Saturday, July 15, 2017

Life Is Beautiful

It's been 7 months since my last entry - the longest hiatus since I started this site.

Lack of time and energy was a major contributor, but let me assure you that I remain strongly invested in this blog, though I can't predict how often I'll write.

I decided to finally sit down and type something because of my recent trip to London and Paris last month - a 16-day adventure that transported me to a cloud of euphoria, the likes of which I haven't experienced since I visited France in 2010.

It was my second time in both cities - a 23-year absence from London, and 7 years for Paris - so I dispensed with the typical sightseeing itineraries and opted for a more laid back, off the beaten path type of schedule.

London has changed immensely, as expected, but not for the better. After 9/11, many areas now feature heavily armed police officers, with stringent security checks at all the major attractions. I was especially saddened by the barricades around Buckingham Palace's main entrance. 2 decades ago, I remember standing right outside the gate, even stretching my hands through the metal fence to snap photos of the guards within the compound. Now, you can't get beyond the Queen Victoria statue, and can only gaze at the palace from afar.

The Borough Market / London Bridge terrorist attack occurred the night before I left, and as I replied to many messages asking if I was safe, I felt a mixture of sadness and anger.

I spent an entire week in London running around with my mum, visiting the National Gallery, Madame Tussaud's, St. Regent's Park, Kensington Palace, Covent Garden, the Thames and the Mall. We mixed with the locals on a daily basis and met wonderful Britons everywhere we went. In particular, I appreciated how they treated my elderly mother, who's petite and sometimes walks very slowly because she has a phobia of falling. The Brits always made way for her, opening doors and giving her a warm smile. Singaporeans have so much to learn!

The same happened in Paris. I named it my all-time favourite travel destination back in 2010, and it's still at #1 after this trip. People may not understand why I love it so much, but all I can say is, there's something I find positively magical about the place, which no other city comes close to replicating. The museums, the monuments, the gardens, people, food and music - every day was perfect!

For my 42nd birthday, I spent the morning at the gorgeous Luxembourg Gardens, soaking in the festive atmosphere ( it was a public holiday and the gardens were swarming with people ) and admiring the beautiful marble statues and fountains. Mum was also quite inspired by the place, walking up to a guard at the Luxembourg Palace to ask about the building and offer compliments about President Macron. The guard - a very handsome young man wearing sunglasses and a beret - was the epitome of French charm, flashing her a dazzling smile, conversing patiently in lightly accented but perfect English.

This was followed by lunch at a nearby French cafe with my Parisian penpal, E, whom I first met in 2010. Thanks to email, Facebook and WhatsApp, we've kept in touch over the years, and we had no difficulty chatting during our reunion. I've always found E fascinating - intellectual, well-spoken, humourous in a quirky way, and extremely curious about the world. He's well travelled but has never been to Southeast Asia, so we spent quite a bit of time discussing Singapore. And where else would I meet someone whose hobby is book-binding, and who plans to learn sewing next? I really hope he visits my country soon. I can't wait to hear what he has to say. :)

That evening ( yes, it's still my birthday haha ), mum and I attended a Bruno Mars concert at an arena that's about the size of the Singapore Indoor Stadium. It was truly unforgettable, partly because it's a bucket list item, but mostly because Bruno and his crew were spectacular! Watching him 'live' is completely different from seeing him on TV and on YouTube, but better still, I got to hang with thousands of French fans, which was unbelievably fun. Surprisingly, they knew all the lyrics, singing along in English despite not being able to speak the language fluently ( the reason I know this is I spoke to a French lady next to me to ask about a celebrity in the audience who was causing quite a stir, and she had to use Google Translate to communicate with me ).
Then at the end of the show, confetti rained down on everyone, and I thought to myself: Best. Birthday. Ever! :)

The next highlight came during the weekend, when we attended the French Open women's and men's finals. I couldn't get tickets through the FO website and went through a French sports event company instead. The tickets cost me an arm and a leg, but they're worth every cent. Meals were provided in VIP access lounges, with personalized service from on-site staff, toilets reserved only for VIP package holders, and excellent seats in the stadium.

We met a lovely American couple on day 2, and the husband told me the French Open is the best of all the Grand Slam events. Now that I've actually been to the FO, I can understand why he said that. Like the Bruno Mars concert, I once again witnessed French exuberance on full display. It's definitely very different from what you see on TV!

First, we were not prepared for the heat. The matches began at 3pm, and temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. You'd think Singaporeans wouldn't have a problem with this sort of weather, but when it's a cloudless sky, there's no breeze and you're baking for more than 2 hours, you really start to sympathize with the players. I wore protective gear like a hat and sunglasses, but even these weren't enough when my arms started to burn. I ended up loaning my scarf to mum, and those sitting around us also used various items ( jackets, towels, etc ) to cover up.

Second, ball speeds subjectively double or triple when you're at the stadium. Maybe it's because everything looks much bigger in real life. The power of the serves and volleys drew regular gasps from the crowd. A huge thrill for me as well!

Third, the breaks also feel a lot shorter. I don't know how the players manage to endure the heat AND continue playing with almost non-existent rest. It's mind-boggling!

Fourth, it was a huge pleasure to be with the French people again. We were surrounded by locals, who were all friendly, polite, and slightly amused by / curious about the two unaccompanied Chinese ladies. Special mention goes to the handsome Frenchman who sat next to my mum at the men's final, who kept apologizing profusely whenever his phone went too near her. E.g. "Oh, I'm SO SORRY!" *big smile* I should've switched places with her, lol.

I was hoping to see Federer, but was equally glad to catch Nadal and Wawrinka, although the latter didn't seem to put up much of a struggle, succumbing in three quick straight sets. I have a small suspicion the match was rigged to give Nadal his 10th French Open title ( the king and queen of Spain were in attendance, so what do you think? ) but if it's true, then I hope that Stan at least received generous compensation for his cooperation.

The rest of the week was spent visiting the Musee d'Orsay ( beautiful! ), the chateaus in the outskirts of Paris ( The Man In The Iron Mask was filmed at the Vaux-le-Vicomte! ), taking a leisurely stroll along the Seine and the Champs-Élysées, and just, you know, enjoying the moment.

The morning we left for the airport, as our taxi drove out of the city, tears welled up in my eyes and I literally felt pain in my left chest. I didn't want to come home.
Something similar happened in 2010 as we travelled from Giverny to Versailles. I told my mum, "I don't want to go back to Singapore."

