Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chef (2014) * * *

Chef is a fun movie about food, life, and fatherhood. While I'm giving it only 3 stars, I still liked it a lot. However, it wasn't a great masterpiece, or terribly exciting. My reason for watching it twice is that it gives me a warm feeling every time I watch it.

The movie is a lot of fun. It has a fast talking chef, Carl Casper, who swears a lot, like most chefs I've seen on TV, and that's always great to watch. There are some good jokes, and the cop played by Russell Peters was a memorable comic character.
It's also about food, and being a chef. Today the trend in food is good, local ingredients, and an ever changing menu that adapts to the environment. The changing menu allows the chef a creative freedom, and also gives a chance to people to try out new things. In the movie, the opposite of this style is a menu that is always the same, which is portrayed as being stuck in the past. As someone who loves to discover new food, I like the progressive approach as well.
The food in the movie looks very good. I read that Jon Favreau, the actor portraying Carl Casper, studied cooking, and worked with Roy Choi to look authentic on screen. It turned out very well. I recommend not watching it on an empty stomach.
Chef is also about life and self-discovery. All people come across a time in their lives when they feel that they are in a rut. This is harder on creative people, who may feel uninspired and frustrated. The only thing we can do is to change, when possible. That can be hard, unless we are forced into it, or opportunity comes knocking. However, this movie is trying to show that once we finally make that leap, we will be happier for it.
Another theme in the film is fatherhood. Carl is divorced, and tries to spend as much time with his 10-year-old son as possible, but he's busy with his job. It was very nice to see that his ex-wife was supportive, and understanding. A lot of times in film we see bad divorces, but part of the good feeling this movie gives is the great relationship between Carl and his ex. The kid, played by Emjay Anthony, adopts his mother's understanding attitude, though there is a moment when he shows that he isn't perfect after all. It would be great if all divorced families could have the same relationship as they do.
I also liked how social media was portrayed. Today, if you have a business, or building a personal brand, social media is very important. In the beginning Carl isn't knowledgeable about it, and while it's part of the hilarity, it also shows that we all have to be careful about what we post online. However, while it warns us of the dangers, it also portrays the power and potential of what a Twitter account can accomplish if used well.

Overall, I recommend this movie for an after-dinner watching as a couple, or as a family. Though there is a lot of swearing, especially in the beginning, so the kids may need to be older. While this isn't mostly about food, foodies will also enjoy it. Check out the Facebook page as well, as they have recipes. Anyone for a Cubano?

Bloodlines (Bloodlines, #1) by Richelle Mead * * * *

At the acknowledgements Richelle Mead wrote that it was hard starting a new series, even in a familiar setting. Actually, it was kind of hard for me to start reading it. I enjoyed the Vampire Academy series a lot, and wasn't sure if I would like this one. It did help that I already liked Sydney, the star of this series, and I read that Adrian would be in it too. I did end up liking it.

The story starts out slowly. There are new characters, and some familiar faces from the sidelines of the previous books that take centre stage here. We also see Rose briefly, and get a small update on Lissa. It was weird seeing Rose from the outside. There are a couple of mysteries that slowly unfold. Most of them I could guess easily, there were enough clues, but one big one didn't have a lot of hints, so I didn't guess it.
The slow start accounts for the building of the new environment, and also getting to know the characters. It's also Mead's style that she peppers information about the mysteries and the bigger plot lines in a soup of seemingly mundane events.
It was weird reading about an American high school sometimes. It's so different from my experience, since I went in Hungary. Like having the same classes every day. We had about 13 subjects every term, and they were very general in designation, but in-depth in their cover of the subject material. It was also so weird that the seniors wouldn't know about Ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, and the dates. We covered that in elementary school in 5th year. Along with specific dates. I can't imagine studying like that.

There are many characters, and from the ending more coming. There are two people who appear to be the centre of the story.
Sydney is the main character in this series. I liked her in the previous series, so I was happy about that setting. She has some mysteries of her own, and some secrets. We get to know her family, what her upbringing was like, and her phobias. In many ways, she is like Rose. She has a deep sense of duty, and puts others before herself. However, while Rose always had a sense of her self-worth, Sydney doesn't. She is the type of person who would do anything for others, but doesn't expect anyone to help her. She has unreachable expectations of herself, and therefore always comes short. She also belittles her good qualities, physical or otherwise, but that is tied to her upbringing. I feel that I know her, because what I've written here, I could also write about myself. I'm seeing signs though, that just like I'm trying to overcome these things with the help of others, she will do the same. That will be interesting to see.
Adrian was probably my favourite man in the Vampire Academy. In a way, he is a typical character. He is the bad good guy, who has selfish tendencies, but also the desire to overcome that. Kind of like Spike in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I'm excited to see him reach his potential.

