Saturday, December 28, 2013

Xpress Reviews: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty & The Class Of 92

In just a few more days, we'll be celebrating the arrival of 2014. A brand new year often triggers a new resolution for most people. We garner a renewed sense of optimism and inspiration to do better in the upcoming twelve months. As the year draws to a close, I saw two films that managed to connect with me on a personal level, and well, inspire me at the same time too.

# The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty [2013]

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention"





Gifs taken from here
Edited from original photo taken here
Directed By: Ben Stiller
Written By: Steve Conrad
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahnn, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn
The Story: Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) is a guy working at Life Magazine whom regularly zones-out into his daydreams/imagination. With the company being taken over and turned fully into an online publication, staff lay-offs are inevitable. For the final issue of the magazine, the management has decided to go for a photo from legendary but elusive photographer, Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn) for its cover. A problem arises when the photo, described as a "Quintessence", is no where to be found. Mitty goes searching for the photo by tracking down O'Connell while embarking on a real-life adventure.
The Verdict: As mentioned above, this film connected to me a lot on a personal level. It also most probably heavily influenced the level of enjoyment I received. Not only have I gone through first hand experience of a company take-over and lay-off, but during my years as a child and teenager, my struggles with ADHD meant just like Walter Mitty, I also experienced "Calvin & Hobbes"-styled zone-outs on a regular basis. The theme in the movie of leaving your comfort zone and being adventurous also felt extremely inspiring to me.
Ben Stiller as always plays the role of the underdog to perfection. We really do root and feel for him. Kristen Wiig who plays Mitty's love interest, Cheryl Milhoff, manages to be lovable and charming as always. We get to tag-along with Mitty's real-life adventures to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, and are treated to some impeccable scenery and visuals. Along with its delightful soundtrack, this whimsical and heart-warming story really does prove that 2013 has been a great year for movies.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

# The Class Of '92 [2013]

"You're massively aware of what you're representing in history"



Directed By: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
Featuring: David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Nevile, Nicky Butt, Danny Boyle, Tony Blair, Eric Harrison, Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson
The Story: A documentary focusing on the six graduates from the 1992 youth team of the globally renowned football club, Manchester United. The six players soon became the core of arguably the club's greatest ever team.
The Verdict: Six great players all with six distinctive personalities and characters. "The Global Celebrity" David Beckham, "The Everlasting Legend" Ryan Giggs, "The Ultimate Professional" Gary Neville, "The Introverted Genius" Paul Scholes, "The Kid" Phil Neville, and "The Warrior" Nicky Butt. As a life-long fan of Manchester United, I'm obviously quite bias in my rating. But no one can deny the impact these six had on football and the inspirational story of their youth and climb towards prominence. Also includes interviews with celebrities such as Oscar winner, Danny Boyle and former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, December 20, 2013

Xpress Reviews: 47 Ronin & Captain Phillips

2013 is almost over. I've missed quite a lot of movies this year but will still say that its been one of the best 12 months in terms of films being released! Now if only I could afford to blog more often. Right then, here's two quick movie reviews so that December won't be a barren month. Both are based on true stories (although I do have doubts on elements of the first one). Happy holidays folks!

# 47 Ronin [2013]

"If we do this, there's no coming back!"




Gifs taken from here
Directed By: Carl Rinsch
Written By: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikunchi, Jin Akanishi
The Story: Based on the true-life legend of the 47 Ronin, a samurai group that set out to avenge the murder of their master.
The Verdict: Without knowing much about the movie while going in, I was actually surprised at how big of a role fantasy elements played in 47 Ronin. To be honest I would have preferred less magic, witchcraft, mythical creatures, and CGI. Whenever the film focused on the more grounded drama of the samurai/ronin, we could feel an emotional pull to the story and felt much more invested (and interested) in the film. As for the fight sequences, the choreography on display is spectacular. Keanu Reeves (playing the character Kai) has proved in the past that he makes a pretty stellar martial-artist, and it is no different here. The same can be said of the other samurai too, particularly Hiroyuki Sanada (playing the character Oiishi), all whom we can have no problems in believing that they are indeed top-notch samurai.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

