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Movie Review: X-Men: First Class (2011) June 7, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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If X-Men Origins: Wolverine was economy, the X-Men Trilogy was business, then X-Men: First Class was definitely….first class.

That was lame, but X-Men: First Class really is one of the best superhero origin/reboot movies I’ve seen. And I’m not even that big a fan of the X-Men in general. Actually, simply put, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

First Class takes us way back to the very beginning, when Magneto was just Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X was just Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Even though we know who they will ultimately become, it was still a blast seeing them develop from children into adults, adults into best friends, and best friends into mortal enemies. And all of it takes place during (alternate) versions of real historic events, such as the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although it’s a long movie at 132 minutes, First Class is an incredibly tight film that fits in not only the life stories of both Magneto and Professor X, but also features the back stories of a bunch of other key characters (such as Mystique and Beast), some of whom appeared in the X-Men Trilogy, others laying the foundations for future characters (though you probably need to watch carefully or do a bit of post-film research, like I did, to understand the connections — as well as the inconsistencies).

There are also many allusions to future events and several delicious cameos that fans of the previous films and of the franchise in general will lap up.

Everything about First Class, whether it’s the drama, the action, the make-up, the special effects, the pacing or the character development, is handled very well by director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kickass), but what elevated the film beyond anything I could have expected were the performances of the stars, in particular Fassbender, McAvoy and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. These three superb actors brought their difficult characters to life and proved that good actors do make a huge difference, even in superhero movies.

Apparently, First Class is just the first of a new trilogy and the next two films are currently in development. No matter what they do, I just hope they can keep Fassbender and McAvoy and maintain this level of excellence. Considering how high they’ve set the bar, that’s not going to be easy.

4.25 stars out of 5

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Ranking All 2011 Best Picture Nominees February 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Source: screenrant.com

Now that I’ve finally watched all 10 nominees for Best Picture for the 2011 Academy Awards, here is how I would rank them from 1 to 10.  Click on the movie title for full review.

10. Winter’s Bone

This was a film for indie film lovers and critics.  I thought it was a brilliant performance by Jennifer Lawrence (deserved nomination for Best Actress), a fantastic depiction of the life of ‘cookers’ and their families in rural USA, and had me on the edge of my seat with some frighteningly tense moments — but unfortunately it was my least enjoyed film out of the top 10.

9. The Kids Are All Right

A surprise hit in my books because I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much.  Loved Mark Ruffalo in this and thought it was very quirky, funny and strangely moving.  Not usually my type of film but this was a standout.

8. True Grit

The muttering aside, this was a terrific Western, powered by a star-making performance by Hailee Steinfeld (another deserved nomination, though should have been for Best Actress).  Can’t say it’s one of my favourite Coen Brothers’ movies (I have so many) but it’s another example of their unique style and versatility.

7. Black Swan

As expected, Natalie Portman took out the Best Actress gong, and just as well — she was awesome in this, the best I’ve ever seen her.  I went in having no idea that this was going to be such a trippy, horrific film that made me turn away so many times (especially when it comes to skin and nails).  Nothing like The Wrestler (companion piece) but almost just as good.

6. The King’s Speech

I know, I know.  This just won Best Picture, but it’s not even in my top 5.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was a phenomenal film, but it’s not my kind of film, or at least not as much as the other films on this list.  Colin Firth was definitely a deserving winner for Best Actor, and Geoffrey Rush a deserving nominee.  Helena Bonham Carter?  Not so much.  Surely there were other supporting actresses more worthy?

5. Toy Story 3

Can’t believe I ranked a cartoon higher than 5 other films on this list, but Toy Story 3 moved me in a way I didn’t expect.  The franchise has always been superb, but the third film might very well be the best of them all.

4. The Fighter

Being an avid boxing fan might have coloured my opinion a little, but The Fighter is one of the best boxing films ever.  It’s gritty, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling and anchored by 4 amazing performances (2 nominations, 2 wins).  There’s nothing quite like a triumphant true story.

3. 127 Hours

Another film I didn’t expect to enjoy so much.  Kudos to Danny Boyle and James Franco for bringing this incredible true story to life.  Even with that inevitability looming over every second, I never found the film boring or tedious.  This was an exciting, riveting, horrific, and ultimately inspirational film.

2. The Social Network

I was so disappointed that this didn’t win Best Picture, even though I knew the odds were slim because The King’s Speech really garnered momentum leading up to the Oscars.  As far as dramas and films with a genuine chance of winning Best Picture (hence ruling out my no. 1), The Social Network was the best of the lot.  In 10, or maybe even 5 years, The King’s Speech will still be regarded as an exceptional film, but The Social Network will be remembered as a classic and a defining film for this generation.  Just my opinion.

