Thursday, October 20, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl Post 5: Russian Food at Cinderella Bakery in Richmond

The only Russian dish I have ever had in my life was beef stroganoff, which my late uncle used to make on occasion. I was actually in Australia when Australian MP John Murphy actually complained about the small portion of beef stroganoff his wife was served in the parliamentary cafetaria during a Parliament session. He was subsequently forced to apologize after being criticized for using the House of Representatives as a platform to lodge his complaint. I am pretty sure that the news barely made a blip around the world, but the Australian media actually had a field day with it.

My best friend and I decided on Cinderella Cafe because it seemed the most affordable option in San Francisco for Russian food. We figured that with lower menu prices, we would be able to try more Russian dishes between the two of us.

Cinderella Cafe is located on Richmond in the heart of Little Russia in San Francisco and is staffed by friendly Russian servers. I ordered the golubtsy with a side of buckwheat kasha and blinchiki with sweet cheese filling for dessert while my friend ordered the borscht soup and pelmeni.

The food did not take long to arrive. Golubtsy is a cabbage roll dish stuffed with rice and meat served with a tomato vegetable sauce and blinchiki is a thin Russian pancake akin to French crepe. The blinchiki was served with a side of raspberry jam and sour cream. They were both delicious.



I have always hated beets all my life. I feel like they taste like dirt and can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would voluntarily eat them. My best friend had no such qualms. I was prepared to hate the borscht soup, which is basically beet soup, but found myself loving the hearty taste. It wasn't until later that I realize that the soup actually had a tomato base rather than a beet one, which might explained why I actually like it despite the fact that it contains beets.

Borscht soup


Her pelmeni was a meat-filled dumpling that came in a clear broth and it was served with sour cream on the side. Sour cream seems to be the cream of choice with Russians. The pelmeni was reminiscent of Chinese food, akin to Chinese dumplings, which shouldn't actually be all that surprising considering that Russia and China are neighbors.

As far as I can tell, the Russian food here is authentic and very affordable. Since then I have dragged another friend there to try the baked goods here. My best friend and I hope to come back one day to try the other Russian dishes we didn't get a chance to partake during our first dining experience here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl Post 4: Afghanistan Food at De Afghanan Kabob House in the Tenderloin

De Afghanan Kabob House. Little niche tucked between two other buildings.

Some nice Afghan-themed artwork on the wall, which is painted a deep red.

Combination Kebab


It is one thing to decide that you are going to do a San Francisco exotic food crawl. It is quite another thing to try to decide where to even begin. There are literally hundreds of cuisines that my best friend and I had never tried before! Where to even start? One day while I was on the San Francisco State University campus, I spontaneously decided that we would try the exotic cuisine of the first friend I see. Of course that friend turned out to be of Afghan descent.

And that was how we ended up having Afghan food. I asked her and another Afghan friend for dish recommendations. Armed with said dish recommendations, I began Yelping for Afghan restaurants in San Francisco. I decided on De Afghanan Kabob House because it looked to be the most authentic Afghan restaurant in San Francisco.

The restaurant is rather a small one, tucked between two other buildings and right across the street from Tommy's Joynt. The walls are painted a warm shade of red and there are interesting Afghan-inspired pastoral paintings decorating the wall.

The complimentary bread we got, which was lightly brushed with some sort of oil, was delicious. We ordered the manti as our appetizer because one of my other Afghan friend recommended it. It looked like Italian ravioli and frankly tasted like Italian ravioli.

We also ordered the combination platter to be shared between the two of us. It came with three kinds of meats, a minced beef patty, tandoori chicken, which tasted like Indian tandoori chicken, and a beef kebab. It also came with two different kinds of basmati rice, one white and one yellow. Honestly I couldn't really tell the difference in taste between the two, but both rices were very fragrant and nicely flavored. In Afghanistan, rice is considered the king of the meal and special care and attention is always taken in cooking it. The dish also came with a side of salsa and salad which felt slightly out of place but provided a nice spicy punch to the meal.

Overall, we were very satisfied with our meal; I have gone back there once more with my partner in food and another time with my visiting relatives. The food was consistently good both times. I would really highly recommend this restaurant if you are interested in trying out some Afghanistan food.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl Post 3: Shawarma from SF Wraps on Kearny Street

Cross-section of a shawarma


To be honest with you, the only reason I was even remotely interested to try shawarma was because of The Avenger's after-credit scene where they go have shawarma at a still functioning shawarma joint after saving New York City.

So it made sense that it would be the second food item I wanted to try on our San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl. We decided on SF Wraps on Kearny Street because it was close to the movie theater where we were going to catch a screening of Chef. You can check my review of the movie here.

After the movie, we were famished, and headed over to SF wraps to get the aforementioned shawarma. I was disappointed upon checking out the menu to find out that the ingredients for shawarma at this restaurant were hardly any different from their ingredients for gyro, which I've had before.

Shawarma is a Levantine Arab dish consisting of meat wrapped in a piece of pita bread (a kind of Arabic/Mediterranean unleavened bread). I suppose you can call shawarma the Arabic version of a Mexican burrito. I am sure the Arabic world in turn refers to burritos as the Mexican version of shawarma or some such. Such is the way humans think when we try something new; we use a familiar frame of reference to make sense of the unfamiliar. Shawarma is very similar to the Mediterranean gyro. In fact, both the words "shawarma" and "gyro" refers to the way the meat is cooked, rotated on a spit like a rotisserie. Both of us ordered the shawarma to take back to the apartment to eat.

I decided to order some falafel too since I never had those before either. Falafels are a popular Arabic street food consisting of ground chickpea and/or fava beans shaped into round patties and deep fried in batter. Being made of chickpeas and/of fava beans, they are high in protein and are often served by themselves on in a pita wrap as well. As such, they make a good alternative for vegetarians.

The portions for the shawarma were kind of generous, although it was mostly filled with assorted vegetables and there was hardly any meat in it. What meat that was in it did not seem to be all that fresh. The falafels were terrible. I am pretty sure this is not what good falafels taste like. I think they were overcooked and as a result, tasted so bitter that even dipping them in the yogurt sauce provided did little to improve the taste.

All in all though, the both of us got to try shawarma for the first time, so at least now we can proudly say that we know what shawarma is, what it looks like and what it supposedly tastes like. Hopefully we get to try better ones on a future date at a different place.

Anyway, next up, Afghanistan food from De Afghanan Kabob House in the Tenderloin!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

San Franciso Exotic Food Crawl Post 2: El Salvadorian Pupusas At La Santaneca De La Mission On Mission Street

Pupusas from La Santaneca, located in Bernal Heights on 3781 Mission St.

"Where are you off to?" I asked a friend one evening. "I'm off to get some pupusas for dinner," he replied. "Pupusas? What is that?" He gives me an incredulous look. "You don't know what pupusas are?" And so he turns to his computer and Googles pupusas for me. Apparently they are an El Salvadoran dish consisting of homemade corn tortilla with fillings in them, often a blend of pork, cheese and beans. Pupusas have different names based on what fillings they have. The ones I mentioned, which has cheese, beans and pork are called pupusa revuelta. He then proceeds to teach me how you are supposed to eat them. He grabs a piece of scratch paper and then proceeds to fold it into some origami shape to try to show me visually the correct way to eat a pupusa. To this day I don't know if this is how El Salvadorans eat their pupusas since my friend is not El Salvadoran himself, but here goes:

Use your knife to draw a cross on the first layer of your pupusa. Peel back the layer to reveal the pupusa filling (your choice of bean, cheese and/or pork) and then you proceed to dump your red sauce and coleslaw that comes with your pupusas onto the filling layer of the pupusa. Afterwards, you cover the pupusa back with its first layer, and then you can start eating your pupusa with a fork and knife.

My best friend and I got a chance to try pupusas a couple of days after the Subway fiasco. After our Pirates of the Caribbean, I mean The Lone Ranger screening, we headed to La Santaneca instead of La Santance de la Mission, which was the place my friend recommended, because the latter was already closed by the time we got out of the screening.