Overall, this new series seems as good as the previous one. I'm enjoying it already, and am excited to read it. Sadly, it's not complete yet, but the next book will come out early next year, so I'll have to bear the wait.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014) * * *

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I decided to go to this movie. I have seen that some of the people I follow for book reviews have read it, and it got mixed reviews. However, sometimes even bad books can be made into good movies or TV shows. Recently The 100 comes into mind. Not a very good book based on the reviews, but I'm hooked on the show. It probably also occurred to me, because it has similar themes. Teens trying to survive in a world they don't know much of after an apocalypse.

This movie is very action packed. Probably the book is a lot slower, but the movie is two hours even like this, so they really didn't need to put more in it. The pacing is good for the most part, however, the ending was a bit abrupt. As if they were shooting, looked at what they had, and realised that they spent too much time on the stuff so far, so they had to finish it already.
The story itself isn't typical current YA. Mercifully, no romance! There could be in the future, but not right now. 
The beginning made me think of Lord of the Flies. I'm probably not alone in that. While there are moments when it could go that way, it doesn't. Perhaps the makers had enough faith in humanity to think that when a bunch of boys get together, they don't necessarily go for the "kill 'em all" scenario. Even though there are indications that there were more violent days, they could establish peace. However, I did wonder what it took. I know, that a strong leader was one of those things. Perhaps the book answers that question.

There aren't any movies this one specifically reminds me of. That could just be that other than superhero movies, I rarely watch stories with this level of testosterone. Or it could just be that most of it was really vague, and the answers weren't forthcoming. I could liken it to The Hunger Games. However, while it does happen in an enclosed space, there isn't that sense of Big Brother, since the boys don't know where they are, or why. It is obvious that someone is watching, and that some aspects of the environment are controlled, but not to that extent. The people trapped are also victims of some system, but it's not the overarching sense. 
I even considered that like in another movie that I saw about a futuristic prison that people escape, only to find out that there is no one else out there, and everything was running on automation all along. This idea was actually reinforced by the look of the maze. It had a lot of rust and decay, more than 3 years of the alleged use of the place would indicate in my opinion. So while some details of the story are similar to some other stories I've seen, they only came into my mind afterwards.

The characters are a bit clichéd, but it could just be that the action was favoured instead of the character building. The action was really good, had my heart pounding at times, so I didn't mind.
Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) is the main character. It is his appearance that kick starts the changes in the camp. While this could be a flaw in the story, there are indications that this isn't a coincidence, and after a while that can become obvious. There were also some things about the events surrounding him that left me with questions. I hope they will be answered in the next movies. Though if I know myself, I won't stand it that long, and soon enough you will be seeing book reviews of this series, so watch this space. The actor himself was kind of an interesting choice. Dylan, of course, plays Stiles in the wildly popular Teen Wolf series, which I happen to watch as well. I do recommend it, because it's one of those shows that you have pegged as a light teen show on MTV, and then it surprises you by having a complex, and interesting mythology. So if you watch it like I do, Dylan plays a similar role here. He is the boy who acts, and isn't content to let the bigger, stronger boys lead him. He becomes a leader himself. Thomas' character takes the adventurous character of Stiles to a new level. He is the kind of guy that sees a mountain, and wants to know what's behind it. He also runs towards danger, so he's a kind of hero. I'm not sure if I actually like him, but I often agree with him.
Alby (Aml Ameen) is the leader in the camp. He is a good leader, though one of his decisions is strange, because he seems to usually delegate, but then he doesn't. That part felt a bit out of character, but could be better grounded in the book, or not there at all.
Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is Thomas' ally. They have a regular bromance from the start. It may come from Newt's generally relaxed nature, but they have a connection. The actor himself I've seen a few times, most obviously in The Game of Thrones. I always liked him, he even played one of my favourite side characters in Doctor Who. In this story his British accent felt weird. Everyone sounded American, and then he opened his mouth. I wonder if that was for the character, or an oversight, or he just had a hard time getting rid of it and they left it like that. In spite of this, I soon forgot about his accent, as he formed a really likeable character.
Gally (Will Poulter) is the evil guy. He is a bit of a cliché from the very start. The bully. The guy who never agrees with Thomas. The guy you just know will end up doing something horrible. He is also the opposite of Thomas in that if he sees a mountain, he just sees the peaks, and then looks around and feels content with what he has. In a way, like a lot of bullies, he's scared of change, of anything different from what he knows. I almost felt sorry for him.

