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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) - Based on the famous fairy tale by Brothers Grimm, this action fantasy film is another interpretation of the classic story where the brother and sister (Hansel and Gretel) survived the witch from the gingerbread house and became witch hunters. The action is full-packed with bloods and all the strange ways you can think of to kill the witches and some humans. The plot and the story-line is as unbelievable and predictable as it could be. I watched the film in IMAX 3D but did not feel much of the 3D effects. All in all, it is typical action film with lots of violent scenes - if you can handle it, you will at least enjoy this R-rated film.

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The Last Stand (2013) - This action film advertises its lead actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as a tough deputy fighting to protect his town. The script and storyline is as formulaic as it could be - there are good guys against bad guys with lots of actions and some humors. The acting is as stiff as it could be. However, the action is quite good - with all the car-chase, gun-fight and fist-fight that are so violent and unreasonable but it still helps people escaping from reality. The humor is predictable but you can still have a few laughs along the way. All in all, it is an okay film… not that bad and nothing memorable as well.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - Directed by the critically acclaimed modern-day war film director Kathryn Bigelow, this spy thriller tells a story spanning a decade long of the effort to hunt down and eventually kill Osama bin Laden, a single task bestowing upon a young CIA agent (i.e. the lead character in the film). Jessica Chastain perfectly portrays the character’s determination and vulnerability. The screenplay by Mark Boal is well written with a number of key scenes that the general public only knows through the news reports being depicted clearly in the film. There have been a number of publicity and criticisms surrounding the release of the film, especially the usage of classified information and the showing of a number of torture scenes. However, the film is interesting and its narrative (with those classified information and torture scenes) serves the film really well. All in all, it is a good film-making.

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A Haunted House (2013) - Once the film franchise gets successful whether it is a good or a bad franchise, the day would come when the parody film that makes fun of it get made. This comedy spoof film is the comedic answer to the overrated “Found-Footage” horror genre with the direct resemblance to the Paranormal Activity franchise. The plot and storyline is simple - making fun of all those scary moments with feces and kinky sex scenes. There are some laugh-out-loud kind of funny moments mixing with some disgustingly and disturbingly dull moments. It is always hit-and-miss for this kind of spoof/parody film, so if you do not expect much, you might enjoy it in some levels.

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On The Road (2012) - This drama film is an adaptation of the 1957 novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac. The original book itself is considered as one of the best book that described the “Beat Generation” - American writers during the post World War II in 1950s who live the life through poetry, drug use and jazz music. The film tries to depict the two main characters -  Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as the forces of the generation - one being a aspiring writer and the other being a free-spirited guy who always want to travel “on the road”. All in all, the movie is too tiresome to watch with the characters drifting along the scenery without any sense of direction. The film pays too much attention to strange sexual appetites of Dean Moriarty that it downgraded the morality of the character. In the end, the film is boring and uninspirational.

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Gangster Squad (2013) - Based on the book “Tales from the Gangster Squad” by Paul Lieberman, this crime film tells a story of Los Angeles police special forces trying to fight the Mafia gang running by the notorious Mickey Cohen out of the city during the 1940s and 1950s. The film stars Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn. The plot and the storyline is as predictable as it could be. The script is cheesy and fills with violence from the beginning till the end. It is entertaining to watch but there is nothing special or memorable about the film at all.

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Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) - Based on a private journals and diaries of Margaret Suckley - the sixth cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who later became his mistress, this comedy biography film tells a story of the President during his frequent stay in his mother’s country estate in Hyde Park, New York which happened to be the place where the British Royal Family (King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) stayed during their first visit to America. The film is told in the point of view of Margaret Suckley (as known as Daisy in the film) as it evolves around her relationship with the President. However, the British Royal Family visit seems to be forced into the film out of context to make the movie interesting and funny by the awkward situations in preparation and having the Royal Family as guests in the house. The film thus loses direction and has no focus. The only notable performance comes from Bill Murray who masterfully portrays himself as President Roosevelt. All in all, it is too exhaustive to watch this film.