The place was nondescript, rather bare-bones with minimal decor. But the waiter was really friendly, which made up for the restaurant's spare decor. The wait for 4 pupusas was rather long, seeing that it was pretty late and there was hardly anyone in the restaurant but us.

The pupusas came piping hot and I proceeded to show my best friend the supposedly correct way to eat your pupusas. The pupusas turned out to be really delicious and quite filling. Two pupusas per person filled us right up pretty nicely. The total bill came to $10 including tax and tip, which made the meal really affordable.

As so, our San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl began with the unassuming-looking but absolutely scrumptuous El Salvadoran pupusas.

About two years after our very first pupusas, we finally had an opportunity to try pupusas at the place my friend recommended, La Santaneca de la Mission, located on 2815 Mission St. Maybe it was because one's first time having pupusas is an indelible experience, but I found that I prefer the pupusas at La Santaneca to the ones at La Santaneca de la Mission (I know, it can be confusing with both of them having similar names and being located on Mission St.), even if the decor of the former was more warm and inviting. My best friend got a different filling this time. She decided to get loroco filling for her pupusa. For the uninitiated, loroco is a edible flower found in Central America. It is an important source of food in both El Salvador and Guatamela, and can be commonly found in dishes like pupusas. The loroco added an interesting flavor profile to the pupusas with a taste reminiscent of asparagus.


What I especially love about this food crawl of ours is that I believe food is the window to a country's soul and culture, and in researching what to try next, I find out a lot about a country's culture that I wouldn't have known about in the first place. Case in point, I wouldn't have known that an edible flower called loroco existed or its economic importance to countries like El Salvador.

Next up, shawarma.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl Post 1: Origins

The Subway restaurant we dined at, located on 1500 Fillmore St.

This month marks the third year-anniversary of when my best friend and I started what we called our San Franciso Exotic Food Crawl, in which we try an unfamiliar dish from a cuisine we've eaten before or a new dish from an "exotic" cuisine each time we dine out in San Francisco. "Exotic" meaning that we would not be dining on the usual suspects of ubiquitous cuisines like Chinese, Indian, Thai, American, Mexican, Italian and Japanese, not unless it was a unique dish we had never tried before.

This 2-year and ongoing food journey was completely unplanned and the genesis of it all came about rather organically. It all started when we were looking for someplace to get dinner after watching a movie in San Francisco. We were supposed to watch The Lone Ranger together, but couldn't get seats, so she ended up watching Monster University, a prequel to Monsters Inc., while I went to see World War Z because she was too chicken to watch a horror flick with me. You can check out my review of War War Z here and my review of The Lone Ranger, which we got to see a couple of days after we couldn't get seats, here.

For some reason my best friend wanted Japanese food, and like total idiots, we drove to Japantown, which is possibly the worst place in San Francisco you can go to to get authentic Japanese food. I finally had enough when I was looking through the menu of one restaurant and it featured sake on sake sushi. As in sake alcohol on sake the fish. Baffling and as far from authentic Japanese food you could get. We ended up driving to a Subway restaurant and my friend, who once worked in a Subway restaurant during her teenage years, ordered a footlong Italian BMT to be shared between the two of us. We sat down at a public park to have our food, and it dawned on us how pathetic and sad it was that we were having Subway sandwiches for dinner in a city known for its diverse cuisines.

There and then we decided that this would be the last time we ended up eating at a chain restaurant when we dined in San Francisco. And so the San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl was born.

It's one thing to determine such a thing, it's completely another thing trying to figure out how to even start. Where do we even begin? And inspiration landed on my lap through another friend.

Check out my next post to read about the first restaurant we hit on our San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl culinary journey.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Now You See Me 2 Short Movie Review

Now You See Me 2 has a plot that is more incomprehensible, implausible and baffling that its predecessor. Had no idea that was possible. Nevertheless, it entertains well enough, and one does not go to a popcorn movie like this for a scintillating plot, even when the foregone conclusion could be glimpsed from a mile away.

Canny (financial) casting of Daniel Radcliffe and Jay Chou, which should conjure up extra ticket sales from Harry Potter fans and the entire Chinese-speaking market.

3 out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Me Before You Short Movie Review

I am not generally a fan of the tearjerker genre, but since the movie was adapted from a bestselling book and starred Emilia Clarke and Sam Clafin, two actors who I enjoyed watching on Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games movie series respectively, I decided to give it a shot. The movie is a lot better than I expected, and actually quite funny.

Emilia is as different from her role as Khalessi as can be, but one wishes that she got to use a wider range of expression besides expressing either profound joy or abject sadness, like a maniac bipolar yo-yo.

By the end of the screening, I could hear people around me sobbing or see them wiping their eyes with their tissues, which made me feel like a monster because I wasn't one of those weeping into their Kleenex. Same thing happened at the screening of The Fault In Our Stars. I do cry at movies, but there's something about the sheer manipulation in such genres designed to induce viewers' tear ducts to overflow that makes me unable to shed any.

3 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me. Would recommend it as great alternative to the countless summer blockbusters sure to inundate the screens later this month.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Captain America: Civil War Short Review

I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War, even if I disagreed with the titular character ideologically. The whole plot could have been resolved with a phone call, but I'm not complaining. The best characters hands-down are Black Panther and Spider-Man, who steal every scene they are in. I can't wait to see their solo movies and that is saying a lot for the latter, because I simply loathed The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2. Lending Spider-Man to Marvel was a genius move by Sony; best advertisement they could have gotten.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Batman v. Superman: short review of an overlong movie

Batman v. Superman is mind-numbingly dull, dour, overlong, lifeless and boring, with its huge gaping plot holes cutting a wider swath than the destruction wroth by its superheroes.

Particularly grating on the nerves is Lex Luthor in a role so badly mangled by Jesse Eisenberg and so annoying that I badly wanted to able reach into the screen to physically strangle him just so I wouldn't have to put up with his lunatic ranting and raving anymore.

I had no idea that one of Superman's rather large arsenal of abilities included a magical compass/radar that let him know whenever Lois Lane was in danger so he can rescue her for the millionth time.

Not even Wonder Woman's lasso could compel me to enjoy the movie, and the movie's portrayal of journalism was simply preposterous.

I can't think of a superhero movie that has ever made me feel this sleepy. Scratch that. I don't think I have ever watched a movie that made me feel sleepy. And I have seen my fair share of terrible superhero movies.

Zack Snyder, please just let other people handle future DC superhero movies in the future. Seriously Warner Brothers, what were you thinking handing the reins to the DC Universe to him?

2 out of 5 stars and I feel that I am being very generous.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Zootopia Short Movie Review

Beautifully filmed with gorgeous visuals and a highly entertaining zippy storyline with a timely inclusive theme about diversity that is neither cloying nor preachy, Zootopia is a must-watch for both kids and adults alike.

4 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Movie Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is only as entertaining as it is silly; when the movie abruptly switches to a serious tone in the third act zombiefying boredom sets in.

Lily James is charming as Elizabeth Bennett but her love interest Mr Darcy is played by a very wooden Sam Riley. Matt Smith as Mr Collins steals all the scenes he's in.

2 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Short Movie Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is basically a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope, with better special effects, a more diverse cast and a bucketful of nostalgia, with tons of nods and winks to the original trilogy.

Have to say though that the good guys are all idiots even if it serves to help move the plot; if the BB-8 is so bloody recognizable, for The Force's sake keep it safely hidden in a compartment somewhere instead of letting it toddle alongside you like some stupid shining beacon broadcasting to the entire galaxy who and where you are.

Still, it's entertaining enough, so 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Short Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur? More Like The Really Bad Dinosaur Movie.

Just as Inside Out is easily the best Pixar movie yet, so is The Good Dinosaur easily Pixar's worst film.

With a disjointed, weak narrative and characters painted in broad strokes with no real depth to speak of, The Good Dinosaur waddles on a crutch of stereotypes, cliches and tired archtypes to tell its story.

