Movie Review: American Pie: Reunion (2012)

May 22, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Comparing the posters of the original and latest

Regardless of what the reviews or critics might have said, the original American Pie was a classic. It was funny, gross, inappropriate, strangely charming and filled with memorable lines and gags. It is still probably the most important film in the careers of all the actors involved, many of whom went on to (slightly) bigger and better things. Well, maybe only Sean William (Stifler) Scott and John Cho (one half of the “MILF” duo)…

Fast forward 13 years and the gang from the original is back in American Pie: Reunion, the film you knew was coming despite the two semi-lacklustre sequels and numerous straight-to-DVD spin-offs.

Fortunately, I am glad to say, Reunion is the second best film of the franchise because it infused the film with nostalgia by literally getting everyone back and because Stifler was at his absolute best as the hilarious bullying scumbag who refuses to grow up.

The premise is all in the title, and to be fair, not a whole lot happens in terms of plot. Jim, the guy who did the pie (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), the girl who one time went to band camp, are now married with a kid. They go back home for their 13thyear high school reunion (as opposed to the obligatory 10) and catch up with their old friends, some of whom have changed a lot while others have stayed the same.

I suppose it’s not a shock, considering the film launched their careers, but it was still amazing that they managed to get every single character from the original back for this one — even if it is just a small role or a cameo. The core cast, however, remains Jim and Stifler, the other three members of the gang, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Oz (Chris Klein), their love interests from the first film, Tara Reid, Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler’s mom) and Mena Suvari, and of course, Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy).

New additions include Katrina Bowden (from 30 Rock) as Oz’s girlfriend, Dania Ramirez (from TV’s Heroes) as a former band camp attendee, and Ali Cobrin as Kara, the “all grown up” hottie Jim once babysitted who of course stirs up plenty of trouble (sans clothing, for those interested). John Cho, who went on to become Harold from Harold and Kumar, also stepped up into a relatively key role despite only having a couple of fleeting scenes in the original.

Given that Pie made them stars, it came as no surprise that Biggs and Scott became executive producers on Reunion. Naturally, they dominated the film, a smart choice considering they are by far the two most memorable characters in the franchise.

Reunion switches predominantly between Jim’s awkward sexual gags, his cringe-worthy man-to-mans with his father, and Stifler being…well, Stifler, one of the most irritating, obnoxious and yet inexplicably loveable characters to ever hit the big screen. His introductory scene bordered on legendary and pretty much said all there is to say about his character.

Kevin was always kinda boring so he doesn’t do much, while Finch took a bit of a step back as they couldn’t find much interesting for him to say or do. Klein, despite being repeatedly called the worst actor ever, was in my humble opinion pretty funny as the incredibly camp Oz, displaying some of the same dorky charm he had in the original.

Reunion is by no means a classic in its own right, but it’s a harmless film because it doesn’t damage the legacy of the original. The actors are comfortable in the characters and the jokes, as recycled as many of them may be, are good enough to elicit some genuine laughs. For the fourth “core” film of a franchise a lot of us grew up with, that’s not too bad at all.

3.5 stars out of 5

L’Idiot Restaurant (Taipei)

May 19, 2012 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

It’s quite astonishing that there are so many “fine dining” restaurants in Taipei considering how painfully low average salaries are.

One of the more well-known fine dining restaurants in L’Idiot, which offers a fairly wide range of modern western-style dishes. We went for lunch on a rainy day a few months ago because we heard they served good main courses and brunch.

The restaurant is situated on the ground floor of a commercial building on section 3 of Minsheng East Road. The interior is huge and very stylish, dominated by this massive tile-laden artwork in the middle. The waiters are obviously well-trained and friendly, and offered some nice suggestions.

In the end, we went with one brunch dish: the Homemade Gravlax Benedict, which also comes with salmon roe, potato hash, greens and cherry tomatoes; and one main course: the Grilled Pork Chop with brown butter apple, pumpkin, salty caramel sauce and aligot.

Of course, the courses also came with free house bread, which was just okay, nothing special.

The first to arrive was the Benedict. The salmon was supposed to come with it but we asked for it to be placed on a separate dish as my wife was still pregnant at the time and wanted to avoid anything that wasn’t fully cooked.

I have had many a Benedict in my time, and this one was neither one of the best nor one of the worst. The strength lies in its hollandaise sauce, which is flavoursome but not too creamy or salty, and the salmon and salmon roe went well with it. However, the English muffin didn’t taste particularly fresh and kind of crumbled too easily. The accompanying potato was good, and the salad was fresh but that’s about it.

Next came the pork chop. The pork chop itself was not bad, but not great either. It wasn’t too hard, but I’ve had others that were much more succulent and juicy. More sauce also would have helped. The highlight turned out to be the mashed potato (the aligot, if you will), probably because it had a lot of oil and cheese in it!

So that’s that. L’Idiot turned out to be a tiny bit disappointing because of all the good things we heard about it. Put it this way: the pictures looked better than the food actually tasted.  It certainly wasn’t bad or anything, but considering the price (it was around NT$500 per person, inclusive of the 10% surcharge — though we only got two dishes in total) I had expected a little more. Mind you, we only sampled a tiny portion of the menu, so perhaps we missed out on the best they had to offer. While I’m glad to have tried it I’m not sure if I will go back again.

7 out of 10

Details

L’Idiot Restaurant

Address: No. 156, MinSheng E Rd, Sec 3 (nearest MRT: Zhongshan Jr High School, brown line)
Phone: (02) 2545-6966
Opening hours: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM (Fri/Sat until 12 AM)

Website: http://www.lidiotrestaurant.com/

Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

May 14, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I seriously cannot believe that The Cabin in the Woods, co-written and directed by Cloverfield screenwriter Drew Goddard and co-written and produced by the legendary Joss Whedon (he has to be now, after The Avengers), almost went straight to DVD.

I don’t care if it was because the studio was experiencing financial difficulties – while crappy torture porn and gimmicky 3D horror movies (you know what they are) continue to flood our cinemas, one of the THE best horror movies in recent years was on the brink of being shafted directly to the small screen. Are you kidding me?

It’s really hard to talk about The Cabin in the Woods without releasing a cascade of spoilers, so I’ll be careful. It has a typical teen-slasher premise – five college kids (three guys and two girls, led by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth) with varying character traits go on a holiday to some in-the-middle-of-nowhere cabin in the woods, where nasty stuff is bound to be awaiting them.

But you see, the clichéd set up is only part of the film’s genius. This is a brilliant, incredibly creative horror movie that pays homage to the classics of the genre and tears down just about everything that has gone wrong with horror in the last few years.

Whedon called it a “loving hate letter” to the genre, which he and Goddard felt had devolved with the introduction of torture porn (and you know it absolutely positively has). This is what he had to say:

“On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you again, Joss Whedon.

What I love about the film, apart from the scares and thrills, and the flat-out awesome laughs, is that it is presented as a giant mystery that keeps everyone guessing right from the beginning until the very end. You see, there is another part to this movie, outside of the cabin, that will have audiences wondering what the heck is going on. And watching the mystery unravel, piece by piece, is a huge part of the film’s charm.

The film reaches an apex about 15 minutes or so before the end, at which stage the mystery was explained to a level of perfection. I would have been happy for things to end right then and there, but sadly, the film just couldn’t help itself and kept going until it spiralled out of control. Granted, there were some magnificent scenes in those last few moments, but the “final revelation” really ruined it for me.

Nonetheless, despite the unfortunate turn of events stemming from Whedon and Goddard’s desire to “explain everything”, The Cabin in the Woods borders on an instant classic – it’s one of those rare films that has the potential to spur a new generation of horror movies like say Scream or the original Saw. When all is said and done, this is one I’m going to be remember for a very long time.

4 stars out of 5

Bellini Pasta Pasta (Taipei)

May 13, 2012 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

This Bellini Pasta Pasta is at the Xinyi Vieshow cinemas

Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Taipei, and a lot of them look exactly the same, so it’s very easy to end up at a place that’s simply not very good. Bellini Pasta Pasta, however, is not one of those restaurants. The restaurant is part of the Humax Asia group that also owns Momo Paradise, so you know it’s gotta be pretty good.

We went there after watching some movie I must have reviewed about four months ago (that’s how far I am behind in my food reviews). The restaurant has a lot of options, including set menus for two and four people. We went with the “Couple Set” below but they also have an a la carte menu

The Couple Set

The Party Menu

With the Couple Set you get two salads, two soups, two beverages, two desserts, a pizza and a pasta — all for which is NT$890 + 10% surcharge. It’s not exactly cheap but it’s not expensive either, and for the quality and taste it’s a great deal.

Inside the restaurant

Check out the food photos.

Surprisingly good salad with croutons, cheese and a fruity dressing

Vegetable soup and cream chowder

The BBQ chicken and pineapple pizza -- looks as good as it tastes!

 

Spicy tomato shrimp pasta

Cheese cake...mmm

And of course, the tiramisu!

The photos speak for themselves but I have to say that Bellini Pasta Pasta (supposedly the double “pasta” represents the doubling of the joy from eating the food??) is definitely one of the better Italian restaurants I’ve been to in Taiwan. Everything was of at least above average quality, with the stand outs being the salad, pizza and the desserts. The service and the ambience were also top class. You can probably find better pizza, pasta and desserts elsewhere,  but not many can offer all three at such a high level.

8.5 out of 10!

PS: They offer breakfast (brunch) and afternoon tea as well.

