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Showing posts from January, 2013

The Sessions

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A wry and occasionally sardonic look at love with a great, performance-of-a-lifetime portrayal by John Hawkes, and an Oscar-nominated, natural (in more ways than one) showcase by Helen Hunt...and her breasts (truly, they appear so often they ought to be nominated alongside her!). William H Macy does his usual sardonic character and his banter with Hawkes provide some of the comedic highlights of the movie. Having said that, it really is the banter (and hence, the script), as delivered and expressed by Hawkes, that are the real gems of the show. They save it from an uneven pacing and eventual repetitiveness (there's only that many times seeing Hunt naked and her breasts will titillate). This is "The 40 Year Old Virgin" for the serious adult audience although occasionally Ben Lewin comes across as trying too hard and sometimes loses focus on what he really want to depict.

The Master

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An emotionally complex and conflicting drama by Paul Thomas Anderson exploring the life of a damaged veteran and the charismatic cult leader that comes into his life. With masterful and arresting performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Phoenix is shaping up to be the next Daniel Day-Lewis and goes all Method here losing himself in this role that alternates dramatically between despicable scoundrel, desperate loser and desolate lover. He commands the screen and the eyeballs absolutely. Hoffman gets the showier role as the Scientology-like leader and he too is at the top of his game with a convincing portrayal of someone you want to trust but find it so hard to believe in. Amy Adams has a supporting role as Hoffman's strong willed wife who with minimal scenes established herself as one of the driving forces of the cult and The Woman behind The Master, and her contempt towards Phoenix's character is veiled behind Adams' silken subversive facade. Paul Thoma…

The Following

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Pilot: This Kevin Bacon/James Purefoy FOX thriller has a very interesting premise. WIth two heavy weights as its lead, it has a lot riding on it. The pilot established the premise and introduced the two leads: Bacon as the profiler, broken but brilliant; Purefoy as the charming intelligent Evil. EP, created, written and directed by Kevin Williamson, it had some good scenes, especially those where Bacon's pacemaker rhythm is heard over the action. Those were tense. Maggie Grace: hello, and goodbye, too bad you could not stay for long. It lacked the punch of a cable show and seemed tame by comparison. Or are we sensitised to violence? It can be darker and more disturbing still, can't it on network tv? I hope they develop the supporting cast more, in particular Iceman aka Shawn Ashmore.

Episode 2, "Chapter Two": We get a new character: FBI Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) thrown into the mix who looks like will be a bug part of the mythology. I find her suspicious and …

The Grandmaster 一代宗师

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A beautiful, gorgeous, typically ethereally atmospheric Wong Kar Wai 王家卫 film in the wuxia/revenge flick genre. Stunningly lensed by Phillippe Le Sourd, expertly choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping 元和平 and hauntingly scored by longtime collaborator Shigeru Umebayashi. Tony Leong Chiu Wai 梁朝伟 as per usual is sublime and nuanced: Zhang Ziyi 章子怡 has seldom been better, although there are many moments throughout where I can imagine a young Gong Li 巩俐 (circa "Raise the Red Lantern" 《红灯笼高高挂》) taking on the role and being even more exceptional! These two are the heavy hitters of the film with Zhang Ziyi's character carrying more of the emotional weight and Tony Leung's more of the spiritual essence. The action scenes were amazingly beautiful. It's hard to imagine but Wong Kar Wai managed to retain his signature style but yet infused the fights with a sense of urgency and immediacy. The brilliant use of rain and snow to emphasise the movement and fluidity of kungfu is astound…

Zero Dark Thirty

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A fantastic, relentlessly tense and sharp tour de force by Kathryn Bigelow. Now I can join in the crowd to say that she was clearly snubbed for the Oscars. This is a bloody brilliant film/historical drama that despite its 157mins showtime is tightly paced and keeps the tension taut throughout. We all know what happens at the end: Geronimo dies. But the how? Many people may not know the details, and this film is definitely not 100% accurate or factual, but the gist of it is presented so clearly that the audience is kept gripped and on their toes and at the edge of their trepidatious seats all through the finale. In this case, other than Bigelow who directed this with fluid ease and translated all that to the screen, the other big star is Jessica Chastain. Her Maya is astonishing to watch. She acts with her whole body and despite minimal dialogue, Chastain was still able to convey the emotions so clearly through her face, her eyes and her posture. She literally carries this film on her…

The Impossible

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The real stars of this melodramatic tearjerker are Tom Holland and the emotionally manipulative score by Fernando Velázquez. Tom Holland (of "Billy Elliot the Musical" fame) , like his big screen counterpart Jamie Bell from "Billy Elliot", will go far. He is actually the emotional core of the whole show and he ably carried the weight of the movie on his young shoulders. Fascinating to watch on screen. Naomi Watts was outstanding as the matriarch of the family but her character was written too simply and flat. Although her portrayal was intense and authentic, and Watts sure as hell acted out of it, she was let down by the uncomplex characterisation. Nonetheless, she definitely deserves the accolades but as the final berth of this year's Best Actress Oscar race, I thought Marion Cotillard from "Rust and Bone" gave a more powerfully nuanced and subtle performance compared to Watts slightly more showy role. Ewan McGregor had a less showy role which he too…

Cloud Atlas [IMAX]

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Disclaimer: I read David Mitchell's sprawling epic about 4 months before watching the movie.

This is the Oscar-bait of the season that caught no fish. A 3-hour epic, and with due credit to the directors - The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer - it never did feel like 3 hours even for someone who had read the book. The main reason is because of the many changes to the book that they have made which kept the story slightly fresher (I recommend reading this website: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Biggest-Differences-Between-Cloud-Atlas-Book-Movie-33797.html). But like many movies these days that are based on books, the movies tend to be a bit more dumb down, with obvious themes and purposes explained outright to the audience. The audience, unlike the readers, seldom get the chance to ruminate and think about what they had just seen, or given a chance to interpret characters' actions, thoughts or even the author's as they deem fit. Instead, we are asked to think what the directors wan…

Mama

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This movie only has two things going for it: Guillermo del Toro and Jessica Chastain (okie...and maybe a bit of Jaime Lannister aka Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). For the former, you can clearly see some of his signatures in the story telling especially with regards to the supernatural aspect; the latter, sadly, is not her best role to date. Sure, she's good but not really a stand out. I sense the studios are just really banking on those two names and Chastain's recent Oscar buzz to roll this movie out. There are some mediocre scares and one or two good ones, but other than a great introduction scene, the rest of the show was draggy. This is a run-of-the-mill storyline and if there is nothing standout from the acting nor the plot than what makes this different? It was good the villain was slowly introduced to us, and by showing glimpses of it throughout does help to tighten the tension. However, the plot was too long drawn, and this may be better as a short story/film rather than a …

Seven Psychopaths

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A very dark meta-within-a-meta comedy from Martin McDonagh who somehow always manages to bring out the best in Collin Farrell. Either that or Farrell is better when he's speaking Irish than American. Nonetheless, this is a smart intelligent movie that has four brilliant leads in Farrell (and his hypnotic eyebrows), Christopher Walken (this is deadpan, people), Woody Harrelson (almost a parody of his Natural Born Killers seld) and the always excellent, character actor Sam Rockwell (who is so dependent to play these off-kilter roles). Smart meta-digs and self-mocking irreverence throughout with laughters generously spread out. But definitely only for those who can appreciate a good dark comedy. Even the ending was a macabre genius. Brilliant brilliant script that was well acted and directed!

Dolcetto by Basilico

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The pastry and light lunch arm of Basilico at the ground floor of Regent Singapore. Limited seats at the lobby space in front of the shop, airy, naturally lit (on a sunny day) and relaxed hotel lobby atmosphere. Not cheap, but not too ex, as expected of a 5-star hotel lobby cafe. The wagyu beef panini was good: juicy and tender beef in a nice, fresh ciabatta filled with fresh vegetables. The highlight were the desserts/pastries. The lemon tart was well made: tart filling with a crumbly crusts, may be better with a nice meringue cap; the ricotta and vanilla cheesecake was good too, rich, soft cake but kinda lacked the vanilla oomph. The almond cookies were really good with a raspberry filling. The expresso baccio was so-so, unremarkable and the pistachio pastry was not bad, but also not very memorable. They serve decent coffee and Italian retro sodas.

Verdict: Will come back for a chillax lunch/tea especially if I'm in the area.







Banshee

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Pilot: Cinemax's latest offering by Executive Producers Alan Ball and Greg Yaitanes (amongst others) and created by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler is an adrenaline-pumping, re-imagination of an old concept that has the potential to be an intriguing serialised crime drama. Based on the pilot, it could be the next anti-hero driven drama that these cable-TVs are currently so fond of ("Dexter", "Breaking Bad", etc). The prologue already established the notoriousness of lead Anthony Starr's character: Sheriff Lucas Hood/?unknown real name, but I doubt they can seriously keep up with the expensive CGI and action scenes here. Premise is effectively setup within this Pilot, supporting casts are quickly established: the sidekick, the ex/fellow con, the villains (2 of them here which is good), the potential love rival, the potential love interest, the paternity issues, the workplace conflict and the colourful tech-man (an Alan Ball signature a la True Blood'…

Gangster Squad

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An occasionally fun but mainly narratively incoherent mess that grossly under utilises the stars attached to it. A mish-mash mess of genres from neo-noir to crime heist to romance; at times it felt like 2 to 3 separate stories running together. The ridiculously suave Ryan Gosling and incredibly gorgeous Emma Stone are both wasted here with roles that are thankless and flat. Sean Penn basically chews every scene he is in, and Josh Brolin is a one-note hero. A lot of the blame can be pinpointed to the messy, incoherent script by Will Beall. Reuben Flesicher did a competent job directing with some good shots and effective use of slow-mo, but his pacing and framing can use more work. I don't think the Chinatown reshoot can be blamed for this but the gratuitous use of violence is really unnecessary. Classic case of great stars, poor script. LA Confidential was a way better depiction p Mickey Cohen and 40s LA Mob.