Young kids might enjoy it but I highly doubt adults will, which is a real anomaly in a Pixar feature.

2 out of 5 stars for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Hunger Games Movie Series Ranked

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

My review of Catching Fire

2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

My review of Mockingjay Part 2

3. The Hunger Games

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

My movie review of Mockingjay Part 1

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Movie Review

While not as good as Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 2 is the second strongest movie in the quartet and provides a satisfying conclusion to a great, if sometimes uneven, movie series.

A rare YA dystopian movie that is able to grow out of its roots and evolve into a full-fledged adult war movie, it is a must-watch for hardcore fans, casual fans and even just moviegoers in general. You do need to have watched Part 1 because Part 2 continues right where Part 1 ends.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mr. Holmes Short Movie Review

Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch's BBC Sherlock series; if you think this movie could be the thing to tide you over until the next season, you need to look elsewhere. The pace of this movie is rather languid and sometimes rather disjointed, with, the movie is split into three different narrative strands. The only reason to watch this movie is quite simply Sir Ian McKellen, who turns in a great performance here and is the only thing propping this movie up.

3 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Short Black Mass Movie Review

I have to confess, the only reason I decided to watch this was because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it. He's in a handful of scenes at the start of the beginning of the film and in a couple of scenes near the end. The real star of this movie though is Johnny Depp, who plays a menacing Whitey Bulger rather well, although it seems rather one-note at times.

Unfortunately, the movie badly wants to emulate Goodfellas, a far superior gangster movie (to this day I don't understand how it lost to Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolf for Best Picture); instead what we get is a very mediocre run-of-the-mill gangster movie.

3 out of 5 stars for me. Do yourself a favor and go check out Martin Scorsese's infinitely better Goodfellas instead if you haven't seen it before.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Insomnia, my nemesis

My nocturnal menace

You're no nightly rendezvous

No lovely illicit paramour

I stare wide-eyed

Helpless and hapless

Into your endless

Gaping black maw

Tossing and turning

We wrestle mightily

As I strive to reject

Your leeching embrace

Akin to a vampire

You suck all vitality

Until I am no more

Than a withered husk

Bedraggled in defeat

Glassy-eyed with fatigue

Bleakly I blearily greet

The painful dawn

Monday, September 21, 2015

Minions Review

Just last week, Minions overtook Toy Story 3 to become the 2nd highest grossing animated movie ever, behind Frozen.

There can then be no doubt that the movie is a huge commercial success. But how does the movie stack up critically?

While it is true that in the 1st Despicable Me movie the Minions stole the movie from its human characters, and Despicable Me 2 suffered from featuring too little of the Minions as their usual yellow silly selves, Minions shows that there can be too much of a good thing.

Centering an entire movie on characters that sprout mostly gibberish that are occasionally punctuated with the word "Banana" is no mean feat and alas, unlike the superior Shaun the Sheep movie which also featured no real dialogue, Minions doesn't manage to successfully pull it off. Instead we get a mostly mediocre movie where the really funny moments are very few and very far between.

2 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jurassic World review

After hearing friends say that they enjoyed Jurassic World, I decided to give the movie a try even though I wasn't really crazy about dinosaurs.

The movie stars Chris Pratt as Owen, a dinosaur trainer, a dinosaur whisperer of sorts, and Dallas Bryce Howard as Claire, Jurassic World's operations manager. All chaos breaks loose when the park's latest genetically modified dinosaur escape its enclosure and it is up to Owen and Claire to join forces to save the day. To complicate matters, Claire's two nephews Zach and Gray are visiting the park when this happens.

While the movie is enjoyable enough, serving a nice blend of action and comedy, what I found hard to get out of my head throughout the movie was: "How on Earth did Claire spend several hours running around the park in her high heels without ever falling once?" I felt this detracted from the rest of the movie and might have marred my enjoyment of the movie quite a bit.

Also, all the characters are rather two-dimensional, with Owen and Claire playing polar opposites, Owen as an easygoing guy and Claire as an uptight corporate type. Claire’s eventual character growth and development is too predictable and makes her character rather boring.

Unfortunately for me, I found the plot rather sexist at times. Claire's female assistant is attacked by a dinosaur in an extended scream-fest scene more suitable in a horror than a PG-13 movie like this. Also, oddly enough, after seeing their aunt Claire be all bad-ass and save Owen from becoming dino-chow by shooting a dinosaur with a gun (minor spoilers), her nephews adamantly want to stick with Owen instead of her, just because she lacks a Y-chromosome. I also found it rather unrealistic that one of Claire's nephews was easily able to fix up an old vehicle and have it running and fully operational in no time flat without any outside help.

Right from the get-go, you’ll know who is going to make it and who doesn’t, which takes some of the suspense out of the movie. The army subplot provided by the character of Vic Hoskins, who wants to use the raptors as military weapons, is rather over-the-top and silly.

Despite the rather predictable and at times really asinine plot, the movie is entertaining enough and enjoyable at times, mostly from its nicely orchestrated action sequences.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Inside Out Short Movie Review

Inside Out is an excellent movie. Funny, whimsical. innovative and touching at times, a movie that can make you cry over a part elephant, part cat and part dolphin imaginary animated character is no mean feat.

Hope Jurassic World doesn't divert too many people from checking it out.

A must-see for both adults and children!

5 out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Insurgent Short Movie Review

Draggy and overlong, devoid of much of a pulse in what is supposed to be a high-octave dystopian action movie, Insurgent disappoints when it should thrill.

2 out of 5 stars for me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella Short Movie Review: Visually Gorgeous and Sumptuous but Emotionally Inert

The Cinderella bracelet I wore to the screening. My friend Jenna sells a variation of it in her Etsy store.

The Frozen necklace I wore to the screening. The Frozen Fever short before the movie wasn't at all narratively satisfying, seeming to exist more to give everyone a glimpse of all the characters from Frozen than anything else. Jenna also has it in her store.

And to complete the ensemble, a Game of Thrones t-shirt, which seems apt since Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and his Captain of the Guard (Nonso Anozie) were both Game of Thrones alums. You can get the shirt from

"Have courage and be kind." And so, with her parting words to Cinderella, which gets repeated ad nauseum in the movie, Cinderella's mother, played by Hayley Atwell, condemns our titular heroine to a life of drudgery under her stepmother and stepsisters after her parents pass away. (Centuries old spoiler alert here)

Cinderella, or Ella, as is her real name, is played winsomely by Lily James (Downton Abbey), as is her Prince Charming, played by Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), he of the toothsome grin and oh-so-blue eyes. Their onscreen chemistry is palpable and strikes a magical spark for the film. Indeed, it is one of the few things, besides the gorgeous visuals and a crackling campy performance by Cate Blanchett as the Wicked Stepmother, that makes it a decent movie, but alas not a great one.

Great as the casting is, and wonderful as the visuals and costumes are, the movie is let down with a merely serviceable script by Chris Weitz and a very by-the-numbers directorial effort by Kenneth Branagh. Which is crying shame really, because the movie could have and should have been so much more.

Both director and scribe should have heeded the movie's message to "have courage" and instead crafted a more bold and daring rendition than this very safe and rather bland adaption of Disney's classic 1950 animated feature.

3 out of 5 stars for me.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Short Review

The world building and special effects are gorgeous to look at, but there is really nothing of substance behind the pretty facade. The movie is entertaining for sure, but I felt quite frustrated at all the wasted potential. Instead, this intricately original science fiction universe created by the Wachowski siblings is let down by badly-conceived one-dimensional characters, a terrible script and cliches galore.

2 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Wedding Ringer Short Review

I knew in my hearts of hearts that Kevin Hart's brand of humor wasn't really my thing, but when I overheard someone saying that it was one of the funniest movie that she had seen in a long time and when I read online that the whole audience was in stitches throughout the entire movie at a screening someone else was in, I thought why not?

And that was a terrible idea because it led me to waste 2 hours of my life watching a terribly unfunny movie. At no point did I feel like walking out of the screening (I was tempted to at the Need For Speed screening that Pamela Moore dragged me into) but I have to say I really regretted going to see it and came out of the movie theater feeling rather angry that I wasted my time on a movie that was not worth any of my time at all.