Details:

Bellini Pasta Pasta

Website (full menu): http://www.humaxasia.com.tw/main/uploads/humaxasia/bellini-pastapasta-tw/ (Chinese)

Stores: http://www.humaxasia.com.tw/main/modules/MySpace/index.php?sn=humaxasia&cn=ZC8343&pg=ZC7354
Includes — Xinyi Vieshow Cinemas (level 2), Fuxing Rd Breeze Center (ground floor), Taipei Main Station Q Square (level 4), Zhongxiao Rd Bisto 98 (level 4) (Note different stores have different opening hours)

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 3)

May 8, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Here’s Part I and here’s Part II.

New Year’s Eve (2011)

I still cannot believe I watched New Years Eve, possible one of the worst abominations ever to hit the big screen in recent years. Putting all the biggest stars in the world (I’m not even going to attempt to name them all) in a romantic comedy about the yearly celebration has to be the most contrived idea since…Valentine’s Day, which was obviously trying to cash in on the success of ensemble films like Love, Actually.

The biggest problem with such films is that it are so in awe of the fact that it has all these big stars that it doesn’t bother with anything else – it’s as though seeing them on screen is reason enough for audiences to fork out some money. For some, that might be good enough, but for me it was pure torture (and I didn’t even fork out any money).

The other obvious problem is that with so many stars it’s impossible to give them a decent character or a decent plot to work with. Not unless you’re freaking Joss Whedon. As a result, you end up with a bunch of half-assed, obnoxious characters you don’t give a crap about doing very annoying and contrived things.

All of this could be forgiven to some extent if this romantic comedy was actually romantic, or funny. I don’t know about romantic, but it certainly wasn’t funny. Perhaps a couple of chuckles at most, but the rest was pure cringe city.

0.5 stars out of 5!

Footloose (2011)

Everyone knows about the song, but personally I have not seen the original with Kevin Bacon. In fact, I knew nothing about it other than the spoof scene from Hot Rod a few years back.

The remake is said to be better, though if you ask me I don’t really see why it had to be made in the first place. Professional dancer Kenny Wormald comes to a small town which has banned all unsupervised dancing due to a tragic accident involving some teens three years ago. But you can’t stop a man who wants to get down and boogie, and so Kenny finds himself up against church reverend Dennis Quaid while simultaneously trying to court his rebellious daughter, played by Dancing with the Stars champ Julianne Hough.

The plot is cookie cutter and the feel is very 80s, but I suppose Footloose does have a little bit of that country charm. And it does have a lot of energy. I’m not a big fan of dancing but if you are you might end up enjoying it more than I did. At the end of the day, however, I can’t see them remaking this one in another 27 years.

2.5 stars out of 5

Tower Heist (2011)

Ben Stiller movies aren’t what they used to be, but at least he hasn’t fallen as low as Adam Sandler these days.

Tower Heist, which combines the comedic talents of Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick (Mr Ferris Beuller himself), Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe, plus one of my faves, Michael Pena, is nowhere near as good as it could or should have been, but it’s still relatively harmless fun that can be enjoyed on a lazy afternoon.

Basically it’s about a bunch of employees at a luxury apartment complex inNew Yorkwho are cheated out of their life savings by a wealthy businessman who lives there (Alan Alda), and come up with a scheme to try and get that money back.

It’s your typical heist movie with your regular bunch of misfits and quirky characters, and for the most part the chemistry is strong. Eddie Murphy returns to form a little (I don’t even want to mention the trash he has been involved in lately) but to be honest I didn’t find Tower Heist particularly clever or funny. It had its moments and there’s not a whole lot to dislike about it, but it’s a shame it couldn’t have been more memorable. A poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven, perhaps?

3 stars out of 5

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I assumed it was “remake” of an original I haven’t seen before, but apparently the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian is not related to the Arnie films of the 80s and features a new interpretation of the Conan mythology.

Whatever.

I’m a sucker for sword and sorcery films and there haven’t been a lot of high profile ones lately, so I suppose you could call Conan a guilty pleasure of mine. Jason Mamoa (who also played a barbaric fellow on season one of Game of Thrones), gives a pretty decent, if not uninspiring portrayal of the relentless, sword-wielding titular character who is out for revenge against those who killed his tribe and father. I’m sure he’s more believable than some beefy eastern European guy with a funny accent and a gap between his front teeth anyway.

The action in Conan is brutal and bloody, just the way it ought to be. Mamoa’s physicality is an advantage here, but it’s unfortunate that his character was not more interesting. Rachel Nicols plays the love interest (body double, people) and Avatar villain Stephen Lang and a freaky Rose McGowan are the central villains.

I have no idea why this film had to be 113 minutes, which was way too long and had me yawning through most of the second act. If they had pared it back to a compact 90 action-packed minutes it would have been a much more enjoyable ride.

Nevertheless…

2.75 stars out of 5!