A visually stunning coming-of-age story

Starry Starry Night“Before letting go, hold on, as tight as you can.”

Starry Starry Night is an adaptation of the popular Taiwanese illustrated book of the same name by Jimmy Liao, and a rare Taiwan-China co production. Since I’ve never read the book, I can’t comment on how faithful it is and how it compares, but as a standalone film, Starry Starry Night is truly something special. Written and directed by Tom Lin, Starry Starry Night may not be perfect, but it strives for subtlety and realism, despite having many elements of fantasy in the mix. I also can’t stress enough how beautiful the film is to look at, and at the center of it all, there’s a sweet yet mature story about childhood and young love, working in unison to create a visually amazing coming-of-age film.

Mei (Xu Jiao), a 13 year old girl, used to live with her grandparents up in the mountains where the stars were most beautiful. After she was taken back to the city, she has been having a hard time both at home and at school. Her only escape is through her memory of those starry nights. One day, Mei meets new student Jay (Lin Hui-min), who seems more detached from the world than she is. Together they try to face their problems, but things only get worse when Mei’s parents announce their divorce and ask her to choose who to live with. Mei and Jay decide to run away from home to see the stars she missed so dearly.

From what I’ve been told, Liao’s book was aimed mainly towards children, and thus it never explored its characters and themes with depth. It’s always tricky adapting picture books as they’re usually quite short. Praise must go to Lin for being able to craft a screenplay with a lot of depth and heart. Comparisons between Starry Starry Night and Moonrise Kingdom are assured as both films deal with young love and childhood themes, along with similar storylines. I was one of the few movie-goers who thought Moonrise Kingdom was overrated. One of the main reasons I couldn’t connect with the latter film was that the lead characters never felt like real children – it was hard to relate to them. Luckily, Starry Starry Night doesn’t fall under this problem. Mei and Jay are easy to relate to, and their individual storylines are beautifully written – Mei has to deal with the death of her grandfather (which is established in a tear-jerking scene), and her parents are getting divorced, while Jay has had a traumatizing experience in the past.

Starry Starry Night aims for subtlety, which is something a lot of these kind of films don’t do. It never breaks the rule of film – “Show, not tell.” Under Lin’s skilled direction, the film explores themes of heartbreak and happiness with depth, but it never truly shoves it into the audiences’ face. That being said, there are a few monologues that work just as well, such as the final narration Mei makes towards the end of the film. Lin carefully structures this film from a child’s point of view, making Starry Starry Night a film that’s so easy to connect with, regardless of age and culture. Although some of the elements of the story are somewhat conventional, you’d have to be a complete cynic to feel the film tugging at the heartstrings.

There are so many things I love about Starry Starry Night, but the one thing that keeps me from deeming it a masterpiece is this – the ending. Without spoiling too much, I can tell you this. It ends on an ambiguous note, something like Inception. In some ways, it works well. It’s not a particularly bad ending, but I can see it not satisfying some audiences. I absolutely hated the way this film ended, and the all the scenes building up to it were superb. Did the film need a vague ending? In my opinion, no, it didn’t.

On a more positive note, the performances were top notch. Xu Jiao, who made her breakout performance playing the little boy in Stephen Chow’s CJ7, is fantastic as Mei. Xu essentially has to carry a lot of the film, as Lin’s screenplay actually focuses on her storyline the most, and she’s definitely able to. She’s cute, charming, and convincing in the role. As Jay, Lin Hui-min makes his impressive debut performance. While he isn’t perfect (there are moments of awkwardness), he has several moments to truly shine. Xu and Lin share a good amount of chemistry, resulting in a lovely and convincing friendship – the audience roots for them. In the supporting cast, René Liu and Harlem Yu are terrific as Mei’s parents, and Kenneth Tsang delivers are moving performance as her grandfather. There’s also a small cameo appearance by Gwei Lun-Mei.

On a technical aspect, Starry Starry Night is a masterpiece. Visually, it’s simply amazing. Cinematographer Jake Pollock (who shot one of my favourite Chinese films Wu Xia) is shaping up to being one of my favourite cinematographers working in China these days – his camerawork and lighting is out of this world. Every frame is ridiculously beautiful to look at. Another element of the film I haven’t really touched on is the imagination of Mei and Jay. This is where the visual effects are used in a very creative way. The VFX artists have done a splendid job of using this technology to capture the imagination of children, and uses it in a somewhat adorable way. This is where the fantasy genre finds its way into Starry Starry Night, and while it may not effect a lot of the story, it definitely adds a cute little charm to the film. Also worth mentioning is the gentle score by World’s End Girlfriend (yes, this is the stage name of the composer). Without the score, the film wouldn’t have been quite as moving – it’s a superb mix of charming mischievous tunes, adding to the depiction of childhood, and touching pieces that truly tug at the heartstrings. Art Director Pei-Ling Tsai must also be given praise – the sets and props all look fabulous.

Starry Starry Night was shot on a budget of $7 Million, but only grossed around $400 thousand. It’s such a shame that it never got noticed outside of Taiwan – it’s a gorgeous little film. There are so many themes and messages I could go on about, but then I’d be spoiling half of the movie for you. It’s not perfect, but it comes pretty close to being a masterpiece. It’s cute, it’s beautifully to look at, and it will no doubt move you to tears. Although it’s a family film, it has a true sense of maturity running through it. There’s a haunting quality about Starry Starry Night that will stay with you long after the film has finished – it really reminds you of your own childhood, and thus, it’s a film I instantly connected with.

