Qantas In-Flight Movie Blitz!

May 22, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I need to get this one out quickly because all of the movies are fading fast from my memory.  On my trip to China a couple of months ago I saw 2 movies on the flight there and 2 on the way back.  Keep in mind that I was under the influence of anti-anxiety medication for all 4 films.

Thanks to Qantas for having such a terrific collection of reasonably new films, even in economy.  I’ll let all the safety issues slide this time.

The Switch (2010)

Huge fan of Jason Bateman (largely because of Arrested Development) but not much of a fan of Jennifer Aniston.  Unfortunately, the Aniston factor overrode the Bateman factor on this film about a dude (Bateman) who switched the sperm sample used for the artificial insemination of his best friend (Aniston).

This was a strange film.  The main problem is that while it’s an interesting idea, there’s just nothing fresh about it.  Its biggest sin is that it’s supposed to be a comedy but it’s not particularly funny.  Damn you, Aniston.

1.75 stars out of 5

Conviction (2010)

This was one of those inspirational true stories starring Hilary Swank.  She plays Betty Ann Waters, a remarkable woman who went to law school and became a lawyer just so she could prove her brother’s innocence.  That’s dedication for you.

While Conviction was good, anchored by the usual strong performance by Swank and also by Sam Rockwell as her brother Kenneth, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.  It was dramatic but occasionally slow, heartfelt but occasionally melodramatic.  Good but not great.

3.25 stars out of 5

SPOILERS: By the way, this was not mentioned in the film, but Kenneth Waters actually fell off a wall and died just 6 months after his release from prison (where he spent around 20 years).  That’s just so brutal I’m lost for words.

Tamara Drewe (2010)

I recently checked out the comic book from which this film was based, and I must say I found it a little boring.  The film, on the other hand, was a surprising delight.  It’s one of those well-made little films that explores human nature.  It stars Gemma Arterton as the titular character, who returns home to a small village in England to sell the house she inherited from her deceased mother.

I guess a part of the reason I liked the film was because Tamara is a journalist and the film is set around a writers’ retreat, which provided many opportunities for clever humour.  It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but Tamara Drewe was probably the best film out of the 4.

3.5 stars out of 5

Morning Glory (2010)

This was a coming-of-age film about the morning television industry and the crazy stuff that goes on behind the scenes.  I really like Rachel McAdams and she does a great job here as the young up-and-comer on the show ‘DayBreak’.  Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton are also both very good as the anchors.

It’s a charming film because of the characters and performances but unfortunately not as enjoyable as I thought it would be.  Even though there haven’t been very many films with the same subject matter, I somehow felt like I had seen it all before.  Perhaps all such films have the same formula?  Or perhaps I’m just not really into the world of morning TV?

3 stars out of 5

Dictating a novel?

May 20, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study, Technology by pacejmiller

I’ve really been struggling trying to get my novel project into shape the last few days.  When I’m away from the computer I have a million thoughts running through my head, and I feel like I am ready to write the best shit ever.  But as soon as I sit down and start typing, I’ve got nothin’.

The other day, just before heading out, I was taking a shower when I pretty much planned out an entire chapter of my novel in my head, or so I thought.  I was really excited, but I didn’t have time to write anything down because I had to head out immediately.

I was driving when I had an idea.  Using the recording app on my iPad, I started dictating the chapter to my novel that was in my head during the shower.  It was surprisingly effective.  In about 25 minutes, I had more or less dictated the entire chapter.

That night I went home and transcribed it.  It wasn’t great, but at least I got it out of my system and it allowed me to fix it as I went along, almost like editing a rough first draft.

All of this amazed me, considering as a lawyer I never used the dictation systems they had in place because I found it all too hard and awkward.  I also wasn’tMaybe it was just because I didn’t know what to say.

Could this be a new way for me to write?  Has anyone else tried it?

Unfortunately for me, writing first drafts of chapters is no longer my concern anymore.  I now have to actually shape the drafts into good shit, which I have discovered is even harder.  D’oh.

Pacquiao-Marquez III Locked In For November!

