Happy New Year! Here’s to a Fantastic 2010!

December 31, 2009 in Travel by pacejmiller

I just crossed over to 2010 in Taipei!  Here’s a pic of the fireworks at Taipei 101.

I have a feeling it’s going to be one heck of a year.  Hopefully life-changing…in a good way.

Taiwan, Bleacher Report and Other Updates!

December 30, 2009 in Blogging, On Writing, Travel by pacejmiller

Taipei 101 on a gloomy day (which is most days)

I’m having a blast in Taipei, eating and shopping non-stop, with a bit of time to write in between.  I am starting to get concerned that the eye bags I developed in my last few weeks of work will still be there when I return!

I saw Sherlock Holmes (the movie not the sleuth, which I am yet to review), and I have been diligently recording all my scrumptious meals, each of which I will deliver a post on when I get around to it (hopefully soon)!

I am also looking forward to buying a few new books here to read as they seem to be a lot cheaper than back home (anyone with tips?).

Lastly, a bit of exciting news on other fronts.

First, I have become a reviewer at 7Taven, which is a website that reviews movies, games, amongst other things.  So thanks to the guys there for giving me this opportunity!

Second, my new Pacers Pulse website is going to be launched shortly, with a brand new design, new layout, new desinger banner and new web address!  Stay tuned because even though the Pacers suck, Pacers Pulse is going to rule!  Thanks to the guys at Bloguin for that opportunity.

Lastly, I have become a reviewer at Bleacher Report, and I have put up 2 opinion pieces.  The first is a basketball article (which is what I was asked to write about by the guys who invited me to write there) entitled “How Losing Danny Granger Can Help the Indiana Pacers“.   Hopefully in a few articles I will become a stable writer for the Pacers there.  The second I did off my own initiative and is another opinion article on the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao blood testing feud enitled “Mayweather-Pacquiao: Time to Stop the Bleeding“, which has done surprisingly well, earning me a ‘Hot Read’ medal in less than 12 hours!  Check them out!

DVD Review: I Love You Man (2009)

December 28, 2009 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I usually only review new movies out at the cinemas, but I Love You, Man is recent enough so I’ll make an exception.

Paul Rudd has unexpectedly become one of my favourite comedic actors (who would have thought that after Clueless he’d still be around 15 years later, while Alicia Silverstone never did anything noteworthy since?) and Jason Segel really grew on me after Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Throw in these two funny dudes in a film written and directed by John Hamburg (who co-wrote Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and Zoolander and directed Along Came Polly), and the outcome is a wild and hilarious ride!

I Love You, Man is a highly unconventional movie.  It’s essentially a romantic comedy with two guys as the leads, but with no homosexual overtones whatsoever (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – a bro-mantic comedy, so to speak.  Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a regular guy, a recently-engaged real estate agent who has invested all his time and effort into his relationships with women that he has no real male friends.  Enter Jason Segel’s character Sydney Fife, a carefree dude with a take it or leave it attitude to life that turns Peter’s life upside down.

I know, that sounds like a pretty crappy, cheesy premise, but I Love You, Man really works, probably in ways you wouldn’t expect.  It’s not a gross-out or stupid comedy – it is surprisingly honest and realistic (for a comedy of this sort, anyway), but the laughs are by no means second rate.  Rudd’s brutally awkward performance and his chemistry with Segel provide most of the funny moments, but the supporting cast – which includes the lovely Rashida Jones, the always welcome JK Simmons, and The Lonely Island’s Adam Samberg – are also extremely solid.

I Love You, Man is not without flaws, and it is, after all, a romantic comedy, so expectations need to be kept in check.  That being said, it is a lot funnier than a movie of this kind should be.

3.75 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

December 28, 2009 in Movie Reviews, Uncategorized by pacejmiller

When I first heard The Lovely Bones (directed by Peter Jackson and based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold) was being made into a movie, I had some reservations.  Sure, the story was amazing, but adapting it to the big screen was going to have its fair share of challenges.   Those who have read the book will know what I mean.

And after watching it on Christmas Day, I must say I was right in some respects.  There are parts of The Lovely Bones that are genuinely beautiful and heartbreaking, full of pain and yearning from a life tragically unfulfilled.  Those are the same elements that made the novel such a magnificent success.  However, the more troublesome aspects of the adaptation, while probably handled as well as they could have been, just didn’t quite work.

Without giving too much of the plot away, The Lovely Bones is what is best described as a drama fantasy set in the 1970s about a teenage girl and her family, and how each of them deal with unexpected death and loss. There’s a lot more to the story than just that, but as usual, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.

The dramatic aspects of the film were done well.  Jackson manages to capture that gut-wrenching ‘what might have been’ sensation of regret and melancholy at all the right moments, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the film as a tear jerker.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the emotional impact lives up to the book, but with the medium and time constraints, it came fairly close.

The suspenseful aspects of the film, on the other hand, were simply outstanding.   There were probably only a handful of such scenes, but Peter Jackson applied his magic touch to them and it kept me on the edge of my seat every time.  It made me wish there were more of them.

Of course, much of the credit has to go to the cast.  Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who plays Susie Salmon, delivers an excellent performance beyond her years.   She has a touch of class that is rarely seen in young actors these days.  In a few years she will be a big star.  Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play her parents, and are both good, but not exceptional.  Apparently, the film was initially set to go with Ryan Gosling in Wahlberg’s role, but he looked ‘too young’ to pull it off, even with a full beard.  While that may be right, I got the feeling that Wahlberg may have been too young as well, especially with that floppy 70s haircut.