8/10

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Met TheOddOne today…

I’m not the biggest League of Legends player at the moment, but at one point of my life, I always played the game. Today, I met one of the best LoL players ever – TheOddOne of Team Solomid. He was holding a Meet and Greet session over here in Melbourne, so I popped over there with a few friends. Was actually hoping I would take a photo with his girlfriend, Lamill, as J Chong is also a huge fan of hers. Totally would’ve made him jelly. Ah well, it was fun anyway – I managed to get a photo with The OddOne and I at least saw Lamill in person – she is gorgeous.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top 10 Films of 2012

Ah, it’s that time again where we count down the films that truly blew me away that were released during 2012. Now before I count down these movies, I must mention that I didn’t see every film that was released this year. As I live in Australia, really amazing films still haven’t been released this year, including Life of Pi and Django Unchained. Also, this is MY pick. It’s my opinion. If your list is not the same as mine, just remember that it doesn’t fucking matter. That’s your opinion, and that’s perfectly fine. So please, don’t throw a hissy fit in the comments if you find out that The Avengers didn’t end up on this list… Yep, that’s right. The Avengers was disappointing to me. Just learn to accept it.

Now with that out of the way, let’s get started on this list with number 10.

10

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a sensational drama, and one that I connected with from the get-go. Audiences who’ve experienced bullying and rejection or any kind of terrible experience during high school should be able to relate to this film. As a victim of bullying in high school, I could absolutely relate and understand the characters depicted in the film, and the performances were all top notch. Logan Lerman was sensational, and Ezra Miller stole every one of his scenes. Emma Watson also delivered a heart-breaking performance. This is a definite must see.

9

Chronicle

Chronicle (2012)

Chronicle is probably the best found-footage film I’ve seen since Cloverfield. It’s a completely fresh take on the genre, and what’s great is it’s not a horror film. This is a film about superpowers, and like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, deals with the hardship teenagers face including bullying and abuse. The camera itself becomes a plot device, which I absolutely love – it gives the character a reason to be constantly recording. The acting is great, and the climax… simply amazing.

8

Lawless

Lawless (2012)

Lawless is a brilliantly made period film. While most audiences will expect a big action film with a lot of shootouts, you really don’t get that. Still, that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to watch. Performances are all superb, particularly those of Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce, and the film is shot beautifully as well. It looks gorgeous. Chris Kennedy’s production design must also be mentioned as it truly takes you back to the time. This is a film you have to check out, particularly if you’re a history buff.

7

Argo

Argo (2012)

Argo is proof that Ben Affleck is one of Hollywood’s best directors working today. I mean, seriously, all his first three movies have been critically acclaimed. I’ve loved every film he’s made so far, including this of course. Affleck’s direction is great, and he knows how to get good performances from his actors. With a supporting cast including Bryan Cranston and John Goodman, there’s so much talent on screen. The final sequence of the film is absolutely nail-biting, and it shows you get tension and excitement in a film without using any guns or explosions.

6

End of Watch

End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch is a superb buddy cop movie. I’m a huge sucker for these films, and End of Watch presented a truly authentic and gritty to the genre. While there is a lot of humour that’s key to the buddy cop genre, the film is mainly more focused on the relationship between its central characters and the everyday dangers cops face. It’s essentially a look into the lives of those who protect our streets, with a touch of found footage. This aspect of the film is mainly used as a plot device, and while it doesn’t add a great deal to the film, it’s used well nonetheless. The two leads both share an amazing amount of chemistry, and the climax of the film is thrilling to watch.

5

Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)

This is a film with A LOT of haters. I personally loved the hell out of Prometheus when I saw it at IMAX. While the 3D was admittedly ordinary, the film was a brilliantly dark and mature sci-fi epic. It’s refreshing to finally see a more adult sci-fi film. This has shades of horror that truly resonate throughout the film, and there are truly memorable moments that must be seen. The special effects are superb, and the film is shot beautifully by one of my personal favourite cinematographers Dariusz Wolski. Ridley Scott is truly at home with the sci-fi genre, and he knows what he’s doing when working with this genre. Sure, there are plenty of unanswered questions that you can nitpick about, but there’s no denying this is a stunning film. Bring on a sequel, please.

4

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street (2012)

Everyone who knows me well will tell you that I LOVED the hell out of this film, as I constantly kept talking about it and reciting quotes from it. Yes, I loved 21 Jump Street. As an aspiring filmmaker, this is a prime example of the films that I’d love to make one day. Like I said earlier, I’m a sucker for buddy cop films. 21 Jump Street is a less serious take on the work of cops compared to End of Watch, but it doesn’t try to be gritty in any way. This is simply a good time at  the cinema, and the humour is gut-bustingly hilarious. Michael Bacall is shaping up to be one of my favourite screenwriters working in Hollywood, and Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum work tremendously well together. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this – it’s definitely one of my favourite comedies of all time.

3

Skyfall

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is one of the best Bond films ever made. While it may not be as good as Casino Royale, it came pretty close. Sam Mendes shows that he was a perfect choice for the film, as he clearly knows what he’s doing with the character – something that was terribly missed with the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Craig proves again he is without a doubt the best James Bond in years, and Javier Bardem is a truly sinister villain. Shot gorgeously by Roger Deakins, Skyfall is one of the most visually impressive films of 2012, and every action sequence is nothing short of amazing.

2

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is a ridiculously enjoyable fantasy adventure film. As a fanboy of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, An Unexpected Journey was a godsend – it’s truly pleasing that Jackson was chosen to helm this after Guillermo del Toro left the project in 2010. While it may not be as good as LOTR, it’s still a brilliant fantasy film. In all honesty, it would be silly to expect this to be on the same level as LOTR – that trilogy was dark and gritty, while The Hobbit is essentially completely different in tone. It’s mainly aimed at families much like the book was. There are moments in the film where I teared up, and the visuals are still sensational. Even if you haven’t seen any of the LOTR films, An Unexpected Journey is worth your money.