2 out of 5 stars for me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Selma Short Review

Deeply moving, Selma director Ava DuVernay manages to avoid the many pitfalls that tend to plague most biographical movies (turning it into a hagiography or trying to cram a person's entire life into a movie's running time and thereby not doing it justice). She manages to achieve this by humanizing and giving us a blood-and-flesh Martin Luther King Jr. and also by choosing to focus on just a short time period in his life.

My only quibbles are that President LBJ's is historically inaccurate portrayal as King's adversary rather than ally, that Tim Roth's portrayal of George Wallace that at times runs into caricature mode, and that Oprah WInfrey is too starry to play Annie Lee Cooper in the film; seeing her in the movie jolts me out of the movie the same way Brad Pitt's role in 12 Years A Slave did.

4 and a half out of 5 stars for me. An uncannily timely must-see film.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Into The Woods Review: A Winsome Cast Makes for a Delightful Musical

I wore this bracelet to the screening. It was custom-made by Jenna of Book Geek Boutique. You can check out her fairy tale themed merchandise on Facebook and on Etsy.

A gift from Jenna, which I wore to the screening since it's the only fairy tale themed necklace I have. You can buy it here.

Let me first say that I am not overly fond of musicals, since being musicals, they tend to have too much singing and dancing for my liking. That being said, I was completely won over by the appealing cast of Into The Woods and had a jolly good time at the screening. Unlike the godawful Les Miserables, which I would have walked out of had I watched it in the movie theater, where the actors seemed to have laboriously delivered a tone-deaf rendition of the songs, in Into The Woods, the singing is all surprisingly very good and seem to have been pulled off almost effortlessly.

Meryl Streep, who plays the witch, is front and center in all of the movie's marketing and she seems to be having great fun playing a wicked character. However, it is actually her The Devil Wears Pradaco-star Emily Blunt's character, the Bakers Wife, who forms the true heart of the story, human fallibility and all.

Her husband is played by a very earnest James Corden, who was last singing in a movie as Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts in One Chance. Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella, and we already knows she is a good singer (see Pitch Perfect). And so, it is her romantic counterpart, Cinderella's Prince, played by Chris Pine, and Blunt who are the true musical surprises. Who knew they could both sing so well?

The rest of the main cast is rounded off by Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (of beanstalk fame), Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel and Billy Magnussen as her Prince. Lilla and Daniel as child actors are pretty good in their roles, while Depp brings his usual unique blend of quirkiness to a quirky role and thankfully doesn't outlive his welcome. Mauzy and Magnussen are decent in their respective roles, even when as their storyline form the most boring thread in this fairytale mashup and their performances are often overshadowed by that of their co-stars.

The first half of the movie plays like a wonderful greatest hits of Grimms' fairy tales, so it is a shame that the movie kind of loses steam on the second act when the characters find out that having their wishes granted don't really bring about the happily ever afters that they were hoping for.

As already mentioned, the entire cast is charming in this winsome musical, although none more so than Pine, who pulls the rug from under his more stellar co-stars and steals every scene he is in. His duet with Mauzy in Agony is the best and most hilarious song in the movie and almost worth the price of admission by itself. I don't think I ever laughed so hard this year, not even when I was watching 22 Jump Street, which as you probably know from Channing Tatum's recent leaked over-enthusiastic e-mail to Sony executives, overtook Ted as the second highest-grossing R-rated comedy (with The Hangover still in 1st place). Someone needs to put Pine in the lead role in a musical comedy quick. Director Rob Marshall of Chicago fame seems to be firmly in his element here after the musical dud that was Nine.

Fans of Stephen Sondheim's original Broadway musical, on which the movie is based on, will be relieved to know that most of the adult themes have remained intact, although the violence and deaths do tend to occur offscreen and some plot changes seem to have been made with the sole purpose of protecting the perceived purity of the Mouse's other fairy tale princess franchises. Personally I think both long-time fans and newcomers young and old will all find something to love and enjoy. Into The Woods is definitely something you can take your whole family to see come Christmas Day, which is probably what Disney wishes will come true.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Imitation Game: A Worthy Addition To The Prestige Pic Genre

The Imitation Game is a great movie that is a worthy addition to the prestige pic genre. You owe it to yourself to go watch this movie so you can learn about a man who not only was the father of the modern computer, but whose work was estimated to have saved 14 millions lives and shortened WWII by 2 years.

How did the British government reward his services to king and country? By forcing him to undergo chemical castration to "cure" him of being a homosexual. Alan Turing committed suicide after a year of enduring this "treatment", and we will never know what other marvels his singularly gifted mind could have created had his life not been so cruelly cut short.

If I have any minor complaints with the movie, it is that at times the movie feels far too neat, too pad, too tidy. War is messy. Real life is messy. The movie should reflect some of these truths instead of being so overly obsessed about hitting all the requisite high notes.

As usual, actor Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another terrific performance as Turing, and he is ably aided by a strong supporting cast that includes Kiera Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Mathew Goode, Rory Kinnear and Allan Leech.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies Ends The Hobbit Trilogy On A Surprisingly High Note

Wore this necklace to the screening which I got from Jenna's Jewelry Etsy store Book Geek Boutique. Alas Benedict Cumberbatch's dual roles as Smaug and The Necromancer amount to basically a couple of cameos in this movie.

If The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left me bored (I will never forget having to arduously endure 30 minutes in Bilbo's home watching singing dwarves toss dishes around the house), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left me desolated (, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies left me as satisfied as a hobbit sitting on his armchair in his cozy home reading a book and smoking his favorite pipe.

The last film of the Hobbit trilogy almost makes the 6 hour-slog of the getting through first two movies to reach the third movie nearly worthwhile, and is the only movie in the trilogy to ever reach some of the heights achieved by the original Lord of The Rings trilogy. 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review: A Mashing of Pixar and Marvel = A Superhero Story With A Big Heart

Big Hero 6 is more than just a North-American Japanese fusion movie set in the streets of San Fransokyo. It also feels like a collusion and collision of sorts between Disney's Pixar and Marvel division.

The movie tells the story of Hiro, a talented teenager who loses his brother Tadashi in a purported accident. Hiro's well of grief threatens to overwhelm him, and it is assuaged, oddly enough by an adorable extremely and huggable balloon-like nurse robot called Baymax, who/which was left behind by Tadashi. Hiro and Baymax's often laugh-out loud funny and at times touching interactions with each other rightfully form the heart and soul of the movie, and while Hiro's sorrow at his undeniably painful loss does occasionally get subsumed by the movie's louder moments, Hiro's loss still informs every emotional arc in the movie's storyline, which is as it should be.

If I have any complaints, it's that I wish that the movie did not abruptly switch gear for the third act and in doing so, quickly goes from heartwarming Pixar-infused story to full-fledged Marvel superhero story, which is something that moviegoers have seen ad nauseum in the last decade or so and is thus quite unnecessary here. This comes as a slight disappointment because the movie already has enough heart to narratively and commercially succeed without the need for big explosives and lots of wham-bam action to help propel it. Plus, it would have been nice if the other characters in the movie had been more well-developed instead of feeling like brief supporting character sketches inserted into the movie just to make up the numbers to fit the title.

I also wished that I wasn't assailed by feelings of deja vu at certain points in the film; the scene of Baymax and Hiro flying over the skyline of San Fransokyo, while undeniably breathtaking, already has its thunder stolen by Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and even Wall-E's intergalactic dance through space, while another flight scene over debris-filled space recalls a similar scene from last year's Star Trek Into Darkness.

Nevertheless, these quibbles are just minor issues which, while making Big Hero 6 less than perfect, doesn't take away the great enjoyment and fun that can be had while watching this latest Disney creation; I was vastly entertained and never once bored throughout the entire 102-minute running time.

