Saturday, 19 December 2015

REVIEW: Star Wars - The Force Awakens

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

The iconic opening starts with the John Williams' memorable theme song, the crowd in theaters started cheering along. To millions of us, Star Wars is back with a bang, after a decade of absence. However, is it any good?

The result? It is, really good, despite some of its problems. The Force Awakens is by far the best Star Wars since 1980's Empire Strikes Back and is the best Star Wars during my lifetime.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens begins 30 years after the Battle of Endor, the reorganised The First Order and The Resistance continue to fight for supremacy of the galaxy despite the fall of the Emperor 30 years ago. Old heroes and new characters combine to take the fight against The First Order. The battle of good and evil has been intensified to a new level.

I kept a realistic expectations for The Force Awakens, because I know the original trilogy despite its flaws, will always be movie classics, it's almost impossible for The Force Awakens to top the trilogy. I also kept a realistic expectations because of how Attack of the Clones almost ruin Star Wars for me. Thankfully, The Force Awakens is more towards the original trilogy than the prequels.

Disney did play safe with the plot by borrowing elements from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back (I'm not gonna mention how), but J. J. Abrams did really well by injecting a lot of energy into the movie. Unlike the prequels, the story of the movie is always progressing, every scene contains story that worth exploring and contributes to the main story. The action sequences, my god, it felt fantastic! It is intense and never felt too long or too short, J. J. Abrams allows clearer shots of the action sequences is a big plus of the movie. Despite it's higher amount of violence and darker theme compared to some of the Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens is the funniest Star Wars I have seen yet. However, there are some moments I do hope the movie slows down to let the emotions and contents to be digested by viewers, it's a bit tad too fast.

Newcomers like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, who portrayed Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron respectively, are great in this film. Finn by far is my favourite character in The Force Awakens as he is an outsider suddenly thrown into the world confused, he brought a lot of new elements and energy to his characters, and he is really funny throughout the movie. Rey is just as great in the movie as a lone survivor scavenging on the planet Jakku, then taking on the mantle of heroine later in the film. Poe Dameron, despite his smaller role in the film, is really likeable and being one of my instant favourite characters. Old characters like Han, Leia, Luke and Chewbacca are given much love and respect in this film, despite the initial worries.

For me, the jury is still out on the characters of the dark side. I love Kylo Ren at the beginning of the movie, somehow for me I don't really like him as he is not really as menacing towards the end of the movie. I felt General Hux and Captain Phasma, the much hyped characters in the pre-release, are way underdeveloped in this movie, something that needs to be address in the upcoming Episode VIII. The shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke is still as mysterious as ever.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens reinvigorates the Star Wars saga after so long. It's not as great as A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back but it's a really fantastic entry into the saga and is able to launch the new trilogy into motion. Despite the familiarity, it is able to stand on its own and brought newer characters and new worlds into its own. The Force Awakens is in the list of my favourite Star Wars, absolutely love every minute of it!

I will say like Han Solo put it, "Chewie, we're home!"

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

REVIEW: Hitman - Agent 47

I'm hired and given a target, a man with good public reputation but with shadowy ties with mobsters. He is wealthy and well protected from threats, by staying in his villa with security guards, with beefed up alarm & intrusion system. I wander outside the villa for 10/15 minutes, finding ways to exploit the security by shutting it down, or simply avoiding it altogether. When I'm inside the villa, I can either finish off the target by doing it point blank range, or finding possible options to make the assassination looks like an accident, no one would notice a killer's presence. I see the man is preparing to swim, I make wiring leak near the pool and leave the scene soon after. Mission success, no one notice me at all.

That's the joy of playing Hitman franchise's games. You are an assassin, codenamed Agent 47, who is brutal, cold and calculated at assassinate targets given. Agent 47 is able to infiltrate and assassinate targets before anyone notice what is happening, by exploiting the number of options given. The feeling of finishing a mission with the highest score possible with any detection is really satisfying. Same can't be said for its latest movie adaption, Hitman: Agent 47.