1

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

You probably could’ve predicted this would be the winner. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely, in my opinion, the best film of the year. Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his trilogy is a brilliant way to end the franchise. Though many say that The Dark Knight Rises is in no way better than its predecessor, I disagree, and I do think that this is the best of Nolan’s trilogy. Shot on IMAX cameras, the film is best experienced in an IMAX theater, and the action sequences do look extraordinary in that format. Hans Zimmer’s score is sensational, and all the performances are great. A personal favourite of mine was Anne Hathway as Selina Kyle, who was both ridiculously hot and badass in the role. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely a fanboy’s godsend. I personally believe this is the comic book movie of the year. While many believe The Avengers tops this, I have to disagree. The Avengers didn’t have the same effect on me that The Dark Knight Rises did. I even cried in it – it’s got emotion behind it, something I thought was sorely missing in The Avengers. But, that’s my own opinion. If you disagree with my list, please don’t throw a fit and rage in comments section. Go ahead and make your own list. On this list, The Dark Knight Rises is the film of 2012.

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God, I wish my parties were this fucked up…

“Dude, people are stealing shit, breaking shit. I mean people are probably stealing shit.”

Before watching Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X, I absolutely thought I was going to hate it. Everything about it just looked cliché, obnoxious, and just down-right stupid. Well, after seeing it, I can confirm that it ticks off on all the points I just mentioned. This film features characters we’ve all seen before, with some that are very unlikeable, and some truly silly moments – but that’s where all fun comes from. Yes, I had an extremely good time with Project X, and no one is more shocked than I am when I say that. This is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. There’s nothing deep, morally decent or witty about this comedy – all the humour comes from how insane the film becomes. Shot in the found-footage style of filmmaking, Project X made me wish the parties I went to were just as fucked up and insane.

Thomas (Thomas Mann) is celebrating his 18th birthday on the same weekend his parents go away for a wedding anniversary trip; he and his friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) decide to have a party in Thomas’ family home in suburban Pasadena. Invitations are sent out through social media, and the party soon spirals out of control.

Written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, Project X doesn’t spend any real time in making us care about its characters – like I said, there’s nothing deep here at all. Mainly, the film just builds up momentum, basically keeping us entertained with how insane Thomas’ party gets. I’ve taken a real liking to Michael Bacall lately, after his writing work on 21 Jump Street and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Bacall has a knack for really giving younger audiences what they want, and he does so perfectly here with co-write Drake. The character of Thomas can be related to by many audience members as he is basically depicted as a nerd and an ordinary guy. Any one who’s had to throw a party will notice similarities between them and Thomas, as he himself experiences certain feelings that most of us have dealt with. For example, stressing out if anyone will show up at the party, and trying to keep everything under control.

On the down side, there are moments in the film where you can tell that the film is so obviously scripted. The found-footage style should give the film the illusion of realism, but there are so many sub-plots that go against this. The character of Costa in particular is so unlikeable, and he’s a basic rip-off of Stifler from the American Pie franchise. A certain key sub-plot in the film revolves around Thomas and his friend Kirby, who has a crush on him. However Thomas fancies popular girl Alexis, and thus, this causes tension between the three characters. We all know where this is going, and clichés like this just shatter the whole realistic angle of the film. Along with that, the ending just doesn’t give off any real consequence for any of the characters’ actions. Yes, the film isn’t supposed to be morally correct, but selling the idea that one can just throw a cataclysmic party and get away with it just seems a bit silly to me.

The three lead actors are actually quite good in their roles. Thomas Mann is naturalistic in his line delivery, and definitely slips into his teenager character with ease. Oliver Cooper plays the stereotypical obnoxious friend, but he does it well. Likewise, Jonathan Daniel Brown is the cliché fat character, but like Cooper, he pulls it off and makes us believe that he’s a real person. The great thing is that all the actors here are young, and thus they’ve experienced many things these characters are going through. All the extras definitely give off the vibe that they’re having a great time, and they were even allowed to record moments during production on their phones, allowing Nourizadeh to have a ton of footage to work with.

At the end of the day, Project X just wants to have fun with its audience. The best part is that everything is so over-the-top that you just tend to forget about all the atrocities and go along for the ride. Thomas’ party just gets so out of control, and that’s the real fun of it. None of the humour is in the dialogue – it’s the events that make you laugh. I won’t say this is the most hilarious film I’ve seen all year, but I definitely enjoyed the sheer amount of chaos that erupted at the party. Like I said earlier, the filmmakers had so much footage to work with, and they make excellent use of it. Edited by Jeff Groth, the film uses News footage shot from a helicopter, security cameras, and camera phones. All this is mashed up together perfectly, and there are a few montages that just add to the fun of the film. It is a bit strange to see a montage in a found-footage film, but let’s face it – a montage with perfectly licensed music is a staple in any party film. Speaking of music, the soundtrack was terrific and definitely gives the film a real youthful energy. Also, I liked the fact that the film really embraced its R rating – there’s constant references to booze and drugs, a lot of nudity, and a ton of swearing.

Overall, I enjoyed the living hell out of this film. I know it’s not for everyone, and if you don’t like films like this, then stay away. Project X is targeted for those who can really ignore all flaws and just enjoy the ride. There’s stopping how insane the film gets, particularly during the climax. If you’re expecting witty humour and deep messages, you are a total idiot. However, if you’re looking for an insanely fucked-up time at the movies, look no further than Project X.

