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How to Train Your Dragon

Great animation but lacks a believable premise
There was nothing too wrong with this movie (exciting plot, great animation, likable characters) but it failed to move me. Hiccup is a Viking teenager from the island of Berk. Unlike the tough, beefy men for whom fighting dragons is a way of life, Hiccup is lean and scrawny. He tries to live up to the community's expectations but fails miserably each time. His encounter with a dragon challenges him to see things from a different perspective and propels him to revolutionise his community.

I find the premise - that human beings were wrong about the nature of dragons for centuries - not quite believable. To be fair, we have been wrong about many things in the course of history, but to be so wrong about a creature that you encounter on a very regular basis pushes the limits of believability. It just seems so silly that no one realised that the dragons could be tamed/trained except a naive teenager. This fundamental problem is what marred my enjoyment of a movie that otherwise had a lot of things going for it.

The Peanuts Movie

Great family movie with a moral
Anyone who likes Peanuts is sure to enjoy this movie! The animation really brought the characters to life and the story is excellently crafted. A new kid moves to town and Charlie is excited at the prospect of being able to start a clean slate - he hopes that he will no longer be seen as a failure who can't do anything right. The new kid turns out to be a little red-haired girl whom he falls in love with at first sight. Everything seems to go wrong in Charlie's pursuit but his good heart shines through each time. I love how the movie managed to incorporate a solid moral message without being in the least preachy. We also see Snoopy taking to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron, and rescue his beloved fellow beagle Fifi.

It was great to see the whole gang back in action, from the bossy Lucy to the laidback Peppermint Patty. Snoopy and Woodstock were really adorable too! I'm pretty sure this movie is going to spawn more Peanuts converts.

Home Alone

Great family comedy for the holidays
I know that it's highly unlikely for an 8-year-old boy, no matter how smart, to have singlehandedly pulled off all those burglar traps, but I still love this movie!! As the youngest child in a big family, Kevin is somewhat spoiled and is consequently seen by his siblings as a pain. The night before the family's year-end holiday to Paris, he gets sent up to the attic as punishment for fighting with his siblings. Stung by the seeming injustice of it all, Kevin wishes for his family to disappear. Amid the hustle of getting to the airport, his parents forget about him. Kevin is at first delighted that he got his wish, but soon finds himself having to defend the house against burglars.

Home Alone is so funny and Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is so adorable! It's one of the few movies that made me laugh out loud. The first half was a bit slow, but it was refreshing to see the world through the eyes of an 8-year-old - believing the scary tales spun by an older kid and letting your imagination run wild! The second half where Kevin ordered pizza and played cat and mouse with the burglars was hilarious and just believable. Beyond the humour, I liked the movie for the message that it sent - family is precious! Truly the perfect family movie for the holidays!

Sixteen Candles

Great portrayal of teenage angst, but partly lacking in believability
This being John Hughes' most popular teen comedy, I was somewhat disappointed. Sixteen Candles is about high school sophomore Samantha Baker's struggle to get through her 16th birthday. Busy preparing for her older sister Ginny's wedding the next day, Sam's family has completely forgotten her birthday. At school, Sam is crushing on a senior who seemingly has no idea that she exists. On the bus home, a dorky freshman, Farmer Ted, pesters her for a date. Her grandparents show up the house and take over her room. To top it off, even the Vietnamese exchange student manages to find a date at the school dance faster than Sam. Unknown to her though, things are about to take a turn for the better.

The parts of the script relating to Sam were excellent. All the things that could go wrong on a girl's Sweet Sixteen went wrong. Molly Ringwald put in an splendid performance as Sam, conveying all the angst and desires that her character experienced. Michael Hall was perfect as Farmer Ted, trying desperately to be cool but unable to shake off his dorkiness.

