Movie Review: Predators (2010)

July 20, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

After several years of the disappointing Alien vs Predator efforts, it’s good to finally see one of the franchises returning to its roots.  If you ignore all the films with Aliens in them, then Predators is essentially the third film of the franchise.

Excellent.  Enough of the Aliens crap.  I want to see Predators hunting and frightening the life out of humans again.

Well, Predators gives the audience exactly what they have been asking for since 1987 (the 1990 sequel was too brutal for my liking).  The premise is simple but effective — throw all the most lethal humans on the planet into a jungle and watch the Predators hunt them down.  It’s man versus the unstoppable hi-tech creature in hardcore terrain that harks back to the original when Arnie took on and defeated the first Predator.

However, gone is the bulky mass of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In his place — Oscar winner Adrien Brody!

Most people, when they first hear about this new action hero, would have had the same WTF reaction as I did.  Adrien Brody?  The Pianist?

Yes, him.  As Brody said it himself in an interview — go look at the elite soldiers of today.  They all look like him.  Thin and sinewy (though few have his ridiculous nose).  None of them look like body builders.

Fair enough, but physically Arnie at least made us believe there was half a chance of survival.  Maybe the gamble with Brody paid off, maybe it didn’t.  I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one because he is a brilliant actor and brought out so much more from his character than anyone would have thought imaginable.  But he’s still Adrien Brody (albeit a visibly more buffed one).

Anyway, Brody is not the only one.  There’s also Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), whose wimpiness makes Brody convincing (if only for a second) as a super tough, super deadly mercenary.  There’s Alice Braga (I Am Legend) as an Israeli sniper (and token female), Danny Trejo (Con Air) as a Mexican cartel enforcer (and token Latino), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as an African RUF officer (and token black guy), Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill) as a Russian soldier, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza enforcer (and token Asian) and Walter Goggins as a deathrow inmate.  Plus there is an extended cameo from another big name who seems to have put on a bit of weight lately.  It’s a mixed bag, and you can be sure that not all of them are going to make it to the end.

Director Nimrod Antal (who directed the 2007 Vacancy) clearly tried to channel the raw power, excitement and fear of the original into Predators.  It’s essentially an update of the first film with new characters, more dangers and a couple of twists (one of which is a complete dud).  It’s not without merit as there are a number of tense, action packed scenes, but the fear simply wasn’t there.  There was a feeling of inevitability about all the deaths and when they would happen, and there wasn’t even anything particularly original about any of them.

I really wanted to like Predators, but it didn’t come close to the classic original.  Still the second best Predator film though.

3 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT — the worst part of the whole film was when the Yakuza dude took on one of the Predators with his Samurai sword.  I expected the guy to be some master swordsman and to see some rapid sparks flying everywhere.  Instead we got to see the lamest sword fight in history.]

Tea Cafes in Hong Kong!

July 20, 2010 in Food, Hong Kong, Travel by pacejmiller

A real friendly chap. Great with numbers too.

If you want to try local Hong Kong food (if there is such a thing) then you have to go to one of the many “Tea Cafes” (direct translation) they have there.  These cafes are open from morning to night, and have the most interesting varieties of food imaginable (here’s a Wikipedia page if you want to know more).  And the price is outrageous.  A full meal could set you back less than $4 per person.

Go in for breakfast and have toast or eggs.  Or maybe some sweet buns (I am referring to the edible kind).  Or perhaps some congee or macaroni soup.  Brunch or lunch?  How about some fried rice or pork chops?  Stir fried rice noodles?  BBQ pork?  Soy chicken?  How about a piece of black pepper steak or hot soup?  And there’s always tea.  Hot tea, cold tea, bubble tea, sweet coffee, iced lemon tea.  I don’t get how they choose what they serve, but let me tell you — it all looks great!

We went to three different Tea Cafes during our brief stay in Hong Kong.  Two of the three are chain stores that you can find just about everywhere.  All three are famous (I am certain of this because they are featured online and in books!).

Let me break them down one by one.

(click on ‘more…’ to read on)

Read the rest of this entry →

Book Review: “Black Order” by James Rollins

July 20, 2010 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

After experiencing the brilliant writing of Nabokov in Lolita, I decided to go with something a little lighter, a little less strenuating.  Enter Black Order by New York Times Bestseller James Rollins (is it just me or is every book/author out there a New York Times Bestseller?), one of the books I purchased on special in Taipei at the start of the year.

Inside the front cover there is an entire colour spread of praises for Rollins and Black Order.  In big black italic font, it reads: “Buried in the past, an ancient conspiracy now rises to threaten all life…”

Sounded just like every consipracy thriller since The Da Vinci Code — which was exactly what I was looking for.