Perhaps one day, I'll get to cross off another bucket list item: migrate to France when I retire. Heh heh. :)

I probably won't go to London again, but Paris, I promise to return in the next 3-4 years. There's still so much I haven't seen or done. Shall I go to the French Open again??? ;)


In other news, I'm now a Netflix subscriber. Finally gave up on the other sites and need my fix of House Of Cards. But I'm discovering other great shows too, like War Machine and Gypsy. Narcos and Outlander will be back in September as well.

Will try to blog more consistently if I'm able. Thanks for reading, and please keep the comments coming!

Friday, December 16, 2016

One More

I didn't think I'd be posting again before the year ended, but these deserve entries!


Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life


It took me a while to watch this due to access issues ( many thanks to a good pal for the help! ), and I read a number of unflattering reviews before getting my hands on the show, but my fears were totally unfounded - this is a terrific sequel, and all you nasty critics out there: what the hell is wrong with you?

Staying true to the series' timeline, Rory is now 32 and Lorelai's 48. Both go through their own personal turmoils, but the essential ingredients are still there - witty banter delivered at lightning speeds, pop culture references, quirky characters, even quirkier Stars Hollow events, junk food and, of course, lots and lots of coffee.

Covering 4 different seasons, episodes 1 and 2 were fun but lacked oomph. But once episode 3 kicked in ( the one with the crazy Stars Hollow musical ), things really started cooking. And the final installment was everything I hoped it would be - heartwarming, hilarious, poignant - with the last 4 words promising more adventures in the future.

I was hopelessly addicted to the show when it ran from 2000 to 2007, and couldn't be happier that it hasn't lost its magic. I'm even more pleased to learn that it's attracted a cult following, thanks to reruns on Netflix.

What I looked forward to the most was the return of Rory's guys - Dean, Jesse and Logan. However, Dean appeared in only one brief scene, and Jess didn't share any romantic interludes with Rory ( a real pity since I'm Team Jess argh! ). So Logan gets the most screen time, though their relationship is less than ideal ( both already have serious partners ).

But for all its minor flaws, I love this because it just seems to speak to me so directly. The past year has been tumultuous, to say the least, and I definitely share some of the characters' anxieties. Which is why its messages about embracing change, never giving up on one's dreams, and finding happiness when you least expect it, are so comforting.

Please continue this series, and soon!


La La Land


The rave reviews are true. La La Land is absolutely incredible, and a clear frontrunner this awards season.

It's always a good sign when the opening scene makes me smile. That song-and-dance routine on a jammed up L.A. highway is a huge visual treat!

I saw the film at GV Grand Hall 1, which features a gigantic screen and a seating arrangement that makes any movie-watching experience exhilarating. Previous shows I caught at this theatre include Vertical Limit and the 25th anniversary edition of Phantom Of The Opera. My eyes almost popped out of their sockets!

I'm happy to confirm that La La Land lives up to the hype, and had me reaching for the tissue multiple times. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfectly cast, displaying their talents in full glory as they sing and shimmy through 2 hours of pure heaven.

I'm fans of both actors, especially Gosling, whose career I've followed since his big break in Murder By Numbers. The role of jazz pianist Sebastian is unlike anything he's ever played before, and I really marvel at his abilities, from tickling the ivories to effortlessly floating across the floor during the waltz.

Then I realized that he was once part of the Mickey Mouse Club, together with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. His vocal skills aren't as impressive, but he has a rich tone and the songs aren't too challenging.


Director Damien Chazelle, who's only 31 years old, is the one to watch for the next few years. After blowing everyone's minds with the phenomenal Whiplash ( which earned JK Simmons a well-deserved Oscar ), he follows THAT with THIS.

All I can say is, he makes me feel like a giant failure haha. :)

Chazelle's grasp for drama is a wonder to behold. In Whiplash, a young jazz drummer's interactions with his demanding teacher had me chewing my nails.
Here, Mia and Sebastian's various encounters are all vastly different yet equally compelling.



But Chazelle's execution of the film's most breath-taking sequence - where the couple dance among the stars at the planetarium - is genius.
Everything - the music, the colours, the choreography - fit flawlessly. OMG, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. :)

I can't find an exact picture of the waltz itself, so this is the closest I can get. Just go to the theatre - this segment alone is worth the ticket price!

Special mention goes to Justin Hurwitz, who penned the score, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics.

One of the final scenes has Mia ( Emma Stone ) singing The Fools Who Dream at an audition. This was the biggest tissue moment for me, and here's a sample of the lyrics:

She told me: a bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that's why they need us
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make


There's an arc to the story which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen La La Land yet. It involves a suggestion Sebastian makes, regarding a very difficult task that Mia later completes, though she regrets it severely. It causes a rift in their relationship, but in the end, it's this very task which turns Mia's life around.

That's the message I took home with me, and I will always remember it when times get rough. We all have inner voices that tell us not to do certain things, mostly because we fear change, failure or ridicule. But once in a while, taking that leap of faith alters everything, and you'll wonder why you ever wavered in the first place.

This has happened to me a few times in the past, but I admit that certain aspects of my life are still governed by apprehension, even though they shouldn't be.

Perhaps it's a directive of a divine nature. I've already taken one recent leap, with a very positive outcome. I will strive to do better in the future.

DO NOT MISS LA LA LAND. I expect it to win the Best Picture Oscar come February. :)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Year In Review

It's that time of year once again, and interestingly, almost everyone I know has had a really crappy 12 months.

Never mind the mind-boggling international events, especially major political upheavals across the globe. It seems many individuals suffered on a personal level as well, be it illness, family or work-related issues.

I don't know if 2016 counts as the absolute worst in my book, but it's definitely up there in the top 3. And yet, despite all the turmoil, my luck does seem to be changing for the better, and I believe 2017 will bring new and exciting developments in various aspects of my life.

Entertainment-wise, 2016 saw a bumper crop of TV shows. My favourite picks, in descending order:
Narcos season 2
The Crown
The Night Of
Good Behavior



I've reviewed 3 of the above, so I should include a brief mention about Good Behavior.
It stars Michelle Dockery ( Lady Mary from Downton Abbey ), who plays a troubled ex-con, single mother and drug addict. Somehow, she gets caught up in the middle of a hit and soon gets tangled up with a hired killer ( Juan Diego Botto ), who ropes her into his assignments, followed by mutual attraction and gradual bonding.

The reason I like this series is its constantly surprising twists. I attempted to predict the storyline multiple times and often failed, which in turn piqued my interest.
Dockery does a 180-degree turn from her prim and proper Lady Mary role, opting for plunging necklines and vampy wigs. Her American accent is competent, but she still retains her trademark tight-lipped smile, unable to shed Lady Mary entirely.


