Movie Review: Abduction (2011)

September 29, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Taylor Lautner’s Abduction ought to come with vomit bags.  The concept is interesting and the action is actually pretty good, but this film contains romance and dialogue so cringeworthy that it would make even Stephenie Meyer blush.

Now, before you label me a Lautner ‘hater’, I’m not.  Far from it.  I’ve been ‘Team Jacob’ all the way throughout the Twilight fan wars and I’ve even singled him out as the star performer of the last two Twilight films.  However, I’m not sure if it’s because of the overall calibre of acting in Twilight (that made him stand out) or the poor writing in Abduction (that he couldn’t avoid) but Lautner isn’t very good here at all.  Physically, he is impressive and gets to show off his martial arts skills (did you know he was a former junior world champion?), but emotionally his repertoire is limited to not much more than blank faces and heavy breathing.

Let me back track a little.  Abduction is not that bad — if you can ignore the worst offending aspects.  It tells the story of Nathan (Lautner), an athletic (and unnaturally ripped — yes, he does have a couple of gratuitous topless scenes) teenager who has a seemingly normal life until he discovers a photo of a kid that looks curiously similar to him on a missing person’s website.  Nathan begins to question who he is, and before long the CIA and deadly assassins are after him as he tries to piece together the mystery of his life.  It’s a great premise and it’s not hard to understand why the spec (ie unsolicited) script written by Shawn Christensen was sold for $1 million after it started a bidding war.

The action scenes may be unrealistic (they’re all practically indestructible in hand-to-hand combat) but they are occasionally exciting.  Lautner looks comfortable running around and punching things like a young Jason Bourne (is it blasphemous to compare?) and the choreography is fairly solid.  It’s a few notches down fromn Taken territory (most films are) but by the current standards of action films Abduction holds its own.

Super cast as well.  Maria Bello is the mother and Sigourney Weaver is the shrink.  The always welcome Alfred Molina plays a CIA agent and the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Michael Nyqvist) is the big bad baddie.

Unfortunately, Abduction is an obvious Lautner vehicle co-produced by Lautner’s family’s production company, and as such, the filmmakers felt they had to work extra hard at appealing to Lautner’s fan base — ie, teenager girls living in the Twilight dream land.  This meant a corny, persistent romance between Nathan and his neighbour/childhood friend/destined love interest, Karen, played by Lily Collins (the daughter of music legend Phil).

Apart from a pair of crazy eyebrows, Collins doesn’t offer much by way of interest or excitement.  She’s merely there so girls can picture themselves in her place when Lautner goes mentally overprotective on her (like Edward and Bella) and so Lautner’s teenage character can save her from highly trained assassin baddies.  She’s a hopeless character and is cursed with some of the worst dialogue in the film.  I am not kidding when I say I was writhing in agony in my seat during a couple of their conversations and I had to look away during one of the worst make-out scenes of all time.

And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies and continuity errors.  If even I could spot them then surely everyone could (how hard is it to maintain a limp?).

At the end of the day, while Abduction isn’t a good movie, it achieves some of the goals it set out to achieve.  Lautner got to be the main guy and the guy who gets the girl for once, he got to show off his bod and his martial arts skills, and as far as action is concerned, the film is more than adequate.  It’s all the other crap that drags Abduction down.

2.25 stars out of 5

PS: Personally, I’m happy for Mr Lautner.  He seems like a good kid who worked his butt off after he was almost replaced on New Moon by this guy and soared to become one of the hottest stars in the world.

Balla at ‘The Star’

September 28, 2011 in Food, Reviews by pacejmiller

After almost a billion dollars of gamblers’ money has been ‘reinvested’, the casino formerly known as Star City is now ‘The Star’, and one of its new ‘signature dining’ restaurants is Balla, headed by renowned chef Stefano Manfredi.

By some miracle stroke of good fortune we scored a free meal there and decided to take full advantage, especially because Manfredi became one of our favourite chefs following our visit to his Central Coast restaurant at Bells at Killcare (review of that place here).

I must admit, the newly renovated ‘The Star’ looks pretty darn good in comparison to what it used to be.  It’s clear that they are going for that super upmarket Vegas look judging from the grandeur of the decor and the expensive shops.  And Balla, which only opened in mid-September, has one of the best locations there, right atop the stairs near the theatre and overlooking the water.