Hitman: Agent 47 is adaptation of the Hitman video game franchise and is directed by Aleksander Bach. It starred Rupert Friend as the title character, Hanna Ware and Zachary Quinto. The story tells Agent 47 teams up with a woman to help her find her father and uncover the mysteries of her ancestry. Together, they aim to take down the leader of Syndicate International, a terrorist group based in Singapore.This is the director best work yet (sarcasm, just look at IMDB, I'm not wrong). The plot tries to be smart and it fails big time, it doesn't have any good sense and it feels dumb. When the movie promotional video, features how the director and producers trying to exploit Singapore's architecture landscape before any other Hollywood production without a slight mention to the franchise backstory, it is a red flag.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed certain part of the action sequences, for example when Agent 47 and Katia trying to get out of Changi Airport undetected, it was a glimpse of Hitman. However, my God, it is a pointless, gung-ho, shoot'em up movie that has very little resemblance to the Agent 47 we know. Aleksander Bach must be given the game to try to understand the game, but he ended up getting detected by every security guards and police possible and went all shootout with the authorities, because that what the movie feels like. At one of the scene, Agent 47 teaches Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) on how to take on a group of Syndicate forces (the antagonist's organisation), by going head on and kill everyone they see. FOR GOD'S SAKE! AGENT 47 IS A SILENT ASSASSIN! NOT A TERMINATOR!!!

I am also very disappointed with Zachary Quinto. I am a big fan of his work since Heroes and Star Trek and his portrayal of henchman John Smith is his weakest work yet. It might be down to script issues with his characters and the possibility of him not suitable being a henchman for a villain. Not to mention that a lot of his stunts felt forced and fake-ish. Not only his stunts feel fake, a lot of the actors' action sequences are obviously done by stuntmen. The random mashup of different cuts are trying to hide the stuntmen, but it is still visible at times.

Then, it comes to the special effects. Sigh..., where do I start?! This could be one of the worst visual effects of 2015. The scene where Agent 47 driving down the car park, got chased by a bunch of henchmen on motorcycle is as fake as WWE's fight. When the car hits the motorcyclist, you can obviously spot the image being superimposed together without feeling natural. John Smith's Mercedes hit the barriers is worse than the games on my PlayStation. These are just two scenes of many.

In the year where we have two brilliant action movie in Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Hitman: Agent 47 is against the odds from the start. However, Hitman: Agent 47 not only failed on being decent enough movie, it fails to be faithful to the source material. When the first failed Hitman adaptation being better than the new ones, it is clearly an incredibly bad movie. This add up with horrible special effects, just made the movie from bad to worse. Things are not looking good for video game adaptations. I haven't watched Fantastic Four and Pixels yet, but so far, Hitman: Agent 47 is the worst movie of 2015.

Score: 1.5/5

Friday, 7 August 2015

REVIEW: Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

"You may not like a person, but you can be the admirer of his work", that's how I feel about Tom Cruise. I am not a fan of him as a person, but I really do like the movies he worked on. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation further strengthened that belief, because he worked really hard to get the movie done and the end result is quite immense.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation set up after the events of Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) is on the find the existence of the Syndicate. However, before anything continues, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) from CIA shut down the IMF. The team have been disbanded and Ethan Hunt has gone into hiding and gone rouge.

It's basically a very Mission Impossible-ish plot, yet still the movie feels very fresh even after the fifth installment. This is due to Christopher McQuarrie is the fifth director of Mission Impossible as many as the number of films. So, this makes each entry feels very fresh and each movie has its own audiences and fans.

The action sequence itself is the highlight of the show, with Tom Cruise himself doing all the crazy stunts without the use of a stuntman. This makes the action sequences feel very real because the actors are feeling all the stress and tension, these feelings are directly felt by the audience because we all the action shots are all real. The scenes did feel slow and dragged out in between the action sequences, as the script doesn't seem to know how to move the story at a smoother manner. Other than that, the movie is rock solid.

Tom Cruise, say what you want about his personal life, I personally don't like his real persona, but his movies are really enjoyable. I mean, he really strapped himself onto the plane during takeoff and take a deep dive during crucial action sequences, The reason he does that because by using real actors, we all with immersed with the movie, and he's right, Mission Impossible feels a lot better than action movie these days because it felt real, not some stuntmen strap on with makeups.

Beside Cruise, Simon Pegg as Benji is as funny as ever, with himself have more action chops this time around, which is great to see. Ving Rhames is back and make it a lot better. Jeremy Renner, who is my sister's personal favourite, is back this time around once again as William Brandt, the character has given more comical relief which is weird at first, but makes sense in the end. Rebecca Ferguson as Syndicate operative, Ilsa Faust is both masculine and feminine as well, even though her character is inconsistent. Alec Baldwin's character as Alan Hunley is just an introduction, and an interesting one. It's excited to see where they will bring the character forward in the future.

However, the main problem with Rogue Nation is the villain. Once again, Rogue Nation suffers the issue of weak villains, like previous Mission Impossible and other movies. Sean Harris as Solomon Lane isn't intimidating or pose enough a threat to IMF and he is easily played by other characters in the film. I'm not sure what it is, is it today's society can't accept a proper villain, because villains usually are not suitable to the politically correct audiences.