Another reason I keep watching is Juan Diego Botto, who plays hitman Javier. I think this is the first time I've ever seen him, and whoever selected him for this role deserves a prize, because he's perfect for it. Already in his 40s but lean as a 20-something, with gorgeous wavy dark hair and a velvety voice, he scorches the screen and has great chemistry with Dockery.
If you decide to start watching and reach episode 4 - the one with Lettie's high school reunion - let me know how you feel when Botto appears in the final minutes of the show, after being absent for the first 40. I had a huge smile on my face, 'cos I realized just how much I missed him. :)


As for movies, I haven't seen as many as I'd like, but my top choices are:
Captain America: Civil War
The Secret Life Of Pets
Florence Foster Jenkins
Captain Fantastic
Nocturnal Animals
Indignation


I'll be catching La La Land next week, and am confident it will also make the list. Can't quite find the time for Sing just yet, but the trailers and clips alone are a hoot!

I've already reviewed Captain America, so here're short descriptions of the rest, in case you're curious.

The Secret Life Of Pets is completely insane but in a very grownup way. Unlike Finding Dory, which was equally nuts but bored the crap out of me, Pets had me rolling with laughter the whole time.

Florence Foster Jenkins is also extremely funny, thanks to its flawless cast, a sparkling script, and wonderful direction. A story like this one could've been easily mangled without the right combination. Simon Helberg is spectacular, but Hugh Grant steals the show.

Captain Fantastic, another smart, moving dramedy, features Viggo Mortensen at his kookiest, and a cast of youngsters whose fearless performances deserve award nominations. I love this film because it highlights the deficiencies of so-called "normal society", where kids who go to school know next to nothing, while those who live in the wilderness can quote and explain the Constitution, among many other things.

Indignation stars two actors I'm huge fans of - Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts. A thought-provoking coming-of-age story, with one exceptional, brilliantly executed scene between Lerman and Letts.

Nocturnal Animals is unlike anything I've ever seen. I haven't read the novel but I find Tom Ford's direction most intriguing. Gorgeously shot with truly incredible performances from the entire cast, this film left me hanging at the end but in a good way. It's disturbing, tragic and unpredictable. Definitely an awards contender.


A brief note about Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Nocturnal Animals - he's my favourite actor for 2016.
I've been a fan for many many years, from 1999's October Sky and 2005's Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead, to 2007's Zodiac, 2011's Source Code, 2014's Nightcrawler and 2015's Southpaw.
I love actors who make brave and unusual choices, but Jake has an uncanny ability for picking really great roles, especially when you consider how young he is. He'll be 36 in a week's time, and has already worked with Lee Ang, David Fincher and Sam Mendes.
Recently, I also discovered YouTube videos of Jake singing. Flawlessly, might I add. My admiration for him shot up a hundred notches! The one to watch for the next few years. Someone please give him an Oscar soon.


2015 was THE year of starry meet and greets, but in early 2016, I finally got the chance to say hello to Josh Groban after his Sydney Opera House concert, and snap a wefie!
In August, I met Charlie Puth at Sentosa, and he obliged with a hug and an awesome photo.

And although I couldn't snag tickets to Coldplay's National Stadium show in April, I did score seats for Bruno Mars' Paris gig in June. On my birthday, woohoo! It's a VIP package, so let's see what I can do in terms of an autograph. A meet and greet is probably too much to ask, but you never know. :)

Other tentative plans in the pipeline: tickets for The Graham Norton show ( they're known to be very partial to foreign visitors ahem :)), catching Damian Lewis at the West End, the French Open men's singles final, Paris Disneyland, lots of museums, and meeting my Parisian penpal again after 6 long years apart.

To all my readers, may you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year! And may 2017 be a much happier time for everyone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

OMG


One week after this clown was elected President, it still hurts.

And the pain got worse after this issue of Time magazine arrived in the post.

As the turmoil in America continues - and I highly doubt the protests will change anything - the world watches anxiously as Trump assembles his White House team and picks his Cabinet members.

So far, it looks extremely depressing. And I've decided to avoid travelling to the U.S. until the next election is over.

This is democracy at its worst. Not that democracy per se is bad, just that it can still go terribly wrong.

It's obvious that a significant number of Americans feel very disenfranchised - by globalization, industrialization, etc. - and government leaders everywhere should learn from this election. Because even I harbour some resentment towards the ruling party, and while no-one is expected to be perfect, there will come a time when something reaches deal breaker status and one's vote shifts to the opposite side.

Pray for America, everyone. They need it.



On to something a little less awful.

Netflix's The Crown has been garnering rave reviews, and I totally agree with the critics.

Since I'm incapable of binge watching no matter how hard I try, I'm currently at episode 9, with one more to go before completing season 1.

It is an absolutely breathtaking series, lavishly costumed and set designed, full of political intrigue.

But Peter Morgan's script is the real star here, managing to make the British monarchy highly entertaining and, according to my knowledgeable mum, historically accurate as well.

Claire Foy is luminous as Queen Elizabeth, and John Lithgow's magnificant performance as Sir Winston Churchill is sure to be Emmy nominated ( with a good chance of a win ).


But my eye has been caught by Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip. I knew of him in passing from Doctor Who articles I'd come across, and didn't realize I'd seen him previously as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ( a really stupid movie, FYI ).

Whoever cast him as Prince Philip is a genius! Matt is a lot of fun to watch, even when he's hovering in the background. He has enormous screen presence, and is at his best when sparring with Foy.

Episode 5 is a definite standout. Philip and Elizabeth tussle verbally during preparations for her coronation, as he implores her to forego the traditional kneeling segment of the ceremony, and she stubbornly refuses. Later, when the moment of truth arrives, Philip's inner conflict is evident, and I found myself holding my breath as I wondered if he would submit ( he did ).
Those tense few seconds sealed the deal for me. I am now a huge fan of Matt's. And I just discovered he's dating Lily James ( Cinderella, Downton Abbey )!

The Crown is currently my 2nd favourite TV series for 2016, after Narcos season 2. But of course, things might change again when Gilmore Girls comes out!


And as the year draws to a close, I welcome 2017 because 2016 has been rather crappy, to be honest. Not just on a global scale, but on the personal front as well.
All I can say is, change is coming, and I'm greatly looking forward to it.
Not to mention concerts featuring Coldplay ( Singapore ) and Bruno Mars ( Paris ), the French Open, Paris Disneyland, a possible detour to London, and a couple of other trips around Asia.

My 2016 roundup entry will follow soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The State Of The World


I never thought I'd say this, but I feel really sorry for Americans right now.

The presidential election has always been a circus, but as many have commented, this year has hit a new low, especially in the past week when Donald Trump's derogatory remarks about women surfaced.

