DVD Review: Fighting (2009)

February 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

Fighting is one of those movies that looks, smells and tastes B-grade, but is backed by an A-grade cast (Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard as opposed to an unknown white actor +  Brian Dennehy) and a better-than-expected screenplay and director (Dito Montiel).  But for these factors, it probably should have gone straight to DVD.  Instead, what we ended up with is a slightly above average, albeit forgettable film.

Fighting is a film about…er…fighting.  Underground, bare-knuckle street fighting, to be precise.

Tatum plays Shawn MacArthur, a nice young man trying to make ends meet on the streets of New York, and Howard plays Harvey Boarden, the man who ‘discovers’ him and kind of takes him under his wing.  Throw in a few fist fights, a love interest (Zulay Henao), an arch nemesis (Brian White) and an unfolding back story, and that’s Fighting in a nutshell.

Right from the opening sequence, from the music to the gritty feel to Tatum’s outfit, you get the suspicion that Fighting is trying to channel Rocky.  You know, the underdog from the wrong side of the tracks who tries and manages to become something after being given an opportunity.

Tatum even gives a bit of a Stallone impersonation.  He’s got that good guy routine going, and he’s also got that underdog pride; even their persistence in picking up girls is similar.  The only thing missing is a crooked mouth and a speech impediment.

The fight scenes in Fighting are solid.  Naturally, they are a little over-the-top, but for the most part they maintain a slight resemblance to realism (apart from the fact that getting belted in the face hardly leaves more than a light bruise). Thankfully, each fight is given proper screen time – there’s no hastily prepared montage with rapidly accumulating victories.

My problem with it all is that the whole process from Tatum’s character being ‘discovered’ to him being in and winning fights is pretty dubious.  Seriously, the guy punched out a few stiffs on the street, and the next thing you know he’s been thrown into bare-knuckle fights with a massive underground audience?  And really, it’s not like he is a freakish talent or has abnormal kung fu abilities.  He’s just a skinny street punk who knows how to throw a punch or two – would he even have a sliver of a chance against the type of tough guys he was going up against?  I highly doubt it.  (One of the dudes was Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le!)

Maybe that was the whole point.  He wasn’t supposed to stand a chance, but somehow he manages to prevail.

Nevertheless, if Fighting was all about fighting, it would have been okay.  Unfortunately, they just had to insert the love interest in there.  Nothing wrong with a bit of loving, but it took up such a large chunk of the 105-minute running time.  And most of all, it was quite lame.

Oh well.

2.5 stars out of 5!

[Note: for about 2 months before watching this movie, I mistakenly thought ‘Fighting’ was ‘Never Back Down‘.  Gotta see that one too.]

Spider Killing Spree

February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized by pacejmiller

I was on the phone with an ex-work friend today when I wandered to the corner of my house and saw…spiders.

Lots and lots of mini-spiders.  So tiny that you would miss them individually, but when there’s at least 50, you notice them.  They were everywhere, crawling along the walls, dangling from side to side like miniature Tarzans, creating intricate webs like Tobey Maguire did for Kirsten Dunst.

Amidst all the babies, there was one big spider.  Half the size of my palm.  That must have been the ‘Queen’, I told myself.

How did I miss this spider colony in my house?

I quickly said goodbye to my friend.  I then went and grabbed two canisters of bug spray (Mortein and Baygon) and raced back.  It felt like the numbers increased in the 10-15 seconds I was gone.

I uncapped the sprays and stood on a stool, then went on the biggest spider killing spree since Jeff Daniels in Arachnophobia.

The little buggers went crazy.  But inexplicably, they didn’t die.  Not straight away, anyway.  It took at least 30 seconds of constant spraying with two canisters to get most of them.  It then took another 10 seconds just to put down the Queen.

When it was done, I felt like Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard.  Except I think I inhaled too much of the sprays, and as a result I have been dying of thirst all afternoon.  I hope no permanent damage has been done.

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

February 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I first came across the 1963 children’s picture book by Maurice Sendak when I was far too young, but the innovative and intriguing furry monsters on the page remained firmly etched into my mind.

And so when I saw the poster for the live action film based on the book directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), I became curious.  How were they possibly going to pull this one off?  What was the storyline going to be?  Wouldn’t the monsters look really silly?

Well, I finally got to watch Where the Wild Things Are, and I was both amazed and a little disappointed.

The visuals were fantastic.  Absolutely fantastic.  The monsters came to life in a way I never expected they could.  I couldn’t tell whether it was CGI or giant puppets or both, but regardless, you could have fooled me into believing that they were real.  They weren’t identical to Sendak’s original creations, but make no mistake, you can tell immediately that they are from the same mould.

The look and feel of the film also recaptured that sensational I felt when I first read the book as a child.  It was grey and cold and just as I remembered it.  You could even say it was kind of magical.  Trust Spike Jonze to be able to deliver this type of unique, creative vision.

On the other hand, where Where the Wild Things Are let me down a little was the overall enjoyment level.  It was hard to tell whether this was supposed to be aimed at children (though it is far too dark and scary for young kids), or at adults (though it feels like there isn’t enough substance for the grown ups).  It’s a simple story, but at the same time it felt inexplicably complex, as though we were missing something from the irrational behaviour of the monsters.   There was some fun, but on the whole the vibe I got was depressing and negative.

Maybe I didn’t really “get it”, or perhaps I need to see it again, but it didn’t engulf me the way I wanted it to.

I can’t bring myself to give Where the Wild Things Are an average rating because it is so unique, so groundbreaking; I’ve never seen anything like it before and probably won’t again (until perhaps Jonze’s next film).  But did I enjoy it as much as an engaging drama, a thrilling action movie or a hilarious comedy?  Not really.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Taiwanese Congee at its bestest!

February 25, 2010 in Food, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

Restaurant: The Village of Gruel
Cuisine: Congee + side dishes
Price: Around TWD 300-500 per person depending on what you order
Location: 226 JiLin Road, Jhongshan District, Taipei, Taiwan; 105, Section 4, ShiMin Boulevard, Songshan District, Taipei, Taiwan
Contact: Jhongstan store – (02) 2541 7366; Songshan store – (02) 2570 1577
Website: www.mehome.com.tw

I’m usually not a big fan of congee.  It’s watery, bland, and not very filling.  Food for people with gastro.

And so you can imagine my scepticism when on one of our last nights in Taipei, we went to this congee place called “The Village of Gruel” (I didn’t even bother trying to figure out what that’s all about).  Let’s just say it came highly recommended.

The Village of Gruel has a traditional, old-school Chinese restaurant feel to it.  Like a place you might see in an old martial arts film, except with a touch of modernity to it.

The food, on the other hand, is awesome.  The thing I always hated about congee was its tastelessness, but “Gruel” infuses its congees with unbelievable flavour. Apparently it has something to do with the special rice, Chinese herbology and cooking the pot for a very long time.

(to read on and see the pictures, click on ‘more’)

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