2012 Movie Blitz: Part 10

August 24, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The Tall Man (2012)

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An interesting thriller about a mysterious figure (the titular “Tall Man”) who has been kidnapping kids from a small mining town. Jessica Biel (whatever happened to her movie career?) plays a widowed nurse whose child is abducted and must do all that she can to track down the perpetrator.

I say interesting because The Tall Man is not as straightforward as it seems, with quite a few twists and turns including a major one that occurs, surprisingly, NOT at the very end. Writer and director Pascal Laugier does a good job of keeping the audience off balance with an eerie atmosphere and an unsettling sense of dread and even a bit of surrealism.

Unfortunately, the tone of film lacks consistency and the plot twists aren’t very coherent if you think about them in any detail. The film also slows down a lot from about the halfway mark once the mysteries start unravelling. That said, it’s still a solid (relatively) small-budget film (US$18.2 million) powered by a solid performance from Biel. Those with children might find it more chilling. Not a bad film for DVD night.

3.5 stars out of 5

Fire with Fire (2012)

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There is a reason why this Josh Duhamel revenge action-thriller went straight to DVD. It’s silly, unoriginal, mundane, and simply not very good. It’s better than the 8% it got on Rotten Tomatoes, but with a star-studded cast that also includes Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, and of course, the ubiquitous Bruce Willis, you could be forgiven for expecting a lot more.

Duhamel plays a fireman who is at the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up having to go into witness protection. For a bunch of reasons he no longer wants to be protected and actually wants to come out and take on the guys who want him dead. I don’t get it either.

Fire with Fire offers nothing we haven’t seen before, except with more brutal and unnecessarily violence. It just plods along from one implausible encounter to the next without any real sense of danger of excitement. Generic is probably the best way to describe it.

1.75 stars out of 5

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

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The first Ghost Rider, otherwise known as “Nicholas Cage with hair plugs”, was an uncomfortable mix of horror action and campy comedy. It wasn’t bad, but just not very good. The inevitable sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, carried much less fanfare and hair from Nicholas Cage, who reverted back to his barely-hanging-on but more natural haircut.

It’s been 8 years since the events from the first film and Cage is still the fiery spirit who feeds on the sins of his victims. He is approached by Idris Elba (The Wire) to save a young boy in exchange for the removal of his demonic curse, setting off a new adventure with a new villain, Blackout (Johnny Whitworth).

The film itself is also more conventional and tonally consistent, but it’s also easy to see that it had a much smaller budget (US$57 million compared to US$110 million) and excepted a lot less from itself. The result? A leaner, more straightforward film that probably would have gone straight to DVD had Cage’s name not been attached to it.

I don’t think it’s as appalling as it has been made out to be (ie, made the first one look like The Dark Knight), but I was kind of bored with it as it felt like the entire film was simply going through the motions so everyone could just collect their paychecks. In a dramatic turn of events, Cage has declared that he won’t star in another Ghost Rider film (yes, there are films that he turns down), meaning the likely end of the franchise. That’s a good thing.

2 stars out of 5

House at the End of the Street (2012)

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Jennifer Lawrence has come a long way since 2010’s Winter’s Bone, having gone on to bigger and better things such as The Hunger Games and winning an Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook. Years from now, House at the End of the Street could very well be the big black mark on her resume.

It’s a commercial slasher thriller with a teenage slant, which immediately places the film at a disadvantage. Plus, it was made in 2010 but not released until September 2012 to take advantage of Lawrence’s surging popularity. Indeed, the film debuted at no. 1 in the US.

Lawrence is good in this as a girl who moves into a new neighbourhood with her mother, played by Elizabeth Shue, and she befriends and enters into a relationship with the local hunk (Max Thieriot, Chloe), the sole survivor of a murdered family. He’s not very popular with the locals because he’s bringing their house prices down (how nice).

There are some interesting ideas in this film but the execution is so bad that there are almost zero frights in what is supposed to be a horror film. How you can have a thriller with no thrills or suspense is beyond me. On top of that, everything else about it just felt like your run-of-the-mill teen slasher flick. Sadly, apart from seeing Jennifer Lawrence in a tight singlet (as emphasized on the posters) there really isn’t much else going for it.

2 stars out of 5

California Pizza Kitchen (Taipei)

August 24, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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The sports bar-feel of CPK

I was in need of a good pizza, and after looking around online for a while I decided on California Pizza Kitchen, an international pizza chain that actually originated from California and has 260 outlets in 16 countries.

There are two stores in Taiwan, one in Hsinchu and the other at Taipei’s lively Xinyi district. We went to the latter, which is situated inside the same building as the famous Vieshow cinemas, near the edge of the food court.

The decor of CPK resembles a sports bar, with an open pizza kitchen against one wall and a bar against the other, with a TV screen showing live baseball hanging over the bar.

You can check out the full menu here. The food on offer is similar to a lot of American or Americanized family restaurants in Taiwan, such as TGI Fridays or Chili’s. You have an assortment of appetizers, many of which are fried and come with creamy condiments. There are soups and salads and sandwiches. The mains include steaks, seafood, and of course pizza and pasta. Finish off with an assortment of beverages and desserts.

The prices are also similar those restaurants, which means you’re looking at anything from NT$300 a head to as much as NT$1000, depending on what you get and how much you get. They do have two-person and four-person sets which are NT$1100 and NT$2400, respectively.

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The lunch special menu

For lunch, there is a special lunch value meal from NT$179, which includes a soup/salad and drink to go with a one-person sized main, a pizza or pasta dish.

We ended up getting one of these sets plus an appetizer (which is really main course-sized) and a large pizza. Check out the pics below.

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Pumpkin Soup

The pumpkin soup was surprisingly good for something that comes as part of a set. Thick and creamy, but I’m not sure how much real pumpkin is in there.

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Tender Pork Quesadillas

I was torn over whether to get an appetizer because I knew it would cause my meal to spill into pig territory. I got one anyway. The tender pork quesadillas turned out to be one of the best things we ordered, even though it was definitelymore  a main course size dish than an appetizer. The quesadillas is filled with tender oven baked pork, BBQ sauce, onions and roasted bell peppers. That sauce in the middle is a homemade spicy Ranchito sauce, which really hit the spot.

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BBQ Chicken Pizza (single size)

The pizza that came with our lunch set was a traditional BBQ chicken pizza with chicken pieces, red onions and BBQ sauce. As it was with the lunch set, the pizza was small and long, kind of like a pide. The problem with this pizza is the crust, which was not very pizza-like and the edges were too dominant, meaning there wasn’t enough space for the toppings. There also wasn’t enough BBQ sauce, meaning we had to ask for some Tabasco. In other words, I would not recommend the lunch set pizzas.

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The Milan

The Milan pizza we ordered separately, on the other hand, redeemed CPK’s pizzas. I was extremely satisfied with this one, which had a thin, crispy crust (real pizza stuff) with Italian sausage, fennel sausage crumble, sauteed mushrooms and the always welcome caramelized onions, topped with three types of cheeses. A real winner. I mean, just look at the beauty.

In all, it was a fairly wonderful experience. It’s a place for people who want their pizzas to be more gourmet than your average commercial franchise pizza but prefer a lot of toppings, unlike those sparsely topped traditional Italian pizzas. The atmosphere and service were great too.

8/10

Details

California Pizza Kitchen

Website (Chinese): http://www.cpk.tw/

Address: Level 2, N0. 20 Songshou Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (Vieshow Cinemas) (nearest MRT: Taipei City Hall, blue line)

Phone: (02) 2722-8383

Hours: 11am-11pm Sundays to Thursdays, 11am-1am Friday and Saturday