May 19, 2011 in Boxing, Sport by pacejmiller

Promo pic taken for Pacquiao-Marquez II back in 2008

That was a surprise.  Just a couple of weeks after Manny Pacquiao thoroughly dismantled a pathetically timid Shane Mosley, Pacquiao’s promoter, Top Rank’s Bob Arum has announced that a deal has been reached with Mexican warrior Juan Manuel Marquez to take on Pacquiao on 12 November 2011, most likely at the MGM in Las Vegas.  All Pacquiao has to do is sign, and it assumed that he will.

With Floyd Mayweather Jr now looking more and more unlikely to never fight again, the Marquez fight was the one that most wanted Pacquiao to take instead of Mosley (Andre Berto, who has since lost, was the third alternative).  It made sense, considering Marquez was the last guy to give Pacquiao any real trouble in the ring.  In their two previous wars (May 2004 and March 2008), Marquez came away with a draw and a split decision loss despite being knocked down four times in the two bouts, though many ringsiders and boxing analysts believe Marquez won both fights.

However, Arum coaxed Pacquiao into accepting the easier and probably more lucrative option in the ageing legend Mosley, and Marquez was left to wait on the sidelines.  That said, even before the Mosley fight, there were rumours that Arum had made an offer to Marquez for Pacquiao’s next fight — rumours that turned out to be true.

Terms of the fight

The bout, scheduled for 12 November 2011 (probably at the MGM), will be for Pacquiao’s welterweight title, but it will be a catch weight bout at 144 pounds.

Marquez, idle since a November 2010 KO of Michael Katsidis, will take an interim fight on 2 July 2011 against David Diaz, the man Pacquiao beat the crap out of just before the De la Hoya fight.  Of course, if Marquez loses, the Pacquiao fight will be off.

Marquez gave Pacquiao all he could handle in their first two fights

Under the terms, Marquez will get a guaranteed $5 million for the bout, a percentage of PPV earnings over a certain amount, and a $10 guarantee for a rematch in the event Marquez wins.

Marquez’s own production company will promote the bout.  His promotional contract with De la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions expired earlier this year, even though Golden Boy had the right to match any offer given to Marquez.  Golden Boy declined to match Arum’s offer.

Seems to me Arum has planned all of this pretty well in sticking it to Golden Boy.  Arum and Golden Boy have had a horrible history, most of it stemming from the rights to promote Pacquiao, which Arum won and now controls.

Arum has been quite ruthless in keeping Pacquiao money away from Golden Boy since the Ricky Hatton fight.  Cotto and Margarito are both from Top Rank’s stable, and Clottey was not a Golden Boy fighter.  Shane Mosley used to be a part owner of Golden Boy, but gave it up to take on Pacquiao.  Now Marquez, a former Golden Boy man, will also go into the fight with nothing to do with them.

Early pre-fight analysis

Very interesting match up, at least on paper.  There are those out there who think Marquez will win this time because he appears to have ‘figured out’ Pacquiao’s style.

Pacquiao advisor Michael Koncz said: ‘It’s the same old story — styles make fights, and, for some reason, I believe if we fight Marquez 10 times, we will have controversy 10 times because he’s figured something out about Manny that no other fighter can do.  We’ve had him down three times [sic — it was four], but he’s able to adapt and adjust. I think it will be a very close fight again if we decide to pick that fight.’

Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach said: ‘I’m a little bit scared of that fight.  I think Marquez might have our number.  He can do well with certain styles and he seems to do well with our style.  I think we’re bigger and better now, but that’s my good solution, that we’re bigger and better now.’

Having said all of that, Roach finished with: ‘I actually want this fight.  I love this fight.  I would love to shut them up.’

Pacquiao is 1-0-1 against Marquez

To be frank, notwithstanding all the supposed success Marquez has had with Pacquiao in the past (albeit being 0-1-1 on paper), I think this third time around will be a mismatch.  You can’t discount Marquez’s skills and heart, but my early instinct tells me Pacquiao could be the first to knock him out.

For me, the two biggest factors for this fight are: (1) it will be at 144 pounds; and (2) Pacquiao is a different fighter now to the one from 2005 and 2008.

The 144 pound catch weight is significant.  Pacquiao’s weight for his last few bouts have been: 145 (Mosley), 144.6 (Margarito), 145.75 (Clottey), 144 (Cotto).  In each of these fights Pacquiao apparently had to take extra meals to boost up his weight.  The last time Pacquiao fought below 140 was when he came in at 138 against Hatton for a junior welterweight fight.