My verdict: take yourself and your whole family to go see it, and I can almost guarantee that everyone will be in for a rollicking good time and will be thoroughly enjoying a movie that will have you laughing in utter delight throughout.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mockingjay Part 1 Movie Review: Even as Katniss is trapped in the role of the Mockingjay, the movie breaks free of its YA roots to take up the mantle of a mature adult war movie

I wore the bracelet and the necklace to the screening, with the clips adorning my bag. The Christmas ornament was a gift that came with my order. If you like what you see, you can ask Jenna from Etsy's Book Geek Boutique to make you a custom order or check out ready-made ones here or on her Facebook page.

Mockingjay Part 1 is not as good as its predecessor Catching Fire but that is to be expected because not only is it adapted from what many have agreed is the weakest book in the trilogy, it is also adapted from just half of it.

It also has many of the problems that all movies with "Part 1" in their titles have, which is too much simmering and too much buildup and just not enough payoff.

One thing that is going for this movie (or not going for it, depending on what viewers' different expectations are for the movie), is that It doesn't feel like a YA movie, it feels more like an adult war movie. And there are no victors, only survivors like Haymitch said in Catching Fire.

Katniss is a shadow of her former self as fans would well know from the book. Far from being freed as a Mockingjay, now more than ever it feels like her wings have been clipped and she is too often left to wait helplessly in the wings for events to unfold. Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as always, although she is not given enough to do. The scene from her trying to be convincingly arousing in a Propos is hilarious though, and her haunting rendition of the Hanging Tree song will leave audiences humming its tune days after they have watched the movie. You can listen to it here:

However, viewers' sympathy might switch more to her staged-and-now-real romantic interest Peeta. I have always kind of felt that Josh Hutcherson was miscast to play Peeta and I still stand by that assessment. It is nothing against Hutcherson, who is a good actor, although his performance is rather unexceptional here, made worse by the fact that the chemistry shared between Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss and his Peeta throughout the series seem more to be that of a sibling one than that of a romantic couple. Nevertheless, audiences be warned; scenes involving Peeta in this movie would be heartbreaking for fans of The Boy With The Bread.

Handsome Liam Hemsworth as Gale is left to smolder some but he's not really given much to do either. And Katniss is such a strong female character that it feels that she doesn't need a romance to define herself, unlike *cough* Bella *cough* from the terrible Twilight movie series.

Poor Finnick, who is played so winningly by Sam Claflin in Catching Fire, is made a cipher in this movie. The movie focuses on him only when Katniss is in a quandary and need some words of wisdom or advice from him to precipitate a change in her feelings to help prod the movie's progression along. In one of the rare moments when Finnick is finally given more screen time, his powerful speech is criminally ruined by the directorial decision to cross-cut his speech with a rescue attempt. Using a split-screen here would have worked way better and be far more effective.

The role of President Coin, played by Julianne Moore, gets expanded here, and she is made more sympathetic than she is in the book. Julianne Moore is good but not great. And so she continues the trend of casting A-list actresses to play antagonistic roles in YA movies, with Meryl Streep having played the Chief Elder in Lois Lowry's The Giver and Kate Winslet playing Jeanine Matthews in the Divergent trilogy (with the last book Allegiant to be predictably split into 2 parts just like Mockingjay to fatten studios' coffers).

Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as Plutarch Heavensbee as always, but like Lawrence, he is not given enough to do. It is however particularly poignant watching Hoffman embody the role of his character knowing that he just died tragically of heroine overdose not long ago.

Elizabeth Bank's role as Effie Trinket is expanded, although here it's mostly to provide what little comic relief there is in the movie. The other comic relief in the movie comes predictably enough, from Buttercup, Prim's cat.

I did not like Donald Sutherland's portrayal of President Snow this time. To me it felt like he was going overboard and overacting quite a bit. Maybe he was trying to go for unhinged deranged dictator but he never once came across that way to me in the book, especially not in the first half of the book when the Capitol actually has an upper hand over the rebellion.

I have also always felt that Woody Harrelson was miscast as Haymitch but I am finally warming up to his Haymitch. For me, Harrelson turns in a better performance playing a reluctantly sober Haymitch than he was when playing at being a drunkard in the previous two movies.

My favorite new character is the ever luminous Natalie Dormer as Cressida. The rest of her crew, Boggs and the District 8 rebel leader Paylor don't do enough to be really memorable. Jeffrey Wright's Beetee and Willow Shield's Prim are not really memorable in their roles either.

Overall, it feels like a lot of the weaknesses of the book basically just got transposed into the movie. And like the book, the movie is really quite bleak. The movies ends quite close to where I thought it would, but it is a downer of a scene. The ending will probably whet the audience's appetite but most likely will not have them leaving the movie theater on the high that I've experienced after watching Catching Fire on opening weekend a year ago, which is still the best movie in the entire series so far. We'll have to wait a year later until Mockingjay Part 2 to find out if that will remain so.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Week of Fairy Tales

This poem is inspired by the poem Monday's Child and the lovely bracelet pictured above, which was made for me by the amazingly talented Jenna from her Etsy store Book Geek Boutique. You can visit her store here.

Monday’s child is fair of face

With hair as black as ebony

An apple causes her agony

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

A maiden at night

At dawn she takes flight

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

For a pair of legs she gives up her voice

Alas sad sorrow is sown from her choice

Thursday’s child has far to go

Measured not in miles but in time

Slumber to a century's chime

Friday’s child is loving and giving

True beauty to love an ugly beast

A prince's true bride at a wedding feast

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

Shod with slippers made of glass

Weds out of the working class

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

Bounding through the forest in her red hood

Speaking to wolves outside her neighborhood


(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Dancing in slippers made of glass

A shoe fit test she does pass

(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

A dozen so fond of dancing

Daily their shoes do need darning

(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Gliding through the lake at dawn

Turning to a swan again come morn

(Alternate version)

Thursday's child has far to go

Climbing up a giant beanstalk

Up in the clouds where giants walk

(Alternate version)

Thursday’s child has far to go

East of the sun and west of the moon

To save her bear prince from his doom

(Alternate version)

Thursday’s child has far to go

Past spring, summer and last of all fall

To free her friend from the Snow Queen's thrall

(Alternate version)

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

To save her very own skin

Straw into gold she must spin

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fury Movie Review: About As Solid As A War Movie Can Get

Equal parts thrilling and equal parts harrowing even if it does occasionally take off in baffling tangents that doesn't jive with the rest of the narrative, the movie evokes an old-school look and feel on the horrors of WWII.

The movie is as much about Logan Lerman's Norman Ellison character than it is about Brad Pitt's Staff Sergeant Don Collier character, as the audience perceives the narrative through Lerman's experiences as he tries to survive in a war he is totally untrained to fight in.

Critics who have been incongruously likening Pitt's role in this movie to his previous role as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in 2009's Inglorious Basterds are I dare say going way off track here; sure both characters share superficial similarities in that they are both army soldiers fighting on the side of the Allied Forces in WWII, but the roles and Pitt's portrayal of these two characters could not have been more different from each other.

While never reaching the heights of Saving Private Ryan, and despite the fact that as the narrative unfolds the movie seems to be unloading war movie tropes about as zealously as the characters go about collecting their grisly war trophies, the movie is solidly acted and solidly directed and basically about as solid as a war movie can get, which is about the best you can expect from a movie like Fury.

3 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Book of Life Short Review

It's great to be watching a big studio release of an Mexican/Spanish culture-centric animation film after decades of watching Anglo-Saxon culture-centric ones (No, Dreamworks' Puss In Boots definitely does not count).

I'd say 20th Century Fox will have a really big moneymaker on their hands seeing as Hispanics are the biggest spenders when it comes to catching movies at the movie theater.

The visuals are trippy, kaleidoscopic and gorgeous to look at, which more than makes up for the rather obvious and slightly bland storyline. The music is decent but hardly memorable. The voice cast as a whole is rather good but I am kind of baffled by the incongruous casting of Channing Tatum as one of the main voice actors in this movie. 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Short Dolphin Tale 2 Movie Review: Its Parts Is Greater Than Its Sum

Sometime during the summer, I saw the trailer for Dolphin Tale 2 at the movie theater. It looked interesting and not cloying like I thought such a movie would be, so I went back home and watched Dolphin Tale. I was surprised by how much I liked it, which is how I find myself at the movie theater for Dolphin Tale 2.

