Movie Review: These Final Hours (2014)

November 19, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

TFH

Aussie movies, yay! I have been a bit of a dick when it comes to Australian movies for most of my life, but I have started to come around in recent years following a string of impressive efforts that have made the rest of the world take notice.

The latest Australian film to be a hit with the critics is These Final Hours, an apocalyptic drama about the moments before a natural disaster wipes humanity off the face of the Earth. It is great to see Aussie filmmakers take on something a little different and ambitious, and to have the skills and actors to pull it off. Even though not everything in this film worked, it is without a doubt one of the better end of the world movies I’ve seen in recent memory.

The story focuses on a young man in Perth named James (Nathan Phillips) as he struggles to cope with impending doom. At the beginning of the film we are told there’s about 12 hours before the catastrophe hits Australia’s west coast, though the majority of the plot focuses on the final 5.

It’s a character-driven film that succeeds because it explores a small sample of human reactions rather than something too broad to cover. There are scenes that suggest the budget is not that small, so it appears to be a conscious decision to keep the story small scale and personal. It does a good job of asking what you would do if the end was near. Would you confront it head on? Spend it with family? Get trashed? Party? Have sex? Kill yourself? Kill others? Or just go crazy?

These Final Hours tackles all these various possibilities with an observant eye and a sensible amount of realism and practicality. For the most part, it doesn’t over sensationalize things, nor is it too subtle for the impact to be felt the way it needs to be. There are some confronting scenes but none of them feel exploitative.

The primary catalyst for James’s character development is the young girl (Angourie Rice) he meets along the way. It was quite obvious where they were heading with the story once James runs into her — you know, the clichéd flawed guy minding his own business becomes a reluctant hero scenario — though to the credit of writer and director Zak Hilditch does a good job of keeping the narrative tight and intense for the film’s 97-minute running time.

The dialogue is OK — it’s effective at times but too scripted and melodramatic at certain moments. The ending also left a “that’s it?” taste in my mouth.  Still, the film is pretty good when put in context, but to be honest it’s nowhere near deserving of the overwhelming praise from critics and the 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is, however, probably a sign of good things to come. Jessica De Gouw, who has a supporting role in the film, is starting to earn a name for herself on the TV series Arrow and Dracula, while Sarah Snook, an extended cameo in this one, is on the rise after receiving deserved acclaim in the horror flick Jessabelle. Perhaps this can be one of those films we look back on as a turning point for many successful careers.

3.5 stars out of 5

Gordon Biersch (Taipei)

November 19, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

Gordon Biersch

I’m trying to limit by carb intake, so I needed a restaurant that serves something other than rice, noodles, pasta or bread, etc. Gordon Biersch doesn’t really fit that description, but they do have steaks and ribs, so it was good enough.

There are three Gordon Biersch branches in Taiwan, two in Taipei. We visited the one at Taipei’s Xinyi district, on level 2 of building A4 of the Shinkong Mitsubishi department store. The store is fitted out like a typical American sports cafe, with TVs playing NBA and NFL on them hanging near the bar. The whole time I thought Gordon Biersch was a German beer cafe, but as it turned out it’s just an American food joint not unlike TGI Friday’s or Chili’s.

IMG_0219

The menu is quite extensive and can be found on the website. They’ve got appetizers, salads, tapas, and so forth, as well as pizzas and flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches and tacos. There’s also pastas, steaks, and ribs, and of course, desserts. They do offer a wide variety of beers, wines and cocktails, but since I’m not a drinker I didn’t try anything.

They have a lunch special, which offers on top of your (limited) selection a soup or dessert plus a soft drink. You don’t save a whole lot, but it’s better than nothing. They also have a kid’s menu and a late-night menu featuring mainly drinks and snacks, so there’s pretty much something for everyone.

I couldn’t just get steak and ribs, so I compromised and got a Marzan BBQ burger (lunch special with dessert — for NT$440) and a half rack of ribs (NT$550).

IMG_0220

The ribs were surprisingly good, extremely juicy and flavoursome and with succulent meat that comes right off the bone with easy. The BBQ sauce was tangy and had a little spice to it that tasted a little Indian for some reason. The coleslaw that came with it was average, but the garlic fries were super crunchy and tasty.

IMG_0221

 

The Marzan burger was a bit of a disappointment. I thought the bun was nicely toasted, but the beef patty was way too salty. It was one of those burgers that packed a solid bite because both the bun and meat were really thick. The thing is, even as salty as it was, the burger felt like it needed some more tomato sauce and mustard. The slaw was the same, but the bacon potato mash was pretty good.