However, the entire storyline relating to Sam's crush was not very believable. Apart from picking up the balled-up 'sex quiz' in class and seeing his name, there was absolutely nothing to draw him to Sam. Also, most guys wouldn't pursue a girl to that extent without first having a decent conversation with her in school. The whole after-the-after-party episode was also rather ludicrous. While I doubt things in America are that crazy, perhaps they are crazy enough for all this to be not so much of a stretch for viewers there - this might explain why the movie had such wide appeal.


Suspenseful action-packed thriller with great intellectual and emotional depth
Centred on Mossad's systematic assassinations of the Palestinians behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, Munich is both a suspenseful action-packed thriller and a stirring portrayal of the agent tasked with this grueling mission.

It asks deep questions that were especially pertinent post-911 and that remain relevant today, what with rebel groups still very much alive. Given the reprisals spawned by each assassination attempt made by Avner and his team, do revenge attacks make a country safer or do they just perpetuate an endless cycle of violence? Are national security agencies justified in taking action against suspects without strong/direct evidence? The film also shows the effects that killing (even where it's for a just cause) can have on a person. Avner struggles to shoot his first victim and is overwhelmed by the gruesomeness of it. But soon, he gets comfortable with his role and finds himself pursuing anyone who tries to stop him or hurts his team. The experience leaves a deep mark on him however. Throughout, he fears for his family's safety and even after the mission is over, has nightmares and suffers from paranoia.

Intellectual and emotional depth aside, Munich had many tense, exciting moments followed by great action scenes. I was kept glued to the screen. Watching the team members, with their quirks and diverse backgrounds, work together in such a high-stakes environment was also highly entertaining. Spielberg chose a very effective way to tell the story - current events interspersed with episodes from the Munich massacre as Avner visualised it. This helped to build suspense, and also mimicked the deep impact that the massacre had on the collective consciousness of the Jews, especially the team charged with executing revenge.

I wouldn't ordinarily recommend violent films, but this one stands head and shoulders above the pack for the important story it tells.

The Maze Runner

Fast-paced and gripping teenage dystopian film with an interesting premise
This was a fast-paced, gripping film with an interesting premise. Based on the popular dystopian book of the same name, The Maze Runner tells of a boy named Thomas who wakes up one day with all his memories gone, save his name. Together with a group of other teenage boys, he has been placed in the Glade, at the centre of a maze filled with dangerous creatures known as Grievers. The boys have organised themselves with Alby as leader, and everyone having designated roles and following a set of rules. The Runners among them have been mapping out the maze for the past two years, but are nowhere near finding an escape. Soon after Thomas' arrival, the chief runner Minho struggles to bring an injured Alby back into the Glade before the doors close at sunset and they are stuck outside to face almost certain death. Thomas rushes out to help, but winds up stuck in the maze with them. With Minho fighting alongside Thomas manages to kill a Griever by trapping it. The next day, they retrieve something of importance and find a way out. For the first time, a girl is delivered to the Glade, accompanied by a note saying "She's the last one ever". Another boy, Gally, assumes leadership. Wanting to maintain the status quo, Gally opposes Thomas and his plans for escape.

Although I only read the Wiki synopsis of the book, I suspect that the film is a better - tighter but with all the essential elements of the story intact. The action scenes were great - suspenseful and convincing - and the maze was just how I imagined it. The Maze Runner ended on a promising note of deeper mysteries to be uncovered, but how this film is judged will ultimately depend on what happens in the sequels.

Pretty in Pink

Among the best teen rom-coms - well-played out themes and thoughtful portrayal of non-romantic relationships
As someone who went through her teenage years in the new millennium, Pretty in Pink provided a glimpse of what it was like being a teen in the '80s and yet was a movie I could identify with. It was about a working class girl (and scholarship recipient) Andie who attends an elite high school. The dividing lines between rich and poor are clearly drawn, with the two groups hanging out in different parts of the school compound and excluding each other from their social events. So when Andie starts dating Blane, a rich preppy boy who despite his background is "not like the others", the couple face opposition from their friends, not least Duckie, Andie's best friend who's had a crush on her for years. While he too is a rich kid, he is ostracised by them for his dorky ways.