1. Inception

I knew this had no chance in hell of winning, so I was just pleased it got nominated.  But come on — Nolan not even getting nominated for Best Director and getting snubbed for Best Screenplay.  At least the technical awards it won were a bit of a consolation.  Whatever.  Inception was still the most enjoyable movie experience I had last year.

How I would have judged the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest February 21, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA, Sport.
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Source: theprovince.com

By now everyone knows that Blake Griffin won the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.  But did he deserve to win it over the likes of JaVale McGee, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka, each of whom threw down some excellent dunks of their own?

Here’s how I would have judged each dunk from the the dunk comp yesterday.

(to read on and see each dunk, click on ‘more…’)

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Too bad for Li Na and Andy Murray! January 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Sport, Tennis.
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What a fantastic weekend of sports.  I’ll start off with the biggest news — the Australian Open.

I’m not much of a tennis player (the fact that I won two consecutive ‘Most Improved Player’ awards at school and still suck says it all) but I do love watching it, especially the Grand Slams.  Unfortunately, both players I was rooting for lost.

Women’s Final

Sadly, Li Na won't be able to celebrate Chinese New Year with a Grand Slam title

In the women’s, Belgian Kim Clijsters beat the sentimental favourite, China’s Li Na in three thrilling sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-3) to claim her first Australian Open title and her fourth GS title.  As a friend of mine told me recently, GS finals usually disappoint, but this one really didn’t.

Clijsters has long endeared herself to Australians and earned the nickname “Aussie Kim” because she once dated Lleyton Hewitt (when he was the world’s top player and did toilet paper ads on TV) — and managed to keep that nickname long after they broke up because she actually wins (kinda like how Russell Crowe is Australian when he wins Oscars and a New Zealander when he throws phones).

Li Na is also a fascinating story because she’s the best tennis player China has ever seen and will probably inspire a whole new generation of Chinese tennis players.  She’s funny and charismatic too, which is a bonus.  At 28, Li is probably heading towards the twilight of her career, but the current world no. 7 is certainly not done yet.  She had actually defeated Clijsters in a tournament just before the Australian Open and won the first set of the final in dramatic fashion.  However, in the end Clijster’s poise and experience guided her to victory.

I would have loved to have seen Li take out the trophy because it would have been quite historical, and more importantly, I find it extremely embarrassing that Aussies latch on to “Aussie Kim” simply because she’s a winner.  But then again, when the media makes a big fuss because Bernard Tomic didn’t get completely wiped off the court by Rafael Nadal (well, it was in straight sets), I guess they do need someone to root for.

Men’s Final

Sadly, this unappealing expression will continue for Andy Murray

It was great to finally see a GS final that didn’t involve Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal (as much as I admire both men).

But this was an intriguing matchup.  Novak Djokovic was searching for his second GS trophy (having won the Aussie in 2008) and Andy Murray was looking for his first (having lost two finals to Federer before, including last year’s Aussie final).  The two came up the ranks together as juniors and have been friends forever.  With Federer declining and Nadal a potential timebomb because of injury concerns, this was the perfect opportunity for one of them to step up.

My wife dislikes Djokovic because, let’s face it, he looks like and sometimes acts like a bit of a dick.  But I actually quite like him and thought he has embraced the occasional villain role quite well.  And he’s one heck of a player too.

However, on this occasion I was definitely going for Murray.  I felt sorry for the guy after he lost to Federer twice in previous finals, despite being a legitimate chance in both matches.  He, like Tim Henman before him, must have been feeling the pressure of all of Great Britain on his shoulders, so I wanted him to finally relieve that tension.  Besides, he’s too good of a player to never win a GS.

But this one turned out to be competitive but one sided.  Perhaps it was the experience from winning one before, but Djokovic just seemed so much more comfortable than Murray, who served poorly and failed to execute the big shots.  Luck certainly played a part in it — Djokovic’s shots were landing on the line and Murray’s were hitting the net.  In the end it just wasn’t Murray’s day (6-4, 6-2, 6-3), and it looks like that perpetually frustrated, constipated look on his face will live on for yet another GS tournament.

Nevertheless, a good start to 2011 and a great end to the week!

PS: I wouldn’t feel too sorry for either loser though.  The winner took home AUD 2.2 million while the loser got AUD 1.1 million.

My 2011 Oscar Predictions: Who Should Win and Who Will January 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews.
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10 comments

Source: Oscars.com

Well, the nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards are finally out, and as usual, there were few surprises.  Overall, I think 2011 was a pretty solid year for cinema, with some standout films, unique films, classic films and groundbreaking films.  Of course, there were some duds too, but apart from the massive overkill of pointless 3D films, I’d say it was a good year for cinemagoers.

As per the last couple of years, it’s time for me to predict the winners!  Here goes.

To read on click on ‘more…’

(more…)

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