It has a spacious interior with an open kitchen and chic modern design, and all the waiters look like they have undergone some serious training.  On this particular evening there were a couple of celebrity sightings (I’m talking at the Home and Away level), but it was good to see the man himself, Mr Manfredi, standing near the entrance to greet guests.  I believe he also personally delivers one dish to each table for the evening, and we were lucky to get the opportunity to congratulate him on the new opening.

Read the rest of this entry →

Movie Review: Fright Night (2D) (2011)

September 26, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The original 1985 Fright Night was one of the first movies I can remember watching as a child (a disturbing fact in itself).  My uncle had borrowed the video from the local store and ‘forgot’ to return it, and when the video store went bust (because of people like my uncle), Fright Night became part of the family video collection.

And so I had mixed feelings when I heard that they were doing a remake, and that it was going to be in “I can’t take anymore” 3D.  One of the reasons I was optimistic was because of the awesome cast — Anton Yelchin (there’s something about this kid that I love) was going to play the teenage protagonist Charley Brewster (previously played by William Ragsdale), Toni Collette was going to play his mother, and Colin Farrell (previously Chris Sarandon) was going to be Jerry, the vampire next door.

But on the other hand, a remake is a remake, and remakes seldom hold a candle to the original.

Fortunately, this particular remake was pretty good, primarily because it does not slavishly follow the original (from what I can remember).  The characters are the same and the plot (a teenager suspects the charming next door neighbour is a vampire) largely follows the same trajectory, but the progression, the minor plot points and the overall feel are rather different.

Like the original, one thing this Fright Night remake does extremely well is finding the right balance between horror and comedy.  The horror bits are genuinely scary without relying on cheap shots and the comedy bits are actually quite funny.  It pays homage to the original (Chris Sarandon even makes a cameo appearance) but director Craig Gillespie (who is going to be at the helm of the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) clearly had his own vision for this film.

I’m not sure if it’s because of my affection for the original, Anton Yelchin or the fact that the vampires in this film are the evil bloodsuckers they’re meant to be — nothing like those corny Twilight and True Blood romantics — that I found Fright Night to be one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011.

3.75 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, I had to make quite a trek to find this film in 2D, as almost all cinemas in my area were showing this film exclusively in 3D.  I’m sure it prevented it from losing a half star from my rating.  Sadly, I think the 3D exclusivity is turning a lot of audiences away from this film, which is why it hasn’t stuck around for very long.  When will these 3D money grabbers learn?

WordPress.com to WordPress.org: 3 weeks on

September 25, 2011 in Blogging by pacejmiller

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I made the DYI migration from a WordPress.com blog to my own domain at pacejmiller.com.  So far, the results have been mixed, but I remain optimistic.

Presentation

For starters, the look and feel of the blog has improved dramatically and I have more freedom in shaping how everything looks.  I am no longer constrained by the limitations of WordPress.com.  The only problem is that I have to continue to learn how to do these things because a lot of things require knowledge of CSS or HTML, both of which were completely foreign to me not so long ago (and remain relatively foreign now).

I’ve been able to add new plugins and widgets, many of which are merely replicating what I had on WordPress.com before, but some of them are new and pretty cool.  The SEO plugins are particularly useful as they optimise your site and your posts for search engine efficiency.  I have yet to see the results, to be honest, but I’m sure it will pay dividends down the track.  The annoying thing with the plugins is that you often have to learn how to configure them yourself, which can be a pain, even with the help of YouTube tutorials (you have to look for them yourself).  There have been several plugins where I have simply deleted rather than trying to figure out how they work properly.

Visitors

The main thing I was concerned about when switching from WordPress.com is losing my visitors.  Before I made the switch I was averaging around 1,200 visitors per day.  I rarely dipped below 900 and on occasion could soar to 2,000-3,000+ if there was a Stumbled post or if it was ‘Freshly Pressed’ on WordPress.com.

Around the time I made the switch one of my posts had been Stumbled again and I was getting strong views around 2,000 a day.  However, as soon as I made the switch the numbers started to drop.  Check out the stats graph below.

Now, ignore the first day, Sep 4, because the transition was made in the middle of that day and the blog remained somewhat unstable for a few hours (ie the redirect didn’t work all the time).  But as you can see, from Sep 5, my blog stats began to steadily decline from around 1,100 hits until it bottomed out (or so I thought) at around 600 a week later.  Since then, the stats have been fluctuating, dipping below 500 a couple of times but for the most part remaining between 500-700.  That’s about half my blog hits, slashed from the move.

