The Hunger Games (2012)

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The Hunger Games movie was pretty much exactly what I expected.  It was a white-people version of Battle Royale with less of a focus on the psychological aspect of the competitors.  Instead, The Hunger Games stressed the media and commercial aspect of the competition, and it actually reminded me a lot of The Condemned.  I was pleasantly surprised by most of the movie and Jennifer Lawrence was beautiful and innocent looking.  Strangely enough, she looked much better in the wild than when dressed up.  Also, I’m not used to seeing her in skin that isn’t blue.

I don’t think I’ll ever really understand why hosting The Hunger Games every year discourages rebellious uprisings.  If anything I’d think it would lead to more riots, much like what happened in District 11 after Rue’s death.  It was yet another classic scene showing what happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns.  I’m also opposed to the idea of in-game rule changes.  Although, I guess by doing so, they really demonstrate that The Hunger Games are indeed a giant commercial spectacle rather than a sport of history and tradition.

I wish that we could have seen the the games from some of the other competitor’s views as well.  At the end, it sounds like Cato also has his side of the story, fighting for his district, and living up to high expectations.  Unfortunately, the story only unravels from Katniss’s point of view and gives a very narrow perspective on the entire competition.  I’m not sure if this is the way the story was meant to be told, or if it is a testament to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance and the attention she was able to draw unto herself throughout the entire two hours.  I often found myself cheering for Katniss to win, but that’s partly because I didn’t know any of the other competitors in The Hunger Games either.  No surprise, at the end, nothing has really changed, and we can look forward to another exciting Hunger Games competition next year.  And sadly, the competitors didn’t even try anything revolutionary against the game creators or the president.  I guess we should expect a sequel.

I was surprised to see Lenny Kravitz play a key role.  As well I’ve been very pleased with Woody Harrelson’s recent roles.  The Hunger Games is definitely a  movie worth watching, but I’d invite anyone that sees it to compare it to the Japanese movie Battle Royale, or the manga if that’s more your thing.

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The Artist (2011)

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50/50 (2011)

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I put 50/50 on thinking it would be a good story-driven comedy; however, by the I found the movie barely comedic, but very moving.  It seems I am an advocate of the theory that the best dramatic movie scripts originate from real-life stories.  The ads I saw in addition to Seth Rogen as the supporting actor led me to believe 50/50 would be much funnier than it truly was.

Despite not getting what I expected, 50/50 was a very worthwhile watch.  I find myself liking Joseph Gordon-Levitt more and more in his recent roles, namely this and Inception.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Seth Rogen.  I’m not sure I’ve like any of his movies.  And it was nice to see Anna Kendrick get out of her Twilight roles, except this role wasn’t a great display of her talent either.  At least, I think she’s much much easier on the eyes than Kristen Stewart.

Watch this when you have the time, but expect a true, emotional story that helps you understand the pain of knowing your days are numbered because of a terminal illness.

The Killing Fields (1984)

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Inspired by my friend’s parents to watch this, I wanted to learn more about the history of Cambodia.  After watching it, I think I should have learned more about the history of Cambodia before watching the movie.  I don’t believe the filmmakers did a very good job of making the film fully intelligible to a broad audience.  For many like myself, the film merely evokes feelings similar to that of Schindler’s List, where without adequate historical background, you are merely baffled and confused by the horrors of war, while at the same time being inspired by the bravery of those who had to face it firsthand.  But the Holocaust is a much more well-known historical event, whereas the Killing Fields of Cambodia are far lesser-known.

Perhaps the goal of the film was not exactly to acquaint many people with the details of Cambodian history; perhaps it was filmed with the intention of evoking those feelings within a plight of confusion.  Watching the film, I felt that many of the people who lived through it may have felt the same way, without any understanding of what was really happening and why it was happening to them.  They only perceived that foreign countries were dropping bombs on them for unknown reasons, and a group of their own citizens was murdering their own kind in mass numbers, sometimes for being too intelligent, and other times just for speaking up.  Why this was happening seemed to be a big mystery.  It seem very possible that the ignorant viewer (like myself)  and the average Cambodian in 1975 shared similar feelings.  It is indeed troubling to find those nearest and dearest to you being killed without just cause or reason.