The standout though, has to be Stanley Tucci’s Mr Harvey.  Tucci has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance (and I predict an Oscar nomination as well).  Every time he’s on screen he unsettles you and makes you feel uncomfortable.   I don’t know if he is more deserving than Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds, but Tucci is right up there after delivering one of the creepiest performances I’ve seen in a long time.

So that’s what’s good about The Lovely Bones.  As I mentioned earlier, the film is a drama fantasy, and it’s because there are a substantial number of ‘fantasy’ scenes, filled with expensive special effects and an abundance of pretty imagery.  These sequences take up a large part of the second half of the film, and that’s when my interest in the film really waned.

Those sequences were an integral part of the novel, so I wouldn’t have expected Jackson to cut them out completely, but there was too much of it for my liking.   They were too long, too weird, and dare I say even somewhat silly.   It just didn’t match the rest of the film as well as I would have liked.   I don’t know if anyone else could have done a better job with it, but the bottom line is that those sequences, for the most part, didn’t work.  If Jackson could have limited such scenes to an absolute minimum and ramped up the suspenseful and dramatic scenes, The Lovely Bones may have been a classic.

So overall, The Lovely Bones is a very solid, albeit uneven film.  There are moments that can get to you on an emotional level, but it’s unfortunate that the lengthy fantasy sequences dragged it down.  A minor disappointment as I had been looking forward to it and expected it to be better than it actually was.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Book Review: “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

December 28, 2009 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

I haven’t read any of Malcolm Gladwell’s earlier bestsellers The Flipping Point and Blink, but many people I know rave about his third book, Outliers.  A friend lent it to me for a couple of weeks and I must admit I am now a fan.

Outliers is a non-fiction book that looks into the way society perceives success.  We tend to think that massively successful people, like the Bill Gates and The Beatles, are outliers, freaks of nature who fall outside the normal realms of possibility for ordinary people.  Gladwell, on the other hand, reminds us that success (and by this I mean phenomenal success), is a product of not only natural talent, but also extreme hard work, fortuitous opportunities, as well as cultural background and upbringing.  To be fair, there isn’t anything entirely novel about the ideas in the book, but it’s the way Gladwell structures and writes it that makes it so unputdownable.

Outliers starts off with a look at the so-called ‘Rosetta’ mystery – why a town of people who live according to their own cultural rules live longer and are more immune to heart problems than everyone else, despite not having more healthy diets or living habits.   It’s a starting point which demonstrates that everything has an underlying reason, and to get to the root of it, you inevitably have to dig deeper.

The book then delves into various aspects of what makes a person super successful.  Of course, there is the natural, innate talent.  There’s no doubt that some people are born better than others at certain things, and that talent is imperative to success.   But there are also plenty of other factors you may not have considered.

For instance, the date you were born.  Gladwell considers the cut-off dates of sports teams for youths, and discovers that the time of the year you were born could dictate whether you are most likely to be just an average athlete, or perhaps provide you with an opportunity to become a star.

Another fascinating chapter looks at the hard work of professional musicians (such as The Beatles) and IT whizzes such as Bill Gates and Bill Joy.  Of course, extreme, prolonged periods of hard work is important to becoming successful, but being at the right place and time to give you that opportunity to work hard is equally important.  Each of The Beatles, Bill Gates and Bill Joy all worked exceptionally hard in their respective fields, but they were also recipients of some extraordinary twists of fate which put them on their paths to stardom.

Then there’s the story of Joe Flom, one of the most successful lawyers in the one of the most successful law firms on Wall Street.  Flom was also one of those guys that appeared to have the world against him, but what initially seemed like bad luck and awful injustice actually led him to becoming the man he is today.

That’s not all. Cultural backgrounds and ancestry are also contributing factors to success, according to Gladwell.  Why are Asian children typically so good at mathematics?  Why are Mid-Western Americans more temperamental?  These are just some of the things Gladwell considers.

There are plenty of tales of success in Outliers, but success stories alone aren’t sufficient – there are also stories of failure that help illustrate Gladwell’s point.  One of them is Chris Lagan, considered by many as the smartest man in America, and yet he never managed to live up to the expectations of his brain.  Another story of failure deals with the catastrophes of Korean Airlines, where Gladwell shows that many of the airline’s plane crashes could have been avoided had the pilots not been so constrained by their culture.

I love Gladwell’s style. He writes in a simple, unassuming manner that communicates the message across in the simplest way possible. He starts off each chapter by telling a story that leaves little clue as to where it is heading.  It grabs your attention as you wonder what he the heck he is trying to get at.  But then, by the end of that intro, he reveals that there’s a long back-story that forms the foundation of the point he is making, and then get down into the nitty gritty of it.  It’s the type of writing I would like to try and emulate.

Of course, you won’t necessarily agree with every point Gladwell makes, and you won’t always find what he is saying interesting.  Sometimes you may think he’s making something out of nothing, or perhaps stretching statistics and coincidences too far.   Every person’s life is full of opportunities, small, big, or life-changing.  Gladwell never comes out and says it – but the essence of what Outliers is getting at is that mega-success is really a product of fate, and being able to make the most of it.

Nevertheless, I found it fascinating reading Gladwell as he tries to connect all the dots and delivers compelling theories and arguments.  When I get a chance, I’m definitely going to check out Gladwell’s latest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures.

4 out of 5 stars!