IMG_0223

Lastly, the dessert of the day, which was carrot cake. It was a huge slice, which came as a surprise because usually the desserts that come with meal sets tend to be small and crap. But this was a good portion and it was actually very tasty! I liked the nuts lining the back and the cake itself was very solidly packed together. I liked it.

I’ve only had a small handful of the options on the menu so it’snot exactly fair to give it a rating. But I will anyway. Two out of the three things we got were excellent, one was slightly disappointing (though the fries were great). Accordingly…

7.5/10

Details

Gordon Biersch

Website: http://www.gordonbiersch.com.tw/Eng/branch.aspx?prm_BranchID=1

Address: Shinkong Mitsukoshi Department Store, Building A4 2F, No.11 Songshou Rd, Taipei

Phone: 02-8786-7588

Hours: Monday-Fri 11am-2pm (Lunch); 3pm-5pm (Happy Hour); 9:30pm-11pm (Late Night). Saturday-Sunday 11am-12am

Movie Review: The Two Faces of January (2014)

November 18, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

two faces

First the mirror, now January. Seems like everyone has two faces these days.

The Two Faces of January is an intriguing and elegant thriller set in the early 1960s featuring an A-list cast. It’s based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote The Talented Mrs Ripley), about a young con man (Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis) working as a tour guide in Athens who gets involved with a seemingly wealthy American tourist (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife (Kirsten Dunst).

It’s one of those classy yet twisted tales where interesting and complex characters who are not who they seem keep falling deeper and deeper and into a mess they can’t get out of. The fun comes from not knowing who is telling the truth and who is ultimately playing whom. There are twists and turns galore, but the progression of the narrative is subtle and deliberately low-key. Rather than a series of ups and downs, the film begins on low heat and gradually simmers all the way to the end without ever boiling over.

All three leads are phenomenal, as you would expect. Viggo, in particular, always one of my fave actors, shows again why he perhaps the most versatile and underrated performer of his generation.

The confident, controlled direction of debut director Hossein Amini, who also wrote the screenplay, is enviably stylish, creating a constant sense of tension and paranoia that’s hard to shake. Amini also wrote the screenplay for Drive, one of the slickest films of 2011, and the talents he demonstrated in that adaptation are in full bloom here.

The problem with the Two Faces of January, however, is that despite its look and feel of a top-shelf, A-grade thriller, the film’s story doesn’t quite live up to everything else. When you boil it down, the plot is actually quite mediocre and over-reliant on coincidences, resulting in a limp payoff that disappoints following the spectacular set-up. It’s one of those films that comes across as much better than it really is, and the more you think about it the less impressive it becomes.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the build up a lot and have feeling that Amini will go on to bigger and better projects. While it may fall short of potential, I’d still recommend The Two Faces of January for those with a taste for old-fashioned, character-driven thrillers.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: John Wick (2014)

November 18, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

JW

Keanu’s back! And this time, instead of Japanese demons, he’s taking on a whole army of Russian gangsters with 46 less ronin by his side.

Ted “Theodore” Logan doesn’t make a lot of films these days, so when he does I always get a little excited. After last year’s disappointing 47 Ronin, he’s back this time as the titular character in John Wick, a depressed former assassin who goes on a revenge rampage after Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the son of the original Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), makes the mistake of messing with the wrong dude.

It sounds kinda stupid and it is, but John Wick has been a surprising hit thanks to the excellent direction of Chad Stahelski in his feature debut. The stylistic action is what sets film apart from others of the same genre, and it’s arguably the most exciting action flick in terms of gunfire and physical combat since Taken

Keanu doesn’t have a lot of expressions, and that’s perfect as Wick, a no non-sense killer and a quick, smooth and relentless one-man wrecking crew. There’s something almost mechanical in the way he beats down his opponents, and he always makes sure the job is complete with an extra bullet or two where it counts. The action sequences are long, often brutal, and extremely well choreographed, and Stahelski spares our eyes by keeping the camera steady and the rapid cuts to a minimum.

The other successful aspect of John Wick is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but not so unseriously that it destroys the mood. The film is admittedly dark and full of death, but it’s also littered with tongue-in-cheek jokes about the assassin “industry” or “fraternity.”  There’s a code of conduct and assassins have to abide by it or face the consequences of the wider community. The film is filled with these straight-faced gags, such as a hotel that caters especially to assassins, a dedicated mop-up crew, and so forth. I also noticed there was a nice little cameo from The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski which I found to be quite fun.