This is what happens in real life. I guess for most Cambodians there is no hope of a Rambo type character, or even a Sydney, to come and help them if they are doomed to the killing fields.  They can only bide their time and hope for an opportunity to escape.  A touching tale about Dith Pran, but I felt there was just too much jumping around from scene to scene, particularly in the beginning, without a relatively clear interpretation of what was happening.  Thus, the entire movie felt very rushed for the sake of fitting the entire story inside of a little over two hours.  I think the producers could have compiled this film in a more creative manner so that more audiences could gain insight into Cambodia’s situation during 1975-1979 as well as follow the inspirational journey of Dith Pran.

Cafe Habana

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My friends had just come into New York from China, and after two days of 12 hour shopping, I met them at this popular little corner store down in NoLIta.  It was recommended to them by the shoppers and employees at a nearby Tory Burch store, and it looked quite promising with people lined up around the corner just waiting to get in.  We became increasingly eager to go inside.  This was a combination of the fact that it was beginning to rain harder and harder and that the two shoppers had merely eaten one hot dog so far today; that is, one hot dog between the two of them.

We eventually took over the corner of the bar, and sat down for some frozen margaritas and food.  The margaritas were not universally loved, in fact they weren’t really loved at all, but I suppose they weren’t the reason we were here anyways.  Our purpose for being here was some good Cuban food, and in pursuit of that, we started the meal off with two orders of the Grilled Corn Mexican Style.  Fantastic fantastic.  I’d never had corn of this style in the past.  I love cheese, and it was covered in it.  I love spice, and it was sprinkled with it.  The flavors blended together harmoniously in joyous revelry.  If I ever return, I will undoubtedly get this appetizer again.

For the main course, I ordered myself Camarones Al Ajillo, which is apparently shrimp in spicy garlic sauce with rice and beans.  I only chose this dish because I saw that the customer who was sitting at the bar before me ordered it, and he seemed like a frequent customer who knew what was good so I followed in his tracks.  I think I made the right decision.  The rice and beans were good, but the shrimp and the sauce they put it in really blew me away.  The rice and beans served its purpose of not overwhelming the senses, and was like an anchor to keeping my senses steady.  Perhaps it was the contrast that made the shrimp taste even better?  It’s quite possible, and I was very pleased with this dish.

My friends unfortunately came in and ordered some of the most American dishes possible, which denied me the possibility of sampling more Cuban cuisine. One went with the Grilled Steak & Corn Salad; the other got a Bacon Cheeseburger.  They both ordered their meat medium-well.  Maybe I don’t like my meat that well done, or maybe the restaurant just wasn’t so great at making these everyday dishes.  Either way, I was pretty unimpressed by it.  The salad underneath the steak was fairly palatable.  However, I was told it was far too filling, and this again reminded of the shear portion size in a typical US restaurant.

I an most assuredly very content with my order here as well as the appetizer.  I am willing to wager that if my friends had ordered better, I would’ve thought even more highly of this little joint.  Unfortunately, their meals were very unspectacular in my eyes.  But, I look forward to bringing others here to at least enjoy the Mexican style corn in the future.

Sushi Samba

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Since restaurant week in NYC has apparently become restaurant month, I decided to pop into Sushi Samba for lunch as it was just a few steps from my workplace.  It is well known in Las Vegas for attracting all the stars of Entourage for its grand opening.  Too bad when I stopped in for lunch here, there were no famous stars, or perhaps I just didn’t recognize who they were.  But the entire restaurant was pretty empty; I suppose Monday’s are the worst for restaurants.  Nevertheless, the atmosphere was very nice and chic, with the sushi bar in the middle and Japanese samba-esque music playing ambiently in the background.  There was a back room that looked like it may be an opium den where I did not venture, instead I opted for the bar, where I unfortunately could not see the sushi chef performing his art because the glass was covered with condensation.  Still, I eagerly awaited my first taste of Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian fusion sushi.  I had heard nothing but good things.

