Movie Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

December 19, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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To be honest, I wasn’t really all that interested in Captain Phillips, which depicts the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009. I dunno, maybe I had been put off by pirates because of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (there may actually be an element of truth that joke), or perhaps it was because it looked like another boring a Oscar bait. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Captain Phillips is, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling and captivating movies of the year.

As always, if you don’t know about the Maersk Alabama hijacking then don’t read up about it before you go watch the movie. First of all, it’s best not knowing how the story ends, and secondly, you won’t be distracted by any of the creative liberties taken by the filmmakers. I went into it not knowing anything about it at all other than that it’s based on a true story, and as a result I was glued to the screen for the entire 133-minute running time, which didn’t feel one bit overlong at all.

To just give a basic background of the premise, the film tells the story of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama who took orders to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa with aide cargo. The ship gets hijacked by a band of Somali pirates, who take Phillips hostage for ransom and sets off a major international incident. It’s an extraordinary story of bravery and survival, one that I’m sure has been at least a little embellished and sped up for the purposes of the movie, but I have no problems with that at all because it worked. Apart from a brief intro, Captain Phillips is intense all the way through, rarely easing up to give audiences time to take a breather. The sense of dread is real, the fear of danger is genuine, and the action feels authentic without being not over-the-top. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking considering that almost all of it takes place on the sea, and in nothing more than a couple of boats, and yet it’s far more exciting than many films that follow characters to multiple locations all around the world.

I’ve been a fan and critic of director Paul Greengrass, who directed two of the Bourne movies (Supremacy and Ultimatum) as well as the underrated war movie Greenzone. I like the way he handles his action sequences but I’m not a fan of his trademark handheld camera. In Captain Phillips, however, it feels as though Greengrass held back on the queasy-cam sequences, and even the scenes where the handheld cameras were more obvious were almost fitting because they were on the rocky seas.

As for the performances, I expected an Oscar-nominated one from Tom Hanks, which he delivers, but I was equally impressed by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who has nabbed a Golden Globe as the lead pirate and I think deserves an Oscar nod too. You would think as a hostage Hanks won’t get to show off his acting chops as much, but he’s so solid as the stoic but clearly terrified captain and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else pulling off the role the way he did. Adbi, on the other hand, is brilliant as the young leader of the pirates, who is frightening and vulnerable at the same time. All of the newcomers who play the pirates are terrific — they are the bad guys but you almost don’t want anything to happen to them — but Adbi is the one who stands out the most because of his screen presence.

In all, I was very impressed by Captain Phillips. It ticks all the right boxes — riveting plot, thrilling action, just the right amount of political intrigue and well-developed characters backed by top performances. A smart, intense and highly enjoyable film.

4.5 stars out of 5

Quick and easy snacking options in Hong Kong

December 19, 2013 in Best Of, Food, Hong Kong, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

Most of my visits to Hong Kong are way too short, which runs contrary to my intentions to eat way too much. The alternative is that I just find a lot of places lots of different snacks that are cheap, quick and easy. Here are some of my recommendations.

Tim Ho Wan (添好運)

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You really can’t go wrong with Tim Ho Wan because it’s Michelin starred, it’s cheap, it’s quick (sometimes even when you have to line up) and there are now multiple locations in Hong Kong, including right next Hong Kong MRT station, so there’s no excuse for not visiting if you want divine dim sums. Check out my posts on this legendary joint here and here.

Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園)

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This legendary tea cafe now has multiple locations as well, so you don’t have to line up outside the hole-in-the-wall near Lan Kwai Fong. The service is extremely quick and the food is excellent for the prices — the perfect place for a quick bite, whether it’s noodles or pork buns or milk tea. Check out my full post here.

Sun Chiu Kee (新釗記)

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Rice, noodles, congee and coffee, all at reasonable prices. The food is standard fare but the good thing is that you can find one of these tea cafes just about everywhere. More detailed post here.

Australia Dairy Company (澳洲牛奶公司)

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It’s pretty silly for an Aussie to go to a place called Australia Dairy Company in Hong Kong, but this place is a regular for foodies who go there to sample its milk, egg and toast dishes. Can’t say I was overly impressed during my lone visit but most others have a different opinion. More detailed post here.

Tsui Wah (翠華)

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If you ever need a decent meal but can’t be bothered travelling, just look out for the ubiquitous Tsui Wah, which is everywhere in Hong Kong. They have an assortment of set meals offering different types of food, from sandwiches to noodle soups. More detailed post here.

Tai Hing (太興)

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I really like this place, which offers a massive menu with just about everything you can imagine, from rice to BBQ to noodles to light snacks, and loads and loads of beverage options. It’s more like a sit-down restaurant but it’s still quick and efficient. If you’re not sure what you feel like, this is the place I would recommend. The official website is here.

Yee Shun Dairy Company (港澳義順牛奶公司)

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I believe this joint originated in Macau, and it’s more of a specialized cafe for people who are into milk desserts, with their double-skin steamed milk pudding being a local favourite. Toasts and macaroni dishes available here too, but everyone goes there for the milk. Multiple locations across Hong Kong, I believe. See here for more details.

Mak’s Noodle (麥奀雲吞麵世家)

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If all you want is a steaming bowl of wonton noodles, then this is the place. It’s simple, tasty, cheap, and supposedly the best in town. For address and details check out this link.

Tai Cheong Bakery (泰昌餅家)

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Lastly, if you can’t stuff any more food into your belly, how about a traditional Hong Kong egg tart? I know everyone goes for Portuguese ones these days, but the traditional ones are pretty tasty too. For locations check out here.