moments that he captured on screen. *slight spoilers* the moment when Blue Eyes was standing with Koba and fire was raging on behind, and final scene itself. *end spoilers*.

I did not watch it in 3D, but other than the final act which was filmed a bit dimly, this film might actually benefit from it. There were some strange ape like sounds towards the end of the end credits, but whether this means anything...well, the internet will let us know!

Burnt Ends


Finally managed to find the time and get a table booking for Burnt Ends. Only one timing for reservations at 6 to 6.30pm, thereafter is try-your-luck-at-the-door.

Burnt once at Teppei, so am approaching this highly hyped restaurant with a hint of trepidation and slightly blunted expectations.

Open kitchen concept with bar-style sittings - except for one long table at the end. Loud music, poor acoustics, so definitely not the place for an intimate night out.

Service was polite and acceptable, but nothing to rave about. Good explanation of the menu and their house specials but rather didactic. More rote memory regurgitation than personal taste and expression. The bartender was too busy with the caucasian ladies at his end to be effective.

The open kitchen is a good concept if the team is strong. And here, they evidently are. It can be clearly seen that they work well together, but sadly, even mistakes are easily witnessed by the guests (if they are paying attention). However, that is one of the pleasures of an open kitchen by witnessing the chef take control.

Anyways, as for the food. Pacing needs to be better. The prices are on the high side of acceptable, except for their alcohol which were grossly over-priced. And you better like your Aussie wines, because that is all they have. To each his own poison.


The starters were all ready-prepared. The smoked quail eggs were a delight. Soft-boiled with a light smoky taste to the whites and the woody fragrance within the yolk. The crackling was excellent but the mustard-mayo was a bit too much and could use a bit more kick.


The duck hearts were well grilled - reminds one of the chicken hearts in the yakitori-yas. It went well with the burnt artichokes, however the aioli mix did not add much other than to mask the slightly bloody smell of the muscles (which is to be expected if you order heart).


The quail was a standout. Succulent, soft and tasty. Very good except the sauce was too heavy. Covered too much of the natural taste of the bird which was a pity.


Then we had the Burnt Ends Sangers. Essentially a pulled pork burger with melted cheese and jalepenos. I could just come down here to get this as a take-away and will be happy. Very well grilled and soft pork with the appropriate bite from the cheese and spice from the chilli. A good sign if I am eating with my fingers by this point.

Then the disappointments came. Sadly, the beef were all missing the mark.

The onglet was blah. The meat lacked that wholesome beefiness and it really did not go well with the bone marrow sauce. But at least it was cheap, that could not be said of the Blackmore rolled cube (Australia Wagyu).


Costing $75/100g with a minimum order of 250g, you get a nice piece of well-marbled wagyu beef. But a) Australian wagyu can never compare to Japaneses wagyu; b) Wagyu never does very well as a piece of steak because of the fat content. Therefore, despite the excellent grilling and temperature control, yielding a perfectly pink steak with a crisp outer layer flavoured with just some coarse sea salt, the taste itself stills fall behind a well-aged and dried, grain fed USDA or Aussie ribeye. So, do order with the appropriate expectations.


The King Crab was a delight though. Well grilled, tasty and sweet with a fitting butter and capers sauce. However, freshness is top grade. It is fresh, but not Japanese-fresh. You can taste it in the meat. The texture lacked the firmness.

Skip the weak drip coffee.



Desserts were acceptable. Good way to end the meal, but also nothing much to shout about. The pineapple with rum and vanilla was slightly better than the banana and (salted) caramel. Got a free apricot cake too, and that was much better. A good balance of sweet, sour and salty, and soft and crumbly.

Verdict: Will come again, but maybe not with a booking.










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...