Movie Review: Whiplash (My favorite film of 2014)


Fallen into the wrong hands, “Whiplash” would have been a boring TV movie or mini-series.  But in the hands of upcoming director Damien Chazelle, incredible editing by Tom Cross, who won the Academy Award for Best Editing for this film, and gripping leading performances by Miles Teller anad J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash” is a masterpiece that seemingly came out of nowhere, and was personally my favorite film of 2014.

As an educator, I can relate, to some extent, life in the world of education and the idea of pushing students to their limits.  There is no one-size-fits-all method to teaching.  In real life, some young adults actually can respond quite well to Simmons’ character’s ultra-intensive methods, breaking the students down and putting them back together; this is supposed to transform the student into something he otherwise could never achieve.  Other students (perhaps the majority) simply cannot take the immense pressure that such an environment imposes.  The key is to find a balance between being challenging and encouraging.

It’s an incredible film.  Who knew that a drama between student and teacher set in a music school can be this intense? Must Watch!

Movie Review: The Theory of Everything


In this biopic of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne gives an absolutely brilliant performance, painting for us a picture of a very complex individual who struggled between his academic and personal lives as he coped with the ALS diagnosis.

The direction and plot are very standard; short of the performances by the two leads, the film offers us no surprises in terms of its storytelling, editing, or other aspects.  The film does not focus at all on Hawking’s work; it consciously shies away from the science and focuses on the personal events that made him who he is today.  This almost felt to me like a cop out, as if the writers didn’t bother with attempting to make the science interesting enough for the general audience.  What we’re left with is a story about one of the most brilliant scientists on earth, without the science.  They get away with it though, as Redmayne and Jones’ performances carried the film.

I’m very surprised that the film is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, considering its lack of a ‘wowing’ factor compared to the other nominees (or some films that were not nominated).  It’s definitely worth a watch, though, if only for the performances of Redmayne and Felicity Jones alone.

Movie Review: American Sniper


“American Sniper,” a biopic based on the book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper.  Cooper packed on quite a few pounds to physically resemble the formal SEAL sniper, and gives a magnetic performance that holds the film together.

I can’t help but compare this film to 2009’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker.”  Both films center on characters who go through the atrocities of modern war and struggles to deal with life after combat.  Although “The Hurt Locker” was a fictional and dramatized account of a bomb defusal unit, and “American Sniper” is a comparatively more accurate portrayal of the story of Chris Kyle, as a film, the former is a level above the latter in its storytelling and it grips the audience at the very beginning and never lets go.

Clint Eastwood is back on his game after some sub-par films such as “Jersey Boys” and “J.Edgar.”  The film is well-shot and well-edited, putting the audience right in the middle of Kyle’s world.  There’s nothing ground-breaking here, just very solid film making.

At over two hours, the film is a tad too long, and would have been a bore if it weren’t for Cooper and Sienna Miller’s excellent performances.  While I don’t quite agree with nomination of the film and Cooper for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actor, respectively, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction


Hearing nothing but bad things about the newest instalment (a so-called reboot) of the Transformers franchise from my friends and critics alike, I went to see the film anyway, for reasons that aren’t quiet enough to justify my trip to the theatre:

1. I wanted to see just how bad it was, and whether I can still derive some enjoyment out of it, and;

2. It was late on a Thursday night and my choices were limited.

In lieu of the fact that everyone I know trashed the film, my bar was set so low that it was almost impossible for me to hate it. And I can’t say I did, because at this point, I have lost faith in Michael Bay; to me, he will always be the guy who uses the same technique (that signature low-angle slo-mo shot of a dude stepping out of a car looking like he’s badass? check) and whose movies are always at least 20 minutes too long.

Recently, I have funnelled my hatred towards Michael Bay films into laughter as I was once again in awe of how bad his latest work is.  This film is another instance where Michael Bay and the people who produces these Transformers movies know that people will go to these films no matter how garbage they are.

However, I can’t say I hate this film, per se, because it features my home city of Hong Kong getting destroyed (you see it in the trailer so no spoilers), especially two of the city’s architectural monstrosities.  That, at a personal level, at least, makes this film not a complete waste of money to go to.

If you are ambivalent to seeing Hong Kong get demolished (It was enjoyable for me also because now I can say I’ve walked the same street as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime!), then don’t watch it.

As a side note: some local Hong Kong people are enraged over a line said in the film that promotes mainland Chinese propaganda, in selling its affections towards the city of Hong Kong.  But when you put that in a Michael Bay movie, who cares?

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 (Mindless Popcorn Action at its Best)


“Fast & Furious 6” is so ridiculous that even if you  suspend all beliefs in logic and physics heading into the film (as you should), you’d still be awing at the ridiculousness it all.  Yet, the film succeeds by proudly embracing its stupidity and tells the audience “you’re gonna enjoy this because it is damn good entertainment!”

The filmmakers of the sixth installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise have capitalized on making it James Bond-esque in that they can churn out more sequels from now on without feeling franchise fatigue.  Walking in the footsteps of “Fast Five,” which was a success beyond everyone’s expectations (it reached #66 all time box office!), “Fast & Furious 6” had some tough shoes to fill to keep the franchise going, and delivers.

Almost all of the cast from “Fast Five” returns for “6”, joined by new characters played by Luke Evans and MMA star Gina Carano, as well as returning characters played by John Ortiz and Michelle Rodriguez.  Add this to the core cast played by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris, Tyrese, Sung Kang, Elsa Patalky, Gal Gadot… and you have a lot of… people.  Surprisingly, the film doesn’t feel bloated despite the huge cast as it manages to allocate some special moments to all of these characters.

Here is an accurate synopsis of “Fast and Furious 6”:  Good guys chases some bad guys.  The bad guys chase back.  Spectacular car chases occur.  Gun fights and fist fights galore.  Bodies fly in the air.  Things blow up.  Hit and miss attempts at humor.  Plot ‘twists’.  One side wins.  The end.

“Fast & Furious 6” is a Michael Bay film without the pretentiousness.  It is more implausible than all of the “Die Hard” films combined.  It has set the franchise up for more sequels better than Stallone’s “The Expendables”.  But it’s all for good.  And if the film doesn’t put a smile on your face, the ending will.

Movie Review: Real Steel

Classic popcorn entertainment.  Anyone headed to see this film shouldn’t expect a complex script with deep meanings.  What they’d get is a cliched plot with good directorial execution and a Hugh Jackman that takes command of the movie screen whenever he appears.

The plot and all the emotional high points in “Real Steel” seem to have taken directly from the “Rocky” stories; everything from the notion of being the underdog and rising up to win, to talking about a man struggling to rediscover himself and his true passion, to the boxing theme, all were inspired by, or copied from, the “Rocky” movies.  There is pretty essentially nothing original about the film, other than that this time around, instead of humans, robots are boxing each other.

Yet, the strengths of the film lie in a straightforward direction that doesn’t try to do too much or be too cute with the editing; we always got a clear sense of what was going on, even during the fast-pounding, metal-clanging action sequences.  We also have Hugh Jackman in his element, playing a vulnerable tough guy. He is the one who carried this film to become a box office smash hit.

Response to Howard Fineman’s “The Steelers Have Already Lost”

Read Mr. Fineman’s article here. Basically he claims that The Pittsburgh Steelers are viewed as the ‘bad guys’ in the NFL because they are physically (often recklessly) too tough, too punishing, and because of the actions and comments some of the players have made over the past few years, which haven’t been well received by fans or commissioner Roger Goodell.

Perhaps it could be true that the Steelers are portrayed by the mainstream media as the ‘bad guys’, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers are not respected. Anyone who actually knows football would agree that like him or not, Hines Ward is one of the toughest players ever to play the game. As for those who dislikes him and the Steelers because of the comments they make off the field, well, they aren’t really fans of the sport.

At the very least, unlike another ‘evil empire’ from another popular American sport, the Steelers are held in check, like every other team, by the salary cap, so the competition is fair money-wise, and fans of the sport won’t grudge them for that.