That being said, Mission Impossible is another solid entry of the Mission Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise and co. is able to keep the franchise fresh after so many years is something worth applauding. Not many series can get consistent, let alone getting better, but Mission Impossible managed to pull it off. If you're into action movies with espionage themed, it is worth a recommendation. It is a blast!

P.S. Kuala Lumpur made a cameo!

Score: 4.5/5

Friday, 31 July 2015

REVIEW: Holden Commodore Evoke

More than two months, that's how long ago from the moment I thought "Yeah, I'm gonna make this post". So, I'm gonna post it NOW! This is it, the Holden Commodore Evoke, the car my sister rented during my family's trip to Perth, Australia in May. The car cost around AU$400 for a six days trip.

The car is a basic entry level in the Holden Commodore range. It features a 3.0L SIDI direct injection V6 engine that produces 248bhp and 290Nm of torque, the engine is then paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. That is quite a recipe for an entry level car.

Performance & Handling
With the engine, you would expect quite a performance with sporty handling and stuff. That wasn't the case, the car is design for daily drive and comfort. However, it does have a really decent acceleration under its belt, not to mention that I was carrying four other passengers in the car. I did tried out the automated sequential mode to give it a sportier push, I was had quite a smile as the car was able to give quite a big push when you got more control of the the wheel.

Handling wise, the car is given a more comfort settings as well. Rightfully so, as you are not going to take car to hoon around Mount Panorama or Nurburgring. The car's suspension is designed to tackle bumpier roads of some of Australia's outskirts, I drove through the woods once and it was really rough, but the car was able to absorb most of impacts. Still felt it, but comfy. ESP that came along with the car are able to help with some of the more slippery roads.

Comfort and Practicality
Possibly one of the most comfortable car I've driven and been in. The journey covered around 800km over 6 days from Perth to Margaret River to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse back to Perth again, I've never felt any pain in the arse (pardon me) during the whole trip. Most of the time I was behind the wheel, I didn't feel any fatigue after long rides and being on the front passenger seat was a comfortable experience. My parents and my aunt sitting at the rear passenger seat have a lot of space and didn't need the adjustment of the front passenger seats.

Practicality wise, the car is large enough for a driver and four other passengers, During the trip, we are able rear boot is able to fit one large luggage, one small one and four other bags. It will also be able to fit an adult size person at the back if you wanted to do something fishy.

It fits! (No humans were harmed during the photoshoot)

The startup presentation of the Evoke
We were unable to get an accurate reading about the fuel economy during the trip as we were fiddling with the car computer system for the first two or three days. However, the computer said the car during the trip averaged around an estimated 8.6L/100km, which was not bad for a big lump executive car. The car was able to swallow anything from RON92 and above, and biofuel as well.

The car comes with the standard ABS and ESP for safety. Besides that, it features an infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB and AUX support and voice control, which was terrible. The system will have a hard time understanding the device plugged in and is unable to pick up my voice command, NOT EVEN ONCE!

Other than that, the car comes with reverse camera for park assist. It also features self park mode, which I was unable to give it a try, and by the way, parking isn't hard, at all. Automated headlamps and cruise control is available as well, which is actually really easy to use.

I did have complains with the seatbelt warning system. It sounds way too similar like the sound from the parking assist. Whenever my parents took off the seatbelts while I was parking, I thought I crashed which was annoying!

Toyota? Meh...
Holden Commodore Evoke is definitely a really good car, comfortable, enough power and practicality makes it a really good car for family trip. Although these praise could be me spending a week with the car alone, without driving other cars, as people usually fall in love with the car they spent a short time with.

Monday, 13 July 2015

My UberX KL Experiences

For those who take public transport in KL, I'm pretty sure you all have poor (terrible) experiences with taxis in KL. For those who didn't, taxis in KL are generally quite dirty, foul smelled, untidy and poorly maintained, and the taxi drivers can be really rude, harassing, jam their music very loud, don't wanna use meters, overcharging passengers. I know there are still some good taxi drivers out there but there are just too many bad ones. That's why KL is being notorious for the worst taxi services in the world.

Afraid not commuters, there's a new way to travel around the city, Uber. Uber is a ride sharing platform where normal users can be drivers, through proper verification and others users can request rides to travel. It's similar to one of the local's service, GrabTaxi, a variant of MyTeksi. For now, I will only cover Uber as I do not have enough rides with GrabTaxi to make a proper conclusion.