While the themes of overcoming social barriers and girl-chooses-between- her-crush-and-best-friend have been portrayed numerous times in books and films (be it singly or in combination), this is one of the few that struck a chord - great acting, likable and realistic characters, excellent script. While the ending surprised me, I wholeheartedly approve of it.

I also really liked this movie for its portrayal of non-romantic relationships. The movie is titled 'Pretty in Pink' because the climax takes place at senior prom, where Andie shows up in a pink dress which she designed and sewed from pieces given to her by two important people in her life. The first is her manager from the music store she works at part-time, Iona, an older sister figure to Andie through the ups and downs of the relationship. Then there's her dad, who despite his failings as a provider, is loving and supportive. To me, these scenes were important as they enabled us to see Andie as a complete person, to see that she's so much more than the object of affection of two boys. The only thing that marred my enjoyment was how ugly and unflattering the pink prom dress turned out! Other than that, I think Pretty in Pink is one of the best of its genre (teenage rom-com)! Great soundtrack too, though I couldn't really identify with the music.

Empire of the Sun

Moving and memorable book movie adaptation about a British schoolboy's loss of innocence in a time of war
This was a poignant film about the loss of innocence, capturing the full depth of the semi-autobiographical book by J.G. Ballard on which it is based. With the Japanese invading 1940s Shanghai, British schoolboy Jim Graham is separated from his parents and undergoes a remarkable journey of survival. After losing his parents in the rush of the crowd, he follows his mother's instructions to go home, only to find the house seized by the Japanese. Nevertheless, he remains there for several weeks, surviving on canned food and hoping that his mother will return. Desperate for an adult figure, he tries to surrender to the Japanese in a funny and heart-breaking scene and is eventually taken in by an American fugitive, Basie. While Basie eventually fills that role, his motives are from pure; Basie's influence and the harsh circumstances of the internment camp see Jim gradually wisen up to the ways of the world. Despite this, Jim retains a certain warmth and goodness of heart that endear the viewer to him. We also witness Jim's conflict of loyalties - he recognises how cruel the Japanese are, yet admires them for the bravery and can't quite identify with England.

Jim experienced so many complex emotions throughout and Spielberg has done an amazing job of conveying them via the cinematography and dialogue. The soundtrack was perfection. Altogether, the film is highly commendable for distilling the book's essence and packing a powerful emotional punch. While I still think that people should read the book simply because it's a masterpiece, the movie is fantastic in capturing the heart and soul of the story.


Inspiring story and lovely costumes
This movie seems under-publicised but was well worth watching for its inspiring story and lovely costumes! It is 1769. Dido Belle Lindsay, daughter of an English captain and a negro slave, is brought to live with her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield, and his wife. She and her cousin Elizabeth Murray are raised as ladies, but Dido's bloodline and prevailing societal prejudices prevent her from enjoying the full privileges of her status. Dido sees Elizabeth surrounded by potential suitors, and can't help but envy her slightly. Although Dido has independent means, she starts out thinking that there are only two options: find a husband of equal status, or be a spinster and keep house like her Aunt Mary. Dido's awakening comes when Lord Mansfield (also Lord Chief Justice), takes in John Davinier as a pupil and she hears them discussing the famous Zong massacre, a court case in which slaves were thrown overboard and the shipping company claimed against their insurers for loss of human cargo. This was supposedly out of necessity as the ship was running out of water supplies, but the real reason was that the slaves had contracted disease and this was the only way for the company to recoup its losses.