# Captain Phillips [2013]

"I came too far, I can't give up"



Directed By: Paul Greengrass
Written By: Billy Ray
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahamt M. Ali
The Story: Based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) on board the MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship as it is been hijacked by Somali pirates.
The Verdict: What's one of the best conditions to watch a movie which is based on true events? By not knowing how those events unfolded in real life, that's how. That actually was the case when I viewed last year's award winning film, Argo [2012] for the first time. The climatic scene in that film was one of the most intense and suspenseful cinematic experience I've had in a while. Captain Phillips also succeeds in generating those tense and fearful moments, only here it is present from very early on in the movie and lasts right to the end. Tom Hanks has starred in many of my favorite movies (list of my 10 Favorite Tom Hanks Movies here), and with the brilliant Captain Phillips, he manages to add another notch on the belt.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Friday, November 29, 2013

Review: Frozen [2013]

"Some People Are Worth Melting For"



Background:
Release Date: 28 November 2013 (Malaysia), 27 November 2013 (USA)
Directed By: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Written By: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Shane Morris
Voiced By: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk
Duration: 85 minutes
In A Nutshell:
Princess Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is born with magical snow/ice powers. But her powers are uncontrollable. In order to protect her, she is ostracized from the rest of the world, including from her sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell). On her 18th birthday, which is also her coronation as queen, an argument with Anna results in her secret powers being exposed to rest of the world. Panicking, Elsa runs to the North Mountains but as she leaves, the entire kingdom is turned frozen. Anna seeks to reunite with her sister which is also the only way to save the kingdom from the icy weathers.

Image source here
Thumbs Up:
+ Vintage Disney #1: A return to the classic universe where everything's magical, fun, and joyful.
+ Vintage Disney #2: Enchanting songs sung with mesmerizing perfection. Now this is true magic!
+ Vintage Disney #3: The animal and non-human sidekicks providing the best humors. Here we have a reindeer named Sven along with a living and talking snowman named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad).
+ Not one, but two strong female characters in both Anna and Elsa.
+ Heck, almost everyone else is a lovable character!
+ I know outstanding visuals are now a minimum requirement in animation nowadays, but Frozen really blew me away. The creation of the Elsa's ice-castle in particular was truly imaginative.
+ Short animated film shown before Frozen. I like that they're going the Pixar route by showing these shorts. Get A Horse! [2013] is a nice combination between classic slapstick cartoons and modern animation.
Thumbs Down:
- Even for a Disney film, I would have preferred something other than the "can only be cured by an act of true love" angle. Well, that's what I initially thought. Turns out that the angle serves the film very well (no more spoilers!). Consider this current point a "pseudo-thumbs down" then! ;P
- An absence of a worthy/mean villain. Where's the likes of an evil step mother when you need one?



The Verdict Is In:
Life lately has once again been extremely hectic for me. The last time I went to the cinema to see a movie was almost one whole month ago during the opening of Thor [2013]. I needed a really feel-good movie for my dose of escapism (because darn, I desperately do need it right now). Thankfully Frozen [2013] lived-up to those expectations. A genuinely fun and magically world to completely immerse myself in. With recent movies like Tangled [2010], Wreck-It Ralph [2012], and now Frozen [2013] all being top-notch features, it seems like Disney has returned to its golden-era of animation of the 80s and 90s. Heck, this current batch of movies, dare I say it, might even be slightly better!
Rating:
8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Xpress Reviews: Violet & Daisy [2013] & How I Live Now [2013]

Wow! Another lengthy absence as I'm getting less and less time for blogging nowadays. Hopefully this will be a quick review. The focus of today's Xpress Reviews is the ultra-talented Irish actress, Saoirse Ronan. Ideally, I would have included a third film from her released this year, Byzantium [2013], but just couldn't squeeze-in the time to watch it. I am glad though that I got to spend time to see these following two enjoyable flicks instead....