On the other hand, Marquez’s weight for his last few fights: 134 (Katsidis), 133.5 (Diaz II), 142 (Mayweather), 134.25 (Diaz I), 135 (Casamayor).

What is telling about these weights is that Pacquiao has looked absolutely sensational at around 144, and if the extra meal before weigh-in reports are true, then 144 would be a perfect weight for Pacquiao to fight at.

On the other hand, with the exception of the Mayweather bout, Marquez came in at 135 or below for each of his last five bouts.  In the Mayweather fight, which Marquez lost in convincing fashion, he looked slow and flabby around the middle at just 142 pounds. (Marquez apparently had to drink his own urine just to get up to 142!)

The 144 catch weight is optimal for Pacquiao, and from the only instance we’ve seen, not very good for Marquez.  This is not necessarily fair, but Pacquiao is the big name here and should hold all the cards and the advantages.  That’s just the way it is.

This brings me to my second point: Pacquiao is a different fighter to the one that struggled against Marquez in 2005 and 2008.  Manny Pacquiao didn’t really become the Manny Pacquiao he is known as today until he made the jump to 140+ pounds.

Not only has he maintained his trademark speed from the lower weight classes (and arguably he has been even faster), Pacquiao now punches harder than he has ever punched, including enough power to KO Hatton with one punch, seriously hurt Cotto with another, and break Margarito’s orbital bone with a third.  Pacquiao has also become a more disciplined and more versatile than before, with an apparently steadier chin and a fortified defense.  Whereas before he was more of a reckless brawler (see video below), he is now technically sounder and knows how to follow Freddie Roach’s game plans to perfection.  Whereas before he was more of a one-handed fighter (with the left), he has now developed into a two-fisted punching machine.  Whereas before he was more of a predictable one-two puncher, he is now an unpredictable combo throwing machine that launches power shots from unorthodox angles.

The two fights against Marquez were 3 and 6 years ago, and were at 126 pounds (featherweight) and 130 pounds (super featherweight or junior lightweight).  Pacquiao will be a month shy of his 33rd birthday by the time the fight rolls around, whereas Marquez would have passed his 38th birthday.  Don’t forget Shane Mosley, who clearly slowed down a heap against Pacquiao, was 39 when he stepped into the ring a couple of weeks ago.

Besides, the two fights with Marquez were close fights, not outright robberies as some claim.  They were fights either fighter could have won, which is why they were controversial decisions.  And remember, one judge erroneously scored the first round 10-7 for Pacquiao instead of 10-6 (which is what should have been the score for a triple knockdown round), meaning that on paper, Pacquiao really should be 2-0 instead of 1-0-1 against Marquez.

If the two fights were close at 125 and 130 and when both fighters were 3 and 6 years younger, will they still be close now, at 144 pounds, and at the ages of 33 and 38?

Stylistically, Marquez could still pose problems for Pacquiao, but everything else points to a brutal beating.  If Pacquiao could take heavy blows from the likes of Cotto and Margarito on the chin, will Marquez’s punches still hurt him like they did before?  If Pacquiao’s punches could cause so much damage to De la Hoya, Hatton, Cotto and Margarito, would Marquez be able to take them like he did before?

Time will tell.

Hangzhou’s Imperial Street Night Life

May 18, 2011 in China, Travel by pacejmiller

Hangzhou's Zhongshan Road at night

Apologies for the long hiatus.  I’m back to continue on the posts from my March journey to China.  Quick recap: We went to Hangzhou, a popular tourist city 45 minutes away from Shanghai by bullet train.  We checked out Zhongshan Park by West Lake and had dinner at the famous Lou Wai Lou.

Anyway, the night was still young and we decided to take a cab to check out Zhongshan Road, otherwise known as the ‘Imperial Street of Southern Song Dynasty’.  According to the guide book, it is 5.3km in length and 13 metres wide, which is basically the same dimensions the street had back in the Southern Song Dynasty.

This is the parallel street where we got off the cab - see all the restaurants lined up on the right?

This is a great place to go if you want to check out the local nightlife.  On the parallel and perpendiular streets there are plenty of local restaurants with traditional Hangzhou cuisine, except significantly cheaper than the more touristy places like Lou Wai Lou.  We tried some local pan fried bread, which is enormous when made but cut up into more manageable wedges.  Delicious.

(click of ‘more…’ to read on see the pics)

Read the rest of this entry →

Farewell, Smallville!