While the Zong massacre case was a milestone in England's abolition of slavery, Belle is largely a work of historical fiction, inspired by a painting of the two girls (who did in fact exist). The film reveals the status of women and state of marriage during that era, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth remarks on the necessity of marriage for noble women without an inheritance and is dropped by a suitor precisely for her lack of money. There is the added element of racial prejudice, as we see Dido scorned by certain members of the aristocracy. The film also portrayed the abolitionist movement in England, though not in a very deep manner. While the ending was predictable, the build-up to it was excellent. To top it off, the film was a feast for the eyes - beautiful sets and costumes at every turn. I think young women in particular will enjoy this!

Mission: Impossible

Thrilling action scenes and a not-too-obvious plot
I don't usually like action movies, but this one managed to captivate me with its heart-stopping action scenes and fairly intelligent plot! Tom Cruise put in a splendid performance as CIA agent Ethan Hunt, whose team members all die on a mission to nab the guy who is out to steal the list of names of all agents in Eastern Europe. The mission turns out to be a decoy, all for the purpose of tracking down the mole within the CIA. Suspicion is naturally cast on Hunt, who sets out to uncover the mole's identity and clear his name.

The action scenes and camera-work were amazing, from Hunt hanging from a vent and nearly hitting the ground when the rope suddenly loosened, to the helicopter and train chase scene. Just as importantly, the plot made sense and all the action scenes had a legit purpose, which isn't always the case with quite a lot of action flicks. It wasn't that easy to guess who the real bad guy was. And of course, the famous theme music really added to the thrill! Good entertainment for an afternoon.

Midnight in Paris

Nostalgia questioned and Paris showcased at its loveliest
Midnight in Paris does a great job of capturing the city at its best, and via the story of an engaged couple's adventures in Paris, takes a hard look at people's longing for an idealised past. Gil is an aspiring novelist who wants to ditch his job as a Hollywood scriptwriter and move to Paris. His fiancé Inez is the typical upper-middle class American tourist and of a far more practical bent. Everyday at midnight, Gil is transported back in time to 1920s Paris where he meets various literary and artistic greats (the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Picasso etc) who were living in the city at the time. He at first tries to bring Inez into this other world with him, but she is caught up with other pursuits.

The cinematography was fantastic and showcased Paris at its loveliest (sans litter and crime and bad smells). The opening scenes showed many of the city's iconic spots, and served as a sort of explanation of Gil's great love for Paris that we later discover. There was no reason given for his travelling back in time, but somehow, it just wasn't needed. I love how Woody Allen used this same device to show how people romanticise the past, not realising that the present is actually pretty great. While in the 1920s, Gil, who sees that period as Paris's best, meets Adrianna, who longs for the Belle Epoque of the 1890s. And transported into that era briefly, they meet the men of that time who idealise the Renaissance. Beyond the message on nostalgia, I also liked how the film portrayed one of the (oft-neglected) possible effects of travel on romantic relationships - it can bring to light the differences between people that would, in a familiar environment, be hidden.

I wouldn't say that this is a must-watch movie, but I think anyone who's into culture or has visited Paris will enjoy this.

Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain

Unusual and strange but a small part of me could identify
The French are indeed strange. Amelie is about a girl who grew up emotionally disconnected from her parents and consequently lived in a private fantasy world. Alone in Paris, she works at a waitress at a cafe beneath the two windmills in Montmatre and basically keeps to herself. But things change with the death of Princess Di over in England - she discovers a box of old toys behind a tile in her apartment, hidden years ago by a former occupant. She tracks him down and surreptitiously returns it to him. Seeing the joy that it brings him, Amelie decides to intervene in people's lives in small, quirky ways. But given her introverted nature, she always does so in a way that allows her to remain behind the scenes. Until she falls in love that is.

Although I found Amelie weird and am nothing like her, I believe that people like her exist and I felt that I could understand her better as the film progressed. I didn't exactly like her character but she has a certain quirky charm and a dark sense of humour that I can appreciate. Given how things can go wrong so easily, her numerous successful interventions were perhaps slightly stretching belief, but this is something you only think about after the movie.