First and foremost, you must create an account (duh), which is here. Go through filling in the details and your card info as credit card is the primary method of making payment. After setting up and verifying your account, you are good to go!

To order a ride, simply open up Uber app from your phone like the one on my phone's screen above. The phone will show your approximate current location, the nearest drivers, the waiting time and allow you to drop the pin which the driver will pick you up. This is where you can set your destination and get the estimated fare for the ride. You can also key in promo code during promotional period or send out fare sharing to divide your fare automatically with your friends who are tagging along.

After confirming the ride, the app will send out request to drivers nearby to pick you up, usually it takes around 10 minutes for the ride to arrive. Drivers will usually call you to confirm your booking or if you have any changes with the pick up location. With UberX, the cars are usually Perodua Myvi, Toyota Vios, Honda City or Nissan Almera.

The experience I had with Uber are generally positive. The ride is ACTUALLY calculated with running rate, no more arguing about prices! The starting fare is also quite reasonable at RM2. However, the most important thing of all, the drivers. They are very friendly in general, if you start a conversation with them, they will chat with you without going overboard, I met quite some quiet ones, not because they are unfriendly, just that they are quiet.

At the end of the ride, your fare will be finalised and the receipt will be sent to your email account. You can rate your experience of the ride after you reached your destination. If you find your journey strayed too far from the route, you can request for a fare review to get a proper valuation.

Overall, my experience with UberX KL so far has been positive. It is easy to use, almost certain to get rides if there are drivers around, promotions from time to time has allowed me to save more from the rides. Lastly, the rides are generally much cleaner and friendlier. If you want to go places that rails aren't able to reach, UberX is worth the consideration.

If you are trying Uber for the first time, you can enter the promo code "uberCRA458" for RM40 off for your first ride. Give it a shot! Besides, throughout the whole July 2015, Uber rides will be 20% off.

Current UberX rate
Base Fare: RM2
Running rate: RM0.35/min + RM0.70/KM
Minimum Fare: RM2

I will cover GrabTaxi and other services from Uber soon. Stay tuned.

*Disclaimer: This is not endorsed by Uber in any form. It is just my personal experience that I offer to allow commuters to have more options to take rides around KL.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Review: Jurassic World

Honestly, I went in the cinema with lowered expectations. This is due to the overexposure of the marketing campaign I saw everywhere, on social media, news, posters and trailers, I felt like I've seen too much of Jurassic World, and the best part are all shown in the trailers. I also lowered the expectations because the original Jurassic Park is a milestone in cinema. In the end, overexposure or not, I was entertained, Jurassic World has a decent enough plot and not be like another Jurassic Park III where dinosaurs exist just to eat humans.

Set 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park, the island is now a full-fledged theme park with actual attractions and is popular with the tourists. With the increasing operating cost, the park's owner, Masrani Corporation, wants to create a new dinosaur to attract a larger number of visitors, without thinking of the consequences.

Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World, did a wonderful job on recreating the spectacle of Jurassic Park. Sure, it is not as good as the original, but it is certainly better Jurassic Park III and at most times better than The Lost World. It has a pretty good story that drives the characters in the film. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are well written characters, they have great chemistry and have great progression in the story. Some characters' felt flat or do not move the plot at all. Claire's nephews don't feel important to the story as they and Claire do not feel like they are related, Simon Masrani is unsure he is a serious CEO or a comic relief, Dr. Wu (the only recurring character) suddenly feels so mysterious.

The dinosaurs are great on the big screen. The hybrid Indominous Rex is an imposing and terrifying figure in the film, a symbol of humanity's greed, the Mosasaurus is a great addition to the movie. I was bit worried in the trailer when Owen is controlling and taming the velociraptor, I though it was bit too much. However, due to the great acting of Chris Pratt, it is pretty convincing! If human can tame lions and tigers, why not the raptors (hehe). Lastly, it is really exciting when we are finally able to watch the original T-rex from Jurassic Park made an appearance, her appearance is what makes the last act of the movie so fantastic to watch.

Of course, 22 years later, the visuals of Jurassic Park have improved tremendously since then. Jurassic World looks great on the big screen, the dinosaurs feel lifelike and believable. Even though CGI has taken over much of the work, practical effects like animatronics are still used in close ups. There are some instance where the scenes really felt like the actors are looking into the green screen mapping or part of the CGI background, but that did not detract much from the experiences. The sound effects makes a roaring return with full spectrum of the dinosaurs' roars.