And while scandals are entertaining, at this crucial point in the electoral process ( 3 weeks before Americans cast their votes ), not only do they take precious time away from much more important issues ( the economy, the fight against terrorism, healthcare policies, civil rights ), they also make the U.S. the butt of jokes all over the world.

It's fun and games until the wrong person sits in the Oval Office and starts a nuclear war.

I pin a large portion of blame on the Republican Party - for vetting their candidate poorly, for making him their presidential nominee despite protests from many members, for not having the balls to shut things down before it was too late.

The other people responsible for this fiasco are those who support Trump for a variety of terrible reasons, buying into his repulsive hot-air rhetoric. I suspect these are the same people who actively tune out anything that challenges Trump's fitness to be president, including the news, talk shows and social media. It's the cult of Trump, and they're ready to pop cyanide pills when he gives the order.

I agree Hillary Clinton is far from perfect, and again, I express my sympathy for Americans who can't vote for the better candidate, but only for the one who's less deplorable.

American politics is extremely flawed, so that's the third recipient of blame. Just watch a few John Oliver segments and you'll know what I mean. Maybe it's the by-product of the country's sheer size, coupled with the need for a huge campaign fund in order to make any impact. Every politician owes favours, including Trump. Supporters who think he's "anti-establishment" live on another planet.

So here's wishing America the best of luck. I just hope the stock markets won't crash when the election results are in, because I've decided not to buy any gold bars - for now.



After suffering post-Narcos season 2 withdrawal symptoms, I obtained some relief with HBO's The Night Of - the second best TV series of 2016 ( Narcos being #1 of course ).

Created by Steve Zaillian and Richard Price, with 7 out of 8 episodes directed by Zaillian ( who adapted screenplays for Schindler's List, Hannibal, Moneyball and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ), this show dazzled me from beginning to end, and I will be monumentally pissed if John Turturro doesn't win a Best Actor Emmy next year.

I've seen countless police procedurals in my lifetime, but The Night Of still manages to offer fresh perspectives. I love series that focus on a single crime for one entire season, but other components - characters, subplots, cast, writing, direction - are vital ingredients.

You will find all the above in ample amounts here. I consider myself quite astute in predicting storylines, but was constantly flummoxed. The writing is magnificent - smart and realistic, with a surprising amount of humour despite the dark premise. There's also so much to praise about Zaillian's direction and the breathtaking cinematography. The tense 75-minute premiere is guaranteed to make you chew your nails off, while the 90-minute finale closes with a shot that I consider a classic ( more below, with a spoiler warning ).

As for cast and characters, it's nothing short of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.



First, there's Riz Ahmed, who I noticed in Nightcrawler ( another incredible movie I highly recommend ). As young Pakistani college student, Nasir Khan, who's charged with a brutal murder but maintains his innocence, Ahmed starts off mousy and scrawny, before gradually transforming as he comes into contact with and is influenced by those around him. The performance is so subtle that the actual transition can't be nailed down. You just suddenly realize it's already happened, and try to figure out when it occurred. One word: remarkable.


Next is Bill Camp, who plays Dennis Box, the lead detective investigating the murder. He looks very familiar, and based on his filmography, I've probably seen him on-screen a few times. He's the sort of actor who blends in with the background ( especially in ensembles with much bigger names ), but he's given lots of solo time here, with Zaillian crafting star-making scenes for him. I particularly enjoyed the witness interviews, as Box managed to unnerve everyone with his quiet yet razor sharp questions.


But the show truly belongs to John Turturro - an actor I first sat up and noticed in 1994's Quiz Show. He's had a relatively under-the-radar type of career these past 20 years, but John Stone will probably propel him onto Hollywood's A-list at last.
Memorable characters are sometimes burdened by over-the-top traits, but the writers keep Stone's idiosyncrasies carefully modulated so they never overwhelm the scene in general. Stone is tormented by crippling eczema, forced to attend court in sandals and endure stares of disgust from fellow commuters as he desperately scratches himself on the subway. His crumpled overcoat and hangdog look induce cruel jokes from the police, fellow lawyers and clients. But over the course of the series, viewers will discover the heart of gold that lies within, as he not only goes way beyond normal legal duties to help Nasir, but also develops a forbidden bond with a homeless cat ( which he's severely allergic to ).

**spoiler warning**

**spoiler warning**

**spoiler warning**

I've seen Internet discussions about what the cat storyline represents ( here's one interesting take ) and I don't know if anyone shares my opinion here, but I think the cat is a metaphor for Nasir / the murder case. Stone's skill set involves making quick deals for small-time criminals. A xenophobia-tinged gory murder is way out of his comfort zone, causing him to break out in hives the night before closing argument, like a major allergic reaction. He's also allergic to the cat, but adopts it anyway, just like he takes Nasir's case despite having deep reservations - because he has the chance to save a life and it's the right thing to do.
Stone's yo-yo-ing with the cat is especially gut-wrenching, since I'm a feline enthusiast. I understand his reasons for returning him to the shelter, but share his pain regarding the furball's possible fate.

As for that classic scene - in the final minutes of the last episode, we see Stone sitting in his apartment watching an SPCA ad, looking forlorn as animals with sad expressions appear on the screen. Viewers will naturally assume he's thinking about the cat which has probably been euthanized, then after he grabs his bag and walks out the front door, we see the cat strolling across the hallway. The end.
I had such a good laugh over that. Thank you, Steve Zaillian and Richard Price!


**end of spoiler**

**end of spoiler**

**end of spoiler**


Do yourself a favour - watch this series.


Am ending with a link to a 2012 entry about Pangdemonium's production of Spring Awakening.
Because in the wake of Nathan Hartono's success on Sing! China, I'd like to highlight his stage debut ( at age 20 ), which remains one of the best performances I've ever seen anywhere in the world.
Congratulations, Nathan, your talent deserves to be recognized on a global scale!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reviews

It's been a very hectic 2 months so here's a quick entry before my life goes haywire again.


Now that Narcos has hit season 2, I can confidently say this is my new favourite TV series of all time. It used to be Dexter but that doesn't even come close anymore.

And the show is winning new converts, as a fellow colleague recently expressed his devotion through binge watching till 5am.

I wish I could do that, but I'm middle-aged and need to sleep in order to function at work haha.

But I generally prefer to digest TV programmes slowly. I find it more enjoyable that way.

Currently, I'm at episode 7, and season 2 is 10 times more explosive ( often literally ). Escobar, having escaped from prison, is on the run and evading everyone, from his rivals, the DEA and the CIA, to the Columbian army and right-wing militants hired to capture him. The plot sounds simple but there's a lot going on at the periphery - shady deals, double-crosses - and you can't help but marvel at Escobar's genius. He might have made an excellent politician if he hadn't been a wanted criminal.