My meal started with the Yellowtail Tiradito, which was  four pieces of very fresh tasting yellowtail in a jalapeno and lemongrass sauce.  Exceptional.  I would love to have eaten an entire mountain of this stuff.  I attribute the flavor choices for the sauce to the South American influence, but the flavors just intertwined with the thinly sliced fish so perfectly that it danced upon my tongue with beautiful subtlety.

This made me anticipate the Samba Sushi Plate that much more.  This plate came with the typical tuna, red snapper, salmon, and yellowtail.  I watched carefully to see who prepared it behind the sushi bar.  It was clear that one of the two was a sushi chef in training.  Thankfully, my meal was prepared by the pro, or at least the one that was more pro of the two.  And it really showed once I got past the four everyday sushi pieces to the peruvian shrimp roll.  Soft rice on the outside, crunchy shrimp on the inside, a dabble of subtle yellow sauce on top (I think peruvian corn sauce?), and a simple piece of cilantro on top.  This roll pleased me greatly.  It appears that all those good things I hear about Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine were indeed true, at least from my point of view.  It took no time for me to clean up this plate, but I did my best to hold back and savor the delicious taste.

I finished off the meal with the Sorvete Trio, which was really just three flavors of sorbet.  I was not pleased to find that my pisco, shiso, pineapple sorbet had become a strawberry, mango, pineapple sorbet.  Typical fruity sorbet, good tasting but not what I wanted or expected.  They had already shorted me by not offering the unlimited samba iced tea which lunch was supposed to come with.  I didn’t speak about it, but then again, I don’t believe that it should be necessary for me to do so.

The place is indeed slightly pricey, but the sushi innovations here are quite delectable, and I liked it quite a lot.  Whether or not I revisit may depend on the service.  I don’t like not being offered my complimentary iced tea, and I don’t like being uninformed  about significant changes in my order, such as the sorbet flavors.  Poor performance by the server, and she was even so eager to tell me her name too.  But she was clearly an amateur, I suppose I will refrain from publicly denouncing her by name here.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie.  Marvel has produced a vast array of movies in recent years which vary greatly in quality.  There are my favorites which include Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man; and then there are the ones that no one wishes to be reminded of such as Hulk, Daredevil, and Elektra.  On top of that, I was not impressed at all with Thor earlier this year.  In the end, this falls somewhere around the middle of the Marvel Studios spectrum.

Perhaps I was more unhappy with Thor than I thought, because in comparison, I really enjoyed this movie a lot more.  I might just be exceedingly satisfied with their reduction in “campy” humor lines, and they timed the witty lines a bit better than in some of the recent Marvel movies.  But in terms of comedic value, it still doesn’t compare to Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, the first installment more so than the second.

I also liked it because I can never resist loving a character like Steve Rogers, as Dr. Erskine says, “a good man.”  However, I can’t believe poor Steve Rogers doesn’t know what fondue is…  I guess it wasn’t common knowledge around 1942?  He is still brave though, and they display this well with the least graceful dive on to a grenade that I’ve ever seen.  But, “he’s still skinny.”  The movie in general reminded me of a combination of the recent G.I. Joe movie combined with elements of Rambo: First Blood Part II.

It’s always interesting to see how they adapt the characters original comic book storylines to the big screen.  I thought the Captain America adaptation was very acceptable, but that may also be because I don’t much care for comic book characters who have deep ties with actual historical events, like World War II.  I guess even if the producers ever think they’re going the wrong direction with the movie storyline, they just scrap the old cinematic storyline, reboot, and start over again.

Entertaining, but not that entertaining; dramatic, but not that dramatic.  As usual, the comic book has such a long story and the filmmakers must try to compress so much of it into a mere 2 hours, causing many events and milestones to be downplayed or altogether lost in translation.  Still an enjoyable movie, partly because the theater was so nice and cool compared to the 105 degree weather outside, partly because the movie was actually enjoyable.  If nothing else, The Avengers preview at the end of the credits was exciting to watch.  I’m already looking forward to next summer, with Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers both on the horizon, it should be good.