May 17, 2011 in Entertainment, Misc, Reviews, Shows by pacejmiller

The Season 10 Poster

The other night I watched the series finale of Smallville, a show I stubbornly kept watching deep into its 9th and penultimate season despite steeply declining quality.  But eventually it got so bad that I was falling asleep and realising that I was wasting my time.  So I stopped watching it altogether, even though I knew I had to come back to watch the final episode — the episode where Clark Kent finally takes off to the air and becomes Superman.

Amazingly, despite having missed around 25-30 episodes, it wasn’t all that hard to pick up again.  Clark and Lois were engaged and about to get married.  Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow, was still around (I seriously thought Justin Hartley, the actor who played him, would have gone off to bigger and better things ages ago), as was Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), Clark’s friend right from the first episode.  The final bad guy, I gathered, was this smokey fella called Darkseid (pronounced ‘Dark Side’) with red eyes that can control/possess people, and the ultimate crisis was a massive armageddon-inducing planet (Apokolips) on a collison course with Earth.

Those returning for the final bang included Annette O’Toole and John Schneider as Clark’s parents, even though the latter has been dead for like 5 seasons.  And of course two of my favourite characters from the show over the years, the villains, Lex and Lionel Luther (played by Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover).  The quality of the series really nosedived when these two went MIA, and it was great to finally get them back.

Curiously missing, however, were Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk — boy has she disappeared since the series…well, she was in that Chun Li Streetfighter movie…) and Clark’s old best friend Pete Ross (Sam Jones III, who has since gone on to become a porn star and is currently facing up to 20 years prison for dealing drugs).

I can still remember the first time I watched Smallville on TV, which began in October 2001.  Even though I wasn’t a Superman fanatic I still had to watch it.  After all, how could anyone not like Superman?  Tom Welling was still a fresh-faced 24 year-old playing a teenager and the show was set in high school, with your typical Superman mythology arc spliced with your ‘monster of the week’ (or Chloe Sullivan’s ‘Wall of Weird’) episodes.

The original Season 1 Poster

The series was fresh and it was exciting.  For some reason this Clark Kent was more of a bumbling fool and tool rather than the highly intelligent Man of Steel we have come to know, and Tom Welling did an excellent job of an often thankless role.  Michael Rosenbaum was the real star of the show for me as the confused, destined to be evil Lex Luthor, and with the outstanding John Glover as his father Lionel it was easy to picture his eventual transformation.

The soundtrack was also always very good, featuring a collection of popular hits and trendy up-and-comers.

But as with all long-running series (apparently Smallville is the longest-running sci-fi show in US history), there comes a time when the writers run out of ideas.  For me the show still retained a certain level of quality when Kristin Kreuk departed because Erica Durance made a wonderful substitute as Lois Lane, but unfortunately they could not make up for the losses of Rosenbaum and Glover.  Even with clever ideas such as introducing the Green Arrow and having arcs involving members of the Justice League, things quickly started to get stale.

Personally, the show hit rock bottom when they started the film rip-offs (from about the 8th season onward), taking ideas from feature films such as Saw (even with a masks and puppets, I think) and getting really lazy and predictable with the progression of each episode (always ending with Clark coming to save the day).

And when the show started to dig really really deep into the Superman mythology vault for the complicated, convoluted stories in its final two seasons, that’s when I really switched off.

That said, on the whole, Smallville is still a fantastic series with a finale that didn’t disappoint like I thought it would. It was more of a ‘personal discovery’ episode that tied up all the emotional loose ends as opposed to an action-packed one, but that was perfectly fine with me.  I was amazed to see how much everyone had aged throughout the years from the various flashback sequences.  Clark Kent really did grow up into Superman.

From day one, the show was all about its finale, and I don’t think anyone expected that to be 10 years away from the pilot episode.  When Clark donned THE suit (I believe borrowed from Brandon Routh) and rocketed up in the sky at last, as we knew he would, he finally fulfilled a 10-year prophecy.  Watching it sent tingles up and down my arms.

Farewell, Smallville!

PS: Now we await the new Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel movie (and Christopher Nolan produced) with Henry Cavill (the guy from The Tudors and who Stephenie Meyer originally wanted as Edward Cullen) as Superman, due for release in December 2012.

Henry Cavill is the new Superman

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