# Violet & Daisy [2013]

"Everything's a test when you're a career woman"



Directed By: Geoffrey Fletcher
Written By: Geoffrey Fletcher
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Danny Trejo, John Ventimiglia
The Story: Violet (played by Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (played by Saoise Ronan) are two teenage assassins. What they initially thought would be another routine job - killing a man named Michael (played by James Gandolfini), turns out to be quite the opposite and full of surprises.
The Verdict: One thing is obvious to anyone watching this movie.... director Geoffrey Fletcher is trying to emulate Quentin Tarantino's storytelling style. Although imitators are rarely as good as the original (as is the case here), the overall feel of a Quentin movie is all there. The storytelling, violence, humor, conversations, and music are obviously Tarantino-inspired. The three of the main lead characters shine and bought to life vividly by Ronan, Bledel, and Gandolfini. At this time of writing, the movie holds a low Rotten Tomatoes score of 22% (although not enough reviews yet to reach a consensus). This surprises me as while the movie is not perfect, I can confidently say that I enjoyed it. It seems that this is my choice of underrated movie of the year then!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

# How I Live Now [2013]

"All these rules... you think you've got to obey them."



Directed By: Kevin Macdonald
Written By: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner, Meg Rosoff
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George Mackay, Harley Bird, Tom Holland, Danny McEvoy
The Story: Elizabeth, whom later is known as Daisy (played by Saoirse Ronan), is a neurotic American teenage sent by her father to spend the holidays in the countryside of England with her aunt and cousins. Her holiday is disrupted when London is attacked by a nuclear bomb which turns the entire country into a chaotic military state.
The Verdict: A lovely film that get's better the longer it goes. The second half has some very disturbing and tensed scenes without having the need to revert to (much) violence. Also, as was the case with Violet & Daisy [2013], all the lead actors here play their role pretty well. A recommended watch.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Thor - The Dark World [2013]

"You Must Be Truly Desperate To Come To Me For Help"


Background:
Release Date: 31 October 2013 (Malaysia), 8 November 2013 (USA)
Directed By: Alan Taylor
Written By: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, Robert Rodat
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Duration: 120 minutes
In A Nutshell:
5000 years ago, the Dark Elves led by their leader Malekith (played by Christopher Eccleston) sought to rule everything by releasing a force called "Aether" onto all nine realms of the universe. He was eventually defeated and vanquished by the army of Asgard. The Aether, which couldn't be destroyed, was kept hidden by the Asgardians. Now in the present day, Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) has found the Aester but it then inhibited and possessed her body. Malekeith returns and seeks the Aester but Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) and the Asgardians stand in his way.


Thumbs Up:
+ Climatic finale battle that just about passes as being cool.
+ Truly menacing villains. They were a real threat.
+ Darcy (played by Kat Dennings) providing most of the laughs again.
+ Cameos. Almost forgot Stan Lee is in a way obliged to do so (checkout the list of his movie cameos here). Another familiar person makes one too.
+ Frigga (played by Rene Russo). Finally, a queen that kicks-ass!!
Thumbs Down:
- A somewhat lethargic first half. Too much was spent on establishing the story of Dark Elves, convergence of the nine realms, etc.
- Too much seems to be going on. The film actually feels a little bloated.
- Lacking something extraordinary or a "wow" factor. A perfect case of "seen all this before".


The Verdict Is In:
I truly enjoyed the first film, Thor [2011]. It was a lot of fun and got me really hyped for The Avengers [2012] that following year. This current film on the other hand, although was fun in parts, just felt very ordinary and forgettable. Not a bad effort but the curse of the sequels strikes again. It seems that even for The God of Thunder, lightning doesn't strike twice!
Rating:
6 out of 10

Thursday, October 17, 2013

TV: The Crazy Ones, The Michael J Fox Show, Agents Of SHEILD

So, the 2013-2014 TV show season has now entered its fourth week. So far I have had the pleasure of following 3 brand new shows. But despite their infancy, I can't help but feel a little deja vu and nostalgia as a few of the guys involved in these shows make their long awaited comebacks to television. Yes, welcome back Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michael J. Fox, and Joss Whedon. Okay, Sarah Michelle already returned a coupled of years ago in the show Ringer [2011-2012]. But come on, how many people actually saw that show!

# The Crazy Ones

"So that mug you gave me was wrong.... I'm not the best dad in the world! Are all my mugs lies? Do I actually love Mondays?"



Who's involved? Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, and Amanda Setton stars while TV producer-extraordinaire David E. Kelley is the creator.
What's it about? Comedy following life at an advertising company owned by a father-daughter duo whose personalities are polar opposites. The father, Simon Roberts (played by Robin Williams) is zany, creative, and goes for the spectacular ideas. The daughter, Sydney's (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) approach on the other hand is conservative, steady, and dependable.
Thoughts? Anyone who has seen Robin Williams in stand-up, interviews, or talk shows will realize he is playing himself in this role. As expected he improvs a lot (as shown during the bloopers during the end credits) and he is absolutely hilarious! Sarah Michelle Gellar is also well suited as her "straight-guy role" here fits her demeanor perfectly. I've always took a liking towards the field of advertising as we get to see a lot of creative and "crazy" ideas. Thankfully, the campaigns that we get to see on the show manages to do exactly that. In fact the title of the show is based on the Apple 1997 commercial titled "The Crazy Ones" which celebrated crazy and groundbreaking idols. Robin Williams would fit in well in that commercial!

# The Michael J. Fox Show

"Women!!! Always jumping to conclusion based on overwhelming evidence!"



Who's involved? Michael J. Fox is the main attraction here and he is supported by Betsy Brandt, Katie Finneran, Juliette Goglia, Conor Romero, Jack Gore, Wendell Pierce, and Ana Nogueira.
What's it about? A comedy inspired by Michael J. Fox's actual life. Here he plays Mike Henry, a famous news reporter who was forced to retire a few years ago due to Parkinson's disease. However, he now ready to make a comeback.
Thoughts? Regular readers of this blog (yes, the tiny handful of you) know how much adoration I hold towards Michael J. Fox. From being Marty Mcfly to Alex P. Keaton to Scott Howard to Mike Flaherty, he has always will be my all-time favorite actor. So forgive me guys, because I already loved this show even before seeing a single episode!! But now that I have seen it, my unbiased opinion is that, yes, it is entertaining and worth your time! Although now with Parkinson's, MJF still possesses that charisma and comedic ability that made him famous. His family members here are the typical roles you would find in family sitcoms and they still manage to bring a lot of humor. But other than Michael, the character I enjoy the most is Mike's boss, Harris Green (played by Wendell Pierce). The first couple of episodes kinda milked the Parkinson's angle too much for its comedy, but I'm glad that now they've moved on from that.

# Agents Of SHEILD

"She's a groupie. All the hacking into SHEILD, tracking powers. She might as well be one of those sweaty Cosplay characters crowding around Stark Tower."



Who's involved? Joss Whedon is back producing (and directing/writing a few episodes) while the cast includes Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Brett Dalton, Ming Na-Wen, Iain De Caestecker, and Elizabeth Henstridge.
What's it about? A spin-off series from one of the highest grossing movies of all-time, The Avengers [2012]. It follows the missions of secret government agency, S.H.E.I.L.D.
Thoughts? The top two things I loved from Whedon's previous works, the dialogue and his brand of humor, are all present here. In fact the humor is what differentiates it from previous super-hero shows like Heroes [2006-2010], Alphas [2011-2012], and Mutant X [2001-2004]. So far, the episodes have been pretty much self-contained, and I'm looking forward to them moving away from that because.... well, the best TV shows do that anyway! Loved the special appearances from Nick Fury and Robin Scherbatsky Agent Maria Hill. I wonder who else they're gonna bring in?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Escape Plan [2013]

"You Hit Like A Vegetarian!!!"


Background:
Release Date: 10 October 2013 (Malaysia), 18 October 2013 (USA)
Directed By: Mikael Hafstrom
Written By: Miles Chapman, Jason Keller
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Swarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, 50 Cent
Duration: 116 minutes
In A Nutshell:
Ray Breslin (played by Sylvester Stallone) is the world's foremost authority on structural security. He makes a living by testing the security of various prisons. He accomplishes this by creating a fake identity, getting himself inside the prisons, and then breaking out of them. One day he is contacted with a unique job. It is an "off-the-books" prison which officially doesn't exist because its purpose is to make the world's worst criminals "disappear". However it seems that the people who put him in there to test the prison actually wants him to stay forever. As Breslin plans his escape, he befriends another inmate, Swan Rottmayer (played by Arnold Swarzenneger).