In addition to Keanu’s typical Keanu performance, the rest of the cast also do a fine job in their respective roles. Nyqvist milks his charm to provide us with a villain who might not be much of an opponent for Wick if they met in a dark alley, but one who knows what he is up against and remains relatively calm amid the chaos. Alfie Allen is also terrific as a spineless little twat who has less balls than his character on Game of Thrones, while Adrianne Palicki is convicing as a female assassin who’s not afraid to bend the rules. Rounding out the cast are the likes of Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick, each of whom have small but key roles.

After a rolling start, the film moves at such a frantic pace that you don’t really notice its flaws all that much, except when it resorts to the old cliche where the “bad guy” has the “good guy” right where he wants him but instead of killing him on the spot decides to tie him up and give him every possible opportunity to escape. With its style, tone and gaps in logic, John Wick feels almost like a graphic novel adaptation, except it’s not, though I hear there might be opportunities to spin this first film into a franchise of some sort.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed John Wick a lot. I also think it’s a victim of its own hype. It’s the type of film that I didn’t expect to be any good, but because the reviews were so positive, I ended up having unrealistic expectations. It is what it is — a really well-executed, exciting, stylistic, and not-too-serious action flick with near-non-existent plot and not much substance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Left Behind (2014)

November 17, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

large_left_behind

Maybe the end of the world really is upon us. Because there is no other explanation for how a film like Left Behind not just got made, but actually received a cinematic release. The only thing that made sense about the film is that it stars Nicholas “I’ll do anything” Cage.

Left Behind is like that Damon Lindelof TV show The Leftover, except it is directed by a career stuntman who doubled for Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies. 

The story goes like this: one day, all of a sudden, millions of people around the world disappear into thin air. Literally. All that’s left are their clothes and whatever’s on them. There’s an explanation for this, or at least a theory of the explanation, and it’s Biblical. Little did I know, Left Behind is a Christian movie about the end of the world, supposedly based on some obscure and utterly insane reading of the Bible. Even most Christians would agree that it is complete BS.

But that’s not the problem. There is nothing wrong with the type of movie it is or the premise per se – it’s the horrendous execution that makes Left Behind god-awful in any religion.

Although it’s about the end of the world, the movie centers on what happens on a flight from New York to London when the “disappearances” take place. Nicholas Cage plays a philandering pilot who dodges the birthday of his visiting daughter (Cassi Thomson) and spending time with his uber-religious wife (Lea Thompson) and young son so he could get naughty with a stewardess (Australia’s own Nicky Whelan). Also on the flight is a famous investigative reporter (Chad Michael Murray), who for some reason tried to hit on Cage’s daughter just before take-off. Also on the plane are — and I am not kidding here — a kind Muslim, a mean midget, and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. None of them disappear, of course, because they’re not true believers (or at least in the right god).

Even putting all the sanctimonious religious stuff aside, Left Behind is still an abomination. The script feels like it’s written by aliens because none of the dialogue or reactions even resemble what a normal human would say or do. Just say your little brother disappears into thin air right in front of your eyes. All that’s left of him is his clothes. And you can see that the same thing has happened to a lot of people around you. So what’s the logical thing to do? Yes, that’s right: go to the hospital to look for him! I mean, just in case he miraculously slipped out of his clothes without you noticing and decided to go there for some reason. And that’s actually one of the more reasonable things that happens in the movie.

The characters are horrible. They’re either disgustingly unlikable or they’re so noble it’s cringeworthy. And they’re played by actors — famous or otherwise — giving the most atrocious performances of their lives. I understand the budget was only US$16 million, but the inside of the plane looked like it was made in someone’s living room. The special effects looked like they were taken from the cut scenes of a Playstation 1 game. And the ending — my god, the ending. Apparently there are more books in the series, but it’s obvious there aren’t going to be more movies, so I have no idea why it ended the way it did. Everything about it was just an unfathomable mess.

This is the kind of movie that gives religion a bad name. It’s the kind of movie that gives bad movies a bad name. Have you ever had a dream where everyone is acting all weird and nothing makes sense? Left Behind is that dream, but worse. It’s a goddamn nightmare.

0.5 stars out of 5

%d bloggers like this: