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Let’s cut to the chase and provide my verdict here …. What a pain to watch two accomplished actors like Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds in such a brainless excuse of a thriller. Self /Less has a preposterous story about how medicine has evolved to enable the transfer of a dying person’s consciousness to the body of another healthy younger person hence offering the opportunity of immortality to the wealthy or powerful. The procedure seem to have been perfected with just the simple push of a button and the need to pop some pills to prevent hallucinations. Sounds like the subject of science fiction except the premise seems to take place in the present. Could have been intriguing except the plot very quick became like a cliched chase movie riddled with one unbelievable situation after another. There is zero audience involvement with anything going on the screen because nothing makes sense and characters so one dimensional we really care less what happens next. We never really feel or believe any sense of danger to our main characters since the the plot routinely provides all sorts of twists that allows them to escape and overcome dangers at all odds.

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Suffice to say that Self / Less is one of the most ridiculous thrillers of the year and I am doing you a favour to advice you to avoid this movie if you haven’t already seen it. Believe me you will thank me for saving you 2 hours of your life which could have been better spent. While Ben Kingsley is immune to bad movies and will survive this, this is another poor choice for Ryan Reynolds who needs to have a big hit to stay in the business. The trailer for his next movie, Deadpool did not look good. My advice is sack his agent!

Ratings: 1 star

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The Walk tells the amazing true story  of French high-wire dare devil Philippe Petit whose most famous stunt was to walk on a tight wire across New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. The entire movie is told in the words of Philippe Petit as he narrates his life story from how he learnt to walk the rope when he was young until that faithful historical morning on August 6, 1974. Director Robert Zemeckis who directed the Back to The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump and Cast Away may just have made another gem to add on to his impressive list of classics. While the approach to The Walk is simple … having the entire story told and narrated by Philippe Petit, it works and made the movie flow smoothly while offering us insights and details on how Philippe accomplished his incredible feat. Joseph Gordon Levitt took on the role of Philippe convincingly and made us feel close and personal to Philippe’s dreams, fears and ultimately glory.

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Ultimately what made The Walk stand out and unforgettable is the use of IMAX and 3D that literally puts the audience right up where Philippe performs his greatest stunt. These sequences are simply spell bounding and will put the viewer on he edge of their seats. Never has IMAX and 3D felt so involving since Gravity took us to space or since Tom Cruise did his dizzy stunt up the tallest building in the world in Dubai in Mission Impossible 4. The CGI used in this movie is so well done it is impossible to tell what is real or what is not. New York city’s Twin Towers has a pivotal role to play in this story and at the end The Walk ends up feeling like a tribute to not only Philippe Petit the high wire artist but also the Twin Towers. It’s a little early to predict the Oscars but I think The Walk has the chops to garner a few nominations notably for its Director, its main star and the cinematography and special effects crew that put together this amazing work of art!

Ratings: 4 stars

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The name Eli Roth alone is enough to create some interest in this movie. Afterall Eli was the man who gave us such torture porn as Cabin Fever, Hostel and Hostel 2. Expectations is naturally high for a high octane thriller from the master of torture porn with the added curiosity having a mainstream actor like Keanu Reeves taking the lead. Unfortunately Knock Knock is a mess and a total waste of time. It has none of Eli Roth’s trademark style and has a twisted perception of what morale is. Despite its R rating the movie is mild compared to what Eli Roth used to be routinely churning out.

The ridiculous plot would have us believe that two young girls can manage to trap and torture a healthy strong grown man in his own house. The underlying theme appears to be to honour the virtue of staying faithful in marriage and being a good and responsible parent, and to be prepared to face judgement or the consequences otherwise. However the way this is being portrayed is twisted and perverted. While the set-up of how the girls con their way into the house initially builds up the viewer’s anticipation nicely, the events that comes after that progressively becomes more and more over the top and hard to watch. The film’s conclusion offered no relief or satisfying closure to the viewers and instead took things lightly with a couple of jokes in bad taste.

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In conclusion, I strongly advise you to avoid this movie if you haven’t already seen this. There is very little redeeming value here. Fans of Keanu Reeves will be deeply disappointed with his performance and the character he plays here and will probably want to erase this movie from their memory. I have lost my respect for Eli Roth and fear he has pass his career peak. As for the two actresses playing the antagonists, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas, all I can say is that even though they were very convincingly annoying and I feel like strangling them on behalf of Keanu Reeves, I am not sure this movie will help boost their careers.

Ratings: 1 star

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This is a MUST SEE for all fans of the HBO series Entourage. Picking up where the TV series ended, this feature length 1 hour 44 minutes episode reminds us what a great series this has been and how much we missed all the quirky colourful characters! Viewers unfamiliar with the HBO series will without doubt be baffled by the film’s fast paced proceedings and probably fail to appreciate the story line. Those who fall under the other category however will relish every moment from the stunning aerial shot of the speed boat racing to a party on board a yacht at the start of the movie, to the teaser ending shown in the middle of the closing credits.

The opening credits displaying the film’s cast on various street signs and billboards along the streets of Hollywood accompanied by the familiar TV series soundtrack set the mood for the fans with something familiar and yet updated to remind us all that this is a SPECIAL episode. Apart of our main entourage of Vincent Chase, Johnny, Turtle, “E”, and Ari Gold, we also get to reconcile with the supporting characters like Sloan (E’s on and off girlfriend), Lloyd (the Asian gay former assistant of Ari), Dr Marcus (the hilarious anger management psychiatrist to Ari and his wife) and Ari’s wife and kid. All made brief but hilarious appearances. Then there is Haley Joel Osment that adorable kid in The Sixth Sense, looking and behaving quite the opposite as the spoilt son of a Texan tycoon who is financing Vince’s big directorial debut movie. He manages to put a standout performance amidst all the confusion!

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Suffice to conclude then that this is a great addition to the Entourage legacy and a fitting companion piece to the TV series. I am secretly hoping that the producers would consider giving us more and that this is not going to be just a one off bonus to the fans! Who knows, in Hollywood, wishes and dreams do come true!

Ratings: 3 stars

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Based on the classic romantic novel by Thomas Hardy, this tale of rectangular romance would seem to be unlikely in our modern age. But Far From the Maddening Crowd takes place in Victorian England in the late 19th century. In fact the novel itself was written in 1874. There were no internet then, no instagram, no e-mails, no MTV’s. This was an era where a careless exchange of words, body language, or valentine day’s card message, carries even more weight that a month’s worth of instant messages and e-mail exchanges today! The consequence of such brief moments, a misinterpretation or mishearing can change a person’s life and cause irreversible joy or dispare!

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Thomas Hardy’s romantic yarn reminds us constantly of this amidst a lavish country side setting and grandeur that is sorely missed in the cinema. Accompanied by a grand and sweeping orchestra soundtrack and breathtaking imagery, director Thomas Vinterberg has skillfully crafted us a modern day contemporary interpretation of a classic that would captivate you from start to finish. Carey Mulligan is as always superb in her portrayal of the independent, headstrong and beautiful center character who attracts not one, not two but three suitors of diverse characters and background. Matthias Schoenaerts is a name that I am unfamiliar with but I suspect I will see more of him taking on similar romantic leads (A Little Chaos with Kate Winslet being a case in point). He plays the strong silent type role well and a perfect contrast to the other two suitors played by an almost unrecognisable Martin Sheen (looking very upper class and cool under tons of facial hair) and Tom Sturridge as a dashing but irresponsible Sergeant. As the story unfolds some things may begin to get a bit predictable but let’s not be nitpicking and spoil the fun. The joy in watching this is to just let go and be swept by the moment and engage in a beautiful tale of romance, missed opportunities and the virtues of being willing to accept one’s short comings and change! One of the better films to come out in 2015!

Ratings: 3 stars

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I know I know what you must be thinking …. Me, a 55 year old man watching Cinderella?!? And actually LIKING it?!?! I mean liking it A LOT?!?!

Well, all I can say is I can’t help feeling a little sorry for those of you who dismiss this mYovie on any of the following basis namely, that (1) it’s a fairy tale and hence meant only for kids (2) it’s a fairy tale about a young girl’s dream of marrying a Prince and hence, meant only for impressionable girls and (3) it’s a Disney movie and that makes it soooo “un-cool”. All I can say for all of you who fall under one or more of the above categories is that you are missing out one of hell of a movie that is magical, romantic and above all, a movie that effectively promotes the good old fashion positive virtues for anyone to “have courage and be kind”. Under the expert craftsmanship of director Kenneth Branagh, this new take of an aged old fairy tale looks contemporary, relevant and above all magical! This in spite of having relatively unknown faces to take of the pivotal roles of Cinderella (Lily James of TV’s Downton Abbey) and the Prince (Richard Madden of HBO’s Game of Thrones). There is also the delightful Cate Blanchett is as the wicked stepmother and Helen Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Cate Blanchett was spellbinding as usual and added an air of “opera” in a performance that stand out. But it is to the credit of Lily James and Richard Madden to successfully carry an overly familiar story through as the star crossed lovers whilst keeping the audience engaged.

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Their brief moments of encounters were magically put across and at times, so beautifully choreographed and captured, it would bring tears to your eyes! Cinderella’s grand entrance to the palace ball and her descend on the grand stairs to the waiting Prince, and their first dance was the movie’s best moment.

There are thankfully no song and dance number to force the movie to turn into an irrelevant and sub-par musical, and restraint use of computer graphics to provide unnecessary visual distractions. This Cinderella can stand on its own with the strong performances of its human stars. Finally, the movie ends as all movies should, with the definitive and final words “The End” saving us from having to face any bastardisation of a forced sequel to a happily ever ending. See this and relive the magic of what truly great story telling can bring as we used to revere in when we were first introduced our favourite fairy tales.

Ratings: 4 stars

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OMG .. OMG … OMG .. My first new cinema movie for the year and it turns out to be one of the best films I have seen for years!! This is more fun than any James Bond outing in memory, and more exciting than Guardians of the Galaxy. Kingsman comes off being more than just a tribute to spy movies and other similar genres. At the core, is a familiar enough tale of the transforming of a young inexperienced kid to professional international spy amidst a plot that involves saving the world from a mad villain! But what makes Kingsman so outstanding is in its delivery.

From the imaginative and clever way in which the opening credits were displayed to the great original song sung by Take That (Get Ready for It) at the closing credits, the film is one relentless adventure as we get thrown in to the dangerous world of espionage. It helps also that usually scissors happy censorship board uncharacteristically left all the F bombs and violent scenes intact! So what we get is an unabashed use of foul language amidst some of the most shocking scenes of violent mayhem to be depicted on screen. In fact some of you may be disturbed by the level of violence here but hey, if you are used to the level of gore routinely dished out to you over HBO TV series and the Walking Dead, then you are well prepared for this. To make the whole premise more palatable, we have distractions of the dry and under-stated British humour and plenty of exhilarating action sequences that would make any Bond outing pale in comparison.

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As a bonus, we also get to enjoy delightful performances from the impressive cast headed by Colin Firth as the super suave secret agent, Samuel L. Jackson playing a great villain role, and the ever sophisticated Michael Caine as the head of the secret service and Mark Strong as the spy trainer. Even more pleasant is the discovery of a bright new actor in the form of Taron Egerton as Eggsy the apathetic youth who finds himself recruited as a spy. Much of the success or failure of the film actually lies on this young unknown actor and it is to his credit that he did not fail to deliver the goods.

I know it is early days in 2015, but I dare say Kingsman The Secret Service is definitely going to end up as one of the top favourite movie for the year for me. Go watch this if you haven’t already done so. You would not regret it.

Ratings: 4 stars

I personally watched fewer movies in 2014 than I did in the previous year. Like any year it offered a mixed bag with some great movies and some not so great. I would like to share my personal favourites for 2014 here. Not surprisingly a number of these appeared in my mid-year review of best 10 films. I list them here in roughly the order I perceive them to be based on my personal preference.

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1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Ratings: 4 stars)

At the end, when I took stock of what I had watched throughout the year, this one movie stood out and remained my favourite of the year. Watching this was a delight from the start till the end and I could not think of any other movie in the year which managed to do this so effortlessly and originally. It is Wes Anderson’s best piece of work in my opinion and deserves recognition come awards season. Brilliant story and story-telling, stellar cast, breath-taking pace, and hilariously original script all add up to pure entertainment.

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  1. Guardians of the Galaxy (Ratings: 4 stars)

I never thought I would feel or re-live the excitement and enjoyment of a space adventure in the likes of Star Wars again, until Guardians of the Galaxy came seemingly from nowhere. while the story and plot and hack, even the characters may not be exactly original, it is the way the movie flowed and the charm of the characters that ultimately makes the difference. True, “Star Lord” (aka Peter Quill) as played by emerging super star Chris Pratt is no Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, but he still manages to enthuse enough spark and uniqueness in his performance to stand out and memorable.

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  1. The Hobbit : The Battle of Five Armies (Ratings: 4 stars)

Peter Jackson has made the ultimate adaptation of The Hobbit. With the earlier two chapters he had already demonstrated how cleverly he can expand on the rather thin material of the novel into two epic movies complete with additional characters and situations. With this finale, he had presented a fitting closure to the series that is both exhilarating and touching, without compromising on the values that the story promotes, namely heroism, unselfishness and the beauty of true love. The closing credit song and images were a fitting tribute and send off.

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  1. Labor Day (Ratings: 4 stars)

I have said it before, I loved how Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin brought this unlikely love story between an escape convict and lonely single mother to life. Every emotion is strongly portrayed in what I felt was generally an under-rated and overlooked gem. Kudos again to director Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Juno) for giving this to us.

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  1. 12 Years A Slave (Ratings: 4 stars)

A spill over from 2013 but nevertheless worthy of being in the top 10 list in any year. A brilliant effort from director Steve McQueen who managed to bring back the glory of good old fashion story telling without the distractions of CGI laden effects or huge production values in this intimate tale of slavery.

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  1. Saving Mr Banks (Ratings: 4 stars)

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson bring to life Mr Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers respectively in this wonderful take of how Disney coxed Travers to get Mary Poppins filmed as a musical. It’s a feat how this true life tale is translated to a delightful fairy tale like story. I dare say this movie was far better than Mary Poppins!

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  1. Locke (Ratings: 4 stars)

Tom Hardy puts on the performance of his career with this one man show. This movie basically has just one actor dominating the screen for its entire one and a half hours running time, behind the wheels of a car as he conducts various conversations over his cell phone. Sounds boring right? Well, any serious movie goer will appreciate how this movie succeeds in coming across as edgy and nail-biting. Think Ryan Reynold with his Blackberry in Buried, but instead of the claustrophobic confines of a coffin we have the more comforting interiors of a car instead.

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  1. The Grandmaster (Cantonese) (Ratings: 4 stars)

This is Wong Kar Wai’s crack at martial arts with his take on the legendary Wing Chun master Ip Man. It has Wong Kar Wai’s favourite leading man Tony Leong taking on the lead role as Ip Man but it is Zhang Zhi Yi as the daughter of a rival grand master who stole the show! Amidst the slow motion and artsy camera angles, is an intriguing tale of rivalry, family honour, and lost opportunities. ZhiYi captures the mood and emotions beautifully sometimes without the need of dialogue. This may not be Kar Wai’s best work but it still stands out as the best Chinese movie of the year.

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  1. The Rover (Ratings: 4 stars)

A tour de force performance by two leading actors acting against type – Guy Pearce as a mysterious wanderer that won’t hesitate to resort to violence to get what he wants, and Robert Pattinson as a half wit and unwilling partner to Guy’s character. It’s a road trip, a futuristic interpretation of a post-apocalyptic world, and an Australian yarn. Its delight lies with the performances and a story that is unpredictable from beginning to end.

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  1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Ratings: 4 stars)

This is a big improvement over the last Planet of the Apes which had the annoying James Franco in it. Amazing CGI effects makes the apes believable besides the humans. It there was ever an award for best acting by a CGI character, then it must go to the ape leader Caesar. The movie worked for me because it chose to focus on the conflict and interactions between a small group of human survivors versus the now highly evolved ape community just outside the San Francisco city, rather than go overboard with some noisy and mindless ape vs man battle. I also liked the risks taken in just having scenes with the apes communicating in sign languages and ape talk which I thought were very effective.

So there you have it, my top 10 films for 2014. There were some misses and major disappointments which I thought may be worth mentioning. Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” was a major let down for me. A venture that has Christopher Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine associated with it has to be great and nothing less. Interstellar was alas, just good and not great. The film was too long, its sci-fi mambo-jambo explanation not convincing, and Nolan’s choice to film it with a grainy noisy feel did not work for me.

Another disappointment was Woody Allen’s latest “Magic in the Moonlight” . It has come to be that every new Woody Allen movie is anticipated to be great and as good aa if not better than his last. So it was rather frustrating to have “Magic in the Moonlight” emerge as just good rather than great. The material and script simply just wasn’t as punchy and effective this time around.

Then there was the absolutely disastrous “Snowpiercer” a futuristic yarn by ace Korean director Bong Joon Ho. I found the acting terrible, and the premise unbelievable and laughable. I simply cannot understand why this film is ending up a many foreign critic’s Best 10 Films list for 2014! Did these people see another movie from me? I am keen to get feedback from anyone. Perhaps I may be missing something here.

Finally some other great title seen this year which I could not include in the top 10 but nevertheless worthy of mention: “Rush”; “Blue Jasmine”; “Captain Phillips”; “Unbeatable” (Cantonese); “The Invisible Woman”; and “The Two Faces of January”.

Happy New Year everyone and looking forward to what 2015 has in store for us all.

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The latest and final installment of the Hobbit trilogy from Peter Jackson offers a perfect closure to a fabulous series. As with the preceding two chapters before this, Peter Jackson has generously padded the original story with a lot of details enhancing the experience and given us more reasons to love about this series. I am not ashamed to say that I laughed, cried, cheered and gasped with amazement at all the right moments. I loved the over the board action sequences (especially those with Orlando Bloom’s Legolas) and the mind-blowing epic prologue which took off directly where the last film ended, with the dragon Smaug’s revenge on the Lake Town. I lapped up the corny script and manipulative emotional moments which brought tears to my eyes (even upon my second viewing). Peter Jackson has given all movie goers the ultimate and definitive representation of Middle Earth and vividly brought the world of JRR Tolkien to its legions of fans both present and future. This series together with the Lord of the Rings trilogy will forever be remembered and cherished by movies goers and that is no mean feat!

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By the way, the IMAX scale screen and sound system looked and sounded amazing, although admittedly the 3D moments were less impactful and those that really stood out were few and far apart. Regardless of what format you watch this (IMAX, 3D, HFR, 2D etc), you will still be able to enjoy and marvel at this classic in the making. Don’t be too much of a hurry to leave the hall when the credits roll and stay back to enjoy the haunting ballad The Last Goodbye sung beautifully by someone named Billy Boyd with some beautiful sketches of the key characters as the names of the actors portraying them flashes on the screen. It felt like a fitting tribute and farewell to end the series.

Ratings: 4 stars

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If you see the promos and posters for the film Into the Storm you would not be blamed for dismissing this as a low budget disaster movie wanna be. In fact watching the movie’s first 25 minutes or so sort of reaffirms our initial perception and suspicion and you might have the urge to walk out of the cinema hall or switch your TV off if you are watching this from home. The film starts off badly with a poorly lit scene of some victims to an impending tornado that is heading towards the town where our main story takes place. That sort of implies low budget and expectation for an hour and a half of cheap special effects. Then the film tediously introduces us to a whole bunch of card board characters. It also does not seem to decide if it would be done in the found footage style or not as it hoops from one style to another throughout the film. I was actually relief to note at that point that the film had a short running time of just under one and a half hours!

However, I must give credit where it is due and have to admit the film really took off when the tornadoes started making their appearance about 30 minutes into the introductory nonsense. The special effects for the tornadoes were simply amazing and the producers certainly did not hold back on the action which went on relentlessly right until the end! One of my favourite disaster movies from the past was Twister which had a very similar premise and I remember its cool special effects fondly especially the flying cows and image of a disintegrating giant drive-in screen which was showing The Shining with Jack Nicholson screaming “Heeeere’s Johnny!” While Into the Storm may not have the finesse of Twister or star power (Into the Storm’s only familiar face is Sarah Wayne Callies who played Lori in the TV series The Walking Dead) it does have the flying cows and much much more!! It has many breath-taking moments and heck, even the acting seems better as it progresses along and the plot about a father trying to save his son, actually makes some sense as I found myself rooting for the characters by the film’s end!

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All in all, Into the Storm starts off terribly but ends up being one hell of an exciting ride! I say give this a try and don’t lose faith from its awful opening act. Stay and you will be rewarded!

Ratings: 3 stars

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