2012 Movie Blitz: Part 6

August 7, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

This Means War (2012)

this_means_war

I don’t really care for Reese Witherspoon, but I do like Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and I love Bane (Tom Hardy), and so I checked out This Means War, a romantic comedy about a couple of CIA operatives going to extreme lengths to win over the girl of their dreams.

The central joke comes from the farcical premise that two supposedly highly trained and professional men would backstab each other and use government resources for the sake of love. A lot of the laughs come from the guys trying to one-up each other and using their special agent skills for moronic purposes. (I don’t get it, personally, why Reese is so appealing, but I guess that’s just me.)

Unfortunately, This Means War cannot escape the fate of the generic rom-com. The idea is a good one, but it’s no more than a mildly amusing, silly, and unmemorable film trying to get by on the charm of its three stars. The editing is messy and the action scenes are poorly done. The intention of the craziness is to create some fun, but I got the feeling that the actors were enjoying it a lot more than the viewers.

The film has been savaged by critics but I don’t think it’s that bad, as they are a couple of funny moments here and there, but on the whole it’s just barely passable.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Lucky One (2012)

the-lucky-one-poster

Nicholas Sparks could very well be the devil. He drew us in with his debut, The Notebook, which everyone loves, but then since then we’ve been given one sappy melodrama after another.

The trend continues with The Lucky One, essentially a Zac Efron vehicle about a US marine in Iraq who is saved from a deadly blast because he found a photo of a pretty lady (hence he is “The Lucky One”). After returning home, he sets about finding this woman who “saved his life”, and when he does, he inexplicably starts working for her but can’t bring himself to tell her the truth for some reason.

Typical small town drama ensues, with sceptical busybodies, jealous husbands and young children all thrown into the mix. Of course, Efron plays this perfect guy who is just nice to a fault and the lady (Taylor Schilling) cannot help but fall in love with him. You can guess the rest.

This might be one of Sparks’ better novels — I have no idea — but it’s still a pretty difficult film to stomach. It’s directed by Aussie Scott Hicks, who gave us Shine, so technically the film is very sound. But the emotional manipulation and sappiness is just trite, and watching Efron prance around on screen pretending to be Mr Perfect is quite unbearable.

There is clearly a market for Sparks adaptations or else there wouldn’t be this many. What is clear though is that I don’t belong in this market.

2 stars out of 5

The Dictator (2012)

dictator

I am a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I love the characters Ali G and Borat, which show off his genius at improvisation and ability to generate laughs on so many levels. His main advantage was anonymity, which allowed him to dupe people by pretending to be this outlandish character. Now that he is world famous, Cohen has no choice but to head in the direction of scripted comedy. And unfortunately, he’s just not very funny when he does this.

Like the miserable failure that was Ali G Indahouse, Cohen’s latest effort, The Dictator, just isn’t any good. It’s sad. I can tell he tried, really hard, to infuse some of his trademark lowbrow humor into the script, but you can see the punchlines a mile away. Take away Cohen’s masterful spontaneity and he’s not much more than an average — if not somewhat obnoxious — comedian. He’s simply too obvious.

The Dictator is not a mockumentary like Borat or Bruno, but a straight-up comedy about the tyrannical but moronic ruler of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya. You would have already seen some of the so-called best bits in the trailers, such as the sprinting contest where no one has the guts to beat the great leader. It’s an obvious parody of dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il.

Strangely, the film soon becomes a kind of Coming to America imitator as Cohen’s character is brought to the United States and becomes a regular Joe who has to fit in with the rest of society. He meets a boyish woman played by Anna Faris, meaning lots of sexist jokes, but of course he eventually realizes he may have feelings for her, turning The Dictator into a rom-com as well.

The result is a messy mishmash of genres, tonal unevenness and a lot of bad jokes mixed in with a couple of decent (usually very crude and/or politically incorrect and/or inappropriate ones). There is the occasional bit of satirical sharpness in Cohen’s political messages, though I’d still classify The Dictator as a letdown because it just isn’t consistently funny enough.

2.5 stars out of 5

Wanderlust (2012)

Wanderlust-Poster

One of my favourite actors (Paul Rudd) teams up again with one of my least favourite actresses (Jennifer Aniston) to bring us Wanderlust, about a financially strapped couple who escape society by moving to a hippy commune full of weird and wacky characters. (The two had previously worked together on 1998’s The Object of My Affection, and also on a lengthy arc in Friends.)