7/10

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An epic finale to a perfect superhero trilogy.

https://i1.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3749842/140full.jpg“You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

After Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman film franchise with his 2005 film Batman Begins, he’s had nothing but praise from movie-goers and has built an enormous fanbase. Nolan established a dark, gritty, pessimistic, and even scary tone to his Batman films, and after the release of his amazing sequel, The Dark Knight, it was clear that his dark style worked so well with the character of Batman. Now, Nolan plans to finish off his trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. There’s been a lot of hype behind this conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy – it’s definitely the most anticipated film of 2012. The question on every movie-goers mind is whether or not this will be anywhere as good as The Dark Knight. The latter had one thing that made it so successful – Heath Ledger as The Joker, who is without a doubt an amazing villain. Due to Ledger’s death, the character of The Joker could not make an appearance, and there’s a lot of speculation to whether The Dark Knight Rises can deliver on the sheer complexity that made the previous film such a masterpiece. However, in my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises is nothing like the two previous films in Nolan’s trilogy, and it’s still an amazingly epic finale to an absolutely perfect superhero trilogy. Fuck The Avengers, this is how a superhero movie is done.

It has been eight years since Batman a.k.a Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of cunning cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who hides a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.

Written by Nolan and his brother Jonathon, the screenplay will mostly bother those who thought very highly of The Dark Knight, as it is no where near as deep as the latter. The Dark Knight had a truly complex structure, thought-provoking themes, and an amazing villain, all of which doesn’t register quite as well as The Dark Knight Rises. Although it doesn’t reach the same level as complexity as the previous film, the film still has an interesting story to engage, and it is a smart film. Hell, it’s a lot smarter than another superhero movie released earlier this year (The Avengers, anyone?). What makes The Dark Knight Rises so different from all the other films of Nolan’s trilogy is that so much of the focus is centered on Bruce Wayne. We don’t actually see a great deal of the other key characters in the Batman story, such as Alfred, Gordon, and Lucius, and this will bother some movie-goers. To be honest, the film acts slightly like a character study of Wayne, and outlines his rise to his original status as the hero of Gotham. The film spends a lot of time developing Wayne’s character, but rarely does so with those in support. However, there’s some truly moving moments between Alfred and Wayne that push their relationship to places we’ve never seen before, but still, it could’ve been developed a lot more. Like I said, The Dark Knight Rises is mainly interested in developing Wayne’s character, and although there is a sag in the middle of the film (this is still a key part of Wayne’s development), Nolan and his brother have done a solid job of constructing a journey for Bruce Wayne’s rise.

The new characters to the mix are all beautifully established and characterised by Nolan. There’s been a huge amount of speculation behind the character of Bane, as The Joker was such a brilliant nemesis for Batman. Truth be told, bane doesn’t stand up to The Joker in any way. The Joker offered complexity to The Dark Knight, and while Bane is an intellectual character, The Joker’s character was really what made the previous film so amazing. Still, Bane is an effective villain regardless of whether he’s any better than The Joker. What works so well about Bane is his physique – he truly is a threatening character. The amount of necks and faces he breaks in the film is endless, and by the half-way mark of the running time, it’s clear that anyone crosses Bane’s path is dead. He’s also a worthy adversary for Batman, both with the brains and physique. He’s just as cunning as Batman is, but has the sheer brute strength to destroy Batman in a heartbeat, and I think this made for some brilliant tension due to Batman’s absence from crime fighting – can he still fight like he used to is the question.

Another new addition to the endless list of characters is Catwoman, a.k.a Selina Kyle. Having never seen any other portrayals of this character outside the comic books, I have nothing to compare Nolan’s take on the character to, but hell, I thought he did Catwoman justice. This isn’t a slutty, bitchy Catwoman that I’ve heard was present in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. She was established so well to the audience, and was shown to not be a cold, soulless criminal, but an actual damaged human being. Catwoman’s dialogue is also flawlessly written by Nolan, and it captures that seductive and slick nature of her character beautifully. Also, the banter between her and Batman is gold, with Batman’s serious and rough attitude colliding with her own flexible and care-free personality. I was on the fence about the other new female character to the cast, Miranda Tate, as I felt that she had nothing to do and was there just to be a love interest for Wayne, but her character plays a big part in the climax of the film, and that definitely gave the film a nice edge.

Christian Bale returns to the role of Batman with ease. He’s pretty much got the role down perfectly, and since this is by far Bruce Wayne’s most difficult ordeal seen in Nolan’s trilogy, he really brings a strong determination to his performance that makes the struggle of Wayne all the more convincing. Tom Hardy, meanwhile, is terrific as Bane. There’s no point in comparing him to Heath Ledger as Bane and The Joker are two extremely different characters. Hardy pulled off Bane well, and while his face is covered by a mask the whole time, his eyes express much of the emotions for him. If there’s one thing Hardy does well, it’s delivering a threatening performance, and with his physical size and the intensity he emits in his eyes, he makes for one hell of a fierce villain. However, in my opinion, Anne Hathaway steals the show as Selina Kyle. She did everything perfectly right in this role – she’s sexy, she’s funny, she’s smart. There was so much speculation on whether or not she was the right choice for the character of Catwoman, but hell, she delivered an amazing performance. Selina Kyle in the film was never really characterised as a true criminal, and Hathaway managed to pull off a sly and seductive performance, while still radiating humanity and heroism beautifully. Also, she works really well with Bale, making for some hilarious moments between Catwoman and Batman. Michael Caine, meanwhile, may not have a great deal of screen-time, but he pulls off a tear-jerking performance as Alfred. The other veterans of the cast, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, may have little screen-time like Caine, but they’re always good value. Another new addition to the cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a small-time cop who strongly believes in justice. He’s fantastic in the role, and gives off an admirable screen presence.