The percentage of Spanish dialogue has increased, but my interest hasn't waned. One of the main reasons I love Narcos so much is its script, which contains no redundancies and is quite often hilarious in spite of the violent nature of the story. The Columbian characters are colourful and memorable, while the Americans navigate their legal options in intriguing ways.

There are numerous moments worth mentioning, but one that really stands out involves the DEA agent visiting the family of a colonel who was executed by Escobar. The colonel was known for his ruthless tactics, including the unsanctioned killing of Escobar underlings, which the DEA agent personally witnessed. However, when the colonel's wife asked if the rumours were true, and her despondent son sat beside her, the DEA agent lied and said her husband never did anything illegal.
It was one of the few quiet scenes in that episode, but resonated with great poignancy and perfectly illustrates the beauty of this show. Because the hunt for Escobar was so intense and prolonged, it completely consumed those who were involved, driving good men to commit crimes themselves.
And in return, the viewer is equally conflicted ( or at least I am ). Where do you draw the line when so many innocent lives are at stake and all other methods have failed?

Something else has become Narcos' trademark - expertly staged combat scenes, easily the best I've seen on television. This happens in every episode in season 2, and feature so many different permutations they make my head spin. It really is amazing how they milk the cat-and-mouse games for maximum effect.

Honestly, after watching this show, I've developed a tonne of respect for the Columbian drug cartels. I don't condone anything they did, of course, but those brains of theirs should be preserved and studied!

Another nice touch is the male cast, a large proportion of which is really good-looking. And everyone is just incredible on the acting scale.

Good luck at the Emmys! I hope you win a few awards, but even if you don't, your fans still love the series and we'll be waiting when season 3 launches next year.

I'm using Blogger's Featured Post functon, so read my 2015 review of season 1 on the upper right hand section of this page.



So far the BEST book I've read this year, I kid you not!

Birthed from the loins of People magazine's executive editor, Kate Coyne, I'm Your Biggest Fan had me hooked from page 1.

A collection of wonderful stories from her life as an entertainment correspondent, Coyne's breezy yet cerebral writing style made this memoir exciting and funny, and kept me up late on many occasions, as I couldn't stop myself from reading the next page.

The number of major celebrities included boggles the mind ( well, my mind at least! ) - from George Michael, Michael Douglas and Neil Patrick Harris, to Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.

Every encounter is vastly different from the rest, and highly enjoyable.

One of the main reasons I love the book is the spiritual kinship I feel with Ms. Coyne. Like her, I've been a huge fan of pop culture for as long as I can remember. According to my mum, the first words I spoke as a toddler were "Can I watch TV?" ( ask her, she'll verify it! )

Also like her, I love meeting famous people, though I'm a late bloomer by comparison. She met RDJ at an off-Broadway show when she was a teenager, while I met jazz musician Jamie Cullum at a showcase in Singapore when I was 28.

If I hadn't become a doctor, I would've definitely pursued journalism - specifically entertainment news. I would've loved flying around the world covering film festivals and interviewing actors/actresses I admire and know everything about. Granted, it isn't anywhere as noble as saving lives, but considering the amount of verbal abuse healthcare professionals endure on a daily basis nowadays, I'd say medicine is grossly overrated.

So yeah, I lived vicariously through Ms. Coyne's terrific tales, and shared her fangirl emotions as she described her encounters with Mr. Cruise ( yes, the lucky lady had more than one! ).

She's effusive where good experiences are concerned, but also gracious when they're downright unpleasant. I guess it's a smart move since she has to keep dealing with celebrities after this, but once you get a feel for the language she uses, you can tell when she dislikes someone ( Neil Patrick Harris is on that list ).

Absolute sweethearts include RDJ, Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks. OMG Tom Hanks is an angel! I'd love to meet HIM someday!

Highly recommended. Please write a sequel soon!



Not recommended at all - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I read it because I wanted to, but now totally regret doing so. The Harry Potter stories stopped being good after book 5, and I'm glad JK Rowling's going to stop writing them ( or so she claims ).

Although this is formatted as a play rather than a novel, it doesn't fare any better. The dialogue is ludicrous at times and the plot is a letdown.

Fans who caught the preview performances in London kept raving about the show. I guess they had low expectations.

I won't post any spoilers, except to say that a Da Vinci Code-like revelation near the end made me groan. Really? Is that all you've got? Tsk tsk.

No more Harry Potter for me. Ever.



Ending off this post with a brief review of The Secret Life of Pets.

In short, completely insane, at times ridiculous, but also freaking awesome. :)

I can't even describe what goes on in this film, so just trust me and watch it.

Gidget, you rock!



Till next time...

Thursday, July 07, 2016

R.I.P.


I planned to make a blog entry the week Anton Yelchin tragically passed away, but only managed to do so now after a lot of dust finally settled.

When the news first broke, I was in shock and wished it was yet another celebrity death hoax. Unfortunately, it turned out to be real, and I'm extremely saddened by this terrible loss.

I first noticed AY in 2009's Terminator Salvation and JJ Abrams' Star Trek. While the latter was a much bigger hit, Anton's role in the former was significantly more prominent, and I was struck by his mature, layered performance as a teenage Kyle Reese, admirably holding his own with the likes of Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

Then came Charlie Bartlett - a 2007 film I stumbled upon on cable and watched ONLY because AY was in it. ( Well, there's also Robert Downey, Jr. but even he couldn't outshine Anton. I kid you not! )

Charlie Bartlett is, in my opinion, a classic in the vein of the great John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club - i.e. populated by teens who are old souls, undermining authority in all sorts of creative ways, spewing sagely advice that adults aren't capable of thinking up.

The scene I love most is Charlie's audition for the school play, which made me laugh like Kat Dennings. It was yet another confirmation of Anton's immense talent ( he was 17 at the time ), and he remained a strong presence despite having RDJ to contend with.

The entire movie is available on YouTube. It's my favourite where Anton is concerned, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested.

Subsequently, I also saw Like Crazy, Fright Night, Star Trek Into Darkness and Burying The Ex, all of which I enjoyed, but which couldn't match Charlie Bartlett or Terminator Salvation.

However, I recently got my hands on 5 to 7 and Green Room. Will watch them soon, as well as Star Trek Beyond, due for release later this month.

It's comforting to hear personal anecdotes from his co-stars and friends, describing his kind heart, humour and intellectual curiosity. You will be missed by many, including me.




On to Independence Day: Resurgence, the movie I was most excited about this year.

