2012 Movie Blitz: Part 9

August 23, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

This latest tranche has a political flavour…kind of…

Act of Valor (2012)


Just the title alone made me sceptical of this film, essentially a US Army recruitment video starring real-life soldiers. There must be people who lapped up the salty patriotism and corny melodrama of Act of Valor, but I was not one of them.

The plot — and there is a plot — is not important, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of it. The story focuses on a team of Navy Seals who have to shot and blow up enemies who pose a threat to freedom in the United States. Terrorists, that is.

The action scenes are well-choreographed, I don’t dispute that. Apparently they are realistic, but the shaky camera movements were too much for me. I had trouble telling what was happening when they had the helmet-mounted cameras and a few of the scenes made me feel nauseated.

But the main problem with Act of Valor, apart from the cookie-cutter plot, is the unintentional Team America: World Police feel that runs throughout the whole film. Much of it stems from dramatic score and the really really really atrocious lines spewed out by the really really really wooden “actors.” They just didn’t feel like real people. It was so bad that it was often either hilarious or distracting, or both. No offense to the soldiers, but it was akin to letting Stallone and The Rock go fight real terrorists on behalf of their country.

2 stars out of 5

PS: The mix of shaky camera movements and over-the-board heroism was enough to do this to me.


Game Change (2012)


A great film for anyone interested in just how stupid Sarah Palin really is. Game Change is based on the true story of the 2008 Republican ticket of John McCain and Palin, and it’s a ripper. Sharp, funny and at times bewildering, it provides a fascinating insight into US presidential elections and the campaign strategies that direct the outcome. And above all, it reveals just how insane the Republicans were to take on a risk like Palin, who was believed to be a potential game changer — and she was, just not the way they wanted.

I loved the Tina Fey impersonations but Julianne Moore is equally brilliant in this more serious portrayal of Palin, who is depicted as an ambitious, self-righteous but incredibly naive and ignorant politician. Most of her most famous gaffes are repeated in the film, and they’re still just as funny. But it was also easy to see why the Republicans were so enamored with her in the beginning and so frustrated with her by the end. They essentially created a monster and didn’t know how to rein her back in.

Ed Harris was surprisingly good as John McCain, who I’ve always liked and was portrayed as a very decent man who really had no idea what he was getting himself into with Palin. The rest of the supporting cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, was also excellent. Just a classy production all round.

Of course, the accuracy of the events depicted in the film have been disputed, but I’d like to think it captured the spirit of the campaign. Besides, both Palin and McCain, who said the film was inaccurate, never even saw it.

I really enjoyed it, even though it did have quite a strong TV-movie atmosphere.

PS: Here’s a scene by scene comparison between Palin and Moore.

4 stars out of 5

The Campaign (2012)

The Campaign

While we’re on the subject of election campaigns, I’d like to review The Campaign, a pretty stock standard Will Ferrell farce about two numskulls vying for a congressional seat in a small town.

Ferrell plays his usual douche self who expects to earn another trip to DC unopposed, but a semi-retarded man played by Zach Galifianakis is somehow manipulated by corrupt businessmen to run against Ferrell so they can profit from a Chinese company (go figure). Retardation ensues as the two start getting down and dirty with outrageous plots to derail the other’s campaign.

If you know Ferrell’s brand of comedy and Galifianakis’s brand of comedy then it’s likely The Campaign will offer few surprises. It’s a lot of stupidity and randomness for about 85 minutes, a welcome length because the film starts to lose steam towards the end.

That said, there are some decent moments in The Campaign, and if you were lucky to have missed the spoilers in the trailers then you might find it rather enjoyable. Many of the jokes are borderline offensive or just plain offensive, but because they are almost always self-deprecating and take jabs at the usual politician antics they aren’t difficult to stomach or even appreciate. Both Ferrell and Galifianakis are in fine form and they do have nice chemistry on screen together.

At the end of the day, The Campaign is a forgettable comedy, but it’s also a pretty damn funny one (for the most part).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Watch (2012)


Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty good together in Dodgeball, so I thought would give The Watch a shot. Without giving too much away (and there are potential spoilers), it’s about a bunch of average guys who decide to form a neighbourhood watch when locals start dying under weird circumstances.