The spectacle may very well be the strongest point of the film. Even Nolan himself has stated that this is the biggest film he’s ever had to direct, and it shows. All the set-pieces are massively constructed and staged, with thousands of real extras and superb special effects. It’s a shame I never saw this film in IMAX (although I did see the six minute prologue behind Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in IMAX) because everything was so spectacularly staged and shot. If there’s one thing The Dark Knight Rises does better than its predecessor, it’s with the action. One of the main issues I had with the previous two films in Nolan’s trilogy is that the fight sequences were so poorly put together. In Batman Begins, they were edited and shot poorly to the point where you couldn’t really tell what was going on half the time, and in The Dark Knight, Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister opted for a handheld style of camera movement, which in my opinion, made the fight scenes look plain. In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan and Pfister have definitely improved on shooting their fight sequences, using a lot more dolly shots for smoother movement. The editing by Lee Smith is also perfect. A highlight of the film is first confrontation between Batman and Bane, which results in a magnificent fight sequence between the two. There are also a few chase sequences which are, as always, brilliantly staged by Nolan. He’s no stranger to perfect car chase sequences (the car chases in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are some of the best I’ve ever seen), and with the addition of the Batwing, the chase sequences in The Dark Knight Rises still bring freshness and excitement to the film. Hans Zimmer’s score is way above average, and I’ll definitely be picking it up as soon as possible – the way it flows with the action and dialogue is just flawless. Lastly, I have to mention the production design. Like with The Dark Knight, there are sets built to be blown up – with The dark Knight Rises, it’s a spectacular sequence set in football stadium where the field blows up. All the sets are sensational, with update of the Batcave and the look of Gotham towards the end of the film when things go to ruin. Also, the costumes are fantastic. Bane’s mask is well-designed, emitting a threatening look, and Catwoman’s leather suit… I’ll be honest, it’s amazing, and Hathaway slips it on like a goddamn champ.

“See, I’m a man of simple tastes. I enjoy” explosions, lots of action, and… hot girls! “And you know the thing they have in common? They’re” all abundant in The Dark Knight Rises. I personally think this is my favourite of Nolan’s trilogy. Sure, it doesn’t have the complexity of The Dark Knight, but I really want to avoid comparing it to the latter. There’s something truly different about this finale, and I still think it delivers on the ‘epicness’ that is so crucial to a conclusion of a franchise as successful as this. When the end credits role, you do feel a bit sentimental as this is the last film in Nolan’s trilogy, although a reboot has been confirmed (Nolan is attached as producer and writer). I will definitely be seeing this again in IMAX. This is one of the best films of 2012, and probably, in my opinion, the best comic book movie ever made. I love this film. If you were let down by The Avengers like I was, this is the film for you.

10/10

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Haters be damned – I loved this movie.

https://i1.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3663214/140full.jpg“You found my weakness! It’s small knives!”

I’m gonna get hell for this – I was rather disappointed with The Avengers earlier this year. Although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was expecting it to be the best Marvel movie I’d ever seen. My favourite Marvel film so far is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, which is truly spectacular in my opinion. I love the character of Spider-Man. He’s my favourite superhero of the Marvel franchise, and when I found out they were rebooting the series so soon after the first Spider-Man, which was released in 2002, I was one of the few who didn’t mind the idea. Sure, it’s only been 10 years since the first Sam Raimi movie, but after the disappointing Spider-Man 3, that series had run out of its original charm, and thus a fourth sequel would just make it worse. Directed by Marc Webb, who previously made one of my favourite movies, (500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man is a decidedly more darker take on the character than we’re used to, and as a reboot, it offers a slightly different origin story. There are many similarities between Raimi’s Spider-Man and Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man in the scripting department, but I can’t stress enough how enjoyable this film is – there are elements here are that absolutely perfect in my opinion.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), a high school student, has lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) since his mother and his scientist father abruptly abandoned him as a child. Peter discovers a briefcase containing secret documents of a scientific theory his dad was working on, and during a visit to OsCorp, the facility run by Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner, he’s bitten by a spider – as a result he starts to become immensely strong, impressing Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the schoolgirl on whom he has a crush. When Uncle Ben is shot by a gunman, Peter takes one step further to becoming Spider-Man.

Written by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy), and Steve Kloves (Harry Potter franchise), the screenplay has its ups and downs. These three screenwriters are all extremely experienced, so it is a shame that this script isn’t entirely flawless. Many movie-goers have criticised the film’s first half, which basically outlines Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man, for basically revisiting much of the original Spider-Man. This didn’t particularly bother me, as I did think the dark tone was a lot more different than Raimi’s original film. However, there are sub-plots that were handled a lot better in the original Spider-Man. For example, the death of Uncle Ben – there’s a sense of sheer guilt and tragedy in the way Raimi handled this moment in the film. Webb and his team of writers, however, rushed through this moving part of the story, and thus, it just doesn’t make much of an impact – there’s no guilt, and nothing about it registers as truly moving. However, Uncle Ben’s character was established perfectly, although I can’t say the same for Aunt May. The death of Uncle Ben leads Peter to take on the role of Spider-Man and find his uncle’s killer, which is well established to the audience, but as soon as the film moves to the second half, his motivation suddenly disappears, and this quest to find the killer of his uncle is never mentioned again. It’s a real shame there are flaws like this in the script considering how great these writers are. On the other hand, they nailed the personality of Spider-Man perfectly – the moments with the superhero wise-cracking and acting like a smart ass are the best parts of the film in my opinion, and Spidey’s dialogue is simply hilarious.