The original Independence Day is one of my all-time faves, and the trailers for the sequel looked phenomenal, so yes, I had high hopes and was fully prepared to embrace and love Resurgence.

Sadly, my reaction was the exact opposite.

I think it was around the 45-minute mark when I started checking my watch to see how long my torture would last. There are just so many things wrong with the film, from the dumb storyline ( a queen and her workers / soldiers; an elderly, frail ex-POTUS effortlessly flying a fighter jet into combat after years of inactivity; key characters conveniently converging in the desert where the final showdown occurred ) to the limp new cast ( Liam Hemsworth is unbelievably dull OMG! ) to the annoying editing ( cutting between scenes every 3-5 minutes isn't cool dammit! ).

One of my major complaints is how the wild-haired scientist from the first movie ends up in a coma for 20 years, miraculously wakes up one day ( presumably "activated" by the second crop of aliens heading to earth ) and suffers zero muscle atrophy. He just hops off the bed and goes running down the hallway. He didn't even have a feeding tube!

So sloppy, ugh.

Anyway, I was happy to see Bill Pullman again. He's aged a lot but also stayed slim. His thick wavy hair is also intact ( I love his hair haha ). Can't stand Jeff Goldblum or Judd Hirsch, but my biggest peeve is Angelababy - a Chinese / Taiwanese ( not sure and don't care ) actress / singer who got completely miscast as a fighter pilot, and pouted her way through the whole production.

Clearly a stunt to drum up box office sales in Asia. Shame on you, Roland Emmerich.

There's talk of a part 3 on the way. I'll be sure to give it a miss. But I still love the first Independence Day. A real class act, that one.




After a loooong absence from local TV, season 20 suddenly appeared, and I'm hooked.

I loathe most reality shows, especially those with lots of melodrama, but something about The Bachelor is just... irresistible.

No, it isn't the guy, because he obviously isn't the star of the show - the ladies are. And they never disappoint.

Every season has its share of bitchy, psychotic and weepy contestants. Again, not something I can usually tolerate, but strangely enough, I find it highly entertaining here.

The quality of bachelors has dropped over the years, after peaking with Andrew Firestone ( indeed, THAT Firestone ) in 2003. The latest, Ben Higgins, is a software sales rep from Denver, and got the gig only because he was so popular on The Bachelorette ( yes, he was chasing another woman together with other men! ).

With this in mind, I find it hard to understand why all the women are so nuts over Ben. Sure, he's tall, athletic and good-looking, with beautiful manners and a gentle demeanour. But he's, well, ORDINARY. Why do the ladies throw themselves at him in such embarrassing ways? Maybe that's another reason the show appeals to me - its sheer inexplicability.

One of the things I like to do is see how many women the bachelor ends up kissing. Some past bachelors were quite discerning while others just went for it. Ben lies somewhere in between. He kisses A LOT of ladies, but is capable of turning a cold shoulder if he senses Fatal Attraction vibes.

I'm at episode 4 right now, and the villain is Olivia - a former news anchor who claims she gave up her job to be on the show. She's glamorous and impressed Ben so much on the introduction night that he gave her the "first impression rose". It's interesting how things go downhill from there, as she becomes consumed by jealousy and paranoia.

BUT - and this is important - past contestants have publicly stated that the Bachelor / Bachelorette series are staged and creatively edited, calling into question the authenticity of the process.



Coincidentally, I recently started binging on UnReal, after a friend's repeated recommendations.

Blatantly based on The Bachelor ( here it's called Everlasting and the bachelor is "the suitor" ), it illustrates all the ugliness we suspect goes on behind the scenes, and ramps it up ten-fold. Everyone's sleeping around, the big boss is constantly high on drugs, the bachelor's in it for all the wrong reasons, and the crew's job is to manipulate the ladies and milk the ratings to the max.

It isn't too bad, but can get tiresome after a while, so I advise small doses.

What I will give them credit for is daring to feature an African-American bachelor in season 2 - something the real show doesn't have the balls to do.


That's it for today. Looking forward to Narcos season 2 on September 2nd! Super awesome, that one. :)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review - Roots


This History channel mini-series has shot to the top of my list of favourite 2016 TV shows so far, so a blog entry is inevitable.

It was rather unexpected, to be honest. I read Alex Haley's epic novel as a teen ( and did a massive book review for my school holiday assignment, which my English teacher never marked hmph! ) and am familiar with the story. But I wondered if the small screen adaptation would succeed in conveying the key elements of this saga and managing its large number of characters.

3 episodes in, I'm emotionally exhausted and in complete awe. Every episode averages 90 minutes but feels a lot longer - not because it drags or bores, but because of the mind-boggling amount of material packed into each installment. It just doesn't seem possible for so much to happen within such a short duration. ( If only more films could follow this format! )

Since the story spans multiple generations, the writers devote one episode to each protagonist, allowing ample time for key storylines to play out before moving on. And lest you think they start to become repetitive and dull after a while, the complete opposite happens. Slave owners and drivers come in different shapes and sizes, with individual quirks and torture method preferences. Some may be less cruel than others, but pay attention and you'll notice fleeting moments that illustrate the deep-seated hatred simmering beneath even the most benign-looking faces ( clue: Matthew Goode's Dr. William Waller ).

But this production obviously belongs to the African-American cast. I know a few of the actors ( Oscar winner Forest Whitaker being the most prominent ) but the ones I don't are the most impressive. Malachi Kirby ( Kunta Kinte ) and Rege-Jean Page ( Chicken George ) stand out from the pack, infusing their roles with intense, heartbreaking performances which reduced me to tears. Anika Noni Rose also shines as strong-willed Kizzy.

Special mention goes to Jonathan Rhys Meyers ( Tom Lea ), whose career I've followed since 2002's Bend It Like Beckham. Accomplished but underrated, he scorches the screen as a complicated villain, and practically steals everyone else's thunder. If he isn't nominated for an Emmy this year, I'm going to be extremely upset.

I'm finishing up the final episode this weekend, but am likely to rate it at least a 9/10 on IMDB.

Slavery is a horrific part of American history, and even today, racial tensions still permeate the country. The revival of Roots is a timely one, occurring while the United States is being governed by its first black President, and police brutality against African-Americans keeps making headlines. It's hard to imagine how one human being is capable of unspeakable cruelty towards another, but even harder to understand why it still happens today.

Roots expertly illustrates cruelty in its many forms, including a harrowing flogging scene which is not recommended for those with weak constitutions. However, it also shows that the greatest pain isn't inflicted through physical or verbal abuse. Instead, it's through a broken promise - a softly spoken betrayal, moments after giving a man hope of attaining freedom.