The main foursome who form the neighbourhood watch are Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (an English comedian I’ve never heard of). They get up to stupid, juvenile stuff, predictably, until a discovery that puts their lives in real danger. There’s a lot of screaming in feigned fear and plenty of vulgar and sexualised jokes but sadly not a lot of originality or wit. In fact, I found the whole film strangely dull despite all the energetic stuff that was happening on screen.

Part of the problem is that Stiller and Vaughn (and to some extent Hill) seem to be playing the exact same characters with the same personalities and traits in every movie. Stiller is the bumbling nice guy who wants to be something more, and Vaughn is the deadpan specialist, while Hill is the awkward fatty. There’s just nothing fresh about it and they feel like actors playing themselves rather than characters.

I’ll admit, there were a few times in The Watch where the inner juvenile in me found a joke in the film funny — but these moments were few and far in between. As much I as enjoy these group buddy movies as much as the next guy, this one was uninspiring and forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

No. 168 Prime Steakhouse (Taipei)

August 23, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller


Rummaging through some old photos when I came across a set from what might have been an anniversary lunch last year. I can’t remember for sure, but what I can remember is that No. 168 Prime Steakhouse in Taipei’s Zhongshan district is a pretty good place to go for awesome steak, where it’s all about the quality of the meat and its raw, original flavours.

Located inside the Grand Victoria Hotel near the big Miramar ferris wheel in Taipei’s Songshan district, No. 168 is decorated like an upscale casual restaurant with a posh elegance to it.

The menu is extensive, with a range of a la carte options as well as lunch and dinner sets. Here is the full menu.

We went with the lunch set, which offers a range of options to choose from when selecting your starter, soup or salad, main course, side dish and dessert. The price of your set depends on the main you get, and can range from NT$900 to NT$3,500 (or more for a two-person main).

We started off with the Taraba Crab Cake and the Seared Hokkaido Scallop. Both were marvellous. The crab cake went really well with the herb salad and the tangy lemon oil dressing, and I was surprised by how good the sea urchin cream that went with the scallop was. A real satisfying start to a meal.

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Taraba Crab Salad

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Seared Hokkaido Scallop

Next up, the soup. Neither of us really cared much for the salads, so we went with their awesome soup of the day, a spectacular clam chowder, their signature soup. Fresh and creamy, it’s one of the best clam chowders soups I’ve had.

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No. 168 Clam Chowder

For the mains, we had to go with at least one wagyu steak, and the one we ended up choosing was the Australian Wagyu 9 + NT Strip Steak (I know, I had to come all the way to Taiwan for Australian beef). Medium-cooked, the beef was soft and juicy and roaring with natural flavours. Just the beef with some roasted garlic was perfection.

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The Australian Wagyu 9 + NY Strip Steak

But if that’s not enough for you, then you’ve got a range of delicious condiments to choose from — three types of salt (Himalayan, Hawaiian and French) and three types of mustard (English, French mustard seeds and French). Wow.

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Your steak condiments

For the other main, we chose the Roasted Pork Rib Eye, which wasn’t quite as good, though anything with roasted garlic and caramelized apple can’t be too bad. We used some of the steak condiments on the pork as well.

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Roasted Pork Rib Eye

A surprise was the side of roasted vegetables that came with the mains, which were spectacular. Check it out.

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Roasted Vegetables (side)

Last but not least, the desserts. I don’t know why we got three, but we did. The last one wasn’t even on the menu, and I think it is a chocolate tart. From memory they were OK, but not one of their fortes.

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Yogurt Cheese Cake

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Oven Roasted Apple

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Chocolate Tart (special)

No. 168 Prime Steakhouse is definitely one of the better steak joints I have been to in Taiwan. The prices may be a little dear for regular folks, but it’s worth it if you are looking for a ripping good steak or a fine dining experience.



No. 168 Prime Steakhouse

Website: www.grandvictoria.com.tw

Address: Grand Victoria Hotel, 4 FL, No. 168, Jingye 4th Road, Dazhi, Zhongshan District (nearest MRT: Jiannan Road Station, brown line)

Phone: (02) 6602-5678

Hours: Weekday Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner 6:00-10:00pm; Weekend Lunch 12:00pm-3:00pm; Dinner 5:30pm-10:00pm