While I found the movie thoroughly strange (in terms of portraying city life and characters of a type that I have never heard of or experienced), I could appreciate it and I think most people will too. I really liked the mutual fascination of Amelie and the photobooth guy, and the suspense surrounding each of their encounters. While I don't quite buy into the idea of love at first sight, fascination at first sight is always appealing. I was annoyed by the ending though. But maybe that's French culture for you.


Undoubtedly one of Hollywood's greatest love stories
As the much-vaunted greatest Hollywood movie on love, Casablanca didn't quite fit my expectations but it was superb! I was expecting a whirlwind romance between characters brought together by adversity and one character making a sacrifice for them to stay together. But no. While the romance and sacrifice elements were present, the premises and outcome are totally different. In the early years of WWII, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) runs a very successful restaurant-cum-bar in Casablanca, neutral French territory where Europeans pay a fortune for exit papers to get to America. One day, his former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) appears, with her husband political activist Victor Laszlo. Rick and Ilsa had a whirlwind romance some years back in Paris but she disappeared on the day they were supposed to depart together, leaving only a note of apology and a devastated Rick. Ilsa is determined to help her husband escape from the Nazis, but decides to stay behind with Rick. Although it comes at some cost to himself, Rick does what he feels is best for her, in the spirit of true love.

The acting, the script, the soundtrack, were all splendid. The story and message were powerful, definitely more so than the Titanic, as much as I liked that movie. Everyone should watch this!

Gone with the Wind

An epic tale of a selfish heroine set during the American Civil War
Any director who can turn a selfish and spoiled character (who fundamentally remains that way) into a heroine deserves high praise. Scarlett O' Hara is the eldest daughter of a rich landowner in the 1860s American South. Surrounded by beaux, she is interested only in Ashley Wilkes, and is crushed to find that he will be marrying his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. She pleads and makes a scene at his house during a party, and later discovers that Rhett Butler, a wealthy young man with a shady reputation, has overheard everything. To get back at Ashley, she marries his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Charles Hamilton, just before the men go off for war. Set during the American Civil War, the movie a good number of years, during which we see the Southern states devastated, Scarlett's family home stripped bare and previously rich landowners bankrupted. Scarlett's strong sense of self- preservation makes her to determined to do whatever it takes, marriage included to keep her land and live comfortably. Throughout, she clings stubbornly to her love for Ashley, realising too late that he had long ceased loving her and that her happiness lay with another.

I loved this movie for its epic tale and its rich characters. Also, the acting was splendid and the sets marvelous for that era! I can't help but like and sympathise with Scarlett; while she is so obviously selfish, I respect her for being strong and determined and resourceful. (The ending was fully understandable, but I wanted to cry all the same.) With Ashley and Rhett, I started out liking one and hating the other, but the positions were reversed by the end. Melanie was such an angel throughout, and an inspiration to people who are trying to be good. Although the film was criticised for its fairly benign portrayal of slavery, with Mammie being a wise and supporting presence, I don't think it's always necessary to paint the harshest reality. My only gripe is that the movie is too long, though many parts of Margaret Mitchell's book were already excluded. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Gone with the Wind tremendously and would recommend it to everyone!

Dui mian de nu hai sha guo lai

Highly enjoyable yet thought-provoking comedy portraying a cross-strait relationship and its accompanying cultural clashes
I loved this movie for its portrayal of a relationship that started out on the basis of expected mutual benefit, gradually became a genuine friendship, and by the end developed into the beginnings of a romance. (So much better than many Hollywood rom-coms which tend to be explicit from the get-go.) But what set it apart was the cross-strait element - the clash of cultures and political opinions between Taiwanese and mainlanders - which provided a lot of the movie's excellent humour.

Chen Yu-Zheng is a civil servant at Taiwan's Bureau of National Affairs and is threatened with termination if he doesn't produce a decent manual on cross-strait etiquette. Upon discovering that he has never been to China and has no mainland friends, his boss tells him to go make some. Over dinner at a dumpling shop, he encounters a mainland Chinese girl, Chin Lang, ordering dumplings by the ounce instead of by piece and strikes up a conversation with her. He finds out that she is in Taiwan to track down her grandma's childhood friend; and he offers to assist with the search, in exchange for help with the manual. In conforming with the stereotypes, he is mild-mannered, gentlemanly and dependable, while she is feisty and somewhat brash though not without charm and warmth. This sets the stage for an amusing clash of cultures (e.g. whether to use charm or be demanding when faced with an initial refusal by service personnel) and cultural exchange. The two also help each other come to terms with past episodes in their personal lives, which makes for some heartwarming moments.

I think the Mandarin title, which literally means the girl from across the straits is charging this way, captures the essence of the movie way better than its bland English title. All in all, it was highly enjoyable and amusing, and managed to be thought-provoking - a rare combination in a movie of this genre.

Begin Again

Good story about musicians and a producer, but will probably appeal only to music lovers
Begin Again was fairly enjoyable but I think only musicians and music fans will be able to identify with it. Greta, a budding songwriter, moves to New York City with her boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave, who has just made it as a musician. His affair with a producer leaves her reeling and she contemplates leaving the city. One night at a bar, she is spotted by Dan, a struggling record label executive who offers to sign her on. She refuses at first, not wanting to compromise her musical independence, but changes her mind the next day. They meet Dan's partner, who is unimpressed but agrees to reconsider if they can provide a demo tape. Dan pulls together a team of musicians, and they record an album at various locations around the city. Dan and Greta help each other face their respective personal problems and the film ends with them both making a fresh start.

Songs and various ideals in music (e.g. staying true to the original emotion/intention of a piece) play a large part in driving the plot forward and shaping the characters' actions. Not being deeply into music myself, this was something I couldn't really appreciate, but I can imagine that those who are will find the film appealing. None of the songs left a deep impression either. Nevertheless, I think the story has a ring of truth to it. We see three different music industry types: fiercely independent musician who hates commercialisation (Greta), artist willing to compromise his music for popularity (Dave), plus visionary and resourceful label executive (Dan). The acting was pretty good all round and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Keira Knightley can sing. So while the movie probably is good, I think it only appeals to people who are really into music.

Moulin Rouge!

Captivating musical retelling of a familiar story
Moulin Rouge's plot - beautiful young actress falls in love with impoverished writer but is compelled to be with wealthy patron - is nothing unfamiliar. But the music which the story is set to is excellent; think modern-day love songs transported to 19th-century Paris. The sets and costumes and dance routines were a feast for the eyes. And Nicole Kidman was brilliant as Satine; cold and hardened by the realities of the world, but tantalising and genuine as Christian's lover. While her falling for him seemed a bit too sudden, it was believable enough in the musical context. The movie isn't thought-provoking if you've been exposed to similar stories, but it is certainly high in artistic and entertainment value.

The Help

Good but the book was way better
The book was a fantastic read and I think the movie did a decent job of bringing it to life. Set in 1960s Mississippi, The Help is about a white girl, Skeeter Phelan, who collaborates with black maids to tell their stories of what it's like to work in a white household. They hope to narrow the racial divide and improve conditions for blacks. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer put up excellent performances as the maids, Aibileen and Minny. As president of the county's Ladies' League and leader of the racist campaign to build separate toilets for blacks in every household (not to mention Skeeter's friend), Hilly was also just as smooth and poisonous as I had imagined her to be. Emma Stone was alright as Skeeter, but a lot of her inner struggles in the book didn't really come out, so I found it kind of hard to connect with her.