This series needs to be seen and its message conveyed. Like the Holocaust, slavery must never be forgotten, and those of us who're blessed with the opportunity to live as free people should cherish this privilege.

( Now awaiting season 2 of Netflix's Narcos, rumoured to be premiering in August! This was my favourite TV series in 2015. One of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. )

Friday, May 20, 2016


This is my 3rd blog post in 3 weeks. Making up for lost time haha. :)

But I feel compelled to write something about X-Men: Apocalypse - the 3rd movie I've seen at the cineplex this year ( all superhero blockbusters, strangely enough ), and my personal favourite.

There aren't any more scheduled this year right?

Anyway, I doubt X-Men will outdo Captain America: Civil War at the box office, and I also enjoyed Batman vs Superman immensely. But there's just something about X-Men that affects me on a deeper level, especially the newer films which feature younger versions of Professor X and Magneto - these are the ones that make me cry.

One big reason is that Erik Lehnsherr's personal life is much more prominent - from his tormented childhood at Auschwitz and subsequent Nazi-hunting missions, to an attempt at having a normal life by going into hiding and starting a family. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes again, but it adds more layers to his character's complexity. I can definitely understand his motivations and don't define him as a clear cut villain.

Then there's his love-hate relationship with Charles Xavier - another recurring subplot I greatly appreciate. I find it fascinating how it keeps see-sawing in every movie, yet their brotherly bond remains intact.

It definitely helps that the cast is so amazing! James McAvoy is perfect as Charles - warm, kind and eternally optimistic - while Michael Fassbender as Erik is one of the most spot on choices in the history of casting! Both actors were on my list of favourites for years before snagging these roles, and their on-screen chemistry is always a wonder to behold.


This time round, I got a triple dose of ecstasy when Oscar Isaac joined as Apocalypse. Watching all 3 men in the final climactic scene was a dream come true! Playing a character that's blue and looks like a cross between a robot and a rock toes the line between dramatic and downright campy, but Oscar keeps it together and is effectively terrifying.

Special mention goes to Evan Peters, who's back as Quicksilver, with another hilarious slow-mo montage, reminiscent of the Pentagon prison break from Days of Future Past. And yes, there's a cameo by you-know-who.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey was an unexpected delight. I only know her from Game Of Thrones and thought she looked awkward in the X-Men photos I saw in Empire magazine. She doesn't get to do very much for most of the film, but hang onto your seats in the last 15 minutes, because when Jean finally unleashes her full power, it will make your heart stop!
( Even my usually poker-faced mother gasped. :))


Super highly recommended!


Next on my to watch list: Independence Day: Resurgence, Jason Bourne, Now You See Me 2, The Legend of Tarzan, The Conjuring 2 and Assassin's Creed ( Michael Fassbender's highly anticipated solo action hero outing! ).

2016 is turning out to be an awesome year for movies. :)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Entertainment Updates

Before I start, just a small addition to my previous post about Josh Groban's show in Sydney last month.

Aside from his musical artistry, I forgot to highlight his adorable sense of humour. I mean, I've known about it for many years since I'm a longtime fan, but opening night at the Opera House was a major treat for all of us!

Whether the jet lag was wreaking havoc with his mind or whether he was high from something else, I hadn't seen him that exuberant for quite a while, and it was absolutely delightful!

I especially love the stories from his childhood - about how his parents nurtured his love for music, how a school bully praised him for having "the voice of an angel, dude", and a rather nutty bit he had on Anything Goes.

He's a masterful storyteller, but had us all in stitches when he suddenly expressed a "wish to see your restrooms". He also referenced a "dick joke" together with You Raise Me Up, lol!

There's a reason I can remember everything so vividly, of course. But I can't reveal it here. :)

Anyway, I enjoyed your jokes immensely, Josh! Stay funny always.


On to some movie news...


I'm not one of those diehard comic book fans, and with all the DC / Marvel flicks flying around in recent years, I was beginning to suffer from fatigue. But Captain America: Civil War turned out to be one of the most awesome superhero films I have EVER seen, I kid you not!

It certainly helps that the same team behind Captain America: Winter Soldier took the reins on this one, in particular, the Russo brothers, who are raising the bar significantly.

I admit to expecting the worst, but instead, I was thrilled beyond words! The running time is 2.5 hours but felt an hour shorter. There was never a dull moment, and like Winter Soldier, the chase scenes are creative, adrenaline-pumping spectacles.

And that showdown at the hangar in Berlin! OMG my jaw hit the ground and just stayed there for 15 minutes!

Special mention goes to Paul Rudd, whose Ant-Man is so much more fun here compared to the mediocre standalone movie. Chadwick Boseman is perfect as the super-cool Black Panther, and Tom Holland melts hearts as an adolescent Peter Parker. Looking forward to the latter two's solo outings!



Another film I really want to discuss is The Danish Girl. Didn't manage to watch this when it was at the cineplex, and I'm guessing the DVD is banned in Singapore, so thank goodness it was available on KrisWorld.

It's an understatement to say that it blew me away. It's comparable to Whiplash in terms of the degree of awe it induced. But while Whiplash is brash and moves at a dizzy pace, The Danish Girl luxuriates in a leisurely tempo. Beautifully directed by Tom Hooper ( The King's Speech, Les Miserables ), the lead performances from Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are breath-taking and truly deserving of their Oscar nominations ( and Vikander's win ).

I was never a huge fan of Redmayne's but this role has converted me. He was incredible in The Theory Of Everything, but exceeds even that here - no mean feat, I assure you! His portrayal of a previously heterosexual man's gradual transition is riveting, simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. The last half hour of the film reduced me to tears, and I'd also like to point out that Alexandre Desplat's score is phenomenal! Check out his other amazing work on the soundtrack for The Painted Veil, which features Lang Lang ( the movie's another personal favourite of mine but was sadly overlooked by critics ).


A standout scene involves Redmayne and Ben Whishaw, whom I mostly know from the latest James Bond films. It takes place at a ball, and is just INTOXICATING. Again, the music adds tonnes to the overall atmosphere, but Whishaw also looks like a million bucks ( not scruffy and bespectacled like Q ) and demonstrates earth-shattering chemistry with Redmayne. I ended up pressing the rewind button multiple times. Wonder if any other passengers around me noticed haha.



As for TV updates, currently I have one - Netflix's second season of Daredevil.

Season 1 was good but faltered in quite a few places. However, season 2 is really terrific, especially from episode 5 onwards.

I think a major factor is the addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher. A comic book fanboy assures me that Bernthal looks exactly like the character, but I remember him from The Walking Dead and an assortment of movie roles, and consider him one of the finest yet grossly underrated actors of our generation.