Thumbs Up:
+ Sly and Arnie turn back the clock and gives performances reminiscent of their peak years. Action fans rejoice!
+ An action movie that actually has a smart and thrilling plot.
+ Bad guys taking on Arnie when he has a machine gun in his hand. Bad choice guys, bad choice. Man, this movie is really making me feel nostalgic!
+ Explosions followed by catchphrases. Classic 80s action movie right there.
Thumbs Down:
- I just don't buy the premise of an "off-the-book" prison that violates every human rights law there is. If authorities really wanted to make criminals "disappear", they would've just killed them. An explanation is given, but it is still weak to me.


The Verdict Is In:
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Swarzenegger. I don't think many can argue that these two are the biggest action stars of all-time. Now at ages 67 and 66 years old they both show that they have plenty left in the tank because Escape Plan [2013] is prison break movie that they can be proud of. The story and plot is more entertaining and thrilling than the standard action flick, but it is the presence of the two legends that really make the movie shine.
Rating:
7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happy Halloween: Inspired By The Movies

Original image from here
Its October already which means Halloween month has arrived. Yes, that celebration which seems to be fully rejoiced ONLY in the United States. Which is a quite shame because that means in my part of the world, Halloween basically is non-existent. Despite not being a horror fan, I find the whole celebration of Halloween, from trick-or-treat to haunted theme parks to the festivities to be very fun and appealing. The horror movie genre is growing on me however.

Today I've decided to compile features from all corners of the globe which were inspired by horror movies. I got this idea from Andina's "Inspired By..." series at here fabulous blog Inspired Ground (don't worry I asked her permission). You guys should check the blog out especially those particular series mentioned. As a movie lover, its great to see all such of things being inspired by the movies.

# There Are Other People Out There, Like Me, That Can Do What I Do!

The first thing on the list, technically isn't something "inspired by". Its actually what I believe to be a promotion campaign for movie the Carrie [2013] which will be opening soon. Yes its a remake of the 1976 classic and this time stars Chloe Graze Moretz. Here we get to see an orchestrated hidden camera prank inside of a coffee shop. A girl freaks out and blasts-out super telekinetic powers. This video is awesome in so many ways. I know I'd freak out if I was there as a customer at the time. The reactions of the people in the coffee shop is priceless. You can see one person screaming and backing-off but still attempting to record the astonishing events on her phone! One comment on the Youtube page sums things up niceley: "This generation is fucked, we will record anything up until our moment of death".



# Don't You Want A Balloon?

Have you ever seen Stephen Kings's IT [1990]? The character, a clown named Pennywise and played by Tim Curry will spook the living daylights out of you. I listed Pennywise before in my 10 Childhood Nightmares, but truth is, he still creeps me out to this very day! Well, clearly inspired that movie, someone decided to dress-upped like the character and lurk mysteriously on the streets of Northamptom, England. The clown  even has its very own Facebook page! Now I know I'd freak out if one day I looked out of my window and saw him waving towards me!





# Horror Foods: Yum Or Yuck?

Fact: the visual presentations of food will influence our appetite. But what if they were based on horror movies that are usually associated with gore? However the ones featured here don't really look that bad and I won't mind eating them myself. Here are some pretty amazing cake pops (and a cream pop at the end) that can be found AND ordered at Lou Lou P's Delight. This is only a tiny bit of what they offer. Browse their page for more fabulous bespoke cakes and edible artistries.







Okay this next one is based on a movie that can barely consider itself horror. Kinda pseudo-horror. Its an A3 size cake made by Heartache Cakes:


Anyone a fan of coffee? Well Japanese artist, Kazuki Yamamoto creates some outstanding latte arts. The ones featured here are the ones that I could tie-in with today's horror theme. But do check out his page for loads more latte arts (including incredible 3D latte arts). Can you guess the movies these are based on?





# Come Out And Play!

Finally we have a collection of Legos inspired by horror movies. I know there's a lot of short films featuring Legos out there, but I'll just post photos here for the time being. Again, can you name the movies they are from?

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