On the plus side, the romance is infinitely better than that of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The reason why I never really got into the whole love story in the original Spider-Man films was the character of Mary Jane. I just hated the girl – I thought she was simply a bitch. Gwen Stacy on the other hand is so much more likeable. She’s cute, she’s smart, and she’s nice as well. The character of Gwen was introduced in Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, but that take on the character just didn’t resonate well. In the comics, Gwen was basically an innocent damsel-in-distress. Webb and his writers nailed this personality of her character, and I absolutely found the romance between her and Peter adorable. While it could’ve been slightly improved on the intensity of their relationship, I still prefer the love story introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man than Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.

The villain is a slight disappointment. Dr Curt Connors is the baddie of the flick – he transforms into a giant reptile known as The Lizard after experimenting on himself. The sheer monstrosity of the villain is effective, but the human side of Connors is hardly explored at all. There could’ve been some exploration into the relationship between Connors and Peter’s father, and this just makes him feel rather shallow. The Green Goblin of Spider-Man had two great sides to him, with a human living in fear, and the alter ego of a menacing villain. It’s a shame this couldn’t translate to The Lizard, although again, he does make for a fresh nemesis in the Spider-Man film universe – we’ve never seen a villain quite like this.

The cast is maybe the film’s biggest plus – everyone is so well-cast. Andrew Garfield, in my opinion, makes for a superior Spider-Man in comparison with Tobey Maguire’s. Maguire was fine in the role, but I feel that Garfield has a lot more range, and also handles the wise-cracking attitude of Spider-Man perfectly. Emma Stone is absolutely adorable as Gwen Stacy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like Stone – she just has such a likeable screen presence that works in whatever role she’s cast in. Also, she shares a great amount of chemistry with Garfield, resulting in some truly lovely romantic moments between the two actors. Dennis Leary is magnificent as Gwen’s father, who is also the chief of police. Leary manages to adopt both a humourous and threatening tone to his performance, and it works wonders. Rhys Ifans brings class to Dr Curt Connors, and handles the transformation into The Lizard with skill. Martin Sheen is pitch perfect as Uncle Ben, but Sally Field doesn’t have a great deal to do as Aunt May. Her character pretty much disappears during the second half of the movie.

Shot natively in 3D, The Amazing Spider-Man looks amazing There’s a rich dark vibe at work here, and Webb uses the 3D technology in very creative ways. This is one of the best 3D movies of the year so far, and it just shows what you can do with the format in terms of action. The visual effects are simply mind-blowing, complete and convincing, and every action set-piece utilises these effects well, with visceral use of sound. The creation of The Lizard is also quite impressive, as Webb and his crew used motion capture technology to bring the villain to life. The Spider-Man costume is actually pretty excellent, and I’m glad they at least tried to make it different. Also, the web shooters are a nice addition, as it both stays true to the comics and gives the film a sense of tension – what if he runs out of web fluid? Edited masterfully, you can always tell what is happening during the action scenes, and surprisingly enough, they’re very fast paced. This is thanks to the great visual effects and the newly improved Spider-Man, who cracks jokes at almost every moment he can. James Horner’s score may not be as memorable as Danny Elfman’s music for Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but it captures that heroic tone that is necessary for any comic book movie like this.

Hate me for it, but I loved The Amazing Spider-Man. Hell, I loved it more than The Avengers. It may have huge flaws, but it’s not as if Sam Raimi’s trilogy was flawless. Marc Webb has done a spectacular job with this much darker reboot of Spider-Man, and he is served well by his excellent cast and crew. Although this isn’t better than Spider-Man 2, I have hopes for the sequel, as the post-credits scene hints that there is more to come from this reboot. Let’s hope that Spider-Man 2 can finally be dethroned from my number one spot.

8/10

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Delivers on what it promises.

https://i1.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/2784244/140full.jpg“You think you’re the only guy with a fucking gun?”

Critics and audiences alike have slammed Contraband for its unoriginality and the so-called ‘convoluted plot’. I personally loved the film. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, Contraband is based on the Icelandic film, Reykjavík-Rotterdam, which Kormákur starred in. This is a visceral thriller jam-packed with nail biting set pieces. It is understandable to call this just another generic Mark Wahlberg movie, but this is well-above the standard offerings from Marky-Mark. Maybe I’m being a bit generous with my praise. This isn’t a perfect film by any means, but there’s nothing obnoxious about the way it’s been made. Contraband was marketed as a gritty and suspenseful thriller, and on this part, it certainly delivers.

Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), a former world-class smuggler, has retired to the suburbs to go straight for the sake of his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and kids. When Kate’s younger brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) dumps a load of cocaine overboard during a customs raid, drug boss Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) is not a happy man. He wants compensation, nearly a million dollars worth and the only way to get that sort of money is one last smuggling effort from Chris. Things, however, don’t go to plan when the job comes to action.

Having never seen the original film, I can’t really compare it to anything. Like all films of this kind of style, Contraband is basically about a job gone wrong. From Inception to The Town – this style of storytelling is thrilling to witness. As Chris and his team put their plan into action, things just go wrong at every turn. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski can’t be targeted for being ‘unoriginal’ as this is the classic set up for heist thrillers. Also, the plot is well structured – I have no idea why people keep saying it’s convoluted. The film is filled with twists and turns, with the risks and urgency of the job constantly raised, keeping the audience engaged. The dialogue captures the context of the film perfectly, and the film also breaks its gritty tone with some humour – and it actually works! I laughed out loud a couple of times through the film.

