Category Archives: Films & Television

The Storm Warriors

First off, don’t watch this. It’s terrible and you’d only be wasting your money. That said, I expected it before I went in and still dragged my wife into the cinema with me. This is because the original film The Storm Riders from 1998 is a huge guilty pleasure for me. This old review from (who still haven’t posted their review of the sequel yet!) put it best by calling it the Hong Kong version of Star Wars. As the reviewer Kozo noted, the original film, for all its cheap CGI effects, poor acting and hackneyed plot, successfully transported the viewer into a fantasy version of a mythical China that never actually existed but is clearly drawn from and inspired by Chinese themes and legends.

For my part, I immediately recognized The Storm Riders when I first watched it as the Chinese analogue of the many Western fantasy worlds I knew so much, Tolkien’s Middle Earth being the most iconic example. Of course, it wasn’t the only Chinese fantasy world. The version of China that Louis Cha’s novels are set in is unarguably more famous and celebrated, but it didn’t really feel fantastical enough for me. Come on, The Storm Riders even has a freaking dragon in it! Considering The Journey to the West as being fantasy is a bit unfair too. It would be like calling The Bible a fantasy novel.

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Most self-indulgent film ever


I must confess that I have an irrational attraction to all screenplays written by Charlie Kaufman. Being John Malkovich was weird and silly but a complete delight all the same. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is nothing less than one of my favorite films ever. So it was inevitable that I would eventually get around to watching Adaptation, even though it isn’t generally considered to be one of his better efforts. Please note that this post will be chockful of spoilers because it simply isn’t possible to discuss the film in sufficient detail otherwise.

Adaptation is very generally a film whose story is about the story of the film itself as it is being created. As such it is intensely self-referential. The main character of the film is a fictionalized version of Charlie Kaufman himself, played by Nicolas Cage, trying to write the screenplay of the film that would become Adaptation. In the film, Kaufman, following the success of Being John Malkovich, has been hired to write the screenplay for a film adaptation of Susan Orlean’s novel The Orchid Thief.

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Up: wonderfully sincere and heartfelt film


At the risk of sounding terribly emotional and crossing the line into my private life, I have to say that I found the wordless montage near the beginning of Up showing Carl and Ellie’s marriage to be one of the saddest scenes I have ever seen in any film ever. The adventure parts were more conventional and nothing that we haven’t already seen a thousand times before, but as usual Pixar pulls it off competently and with aplomb.

I’m not going to spend too much time writing an extended review on this one, but I will say that one of the things I liked best about was how dark and honest it seemed for what is still ostensibly a child oriented cartoon. One scene where Carl talks with Russell about his parents ends on a awkward note just as he realizes that his parents are divorced. In most Disney-style fare, it would have been avoided entirely or brushed off in a lighthearted manner, but Up treats it in a much more mature and realistic way.

I’m also curious about how much children will like this film. The overarching theme is loss, including learning to accept it and move on. That’s not going to be something that most children are going to be able to understand. It’s not just the loss from the opening montage either. The great explorer Muntz has become warped because he refuses to give up on his obsessions while Carl and Ellie both ended up sacrificing their dreams and lived a normal life. But it is still a normal life that is fully, happily and meaningfully lived. Even Russell seems to lose his father at the end and learns to be happy despite it. For the strength of that theme alone, Up deserves to be treated as an adult film.

Fun bit of trivia: co-director Bob Peterson provided the voice for both Dug (“I have just met you, and I love you”) and Alpha.

District 9: sci-fi action at its best


I pretty much had to drag my wife to the cinema for this one after reading rave reviews of it on QT3. Peter Jackson’s involvement in the film, after what he gave us in the King Kong remake, was not a glowing endorsement to us. Luckily for me, both of us enjoyed it thoroughly and I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys action films that don’t try to treat their audience as if they were 5 year-olds. The rest of this post will be chockful of spoilers so if you haven’t watched it yet, please go away and come back later.

District 9 opens using a mockumentary format that combined with its South African setting, draws us into a realistic depiction of a world in which a gigantic alien ship has mysteriously appeared overnight. However, the aliens the ship disgorges turn out to be neither enlightened beings here to lead humanity to a brighter future nor nefarious conquerors bent on world domination. Instead they are nothing more than starving and desperate refugees. Not since Alien Nation has a major film treated the issue of first contact with extraterrestrials in as mature and serious a manner.

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Favourite Films (Updated)

It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote this post listing out five of my favourite films, so I thought it would be a good idea to update that list. Some caveats to preface this list with: first, think of this list as extending the previous one, not replacing it. By and large, I still like the films in the original list more than the ones here but I hate the idea of qualitatively ranking stuff in some numerical order, so I’m going to maintain the position that they’re always arranged in no particular order.

Second, the original dictum that these are films that are my personal favourites remains. There’s a reason why this list is called “Favourite Films” and not “Best Films” after all. I can completely understand if someone wants to counter one of my choices with something with greater artistic merit. I can even acknowledge something else as being qualitatively better while recognizing that I personally liked it less for a variety of reasons.

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Transformers is not a good film


No, I haven’t watched the second one and I have no plans to give Michael Bay any of my money. However, I can’t ignore the huge media phenenomenon it’s become so my wife and I decided to rewatch the first film over the weekend. Another reason was that she had fallen asleep while trying to watch it when it first came out. As it turned out, she fell asleep this time too, so we started watching it on Saturday night and finished it on Sunday morning.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t like it the second time around either. In fact, seeing it again just put me in a position to run a constant commentary on how stupid the things in it are. Did Michael Bay really think it would be funny to have giant robots trying to hide in a backyard? How is it supposed to be a good action movie if we can’t tell who’s fighting who most of the time? Why would that generic U.S. soldier who misses home and family help out Sam when they don’t know each other? Does it make sense that the U.S. military’s best plan to hide the cube is in the middle of a metropolis with its millions of civilians?  And, as That Movie Blogger Fella put it, why are they trying to have Sam escape on a helicopter when Megatron transforms into a plane?

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Star Trek is dead. Long live the new Star Trek


Inevitably, I went to see the newest Star Trek film with my wife on Sunday. Now, I’ve always thought of myself as a Star Trek fan, even though I’m too young for The Original Series and it’s The Next Generation that is the most memorable for me. I never did get around to watching Deep Space Nine, only watched bits and pieces of Voyager and made a deliberate effort to avoid watching Enterprise.

Still, I’m reasonably up to snuff on the best parts of TOS and combined with the best parts of TNG, I have a very firm idea of what it is that makes Star Trek great: as a mainstream platform on which to tell high-brow science-fiction. After all, it’s not a coincidence that many of the very best episodes were written by the most notable writers of print-based science-fiction, for example, City on the Edge of Forever (TOS) by Harlan Ellison, The Measure of a Man (TNG) by Melinda Snodgrass, The Doomsday Machine (TOS) by Norman Spinrad etc. Plus, there’s the fact that Star Trek always had a single very clear vision: creator Gene Roddenberry’s dream of a unified and noble humanity venturing out to do good amongst the stars.

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