Black Order is more intelligent and thoughtful than I thought it would be.  I haven’t read any of his stuff before, by Rollins is famous for his ability to “blend science with historical mysteries”.  Well, Black Order is Rollins’ (a former veternarian) attempt to tackle the great debate between evolution and intelligent design.  It’s also another chapter in his ongoing series about the “Sigma Force”, an organisation that mixes highly skilled soldiers with expert scientists.

Black Order is complete with crazy monks, cannibalism, Pakistani orphans, mutant beasts, secret Bibles, Nazi experiments and a race against time — and of course, lots and lots of guns and explosions.  But despite Rollins’ best efforts, the action never really got off the ground for me.  There was some tension and there was a bit of excitement, but none of it felt particularly fresh.  However, what interested me more was how he would mix the action with the scientific debate about evolution and intelligent design/creationism.  For the most part, Rollins does a commendable job of describing some rather complex concepts such quantum physics.  But while it was interesting and informative, there just wasn’t enough of it.  The scientific debate took a back seat to the action and the interweaving storylines between the various Sigma members, and as a result the book didn’t do a whole lot for me.

That said, Black Order is still a serviceable book for those looking to escape reality with an above-average thriller that has some brains to go along with it.  At 500+ pages it was slightly overlong, but if you can get into it (unlike me) then you may find it a fairly good read.

2.5 stars out of 5

[PS: I did some digging and found out that James Rollins is also known as James Clemens (both pen names of Jim Czajkowski), who also writes fantasy.  Fancy that!]

Dessert at Rice Paper (Vietnamese)

July 20, 2010 in Food, Hong Kong, Travel by pacejmiller

Shortly after our filling meal at Tonkichi (Causeway Bay), we decided to push the boundaries of our stomachs by going for dessert around the corner at Rice Paper, a Vietnamese restaurant chain (which apparently serves the food of “Today’s Vietnam”).  My sister, who had just visited Hong Kong a week before us had personally recommended it.

We got a seat immediately by the window with a great view of the bay.  The interior was very clean, very classy, completely unlike the cheap and dirty Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney that I’m used to (and love).

Everyone else around us was having rice paper rolls and hot noodle soup, but I was still so stuffed from the Japanese that it wasn’t enticing at all.

All the desserts on the menu looked unbelievable, but we ended up going with the signature dish called “French Kiss”.  I’ll let the photo speak for itself but it was genuinely sensational.  The shortbread sandwich, the nougat, the almond and the raspberry sorbet combined to provide a sweet and sour flavour with a crunchy twist.

The chocolate dessert (can’t remember the name but it was recommended by the waiter) was also quite good.  Very pretty too.

I can’t rate the restaurant as a whole as I didn’t taste any of the main dishes, but the dessert certainly was unexpectedly exquisite, especially for a Vietnamese restaurant!

[For more info check out the page at Open Rice]

Tonkichi Tonkatsu Seafood

July 20, 2010 in Food, Hong Kong, Travel by pacejmiller

Finally, after a week in India, we arrived in Hong Kong.  I’ve been to Hong Kong several times before (including a month’s stay for work) so it was all pretty familiar to me.  That said, in my previous visits I had not channelled my attention towards the food of Hong Kong, and this time, I was determined to sample as much as I could fit into our stay.  Luckily the India trip had shaved off a couple of kilos.

Our first proper meal (after a long nap in the hotel) took place in Causeway Bay at Tonkichi, a Japanese restaurant that specialised in Tonkatsu and Seafood.

Having lived in Japan before, I’m a huge fan of Tonkatsu, which is essentially deep fried, crumbed pork, usually served with this sweet dark sauce and mustard.  Unlimited refills for the accompanying miso soup, rice and cabbage.

And so I ordered the pork loin, while my wife ordered the chicken (also crumbed and fried).  Tonkichi did a decent imitation of the stores from Japan, giving us a bowl of sesame seeds to grind ourselves and mix with the sauce.

After a short wait, the meal arrived.  It sure looked good, reminding me of some of the best katsu I’ve had in Kyoto.  As for the taste, well…it’s never going to be as good as the stuff you can get in Japan, but in Hong Kong, it’s not a bad substitute.  The crumbs were crispy and the meat was tender, albeit slightly dry.  The salad dressing was tangy but light.  The rice was fat and fluffy.  Not much to complain about, but I’ve had better.

Nevetheless, not a bad start to Hong Kong!

7.5 out of 10

[Check out Tonkichi at Open Rice]