Movie Review: Elysium (2013) (IMAX)

August 10, 2013 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

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Elysium is a thrilling sci-fi action blockbuster with a thought-provoking premise, but it also requires you to partly switch of your brain to fully enjoy it.

I was expecting an intelligent thriller as Elysium is director Neill Blomkamp’s highly-anticipated follow-up to the acclaimed District 9, which you might recall was a clever and cheeky 2009 sleeper hit inspired by South Africa’s apartheid era. But if you watch Elysium looking forward to the same sharp wit and veiled political commentary you will probably come away disappointed. On the other hand, if all you want is exciting popcorn entertainment, then Elysium will surely satisfy as a violent, white-knuckle thrill ride with a suped-up Jason Bourne.

Towards the end of the 21st century, Earth is overpopulated, polluted and practically in ruins. The wealthy don’t have anything to worry about, because they live on a luxurious man-made community floating above the planet’s atmosphere called Elysium, where there is no poverty, no disease, and presumably, no need for people to commit any crime.

Matt Damon plays Max, an Earthling who dreamed of one day making it to Elysium as a kid but instead grew up to be a crafty criminal — well, ex-criminal, because he now works at a factory manufacturing the same androids that police their sad, wretched, pathetic lives.

I’ll try to tread around spoilers, but of course, Max needs to make it to Elysium at all costs. Standing in his way is Jodie Foster, the defense minister on Elysium, and the crazy South African mad dog she hired to do her dirty work on Earth, played by Sharlto Copley (the protagonist from District 9).

I was surprised that Elysium turned out to be such a straightforward sci-fi action flick (complete with the typical cliches), which may not have been a bad thing had the premise not held so much potential. Yes, there are obvious moral themes that emerge out of the premise, but most of these are only touched upon on the surface.

There are a lot of things left unexplained: How did the world get like this? How did Elysium get built? What’s the political or legal system there and on Earth and between the two? How is it possible that every house on Elysium has a miraculous machine that can cure all diseases (including cancer), perform instant surgeries and even reconstruct body parts — and Earth not even have a single one? Are there no altruistic rich people anymore? I’m not talking about a comprehensive explanation, just some hints. Oh, and I would have loved to have seen more of what people actually do on Elysium — apart from high society afternoon parties and dips in the pool.

And those are just the questions about the background. Elysium also raises many other in-film questions that, if left unanswered, result in Prometheus-sized plot holes. Perhaps I’m being picky, but I had so many questions about what was happening that it became a distraction at times.

If you can put these issues aside and just go along for the ride, however, then you might find Elysium a highly entertaining film powered by near-seamless special effects and inventive sci-fi creations. Watching Matt Damon run around, getting smashed and smashing people and being Matt Damon is never a bad thing anyway.

Elysium has plenty of graphic violence that could shock viewers unfamiliar with Blomkamp’s style, but personally I don’t have a problem with some visceral stimulation every now and then. What I did have a problem with was some of the intentionally shaky camera movements and quick cuts during some of the action sequences, especially the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I just prefer clarity.

The performances were interesting. Matt Damon was his usual steady self, focused and charming and dedicated to the task. He was believable and probably the only character to experience any development throughout the whole movie. Sharlto Copley got to play the cool villain by being a complete nutjob, albeit an extremely dangerous and lethal one. Strangely, it was the dual Academy Award winner, Jodie Foster, who ended up as the weak link. I think she what she could with her flimsy lines, but she couldn’t help that her character was a cardboard cutout who was never as important as we thought she was.

Final word: Viewers expecting Elysium to be Blomkamp’s allegorical portrayal of the world’s growing wealth gap in the same way he tackled apartheid in District 9 might be disappointed. But who says all of his movies need to have a potent political message? In many ways, I actually enjoyed Elysium more than District 9. With a considerably bigger budget (US$115 million vs US$30 million), enhanced star power and an enlarged scale (seeing it on IMAX was particularly stunning), Elysium is one of the year’s more exciting and aesthetically impressive action blockbusters. It might not tick all the boxes, but the film is never boring and should keep audiences completely engaged for its apt 109-minute running time.

3.5 stars out of 5

Ikki Japanese Restaurant (Taipei) (藝奇)

August 10, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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The food just keeps rolling in, and I just keep rolling on.