I wondered why that was the case.  Weren’t all the visitors to my old blog being automatically redirected?  Although I don’t know all the answers, I have a feeling one of the main reasons for the drop is that I am no longer reaping the benefits of being associated with WordPress.com.

The SEO of a WordPress.com blog seems to be quite high, plus I get referrers from WordPress.com through their tags and category systems.  By moving away from WordPress.com I lose all of that.

Secondly, the page rank and authority of my old blog has not been transferred over despite the auto redirect.  As a result, when people search for things on search engines, my blog posts are stashed away at the bottom of search results.  At the same time, the rank and authority of my old blog might also be falling, acting as a double whammy for my blog stats.

I have resubmitted my blog to the various search engines and looked for traffic exchanges such as TrafficSwarm and so forth, but none of them made a noticeable difference thus far.

I found an interesting discussion of the loss in blog stats here.  It seems losing around 50-60% of daily hits after a migration isn’t as bad as some who lose up to 90%.  There is no way around it and it will take 6 months or more to build it back up, if at all.  No wonder a lot of people who have made the move are considering moving back.

That’s a sobering thought.

Advertising

I have made the decision to delay advertising on the blog for the time being.  For starters, I don’t think I am getting enough visitors to make more than a bit of pocket change at the moment.  I’ll need to build up my visitors a little more before thinking about it again.

In the meantime, I have signed up to Google Adsense, which I think is having some technical issues in regards to validating websites.  I’m just going to park it for now.

There are several other options, some of which had contacted me previously about advertising.  Interestingly, with my previous visitor average on WordPress.com (ie, 25,000+ page views per month), I could have applied for the AdControl upgrade on WordPress.com and get ads that way, even though I would have to split the profits with WordPress 50/50.  However, from this forum post, it appears that you’ll be lucky to get just 5 bucks a month.

So perhaps it’s back to the drawing board because the income from these ads might not be enough to offset the ugliness that comes with it.

A Final Word

So far, so good.  I’m not happy about losing around half my blog hits on a daily basis but I knew they would take a hit when I made the migration.  Hopefully, in time, things will improve.

That said, I am ecstatic about the new look and the new possibilities the blog has now that it’s moved to its own domain.  I still have a lot to learn and will let people know if I have any new discoveries or breakthroughs.

Movie Review: The Smurfs (2D) (2011)

September 24, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

La la la la la la, la la la la la!

I practically grew up watching The Smurfs cartoons, but I was sceptical when I heard they were making a film version — in ‘please rip me off’ 3D’, no less.  Nonetheless, despite my better judgment, I decided to check it out.  It wasn’t easy finding a 2D session, but I managed to squeeze one into my busy schedule (damn you 3D films!).

I have to admit I rather enjoyed The Smurfs.  The voices weren’t quite what I remembered (Katy Perry as Smurfette?) but it was a fun trip down nostalgia lane.  The jokes may be targeted primarily at children, but it was good to see that many jokes were also self-referential and tongue-in-cheek.  Some fell flat but even one laugh was more than I had expected from the film.  Great to see director Raja Gosnell (who has a pretty dodgy resume with films such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Big Momma’s House and Scooby-Doo) not completely stuff this up.

The premise is recycled and doesn’t require familiarity with the old comics or cartoons.  It uses the formula laid down by Enchanted, where the cartoon characters live in their cartoonish world but are magically transported into the real world.  The Smurfs’ human ally in the real world is none other than Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, who I never seem to get tired of.  Harris is not bad but is completely overshadowed by the true star of the show, the villain Gargamel, played masterfully by Hank Azaria.

Ultimately, The Smurfs really isn’t all that different from your typical kiddie holiday film in that it has a formulaic plot and relies on childish jokes and a lot of silliness.  I thought I’d be rolling my eyes every couple of seconds but I ended up liking it more than I expected.  I’m just glad my favourite Smurf, Brainy, was given one of the more prominent roles amongst the Smurfs (I always like the dickhead characters).

Interestingly, despite lukewarm critical reviews, audience reception of The Smurfs has been pretty good, especially amongst the younger demographic.  A sequel is already being planned for 2013.

3 stars out of 5