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Promised Land (2012) - Directed by Gus Van Sant, this drama film tells a story of a representative from natural gas company who goes to the rural town in the U.S. in order to buy the rights to drill the natural gas in the process called “fracking”. The film stars Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and John Krasinski. Interestingly, the screenplay of the film is also written by the main actor Matt Damon and his co-star John Krasinski who portray as rival in the film - one from the big corporation and the other from environmental organization. The film is beautifully shot and has a great direction. The message in the film is clear that it is against the fracking activity thus juxtaposing the main character, i.e. Matt Damon, as he keeps telling the viewers he is not a “bad guy”. There is a small twist in the plot that should not be a surprise. However, in the end, the main character is too unreasonable and unrealistic in the way that jeopardizing the integrity of the film itself. I understand the message that the film wants to convey but I don’t like the way it spoon-feed the information to me - it is too forceful.

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The Impossible (2012) - Based on true story, this drama film tells a true story of a Spanish family who survived the 1994 Tsunami disaster in Thailand. It stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the mother and the father of the family. Even though the plot is predictable and too dramatic, sometimes too ridiculous, the film helps you reflecting on the value of life and family. It portrays very well the survival spirit of a human and the everlasting love of the family. The film has a good direction with a well-paced storyline. The acting is convincingly superb, especially Naomi Watts in the role of the mother. All in all, the film is enjoyable and sentimental to watch.

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Monsters, Inc. 3D (2012: Re-release) - Originally released in 2001, this beloved Disney/Pixar computer-animation got a 3D re-release in 2012 - just in time to get ready for the release of its prequel film “Monster University" in mid 2013. The film has a great concept and funny storyline with an enjoyable script. The voice acting by the cast is superb.  The 3D effect really enhances and refreshes the experience of watching the film. All in all, I still enjoyed watching the film again in 3D and I am looking forward to seeing the prequel.

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Not Fade Away (2012) - This coming-of-age drama film tells a story of a young man and his dream to form a rock ‘n’ roll band and become famous during the period of 1960s. Apparently inspiring the storyline and the main character, the film plays numerous clips of music from that era (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc.) as well as the TV shows and movies along with the big news during the time period in the background of the film as references. The audiences who are old enough to “know” and “live through” 1960s might feel nostalgia but they might not find this genre of film appealing. The direction of the film is all over the place and has no focus. There are numerous scenes that don’t seem to serve any purpose. The acting is not stellar. All in all, I don’t find anything I like in the film. It was totally boring for me.

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Happy New Year 2013! - This is a picture of Grand Canyon that I took on my trip to Arizona. Grand Canyon is one of my most favorites U.S. National Parks. It is the natural wonder of the world that shows the grand scale of the nature’s work. I wish everyone who reads this a wonderful New Year full of “Grand” events that bring continuous joy and happiness.

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My Favorite Movies of 2012

  • Les Misérables - I love the original story by Victor Hugo; it shows the greatness of human spirit. The musical numbers are brilliantly performed.
  • Wreck-It Ralph - Colorful and energetic animation with a clever and imaginative storyline.
  • Django Unchained - Masterfully written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The cast delivered a wonderful performance.
  • Cloud Atlas - The storyline might be confusing but it is enjoyable to see some of the great actors transforming into multiple roles that are interconnected through time and space. The musical score is superb.
  • Argo - It is amazed how the film can turn the true story that everyone knows the ending into an enjoyable thriller. It is all about well-paced editing and good direction of the film.
  • Moonrise Kingdom - Beautiful cinematography and brilliant direction. The story of first love between a boy and a girl against the world can be serious and funny  and cute at the same time.
  • The Dark Knight Rises - One of the most anticipated movies of the year as the end of one of the best batman trilogy. The film delivered in all departments from script to direction to acting with the epic ending that satisfies all the fans.
  • The Avengers - Great entertainment with the appearances of superheroes from Marvel comic universe. The film provides enjoyable actions and wonderful visual effects.
  • The Hunger Games - The first film of the trilogy that showcases the star quality of its lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence. The film is enjoyable and entertaining.
  • Chasing Ice - One of the best documentary films I watched this year. It shows the vivid evident of global warming through a wonderful cinematography.
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Django Unchained (2012) - Written and directed by the critically acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, this American western film tells a story of a freed slave named Django who tries to reunion with his wife (who was sold to an evil plantation owner) with the help of a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. The film stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. Even though the film is full of violence of slavery and bounty-hunting with lot of gun-fights and bloods, the film is brilliantly acted and skillfully directed. There is also a great message of anti-racism speaking through the film. All in all, it is an enjoyable action film with great story and wonderful performance by the cast.