The main cast is back, but the sequel has neither the magic nor heart of the first movie. The narrative is disjointed and episodic. There were some scenes that were really good, but these scenes were few and far between and were simply not enough the elevate the dull and boring script.

My thoughts about the movie were echoed by my fellow moviegoers. "The first movie was good, but this one is meh," said a lady to her friend. A kid told her mother: "The first part was good, then it got boring until the end when [a character] showed up."

It also doesn't help that the trailer for Dolphin Tale 2 does spoil the entire story, thus dissipating whatever tension the movie was trying to build up. Even if the trailer didn't, you would have known where this movie was going right from the start. Overall, very disappointing. I'd recommend you watch Dolphin Tale if you haven't yet and wait for the home video for this movie if you like what you see in Dolphin Tale.

2 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

If I Stay Movie Review: Superior In All Ways To The Fault in Our Stars In The Currently Popular Teenage Tearjerker Genre

From left: Liana Liberato (Kim Schein), Chloe Grace Moretz (Mia Hall), Gayle Forman (author of If I Stay) at the August 7, 2014 screening of If I Stay in San Francisco, at the AMC Metreon 16 movie theater.

An If I Stay inspired bracelet made by the ever talented Jenna from her Etsy store Book Geek Boutique, which I wore to the screening.

During a period when I ran out of books to read, I decided to check out books that were slated for a 2014 movie adaptation release, and that was how I ended up reading the beautifully penned Gayle Foreman novel If I Stay. Both the book and movie moved me like neither The Fault In Our Stars book nor its movie counterpart did. Unlike my movie experience of The Fault In Our Stars, where I felt like a total monster for being totally unmoved to cry when nearly the rest of the movie theater did, I couldn't help shedding a couple of tears during the final poignant moments of If I Stay, as I believe did many in the movie audience.

Surprisingly, who should pop up before the San Francisco screening I was at but Gayle Forman herself, along with stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Liana Liberato, to promote the movie. Chloe kept on exhorting us to go see the movie again when it gets released August 22, but I don't really know if I have it in me to go see it again, not because it's a bad movie, but because it not only moved me but also left me emotionally drained by screening's end.

The movie is mostly faithful to the book, and any changes that the moviemakers have made are understandable, although fans of the book will be disappointed when they realize that a madcap attempt by Adam to break into the ICU ward has almost been completely excised from its original book version. To have included it would have been tonally jarring to the melody of Mia's life that director R.J. Cutter is trying to compose on the big screen.

Chloe Grace Moretz carries this movie admirably by herself, and she is helped along by quite a strong supporting cast playing her family and friends. Jamie Blackley, who plays Mia's love interest Adam Levine is every girl's fantasy version of a near perfect boyfriend. He is therefore unfortunately the most unrealistic character in both the book and movie itself, although his many gestures of love to Mia are sure to set female teenage hearts aflutter.

For a movie that is mostly marketed in the trailer as a teenage romance drama, the most moving scenes in the film actually come from the interactions that Mia has with her family rather than from her scenes with Adam, which is quite a remarkably pleasant change from other teen movies I've watched before where romance is usually located front and center and backwards and sideways to the exclusion of almost anything else. In fact, the most gut-puncher of a scene was one between Mia and her grandfather, played by the ever fabulous Stacy Keach (Nebraska), which caused a few tears to involuntarily leak out of my eyes.

In handling such a difficult and delicate topic such as death, director Cutter is able to adroitly juxtapose scenes of happier times before with scenes that show the present tragic situation, so there are both laughs and tears to be had. Nevertheless, as with many movie adaptations, something is lost in between the translation from book to screen. In If I Stay, some of the more powerful feelings and emotions evoked from reading Forman's sparse simple prose, written in a first person Mia Hall narrative, unfortunately does not fully come through on the big screen.

Still, the movie is rather excellently and tastefully done and I definitely recommend catching this movie in theaters come August 22. If I have a few small complaints, they are minor ones. Personally, I didn't really like the songs that Adam sang throughout the movie; they just didn't resonate with me somehow and rather dispelled the movie's notion that he is supposed to be a rising rock star. I also felt that there were just one too many snogging scenes in the movie, one which I am sure the largely female-centric audience that will turn out for this movie would have no such issue with.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey Short Review: A Poor Man's live-action version of Pixar's Ratatouille

The movie is rather predictable and also slightly cheesy, but the movie's heart is in the right place. The romance between Manish Dayal's Hassan and Charlotte Le Bon's Marguerite is unfortunately rather bland and tepid, while it is fiery exchanges between Helen Mirren's Madame Mallory and Om Puri's Papa that really spice the movie up.

The movie's plot, its food pornography imagery and its script are all not as good as Jon Favreau's indie movie Chef (still showing in movie theaters), but it nevertheless still dishes up diverse and decent fare. The movie is also let down by a rather lackluster and anti-climatic third-act. A highly serviceable movie from Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose last food-themed movie is the luscious 2000 movie Chocolat, featuring a Johnny Depp-Juliet Binoche pairing.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me

Friday, May 30, 2014

Godzilla Short Review: An Almost Complete Snoozefest

Most monster movies are able to successfully create enough tension and suspense to tide movie audiences until they get to see the monsters in their fully glory. Movies such as Steven Spielberg's Jaws and J.J. Abrams's Super 8 are able to achieve this feat. Not so Godzilla. For three-quarters of the movie, the movie is such a complete snooze, with such an exceptionally bland and uninspiring human lead in Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford Brody, that when the last half hour gives us the payoff of finally being able to watch Godzilla rising to save humankind, it is too little and too late to salvage the movie itself.

My recommendation? Don't waste your money on this; go see X-Men: Days of Future Past or Maleficent for a more compelling movie experience.

2 out of 5 stars for me.

Maleficent Review: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is Magnificent

Coming on the heels of the recent wildly successful Disney blockbuster Frozen, Maleficent will unfortunately be unfavorably compared with the former. Sure, Maleficent is hardly perfect, and while the movie does show visible scars from its many rewrites and reshoots, it is nevertheless a charming retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty story, one that gives a three-dimensional characterization to the most fascinating character in the 1959 Disney version, the self-proclaimed mistress of evil herself, Maleficent.

The storytelling is uneven, and the first act is so poorly constructed that it has to rely on the crutches of a narrator to prop up the story. However, once the story toddles through its clumsy first act, the movie soars on the magnificent portrayal of Maleficent by the always mesmerizing Angelina Jolie. Sure, the movie gives a rather weak reason for why Maleficent decided to curse Princess Aurora to die on her 16th birthday, and Angelina Jolie is made to do one too many gazing from the shadows in order to watch events unfold, but otherwise she truly shines and is the heart and soul of the movie, without which the whole movie would simply have collapsed on itself.

Sharlto Copley is somewhat miscast as King Stefan, and Elle Fanning, though a very talented actress (just watch her in Super 8 and you'll agree with me), looks and feels slightly demented here as a happy-go-lucky Aurora who cannot stop grinning like a maniac for no particular reason (I blame the fairy that gave her the gift of never feeling blue). Brendan Thwaites's Prince Philip feels more like a glorified cameo and his appearance seems more like an afterthought. The only vaguely interesting supporting character is Sam Riley's Diaval, who serves as Maleficent's raven shapeshifter and confidant.

As directed by first-time director Robert Stromberg, who was the visual designer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi's Oz The Great and Powerful, the visuals and settings are lovely to look at and serve as a enchanting backdrop for Maleficent to have her story told.