The ending was kind of a surprise. Though frankly, I didn't know what to expect. In fact, the end brought up more questions than answers. Why I'm sure the series will be on many new reading lists, and sales will increase. People generally aren't that good at waiting for answers.

Overall, an exciting movie, and a baffling one. I kind of hoped to decide just how much I liked it in the course of writing this review. I'm still not sure, thus the 3 stars. I do recommend it though, if not for anything but the exciting action, and the interesting mystery. Don't expect to leave the theatre fully satisfied though. Frustrated would be more like it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) * * * *

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a delightful story about food, love, learning to cope with differences, and accepting other people. It's also about finding what is actually important in life.

The movie feels a bit long, even though two hours in not that long by today's standards. However, a lot of things happen in it. I actually didn't watch the trailer, just knew that it had food in it, and I generally love movie about food. However, while food played an important part in the story, it was more of a vehicle to illustrate culture.
The story starts out with an Indian family losing their restaurant, and something more in a riot. They decide to come to Europe, but they want to find some place where there are good ingredients, and start a restaurant there. They come upon a village in France, where they decide to settle down, but on the opposite side of a French restaurant. From then on the story describes how the two cultures get along. I was impressed by the turn of events here, because I really didn't expect to unfold like the way it did.
There are some funny parts in the story, as well as some serious parts. The scenes where the food is in the limelight are shot well. No one should see it on an empty stomach.
I also have to note that the movie is actually in three languages. English, French, and what I'm assuming is Hindi. I saw it with the whole thing being subtitled in Hungarian, so I'm assuming the foreign parts are usually subtitled when watching in English. It was actually a bit funny, because I didn't need subtitles for the English, some of the French was also okay, but of course the Hindi escaped me. So I would hear something that I didn't understand, and quickly look down to read the translation.

Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main character, and a likeable one. He's not the cliché Indian guy that we often cringe at in movies. He's very open to his surroundings, and is an overall modern person. He's also pretty cute. It's interesting to note that the actor was born in the US, so his accent is learned.
Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is a lovely person in the story. She's a chef, though I only now realised that the only thing we ever actually see her cook is béchamel. She is beautiful though, and I couldn't stop looking at her.
To me, the Indian Papa (Om Puri) stole the show. He was sometimes comical, but also had a deep quality without the cliché philosophical speeches. I'd also like to note here that he is portrayed by a genuine Indian actor.
I think Helen Mirren is so often type cast into the role of an iron lady, I don't think I've seen her play anything else. However, she's always a good pick for it.

Overall, a delightful movie that left me warm in the heart. I recommend it for the lovely impression that it left me, and the inspiration to cook something.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Giver (2014) * *

I wasn't very keen on watching this movie, but as is apparent from my previous reviews, I tend to keep an open mind. There were other movies I wasn't very excited about, and I liked them. The reason why I watched this movie? Alex Skarsgard. Yeah, he's beautiful, and I love his voice, so I decided to check this one out. I also saw that a lot of my online book friends loved the book version. Well, let me just say that I hope the book is better.