Flaws are few but I’ll have to name them since this is a review. First off is the character of Kate, who doesn’t have a great deal to do. For most of the film, she is often characterised as a damsel in distress. She’s extremely vulnerable without the aid of Chris, and it’s really up to him to fix her brother’s issue. Still, although vulnerable, her character has a feisty and strong-willed attitude that at least keeps her interesting. She’s a realistic and it’s easy to relate with her, and thus you end up caring for the woman. Also, the relationship between Chris and his father, which is established before the heist begins, never really resonates effectively.

Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to tough guy roles like this, and while he seems to be making an entry into the comedy genre just recently with Ted, there’s no denying he plays these kinds of characters well. He’s a competent as Chris, and carries much of the movie terrifically. Kate Beckinsale looks gorgeous as always, and delivers a convincing performance as Chris’ wife. Ben Foster is undeniably subtle and cool as Chris’ best friend Sebastian, but one who lacks that kind of subtlety is Giovanni Ribisi. He is absolutely over-the-top in the role of Tim Briggs, and while many would say that’s a negative, I quite liked the tone he decided to take. He’s not subtle in any way, but it’s so much fun to watch him perform like he’s on drugs. Some of his line delivery is also mildly amusing.

What shocked me most is that Contraband only had a budget of $25 Million. I’ve seen films with double that for a budget, and they always end up being shockingly bad. Contraband is amazingly well put together. The editing of all the spectacular shots is masterful, and this combination comes into play terrifically in the nail-biting heist sequences, all expertly staged by Kormákur. A highlight of the film is a spectacular shootout in the streets of Panema. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is no stranger to handheld camerawork, and although I’ve dreaded it films like The Hurt Locker, it comes to effect brilliantly in Contraband. The gritty and dangerous feel of the locations are captured well through the shaky-cam, and Clinton Shorter’s score adds to this.

Overall, Contraband is a brilliantly thrilling film. It’s easy to criticise the plot, but there’s nothing too mindless about it. There are plenty of unexpected plot developments, and every single action sequence is thoroughly entertaining. In a year full of mindless action movies that just have eye candy to offer, it’s refreshing to watch a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Yes, I loved Contraband. Don’t hate me for it.

8/10

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The ‘fairer’ Snow White film of the year.

https://i2.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3624717/140full.jpg“I shall give this wretched world the queen it deserves.”

2012 has featured the release of two live-action adaptations of the Grimms fairytale, with Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror and Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman. I rather hated the hell out of Mirror Mirror due to it’s ridiculously cheesy approach to the fairytale. Snow White and the Huntsman is the complete opposite to that film – this is a dark, gritty, and even violent re-imagining of the beloved tale. The verdict is in – Snow White and the Huntsman is far more superior film to Mirror Mirror. This the first feature film from commercials director Rupert Sanders, and he’s handled this big budget blockbuster with technique and skill. The most notable change to the original story is the character of the Huntsman – he’s given a bigger part in this film. There are many things one could nitpick about, particularly with the screenplay, but Snow White and the Huntsman manages to grab your interest from the get-go, and it is without a doubt, the fairer Snow White adaptation of the year.

Snow White, the young princess of Tabor, is imprisoned in a tower after her father’s kingdom is overthrown by the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Years later, Snow White (played by Kristen Stewart) escapes her prison just as Ravenna, who is now queen, learns from her Magic Mirror that Snow White’s heart is the source for her immortality. Evading capture from the queen’s guards, Snow White escapes into the dark forest, a place where no-one comes out alive. The Evil Queen enlists the help of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to capture Snow White. However, the Huntsman ends up siding with the fugitive when he comes face to face with her, and the two set out to overthrow Ravenna. Meanwhile, Snow White’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin) sets out to find her after he learns that she is alive.

Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, the screenplay is riveting for the most of the film. Like I said earlier, this is a hugely different re-imagining of Snow White than we’re used to. The writers really embraced the grit, and threw in all kinds of dark and spooky elements. The queen in particular is beautifully characterised villain. You get the sense that this evil queen was actually a human being at one point, and now she’s a complete monster. This is achieved through actual establishment of the character – we see flashbacks from her past, and the relationship with her evil brother (played by Sam Spruell) is also established well. Snow White also has been written well, though this is a totally different Snow White to the one we’re used to. In the film, she’s a ‘chosen one’ type character – throughout the land, many believe she is destined to overthrow the queen. What’s terrific is you actually get a feel that Snow White and Ravenna were complete opposites – they were true rivals who had to fight at the end no matter what. Last but not least, the Huntsman is a terrific love interest – it’s a nice twist on the classic tale.

This brings me to the flaws of the screenplay – the love triangle. The inclusion of the character William was a truly unnecessary decision. He got in the way of the developing the relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman – to be honest, their relationship could’ve been stretched out a lot more. There also doesn’t seem to be any purpose for the love triangle. There’s no conflict between William and the Huntsman, and William himself isn’t the most interesting of characters – he’s actually the most insipid of the film. Another qualm I had with Snow White and the Huntsman is the pacing, particularly around the middle act of the film as Snow White and her companion are evading capture from the Queen’s men. It felt tedious around this part in the film – nothing seems to happen, and the plot doesn’t go anywhere. The queen is also off-screen for far too long. Still, the story kicks right in once we see a surprisingly effective twist on the poisonous apple and the spell-breaking kiss. The introduction of the dwarves also livens up the mood of the film, as they’re pretty much the only source of humour. These characters are simply hilarious, and again, the writers added a nice gritty attitude to the characterisation of them – they’re not the most pleasant of dwarves.