While today we consider Disney's 1959 Sleeping Beauty a classic, it is interesting to remember that when it was first released, the movie was such a critical and commercial disappointment that Disney subsequently abandoned making princess movies for the next few decades. Maleficent has received mixed reviews from critics, but I hope it does well commercially so as to encourage more retellings that would provide a more modern perspective of fairy tales, where the princesses are not just happy to sing and wait for their princes to bring them their happily ever afters, and where villains become full flesh-and-blood characters rather than just plot points to help prod these fairy tales along.

Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

3 and a half stars out of five stars for me. =D

Incidentally, I feel that the story of Sleeping Beauty is one of the fairy tale most ripe for retelling. If you be so interested, check out my short retelling of Sleeping Beauty here at: The Real Sleeping Beauty where Sleeping Beauty has to contend not with spinning wheels but the economic repercussions of spinning wheels being banned in her country.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

As a young girl growing up, one of my favorite superheroes was Storm from the X-Men series, a character I came to love not through the comic books, but via the animated X-Men television series and the video game X-Men vs Street Fighters. I've always loved the X-Men better than almost all the other superheroes out there (with the exception of Spider-Man, who I grew to love from watching -the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends television series, and Iron Man from Marvel video games). So, even though the Storm I love wasn't how I envisioned she would be, as portrayed by Halle Berry in the X-Men movie series (for some reason she has a tendency to use her powers only after she has been badly beaten up, which is utterly baffling) I still enjoyed the first two X-Men movies (as directed by Bryan Singer), X2 especially, and I was excited to see Singer return to helm X-Men: Days of Future Past so he can undo all the damage that Brett Ratner wreaked with his terrible X-Men: The Last Stand, a job which Matthew Vaughn had begun with his competently directed prequel X-Men: First Class.

And Singer delivers. While the movie was not as good as I had hoped it would be, what with the extremely high expectations I had that came from critics raving about the movie and it garnering a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it still does a pretty decent job.

X-Men: Days of Future Past combines the cast of both the prequel and the original series, and the movie does necessitate that you have watched at least most of the previous films in order to be able to understand what is going on. The movie mostly takes place in the past, and the gist of the story has James McAvoy's Professor X and Michael Fassbender's Magneto fighting for the soul of Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique/Raven.

The entire cast and crew does a commendable job here, and while the huge cast of X-Men means that most of the characters apart from the main cast get rather short shrift here, Evan Peters as Quicksilver does steal the movie despite a rather small appearance. Hugh Jackman has never been better as the gruff Wolverine with his usual laconic humor present to alleviate all the tension and seriousness of the movie. Peter Dinklage does a decent job as antagonist Bolivar Trask, but I wished he and Lawrence actually had more to do with their characters, though it is a quite a thrill to actually hear Lawrence actually speaking Vietnamese in the movie at one point.

As the first movie to officially kick off the summer movie season, the movie is far superior to the other superhero movies that have been released this year, the rather bland Captain America: The First Winter Soldier and the amazingly tepid The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Although X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn't top the greatness that is X2, it is rather well worth watching. so I'd recommend going to see it on the big screen this summer.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Ranking The X-Men Movies

1. X2

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past

3. X-Men: First Class

4. X-Men

5. The Wolverine

6. X-Men: The Last Stand

7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chef Review

It is a well-known fact that moviegoers can be a finicky bunch at times, and movie studios are forever in search of that holy grail of movie formula that will guarantee a box office success every time. What is supposed to be a sureproof move to reap in box office gold (Johnny Depp + Disney franchise = Pirates of the Caribbean-like box office plunder) can very easily end up as a bust (See: Disney's The Lone Ranger). What is supposed to look like business as usual can end up hitting the big jackpot in a huge and unexpected way. (See: Frozen and its billion-dollar plus worldwide gross)

I like to think that in the case of movies like Chef, we moviegoers can be easy to please as well. Give us good food, good music and a halfway-decent story, and we will walk out of the movie theater feeling so good that we are hard pressed to nitpick about a movie we know is clearly far from perfect. Instead we would be more than happy to spread positive word-of-mouth about it and encourage fellow movie lovers to go enjoy this cheerful flick, which can be a tremendous box office boost for an independently produced and distributed movie like Chef. (see The Blind Side and how positive word of mouth made it such a commercial success)

Like I said, the movie is hardly perfect. Some of the more clearly unrealistic parts of the movie include: a food critic who actually announces his visit to a restaurant he is planning to review (Most established food critics do not do that because they want to base their review an authentic dining experience instead of an experience especially catered to elicit a good review); Carl, as winningly played by Jon Favreau, actually having a rich ex-wife Inez, beautifully played by Sofia Vergara, who has a rich ex-husband Marvin, who, in a scene-stealing role by Robert Downey Jr, is available to help Carl out when things go south; A work colleague who is all too ready and willing to give up a job he just got promoted to in order to continue working with Carl; A hot sometime girlfriend for Carl in the shape of a sultry Scarlett Johannson who just seems to exist in the movie solely to slightly spice things up sexually and give Carl very life-affirming advice to pursue his dreams. All these hardly help the movie earn any real street food cred.

It is also not difficult to see how the food journey Carl goes through in the movie can very easily stand in for Favreau's real-life movie career in Hollywood. Favreau, having first successfully established himself in Hollywood with commercially and critically successfully movies such as Elf, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, failed with the critically panned and commercially unsuccessful Western-Science Fiction crossover Cowboys and Aliens. Now, having been slightly burned by Hollywood, Favreau is returning to his indie roots with Chef.

Chef does tread a rather well-worn and overly-familiar road in its storyline rather than try to be daring and break out of its well-established mold, which feels somewhat contradictory in a movie about a chef who doesn't want to keep on cooking the same creatively-unchallenging dishes and instead wants to keep things fresh by experimenting on something new and different.

However, there is real heart behind the movie, and the deliciously scrumptious and luscious scenes of food being lovingly cooked and eaten ("Food porn!" I whispered excitedly to my movie companion at one point in the movie, causing the lady beside me who overheard what I said to burst into laughter), all accompanied by catchy jazzy music, will make you happy enough to groove along for this food truck ride, no matter the slightly bumpy ride.

My verdict: Take a break from all those superhero movies you've been going to for the last month, and go see this charming little food comedy instead. It will cleanse your palate for the action-heavy summer movie schedule that is just a few school bell rings away.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Belle Short Review

Belle is indeed beautiful to look at in a Jane Austen period-piece sort of way, but viewers would be left disappointed by how the movie squanders much of the potential it could have achieved with its source material. While Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines as the titular character, oftentimes the script does not give her enough to do and she ends up giving one too many wide-eyed puppy-dog stares throughout the entire movie. Instead, the movie chooses to rely on the clunky pronouncements of love interest John Davinier, played by Sam Reid, to inject a dose of social consciousness to its narrative, which falls utterly short despite the movie's best intentions. Given that the movie is told mostly from Belle's viewpoint, it does feels slightly odd and rather sexist that the movie's main comic relief comes from Penelope Wilton as her spinster aunt. The presence of Matthew Goode as Belle's father, Sir John Lindsay, is keenly missed as soon as he leaves the picture. However, it is Tom Wilkinson, bringing a certain gravitas in his nuanced performance as William Murray, the Lord Chief Justice of England, who provides the balance that this movie sorely needs. 3/5 stars for me.

To find out more about the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the little that is known to us from history, you can check out this article:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Short Review

As unnecessary as it is lucrative, even the wonderful chemistry between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is not enough to save this sequel, with its over-bloated, disjointed narrative and overabundance of characters. 2 1/2 stars out of 5 stars for me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Neighbors Short Review

Neighbor's plot is incoherent and lackluster but then again what frat movie has or even need a coherent decent plot to work? Most of the frat humor didn't come across as funny to me since I am not really a fan of frat humor or frat movies in general, but there were really some nice laugh-out-loud moments even for non-frat fans, so it is still somewhat worth seeing. 3/5 stars for me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Transcendence Movie Review

Transcendence is the directorial debut of long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister, whose list of credits include Inception, Moneyball and The Dark Knight trilogy. The movie premise is an interesting one but unfortunately the script doesn't seem to know where to go with it, leaving us with a half-baked movie with a third act that was both baffling and a disappointing letdown.