Ikki (藝奇新日本料理) is one of many restaurants belonging to the mighty WowPrime Group in Taiwan, whose lineup includes Pin Tian Japanese Katsu, Ju Hokkaido Hotpot, Yuan Shao BBQ, and Tasty Steak House, among others (some of which I will review in due course)

While each restaurant has a different price point and theme, they all have the WowPrime stamp of quality. Ikki is a Japanese restaurant regarded as part one of WowPrime’s classier joints, with each set course priced at NT$698 (about AU$25) (+10% surcharge). That’s actually still exceptional value considering the number of courses you get, the lovely ambiance and the exceptional service.

There are about a dozen Ikki restaurants spread throughout Taiwan, and this review is actually a combination of visits to two separate franchises — one near the Ximen MRT station and the other being the newly opened store at Banqiao (also near the MRT and bus station at High Mall). The two visits are separated by 8 months, but I think the menu has largely stayed the same.

Once you are seated and even before you make any orders, you will be treated to this light seafood broth, which offers unlimited refills. It’s a great way to whet the appetite, but make sure you don’t have too much because a mammoth meal awaits!

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Seafood broth — with unlimited refills!

Then, it’s time to take your order. Like pretty much all WowPrime restaurants, you get a selection of choices starting from salad to appetizer to rice to main course to dessert and beverage. No matter what you choose, it’s NT$698+10% surcharge.

Here is the Chinese menu, though I hear they also have an English one. The annoying thing with the menu is that most of the photos are on a different page, meaning you have to flick back and forth. But the waiters do explain what each dish includes, so that makes up for it a little bit.

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Ikki Menu

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Ikki Menu

If you are lucky, you might get this complimentary palette cleanser — an icy plum vinegar.

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Icy plum vinegar — only if you are lucky!

The first course is salad, and according to my latest visit there are three options. We all went with the fresh fruit and vegetable salad, which looked the best to me. It was excellent, with a light and tangy dressing, crispy greens, tomatoes, mango and dragon fruit, and a few slices of chicken.

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Fresh fruit and vegetable salad

Next up, the appetizer. Over the two visits we managed to order all three, so check them out. The first is a crumbed cod with tartar sauce on top of grapefruit! Superb mix of flavours and textures — possibly my favourite dish at Ikki. And if you don’t want grapefruit, they give you more fried cod. Win-win situation either way. Check out both versions below.

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With grapefruit

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Without grapefruit…but with more cod!

As for the other two appetizers: a prawn and seafood steamed egg bowl, and a creative mushroom rice cake. The former was better than the latter.

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Seafood Steamed Egg Bowl

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Steamed Mushroom Rice Cake

There’s still a couple of more courses before the mains. Next: rice and noodles! We got two out of the three — a salmon rice and a duck steamed rice — skipping the cold sesame sauce noodles.

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Salmon Rice

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Duck Rice

The last course before the mains is either sashimi or a steamed dish. The sashimi usually includes an assortment of salmon and tuna, but we asked for all salmon, which they were nice enough to accommodate. The other two options, which we both got, were smoked salmon plus seared scallop, and a prawn with thick vermicelli noodles. All three were excellent, especially the smoked salmon/seared scallop, two of my favourite things rolled into one.

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Salmon Sashimi

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Seared Scallop Wrapped in Smoked Salmom

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Steamed Prawns with Vermicelli

At long last, the main courses, of which there are 8 options. We got a few. Check it out.

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Stone-cooked Beef Cubes with Abalone Mushrooms

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Stone-cooked Chicken Wrapped in Bamboo Leaf

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Stone-cooked Chicken

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Surf & Turf with Chicken and Fish on Tofu

The mains were all pretty good, but if I had to choose again, I’d go with the beef cubes or the bamboo chicken.

Lastly, the desserts (I skipped the beverage pics). We got a pineapple panna cotta and a caramel mousse cake. Both were just OK, but by then I was too full to care.

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Pineapple Panna Cotta

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Caramel Mousse Cake

All of the WowPrime restaurants are pretty tasty, and Ikki, in my opinion, is towards the upper end of the pack. The quality is solid, the variety is excellent and the flavours are generally favourable. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s easy to see why Ikki is so popular (and hence reservations are a must).

8/10

Details

Ikki (藝奇新日本料理)

Website: http://www.ikki.com.tw/Foreign/index.htm — includes English menu

Branch addresses and numbers: http://www.ikki.com.tw/Foreign/branches_E.htm