I think it’s a no-brainer when I say this – Charlize Theron stole the show. She was hot as always, but she really brought the villainy to this role. Theron has so much range, and I’m still waiting for the day where she delivers a bad performance. Like all good actors, Theron works with the script to make sure her character has depth and is convincing, and through her, we can see the humanity Ravenna once had. This is the first time in a while where she’s played a truly evil villain, but she pulls it off with so much skill. If there’s one thing that can carry a film, it’s a good villain, and she definitely delivered on her part. While all the other actors are almost always upstaged by Theron, they still bring solid performances to the film. Kristen Stewart gets a lot of hate for her role in the Twilight films. I personally am a fan, and while she struggles with her accent from time to time, Stewart delivered the vulnerability and fierceness of her character beautifully. Chris Hemsworth is also good value as the Huntsman, showing that he can deliver great performances outside the Marvel films. His Scottish accent was also perfect, and suited the gritty tone of his character. The dwarves were all sensational, played by well-known British performers such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost. All deliver a solid performances of their mischievous characters. Sam Claflin did get on my nerves from time to time as William – he just doesn’t seem to be trying. Maybe it was his character, but so far, nothing he’s done has been that amazing. Remember Pirates 4?)

On the technical side, Snow White and the Huntsman is a masterpiece. This film is absolutely riveting when it comes to the visuals. With superb creature design, the visual effects used to create all the mythical creatures is amazing. There are trolls, trees that turn snakes, and at one point in the film, the characters stumble upon a beautiful garden called Sanctuary – the visuals alone in this location make it a joyous watch. With luscious cinematography by Greig Fraser, this is definitely one of the most visually stunning films of the year so far. Sanders also uses his visual effects creatively when it comes to the Evil Queen. She transforms into a flock of ravens, engulfs herself in flames, bathes herself in a white liquid – all the effects done with the Queen always have a great combination of spooky and exhilarating. What’s also mind-blowing is the make-up done on Theron – throughout the film, the Queen actually grows older, and it’s a really cool effect. The production design is top rate, and again, all is shot beautifully by Fraser. Sanders shows that he has an eye for beauty – Snow White and the Huntsman always manages to impress on this aspect. What really surprised me is how much action there is in the film. There are a lot of action sequences here, and although some are quite short, the spectacle of them is magnificent. Sanders stages some really exciting set-pieces, particularly the climatic raid on the evil Queen’s castle, and all this is assisted by James Newton Howard’s epic score. The costumes by Colleen Atwood are worthy of an Oscar, with Snow White’s armour she wears at the climax being huge favourite of mine – Stewart looks like a total badass when she dons it.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a must-see in my opinion, and it’s a promising debut from Sanders. With a standout performance from Charlize Theron, who may prove to be the best villain of year, and a beautiful visual style, this re-imagining delivers, and you’re better off seeing this than Mirror Mirror. What I find extremely strange is a sequel is already being planned – what could they continue on with? Something tells me the love triangle will have more of a place in the sequel, but if it ends up like Twilight… oh dear.

8/10

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Cause havoc, Just Cause 2

The Just Cause series made its first debut in 2006, long awaited and over hyped, Just Cause 2 came out in 2010. Developers trying to make the      expectations that furious fans had for the game. Edios this time have made the fans even more happy. Living up to the long awaited 3rd person open  world shooter.With many more content compared to first one, but some of my favorite features are taken out. Just Cause 2, powered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0 is a truly stunning game, with amazing detail to the massive world, wherever you go.

This time you return as Rico Rodriguez, on the fictional Asian island of Panua. As Rico, you are armed with cars, planes, helicopters, guns and a new “Grappling Hook” that you can use in almost any situation, whether it is hijacking a plane, or simply towing an enemy, you would master the use of it and might find it more useful than a machine gun. Panua is a truly amazing environment. From tropical islands to the arid desert. The world will keep you exploring for ages.

The graphics in Just Cause 2 is AMAZING, you can’t tell it was made in ’10 because its graphics can be better than some games that are being released right now. One thing that truly amazed me was the water in Just Cause 2, the tropical water looks very good in the sun light and has a strong tropical color to it. But, with high graphics comes with a high price for PC. Most gamers would need a mid to high end computer to run this game. But of course, rest a sure, this games still looks fantastic on the Xbox 360 and the PS3. The physics is also an important part of the game. Just Cause 2 uses the Havok physic engine. Although this isn’t the best physic engine out there, it still does a good job showing all the effects. Sometimes it might feel a bit weird and your character might slip and slide on mountains or just the ground.

So whats the gameplay like? Its awesome. To progress further into the game you must cause havoc on government property, like military bases. The more havoc you cause, the more money you get and you progress further into the game. Trying to find a rogue American Spy. To your disposal is a black market feature, you can use it to call in vehicle, weapons and tell it to extract you to a location wherever you like. However, unlike the first Just Cause, you can no longer call in air strikes. A feature that I dearly miss. Somethings boats and planes seem unresponsive and take a master to handle them.

Overall, Just Cause 2 is an amazing game, both by graphics and by gameplay. If you have time you should definitely give this game a shot. It would keep you occupied for at least 12 hours or more. To rate this game, I would give it an 8.5 out of 10. Only losing some marks because of small bugs inside the physic engines and other small minor in game issues. But these small things will cancel out when you see the scale of the game.

J Chong

Happy Gaming

🙂

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