I can use one word to describe this movie. Simplistic. The book came out in 1993, before the hype of The Hunger Games, and other dystopian YA books, so in a way it's a forerunner of its time. However, while watching the movie it did remind me of a few things I saw or read that were made before 1993, so let's start the dystopian cliché list, that is now so familiar to us all.
City surrounded by some sort of a barrier that people can't cross. Two things come to mind, and remember, I haven't seen and read all dystopian novels, so this is just from my small pool of reference. Zamyatin's Us had a wall, the city in Logan's Run was built underground. It is a basic trope in dystopia to limit travel, to cut people off from the outside world in order to control them.
Getting rid of older people, celebrate it, and have the people not care that they are gone. This was actually a very basic part of Logan's Run.
Breed people, not have a traditional family structure. I'd need to write a list, this is so common. It was basically in every dystopian fiction I come across and was written before 1993.
People forget their history, no books. I will have to say Logan's Run again. Lois Lowry must adore the movie.
Main character realises there is something wrong, and escapes. Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, because in dystopia the most common plot is that someone tries to rebel against the establishment. It's sort of a requirement.
Main character escapes, and best friend comes after them. I hate to say this, but Logan's Run once more. I don't know how it is in the book, I don't suppose that it's a drone. Truth to be told, the friend turns out differently in Logan's Run.
Humanity taken away by a drug, people are conditioned to think one way. Brave New World. There is conditioning, though a bit more heavy-duty than here, and you have a drug which there acts more apparently like a drug, but the purpose is the same. To not notice how crazy everything is.
Cameras everywhere. Need I write a list here? When they put cameras all over London, people were saying Big Brother is watching.
There may have been a couple of more, but I won't bore you. The story was a simplistic mash of a lot of clichés in dystopia. Maybe there is more depth in the book, because so many people loved it. However, if I summarised the movie, it would sound like a lot of dystopias. At least it felt short.

The characters are simply not exciting, or surprising. They feel like cardboard cut-outs.
Jonas is the main protagonist. He is chosen to hold the memories of the past by taking them from the old Keeper of Memories, who becomes the Giver. This is done through some mind sharing, which isn't explained at all in the movie. Now in this world people don't seem to have too much of a personality, and that is sort of the point. He is more enthusiastic about things than the rest of the people even before he stops taking the drugs. Otherwise, I really don't know what to write about him. He's good with a baby. Let's also admit that he could have turned out to be a terrible person off the drugs, as could anyone. However, it's probably because of their simple upbringing, he is more like a small child than a young adult. He looks at everything with an innocence that was partly the point of keeping the memories of the past away from these people.
The Giver is your typical old man. Jaded, obviously has a history with the Chief Elder. He's the one who leads Jonas on his journey.
Fiona is the love interest. Rather, the cut-out of a love interest. I really don't have much to say about her either, since I learned very little of her other than she's pretty, and has a caring nature.

The thing that I find most unlike the rest of the dystopias is the YA aspect. I can't remember having read or seen anything that had such a young protagonist, but I probably haven't seen everything.
It left a lot of questions in my mind. I still don't know how the community came about, what the rest of the world is like, or how the barrier worked, or a lot of other things. I was hoping for some great reveal, but none came. The ending just raised even more questions.

Overall, watchable, but not all that great. It didn't excite me, or make me want to read the book. It just left me baffled how so many people can like the book. I sincerely hope it's a lot better. I can only recommend it if you have 100 minutes to kill, and there's nothing else.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Autonomy by Daniel Blythe * *

This book took me a little over two weeks to read, but it felt longer. I didn't enjoy it much. It wasn't completely terrible, but I found it a bit boring.

The story takes place in 2013, actually, so it's a bit strange in that way, since it was written in 2009. You only realise how many things can happen in 4 years when reading something like this. It happens in a super-mall, which actually didn't sound so bad. It's an environment that I know well, since I work above a mall, and spend a lot of time there, sometimes just to get out of the office. However, the story itself just didn't entertain me so much. It was obvious what was going on at about 10% into the story, so that took the mystery out. Then it was all just people dashing about, some minor characters getting killed, and I just wanted to get to the end already. It was just too simplistic.

I also missed the Doctor having someone to properly explain things to. This takes place at the point of his life when he had lost Donna, and was trying to travel alone. As usual, he did have a temporary companion, but there just wasn't a lot of interaction with her. The Doctor was the Doctor, but I couldn't feel him, I couldn't connect to him.

The author also threw at us a host of temporary characters that got quickly killed off after learning a few things about them. In the show this happens sometimes, and it works, but in this book it just felt random, and like he was a filler writer. That's a term that I use for writers who need to write a certain length, and obviously run out of good ideas before meeting that requirement, so they start to put in random stuff to make the word count.

Overall, not a terrible little book, but if it wasn't a Doctor Who story, I probably would have put it down before finishing. The end didn't hold any surprises for me, and the resolution wasn't so brilliant as it should have been. Maybe he got out of the groove of writing Doctor Who, since his last book for the fandom came out in the 90s.