Movie Review: Limitless (2011)

March 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Decided to go with the 'alternate' poster

Limitless kind of came out from nowhere to become the number one film on my ‘to see’ list.  I had heard nothing about it until a recent trailer, and it was a good one.  A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) stumbles across a drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain (humans apparently can only utilise about 20% of it).  How cool is that?  The potential, as the title suggests, is limitless.

However, I was also rather wary.  Techno-thrillers with a slight fantasy edge rarely pan out well.  A smart idea is usually let down by a poor screenplay and clumsy execution.  But surprisingly, Limitless didn’t suffer from either.

This was a slick, stylish film (with some eye-popping sequences) that I found simply exhiliarating at times.  Perhaps it’s because the charismatic Cooper plays a writer (or at least starts off as one), or perhaps it’s because the drug opens up so many exciting possibilities, possibilities we can only dream of — whatever the reason, I just wanted to keep watching to see what would happen next.  And unlike most films of this kind, the ending didn’t totally suck.

That’s not to say Limitless is not flawed, because it is.  It’s too long (it’s just 105 minutes but it felt long) and tonally uneven.  Apart from Cooper, the supporting roles are all pretty thankless (Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro).  And if you really want to look closely you’ll probably find plenty of holes in the story.  But I can overlook all of that because it was interesting, it was thrilling, and it was enjoyable.  A surprise hit.

4 stars out of 5!

Element Fresh (Shanghai)

March 25, 2011 in China, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

It was a good flight to Shanghai.  I ate both meals aboard the plane (a rarity, even for a non-vomiting me), so I was not particularly hungry.  However, I couldn’t just waste the opportunity of a meal in Shanghai, so we went for a late snack on the town.

The place we chose was called Element Fresh, a popular cafe-style joint popular with expats (because there are English menus and the waiters speak English).  They have a pretty creative menu, with a variety of sandwiches and a mixture of Asian and Italian-influenced dishes.  Their fruit smoothies are also apparently quite popular.

Anyway, I’ll let the photos do the talking. We had the seafood pasta, the Thai noodles (pad thai), the eggplant warm sandwich, and the Big Salad.  For dessert, the chocolate mud cake with ice cream.  For the beverage we had a Blueberry Hill, which is a delicious blend of apples, kiwis, bananas and blueberries.

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I wasn’t hungry but I still polished off the dishes pretty good.  True to name, all the dishes tasted fresh.  The service and interior fittings were quality.  On the whole, Element Fresh was nothing exceptional, but it’s not a bad place for a get together and food you really can’t go wrong with.

7 out of 10

For more information including the locations of its 8 restaurants in Shanghai and 2 in Beijing, check out the website here.

PS: Oh yes, I did say Big Salad.  Accordingly, see video below.

Book Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner

March 25, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

In 1997, Anu Singh, a beautiful young Indian-Australian woman studying law at ANU killed her boyfriend Joe Cinque, an Italian-Australian engineering student, by first drugging him and then injecting him with a lethal dose of heroin while he slept. It was supposed to be a murder-suicide, except Singh couldn’t go through with the second part. Instead, she watched for 36 hours as Cinque died an agonising death. He was only 26 years old.

In Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Australian writer Helen Garner tries to make sense of this brutal, senseless and absolutely bizarre crime. She flies to Canberra to attend the trial of Singh and her obedient friend and ‘accomplice’, Madhavi Rao, befriending Joe Cinque’s parents and becoming more and more emotionally involved.

Why did Singh do what she did? Why did Rao help her? Why did their friends, all of whom knew about Singh’s plans, do nothing to stop them (they even attended a supposed ‘suicide’ party). Were they mentally ill or were they simply manipulating the law? And was psychiatry and the law going to allow them to get away with it?

This is a chilling, gut wrenching book. Filled with intricate details and descriptions of the death, the trial and the aftermath, it is admittedly painful to read at times, and yet I could not stop turning the pages. It is the kind of book that makes me want to devour more non-fiction in a hurry.

Garner writes with a simple, elegant prose that somehow cuts straight to the heart. Given the title of the book and the facts that she became friends with the Cinques and never managed to interview either Singh or Rao, it is no surprise which side she takes.  I suppose she makes an attempt to be objective, to be understanding to the other side, but she never got very far.  But that’s Helen Garner for you.  Say what you want about her, but at least she has the balls to put her views out there, even if she knows she may be crucified for them (like she was when she published The First Stone, which detailed a sexual harrassment claim by two young women against the head of their college at Melbourne University).

I had wanted to read this book since being introduced to it in my non-fiction writing class last year, and was glad to discover that it is compulsory reading for one of my other subjects this year (two birds with one stone!).  I read it all in China (about half of it on the plane ride over) and discussed it in class this week.  I was surprised by lukewarm reception by some of my classmates, who thought this was more Helen Garner’s consolation than Joe Cinque’s because she inserts herself firmly into the narrative.  They didn’t care about her marriage break up, how tired she was feeling, how outraged she felt for the Cinques.  She was pushing her life and personal beliefs onto her readers, and they despised that.

I don’t agree.  It’s her book.  Why should she keep her opinions to herself?  This is not a lifeless news report that purports to be objective.  By being so close to the ‘action’, she had woven herself into the fabric of the story.  She could have written herself out of it, like Capote in In Cold Blood, but instead she chose to tell it from her eyes and heart.  Besides, we have a choice.  We don’t have to read it.  We don’t have to agree with her.

No matter the opinion, few would disagree that Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a fantastic read.  It may be flawed book, but still a very good one, and one that had me captivated from start to finish.

4.25 stars out of 5

[For those who have read the book or are interested, I would recommend checking out this ABC interview with Anu Singh and the Cinques.  Really chilling, riveting stuff (with spoilers of course).