While I think the movie was pretty good, its inability to make us think about our behaviour in the present-day context stopped it from being great. I also didn't like how some of the characters' reactions to Skeeter writing the book (Stuart and Skeeter's mother) were made more extreme, as it led to an oversimplification of the situation in that era.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A whimsical story centred around a notable hotel
Years later, Zero Moustafa, present owner and former lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel, relates the exciting chain of events that led to the hotel coming into his possession. It all begins with the concierge Gustave, who runs the whole establishment and regularly has affairs with the hotel's female patrons. One of his lovers, a duchess, dies in mysterious circumstances and leaves him a highly valuable painting, The Boy with The Apple. The family is determined not to let him have the painting, so with Zero in tow, he steals it and later winds up in jail. But he stages a really exciting escape, and inherits the whole fortune, which went to Zero upon his premature death.

While there was an undercurrent of darkness, the director kept the tone light throughout, making it feel as if nothing that happened was too terrible and everything would come right again. The plot felt a bit far-fetched at certain points, but it was just within the range of believability and I was happy to go along with it. Gustave was such an interesting character - flamboyant, vain, determined, charismatic. There was also this aura of mystery about him, which not even Zero could fully penetrate. The hotel itself was splendid both in its heyday, and at the point when the story was told. Gustave and Zero's devotion to the place made it come alive for me. Altogether, one of the better movies this year!

The Lego Movie

Lego brought to life splendidly
Combining excellent animation and a thoughtful story, The Lego Movie was a hugely enjoyable watch, not to mention excellent marketing for Lego. Emmet is an naive mini-figure construction worker who is happiest when he has a set of rules to follow, and takes pleasure in the most ordinary things. The spunky rebel Wyldstyle discovers and rescues Emmet when he falls into a pit at the construction site and the "piece of resistance" becomes attached to his back. Identified as the most extraordinary person who is key to saving the world, Emmet gets dragged on an adventure to defeat the evil Lord Business who wants to halt creativity and superglue everyone into place. Along the way, he traverses the different Lego realms and meets all our favourite heroes in Lego form (Batman, Wonderwoman, Shakespeare, Shaq O'Neal, Lando and company) who are master builders and held together by this common mission.

Although the defeat-the-evil-tyrant storyline is nothing fresh, this particular variation was full of humour at all the right places. I loved how these pop culture icons were woven in. And the ending was just so clever, both in terms of resolving things satisfactorily and promoting Lego. The voices were really good and the animation was truly a visual feast, bursting with colour and movement. This is a movie that will appeal to all ages.

12 Years a Slave

A dark chapter in America's past
Solomon Northup is a free and respectable black man living in 1860s New York. While in the South for a gig, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he witnesses and experiences unspeakable cruelties. Renamed Platt, he is sent to work for a plantation owner Ford, who is relatively benign. But Solomon soon incurs the wrath of the overseer, and after an attempt on his life, he is sent on to Abernathy, a man with the reputation of being a "nigger-breaker". Abernathy is not only cruel, but preys on another young slave, Patsy, and regularly twists the Bible to justify his actions. Rescue eventually comes through the help of a white Canadian man, a builder hired by Abernathy. Opposed to slavery, he agrees to write to Solomon's family.

12 Years a Slave provided a very personal and insightful look at slavery in 19th century America. There were several scenes of extreme cruelty (beatings and lashings) that made me want to look away, but I think they were necessary to bring across the slaves' plight. It's one thing to read about how they were viewed as lesser beings and treated like commodities, but the reality only hits home when you see it portrayed on-screen. The acting was excellent and I loved how shots of nature were used to transit between different scenes - they helped to set the context and highlighted the bareness of the slaves' existence. One particular line from the movie stood out for me - Solomon said that he didn't want merely to survive, but to live. To me, this encapsulates what is so wrong about slavery. While I can't exactly say that I enjoyed the movie, it's most definitely worth watching.