This is an interesting idea with great potential for laughs, and I was surprised that the film lived up to the potential somewhat. It’s a good movie for people who enjoy random humour and unusual situations, as there’s plenty of both. It makes fun of the “free love”, “non-violent” principles of such communes, but it’s not done in a mean-spirited way and actually makes them likable as opposed to just bizarre characters. So I guess what I am saying is that this is a rare movie that has both genuine laughs and heart.

The role of the husband is tailor-made for Rudd, who is at his best as the awkward bumbler who gets in over his head. Aniston, I will admit, is not too bad here either in this role (by that I mean not annoying). Her real life beau, Justin Theroux, almost steals the show as the nutty leader of the commune, and has probably the most hilarious sequences in the movie. Also worth noting are the couple who play Rudd’s intolerable brother and sister-in-law, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins. They are awesome.

Wanderlust did awful at the box office but I think it’s a little gem of a comedy with some real wit and several laugh-out-loud nuggets of gold. It loses some steam towards the end and got unnecessarily messy in trying to create a crisis to serve as the film’s climax, but I think it is definitely one of the more underrated comedies of 2012.

3.75 stars out of 5

Legendary Pierre Marcolini desserts in Taipei!

August 7, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

zachy new 258

The Pierre Marcolini inside building A4 of the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi in the Xinyi district

Once upon a time, there was a terrifying old madwoman who raved on about “the best chocolate in the world”, Pierre Marcolini, the legendary Belgian chocolatier. I couldn’t quite afford the expensive chocolates during my one and only visit to Brussels as a student in December 2009, but one day, after a business trip to the Belgian capital, the madwoman brought back some small packs of Pierre Marcolini chocolates for me and my colleagues (her minions) as gifts. They were exquisitely packaged and tasted heavenly. It didn’t make up for the daily abuse we suffered at her hands, but it was, begrudgingly, an act of kindness I have never forgotten.

That is a memory I have tried to repress for years, though this has not stopped the name Pierre Marcolini from being carved into my subconscious forever. And so I was shocked when I ventured into the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store in Taipei’s busy Xinyi district and spotted a Pierre Marcolini‘s cafe. Marketed as the “god of chocolate” (who comes up with this stuff?), this cafe served not only sublime chocolates but also beautifully crafted desserts.

Despite the bank-breaking prices, I just had to try. (And I’m serious about the prices. We’re talking around NT$500 (AU$18-19) for each dessert, which is nearly double what some other already-considered-very-nice patisseries in Taiwan charge).

It wasn’t, however, a great afternoon because it seemed the air conditioning in that section of the department store was down, and it was like a freaking furnace in there. Nonetheless, our group of four perused the menus and, after getting over the shock of the prices, ordered one each (which comes with a complimentary beverage included in the price).

zachy new 253

Options from the menu

zachy new 254

More options from the menu

 

zachy new 255

This is a super special menu for two that we passed on — includes savoury dishes as well as desserts for NT$1,200 + 10% surcharge

Below are some pretty average photos of our desserts taken on a smartphone.

zachy new 261

The L’Envol, essentially a chocolate cake with chocolate ribbon, a tiny macaron and ice cream — apparently THE highlight that turned Pierre Marcolini into a “god”

zachy new 263

Le Macaron Sablon, a big berry macaron with a chocolate ribbon and crushed pistachios — great for those looking for something lighter and more sour

zachy new 265

Speaking of sour, this was one excellent lemon tart (Tarte Citron à l’ ancienne) with meringue on top and caramelized lemon pieces below

zachy new 267

And last but not lease, my favourite, which happens to not be on the menu. I don’t know what it is, but it has ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh bananas, mascapone, crushed nuts and that crispy chocolate thing you see in the back (the best)

The final verdict on Pierre Marcolini? Mmm…very nice, highly quality desserts — but for that price? I don’t think so. Taiwan has plenty of places that sell cakes and desserts that, in my humble opinion, at least rival that of Pierre Marcolini, but at a fraction of the price. So while it’s an experience I enjoyed, I don’t think I will be going back any time soon.

Details

Pierre Marcolini

Address: Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A4, 2nd Floor, No. 19, Song Gao Rd, Xinyi district, Taipei City

Phone: (02) 2722 0660

Facebook page (Chinese)