The movie did succeed in making it feels like Jurassic Park, with good amount of anticipation to the appearances of the dinosaurs and the suspense of the wait. It also brings a lot of the good memories (bad memories if you were in that world) of the Jurassic Park with the visit to the old park's site, most of the time it felt good, but in some instances it felt forced.

I also give credit to the writers' ability for refuting scientists' claims of dinosaurs that were researched post-Jurassic Park have feathers and looks slightly different in sizes. First, they use Dr. Wu to explain that these dinosaurs were bridged with genomes of modern reptiles in order to make them breed in the test tube and hence looked different. Secondly, they are not from the real world, they are in the world of Jurassic Park. It would looked weird if the velociraptors suddenly grown some feathers 22 years later.

I really liked Jurassic Park, not only because it was entertaining, it was also acknowledge what makes the first Jurassic Park so great and tried to recapture that magic. It also tried to avoid the comparisons by refusing to name it Jurassic Park IV as it would limit the storytelling because of The Lost World and the mediocre Jurassic Park III. There are some moments where the movie felt bit flat, but it was mostly a great and entertaining film. Colin Trevorrow and Steven Spielberg managed to make it work, that is to make the audience interested to see dinosaurs again.

To me, unlike The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World is a true sequel to Jurassic Park.

Score: 4/5

Saturday, 4 April 2015

REVIEW: Furious 7 (Sending Off)

"One last ride," Vin Diesel's character, Dominic Toretto  has been saying this quote for the past iterations of Fast & Furious for years, even though there are sequels coming. For this time, Furious 7, it is one last ride for a character, in particular.

Back to work

I'll talk about that in a moment, but first let me talk about what I think of Furious 7 as a whole. It's difficult to find a franchise that grows in popularity in subsequent entry of the series. From a small budget flick to a must-watch blockbuster is no small feat.

Transporter is here!

The new movie saw Jason Statham, the new villain for the series, as Deckard Shaw, who is out for revenge for his brother, Owen. Jason Statham fit into this movie easily, as he is one of the most recognisable action star out there, I like him after I saw the American adaptation of The Italian Job and subsequent movie. In Furious 7, Jason Statham is just being Jason Statham, and I like it.

The action sequences, visual effects and the ensemble of casts are the main draw to the series. The crew (family) is better than ever, delivering their own witty one-liners to one another and the chemistry between them is still there. Tyrese continues his usual comedic relief role, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker being the frontmen, Letty be the female version of Dom, Ludacris be the IT guy, Nathalie Emmanuel from Game of Thrones join the fray, The Rock be the cop and some familiar faces return, which is a welcome sight.

The visual effects are detailed as well, I appreciate what they have done with all the ridiculous stunts they managed to pull off by doing it practically instead of doing CGI when they have the liberty to do that. The plane drop? It's real.

However, on the action sequences side, it's a bit of overdone. I'm not saying that the action sequences sucked or whatsoever, just that the fight scenes between characters have been overdone. The face-off between Dominic Toretto and Deckard Shaw is just plain ridiculous, the cars' chassis were damaged beyond recognisable, yet both the characters exited the car unscathed from injury, WTF?! Metal bars hit on concrete, the concrete disintegrate instantly yet done absolutely no damage on their faces.

I know this movie is over the top, but this scene is bullsh*t!

Not to mention there are some elements are unnecessary. Kurt Russell's character, Frank, doesn't seem necessary at the first place, and the military thing is not helping as well, although I might be wrong when the sequel comes to play. This resulted in the movie being bit too long.

In the end, none of these acclaims and criticisms matter as Furious 7 is all about one man, Paul Walker. His tragic death in 2013 caused the film to do some rewriting to give a proper farewell & retirement to his character. As Fast & Furious being the franchise started in my generation and continued to be successful, Paul Walker is the man I grow up watching, so it's bittersweet to watch this film, as his character, Brian O'Connor, continues to kick ass, yet towards the end, you know he will be retired. It is a "one last ride" for him.

The dialogue shared between Brian and his wife, Mia, it's touching and give so much emotion in the movie. The ending tribute and goodbye to Paul Walker, as he gave a one last drive toward the horizon is unbelievably emotional moment as well, tried to hold on to my feelings all the time while I watched it. The theater I was in, gave a respectful standing ovation, as they know it is the best way to say goodbye to the man who made this franchise at the first place.

Despite the overlong runtime and way too over the top sequences, Furious 7 managed to keep audiences engaged in its usual adrenaline pumping action sequences, stunts and the ensemble casts. Yet, none of these matter anyway, it is about Paul Walker and Brian O'Connor. It is about them giving their respective "one last ride".

Rating: N/A

One Last Ride