Pride and Prejudice

A must-watch for P&P fans
The Pride and Prejudice BBC TV series is amazingly good! It beats the 2005 movie hands down. All the humour in Austen's work was brought out splendidly; Mr Collins was insufferable and Mrs Bennett crude and shallow, while being ridiculous. The main characters were excellent and couldn't have been improved in any way. Jane was lovely and sweet, Bingley so very good-natured, and Elizabeth just as vivacious as I imagined her to be. Colin Firth as Darcy was marvelous - looks, manner, bearing, everything!

The sets and costumes were fantastic too - a feast for the eyes. The grounds of Pemberley (Chatsworth House in Derbyshire) were stunning, so much so that I am contemplating a visit there. That, together with the excellent acting, kept my eyes glued to the screen. This is truly a must-watch for any fan of the book!

Lost in Translation

A thought-provoking yet humorous portrayal of culture shock
Bob Harris, faded movie star, visits Tokyo to shoot a commercial for Suntory whiskey. He meets Charlotte, the young wife of a visiting photographer. The two become travel companions, struggling to understand the foreign culture surrounding them and along the way, figuring out what they want in life.

This was a serious movie - it showed convincingly how a change in environment, a different way of doing things can lead us to question our lives. It spurred me to think about how exposure to foreign cultures has changed me. Yet there were a lot of humorous moments, from Bob's disbelief that the many syllables in Japanese came out to succinctly in English, to Charlotte's declaration that lunch (sukiyaki) sucked because "what kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?". With travel becoming increasingly common since the turn of the millennium, Lost in Translation is a highly pertinent movie that many of us can identify with.


Beautiful and timeless
A timeless classic, Titanic combines a moving story, an excellent cast and a beautiful screenplay, set against the greatest shipwreck in the world. Two young people from opposite ends of the social spectrum fall in love aboard the 'unsinkable' Titanic. Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a lovely and spirited 17-year-old aristocrat, is forced into an engagement with the haughty and controlling Cal Hockley, heir to steel millions, so as to rescue her family's fortunes. Feeling trapped, she decides to jump into the ocean but is stopped by Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). Although poor, Jack is enterprising and courageous and full of fun, and the two quickly fall in love. But Cal will not let things rest, and pursues them doggedly even as the ship is sinking.

I like how the movie began in the future, with 102-year-old Rose telling her story to the salvage crew hunting for the famed blue diamond, the Heart of the Ocean. As alluring as treasure is, the listeners are soon captivated by one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. There were so many memorable moments and scenes, from the first half-teasing, half-serious encounter to Jack's parting words to Rose. Everybody should watch this!

The Wolf of Wall Street

One man's rise and fall on Wall Street, brilliantly played
The Wolf of Wall Street charts the spectacular rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, who goes from humble penny stock broker to multimillionaire and founder of his own brokerage, Stratton Oakmont. It's an adventure fueled by plenty of drugs, alcohol and sex, and we see Belfort's values change drastically along the way. As a broker, he wanted to create win-win situations for himself and the client, but it quickly became all about squeezing clients dry, even if it meant engaging in fraud. As a husband, he wanted to stay faithful but soon turned to hookers and later divorced his wife to be with the gorgeous Naomi, whom he regularly cheated on. The corporate culture he created at Stratton Oakmont strongly bore his personal imprint. Eventually, the long arm of the law caught up with Belfort and he found himself ratting on friends and colleagues to lessen his penalty.

I think this film gives fantastic insight into Wall Street culture: the testosterone-charged environment, the extravagant lifestyle, the lack of ethics and the close ties between men. The screenplay and acting were brilliant. Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort was so persuasive selling those worthless penny stocks, and I loved watching his eager-to-learn friends hang on his every word. He exuded charisma when speaking to his staff at each important point in the firm's history. His bumbling friends provided plenty of comic relief as well. I also like how the story was told from Belfort's perspective, allowing us to get inside his head at certain points. The part where he entered "cerebral palsy phase" due to a drug overdose and drove the car home, thinking that no mishap occurred when he had actually caused a heck load of damage - that was hilarious. Although we roughly knew what the end would be, seeing it all unravel was no less exciting.

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