Silver Linings Playbook

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Another triumph by David O. Russell. An atypical black rom-com with a really strong core cast to carry and deliver the emotional heft as adapted by Russell from Michael Quick's novel. Dark comedic laughs peppered a heavier subplot of mental illnesses, familial love and support, and how two damaged souls can find redemption between each other. Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career, but amongst all the other heavyweights he's actually the weakest. His blue eyes played a more effective role here than their usual aesthetic purposes and helped to relay his character's confusion and hopelessness. However, he was not in character at all times, and sometimes he slipped. Other times he seemed more to be just shouting rather than manic. Nonetheless, well done Will Tippin! Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, is amazing. The film really got so much better when she was introduced. Her eyes convey so much more than Cooper's. She acts with her whole body and emotions …

MAD (Modern Asian Dining)

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New dining concept place at The Grandstand. Owned by Tung Lok and in collaboration with Dick Lee. Hence the name "MAD". And truly, the interior is eclectic as is the music (curated by Mr Lee) which I must admit is my kind of mood/60s/retro canto/English tunes (and any place that chooses Sia's "Breathe" has taste!). Downstairs is the cafe and bakery, upstairs is the restaurant and bar, and shop. At the restaurant, black walls and ceilings with disco lights and colourful accessories. The menu is presented on an iPad and orders are done by yourself and transmitted directly to the main server. Even when a dish is out of stock they will prompt you. Innovative. The menu itself is also eclectic. Dim sum (by Tung Lok which I never had a good impression of; standard selections), limited boring Tapas choices, paella and fried rice and hor fun, with back ribs and steaks. Truly something for somebody. The 腐皮卷 was crispy but a big too big to properly appreciate the prawns a…

Wreck It Ralph

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An entertaining kiddie animation that has some laughs for adults, tugs on the tear ducts and a slightly unexpected twist. It was just a tad too long. Other than a fun first third where we are introduced to the video game world and was quite a tickle to see these video game characters interact with each other "socially", the next two thirds was a bright, confectionary explosion of sweet, saccharine fun that was clearly targeted at children. Although some candy-naming laughs and an off kilter romance helped to ease the adult-audience's senses. Jane Lynch absolutely nailed her voice part and so did John C Reily. Reily's totally earnest everyday man's voice really helped to sell to emotional core of the story. I hope this is the future direction John Lasseter is bringing Disney animation towards. Oh don't miss the short animation at the start of the movie. "Paper man" is almost similar to the great Pixar shorts of all. Sweet love story without words but…

Killing Them Softly

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A stylish, arty neo-noir film that appears to be about the life of hitmen but is really more an allegorical representation of America and its economy, the economic crisis and Capitalism. And just in case you don't really get it, writer/director Andrew Dominik intersperse the film throughout with snippets of Bush and Obama's speeches and hammered it in with that wonderfully acted final scene. Dominik seemed to be artistically influenced by Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino and Nicholas Winding Refn, what with the slow-mo, shadowy lightings, wisps of smoke and grass-tinged songs underscoring dramatic scenes. Brad Pitt gave a finely nuanced performance that although not showy was captivating. Richard Jenkins is always nice to watch especially playing the nonchalant and resigned bureaucrat (the people?); James Gandolfini seemed like a washed-up version of his Soprano's Tony and his scenes tended to give a glimpse of normality to these crime men. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn …

Omakase Burger

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A new burger joint at The Grandstand (formerly known as Turf City) that has been getting raves from the general press (never absolutely trustworthy). So the good thing is that this place has free parking. Lots of it. The place itself is spacious and very nicely done up with really chi chi lights, open ceilings and wooden chairs. Burger selections was basic: cheeseburger and its variations (with bacons, onions, etc). You can have it double too if you want. Price was not cheap at about $13.50 for a basic "omakase" cheeseburger (itself a misnomer...nothing "omakase" about it at all). You can add bout $2 more to add fries and a soda. There are french fries, sweet potato fries, the ubiquitous truffles fries, cheese fries and onion rings to choose from. Sodas are served in fancy, pretentious 250ml old-time bottles with a Bodum glass. (note: it is less than a standard can). The wait for the burger was about 10 minutes, which was not too bad given it is made to order (supp…

Amour

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Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner is a fantastic, emotional and hauntingly beautiful depressing triumph. A horrific love story that was so harrowingly and nakedly presented that it touched the soul deep and raw. Utmost kudos and respect to Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant who without them, even with Haneke's superb script and directing, this movie would have been nothing. In particular, Riva was astounding! Her portrayal of Anne is so utterly convincing , I could feel her pain, her shame, her love her pride and her despair. Trintignant was brilliant in his stoic and ultimately desperate role. His paradoxical feelings of love translates through his face and actions (and inactions). Haneke chose no music and every scene was shot long and wide. The audience are forced to be part of the scene and the onscreen action, and not as an independent observer. This was underscored in the first scene and is crucial to the film's experiential success. As was the lack of a…