Two and a half out of five stars for me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Released So Far

1. The Avengers (92%)

2. Iron Man (93%)

3. Captain America: The First Avenger (79%)

4. Thor: The Dark World (65%)

5. Thor (77%)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (89%)

7. The Incredible Hulk (67%)

8. Iron Man 3 (78%)

9. Iron Man 2 (73%)

The percentages listed in paranthesis are the scores these movies earned on the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Short Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was subversive alright, but its subversiveness doesn't really help to elevate the movie much. There was too much wham bang explosion as well, causing me to reach my action saturation point well before the end of the movie. It's better than Iron Man 3 though, which is not saying a lot since I hated Iron Man 3 and found it awful. I was never bored during the movie but nor was I fully engaged either. And the Winter Soldier in the movie title felt more like a subplot than anything else. I'd recommend waiting for the DVD release to watch it. 2 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Short Movie Review: Cuban Fury

Cuban Fury starring Nick Frost is a delightful little British film. The storyline was hardly original or inspired, but it was funny in parts and I love British humor, so I had a good time. 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Divergent Short Movie Review

It's a not-bad movie adaptation of a YA book, but it's not great either. Shades of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games abound, but the movie is infused with neither the wonder of the Harry Potter universe nor the sense of urgency and tension of the Hunger Games.

2 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

As madcap and whimsical as only a Wes Anderson film can be, this is a lovely, lovely little indie film. Not quite as good as Moonrise Kingdom but still delightful in its own right.

Three and a half out of five stars for me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Short Movie Review: Need For Speed: Even an episode of Top Gear has a better script and plot than this shoddy video game film adaptation

Just watched one of the worst movies ever. Seriously the scriptwriter needs to be taken out and shot. Even an episode of Top Gear has a better script and plot than Need For Speed. If you have any discerning taste at all please don't go see this movie. 0.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Short Review: You've already seen all the best bits in the trailer

When watching the movie, I felt as though I had already seen all the best bits before, in the trailer. The first half of the movie featured Walter Mitty and his fantastical imaginings that are at times funny, while the second half of the movie felt like a National Geographic documentary. The movie lacked the emotional heft and storyline to back up the lovely visuals. The movie ends up being very boring because it is so predictable as well; from the start I knew where the missing negative was and what the missing negative would feature, which took out a lot of the fun/mystery I would have watching the movie.

Nebraska Short Review: Nearly as dull as the small town American life it depicts

Nebraska the movie is as slow-paced as the small town life it depicts, and about as interesting. The film starts with the highly ridiculous premise of an old man who is sent one of those lottery scams in the mail. Convinced he's won a million dollars, he manages to coerce his son to take him from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Unfortunately, the story meanders and doesn't go anywhere. Recommended only if you want a glimpse of American small town life, or if you are fan of Alexander Payne's recently acclaimed The Descendants starring George Clooney.

August: Osage County Short Review: Awesome Ensemble Cast

The entire cast shines in this film adaptation of the Broadway play August: Osage County. It is a delight to see two acting juggernaut Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts constantly have a go at each other as embattled mother and daughter. Benedict Cumberbatch as unemployed 37-year old Little Charles Aiken and his on-screen father played by Chris Cooper steal the few scenes they are in in this female-dominated family dramedy.

Saving Mr Banks Short Review: Absolutely Delightful Little Movie

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are absolutely fantastic in their roles as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers. Unabashedly sentimental yet not cloyingly so, this is a lovely and delightful little film to catch during the holidays. Four out of five stars for me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Left Me Feeling Desolated

Let me start by saying how badly I wanted to like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I had been counting down the days for the last few months and it was with bated breath that I went to see it on Saturday, only to be crushingly disappointed by the end results. Warning: minor spoilers ahead as I state the many beefs with the movie I have below.

Like many other reviews have pointed out, this installment of the Hobbit trilogy is vastly superior to the first Hobbit movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, sometimes it feels that such an assessment gives the movie more praise than it warrants.

Like the first movie, this movie continues to be bloated, overlong and in this instance, suffers from middle narrative issues as well. Not much progress seems to be made by our band of dwarves and one hobbit, as they get into scrape after scrape as they try to reach the mountain where Smaug now dwells in order to retrieve the Arkenstone, which will give Thorin Oakenshield, the exiled king of the dwarves the right to call on his kinsmen to battle or some such, as explained at the beginning of the movie in a meeting between Gandalf and Thorin 12 months before the events of the second Hobbit movie really begins.

There is a strong sense of unwelcome deja vu as one watches the first Hobbit movie, and the problem persists here as well. As with The Two Towers (the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), where the characters have been separated and have to continue on different quests and journeys, this happens as well in this movie. Unfortunately, unlike in The Two Towers where the disparate journeys have been edited almost seamlessly to weave a tight narrative, here the effort is jarringly jerky, making the movie seem very very disjointed. While I do understand that music plays an integral role in telling us how to feel when watching a movie, as in the first Hobbit movie, I felt endlessly manipulated when themes used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are reused to try to evoke happy memories and feelings associated with a particular character or object, which instead of successfully evoking whatever emotion I am supposed to feel, just ends up leaving a very sour taste in my mouth.

Along their journey, they are met by faces old and new. Beorn the shapeshifting bear is disappointingly underwhelming in his short interaction with Gandalf and the dwarves, being much more fascinating and charismatic in the book. I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit books, but I am by no means a strict purist. I was fine with Arwen turning into a sword-wielding Elf-maiden in The Fellowship of the Ring (first Lord of the Rings movie), and was nonplussed by the angry outrage of many fans. And so, I was fine with Orlando Bloom reprising his role as Legolas even though he never actually appears in the Hobbit book. His father Thranduil is the elvenking in the Hobbit, it does make a certain sort of sense that his son Legolas would be hanging around in Mirkwood when the dwarves are captured by Thranduil's elves. Similarly, I was fine with the complete creation of the elven warrior maiden Tauriel by the movie's scriptwriters to create some sort of female presence in the very very male-dominated Hobbit Middle-earth universe. That being said, weaving an inter-species love triangle amongst Legolas, Tauriel and a dwarf does beggar belief and stretches things too far into the realm of fan fiction. Likewise, the expansion of the characterization of Luke Evans' Bard the Bowman, who in the movie is demoted to being just Bard the Bargeman, while understandable since Bard is pretty much a cipher in the book, takes the expansion too far and cause the movie to unreasonably drag.

With the addition of new characters and the expansion of existing ones, where does that leave the characters in the title, the titular hobbit Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and his nemesis the dragon Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug? Apart from moments where Bilbo begins to get corrupted by the ring and the many times he has to get the dwarves out of the scrapes that they have gotten themselves into, poor Bilbo seems to have been relegated to the background of the film and it feels like for most of it, he is just standing around not really doing much as the dwarves try to figure out their next move.

The encounter between Bilbo and Smaug, while a delight in the film that almost reaches the giddy heights of Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the first movie, nevertheless gets ruined when, rather than have this encounter continue to play out between the two of them, brings the dwarves into the equation. The result? Long tedious chase scenes where Smaug (despite his professed ability to smell dwarves) fails to eat or fry any of the dwarves. And then it gets worse; the dwarves then try to pull off a MacGyveresque plot to kill the dragon which laughably and predictably fails. Then, before you know it, the movie abruptly ends, causing the guy sitting in front of me to start shouting at the screen. Usually when a middle movie ends, at least something has been resolved and then we are left with some other danger that looms on the horizon. Not so here. None, and I mean NONE, of the many different story threads get resolved one way or another and the audience as a whole is left hanging over a wide precipice, with no resolution to be had anywhere.

All this being said, would I recommend that people go and see the movie? By all means, they should if they have been waiting all year to see it. The movie, despite its many many flaws, still manages to be mildly entertaining, is good value for your movie money, and is not a bad way to while away nearly three hours of your time. You might however, end up coming out of the cinema more frustrated than satisfied though, like I did.

Two out of five stars for me.