Bernthal definitely changes the series' momentum and tone. He's unbelievably intense and handles the violent scenes like a pro. He also has great chemistry with Charlie Cox, who finally loses his boyish charm and turns completely dark.

Then there's Elodie Yung, who plays Elektra. I confess that I initially loathed her because of her posh accent and rather slutty performance, but she gradually grew on me and thankfully stopped playing the bimbo. She also kicks major ass in episode 10! Going head to head with French hottie Gilles Marini, no less! I almost got a heart attack haha.

Vincent D'Onofrio makes a welcome return as Wilson Fisk, but Debora Ann Woll and Rosario Dawson are even more irritating than ever, overdoing everything and just getting on my nerves. I just try to ignore them until their scenes are over.

Oh, and for the record, this show makes me have a strong urge to take up kickboxing lessons. But I'm currently preoccupied with Pilates, so maybe next time. :)


No chance to discuss Batman vs Superman, but I loved it even though the critics weren't impressed. Will be catching X-Men: Apocalypse next week, in spite of Empire's 2-star review. These are the people who thought Star Wars VII deserved 5 stars. WTF!?

Sunday, May 01, 2016

2016!

My first blog entry of the year comes after a 5-month hiatus.

I do regret not being able to write more regularly these days, but returning to full-time work, plus a series of personal issues, pushed blogging way down my list of priorities.

However, I still want to keep this site alive and kicking, so this post - though short - offers a brief summary of one of the more significant events that occurred recently.


I flew to Sydney to see Josh Groban in concert for the second time in 3 years, and FINALLY met him face to face!

Featuring songs from his wonderful new album, Stages, the show was breath-taking from start to finish, with Josh hitting every note perfectly and demonstrating amazing vocal strength I'd never witnessed before.

I've been a fan for 15 years and couldn't be happier about him scaling new heights. At 35, his voice has fully matured and sounds incredible! This was especially evident during Bring Him Home - an extremely difficult piece for even the most accomplished tenors. Josh nailed it 100% and made my mother cry. How's that for skill? :)

My personal favourite was the encore - Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz. That's the song that brought tears to my eyes, not just because of Josh's poignant delivery, but because of its message of hope in the midst of sadness and despair.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Way above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me.


Together with Charlie Chaplin's Smile, this is in the top 3 of my all-time personal favourite songs list.

3 years ago, I went to the stage door after the concert but arrived late and ended up quite a distance away. Josh only signed autographs for a handful of fans closest to him before leaving in his car, probably because he was tired.

This time, I had an aisle seat in the theatre and was very near the exit, so I managed to secure a great spot near the stage door. Josh appeared about 20 minutes later and was so friendly, chatting with fans and signing everything they gave him. However, his bodyguard gently said, "No hugging please." to someone.

When my turn came, Josh signed my concert programme then got distracted by a group of Filipino fans next to me. He'd already spoken to them earlier before coming over, but they were quite selfish and wanted to continue the conversation. Josh being Josh, he talked to them some more, which left me no opportunity to say anything, like the fact that I was a longtime fan and had flown to Sydney twice just to see him argh!

So when his attention was finally on me, I quickly asked for a photo, and he obliged. But it wasn't just a quickie sort of thing - he looked at my phone's screen intently and positioned himself while I pressed a button to focus. My Samsung took a few seconds to do this but Josh was very patient, never once asking me to hurry up or moving off before the photo could be taken.

After the camera snapped the wefie, he even asked if it was okay and whether I got the shot, which I thought was very very sweet. I said, "Yes, thank you!" then he smiled and replied, "Thank you for coming!" before going down the line of excited fans.

I stayed for another 5 minutes and noticed that Josh didn't take photos with anyone else, which made our wefie very precious! He isn't the touchy feely sort either, standing a short distance away while signing items, and yes, the no hugging rule was enforced.

En route to the hotel, I checked the picture and realized Josh had a gorgeous smile when he posed, and looked positively ecstatic for some reason! That was the icing on the cake!

He'll still be on tour for the next few months before making his Broadway debut this fall. Really wish I could see that, but I won't be heading to the U.S. for a while. Especially when Donald Trump is running for president ugh. ( Don't let him win, please! )

That's it for this entry. Will post again another day if I have time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

International Premier Tennis League - 18 to 20 December 2015, Singapore Indoor Stadium


I wasn't planning on posting another entry until 2016, but my weekend was so amazing, I couldn't let it pass without writing something!

Not many people are aware that I used to play tennis. My mum arranged lessons for both of us when I was a teenager and we played regularly for a number of years before I started university and didn't have the time or energy.

But I continued to watch matches on TV, even catching Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg at the Indoor Stadium about 20 years ago.

When the IPTL began in 2014, I gave it a miss because the lineup wasn't appealing.

This year, when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were included, I still resisted.

But when Roger Federer was confirmed, I bought tickets that very day.

I'm not a sports stats type of person, so I don't keep track of scores and such. But I've been a fan of RF's for more than 5 years. My most vivid memory is from 2010 - I was sitting in my hotel room in Paris, watching the U.S. Open semi-finals live on my laptop ( believe it or not, the TV in the room didn't have the sports channel! ). It was RF vs Djokovic, and the latter eventually won. But I remember being awed by RF's skills on the court, not to mention the charisma he effortlessly exuded and how graciously he handled the loss. A truly unforgettable moment.

Since then, I've followed his career intermittently. I didn't subscribe to cable sports channels so the Internet was very helpful. And I always wondered if I would ever get the chance to see him play for real one day.

2015's been an extraordinary year for me, with many completely unexpected events and bucket list items being checked.

Roger Federer was on my bucket list. And let me tell you, the first time I saw him walk onto the court on day 1 of the Singapore leg of the IPTL tour, for a warm up session during the halfway mark break, my adrenaline level shot through the roof! I was standing at the top of the tiered section eating a slice of pizza - away from my seat and nowhere near the court - and still felt the entire stadium's atmosphere change in that split second. RF emerged unannounced but everyone instantly recognized him, and the roar of excitement that echoed through the vast arena is something I will never forget.

The rest of that evening was surreal. Mum and I returned to our seats, which were located just behind the courtside boxes, and were treated to a spectacular display of aces, smashes, drop shots and slices. RF played 3 sets - mixed then men's doubles, ending with a super-exciting men's singles with world no. 4 and fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka - and the huge crowd lapped it all up.

It all added up to approximately 80 minutes of court time. And I deeply appreciate RF's generosity! He could've easily refused to play more than 1 or 2 sets, but ended up playing 3 consecutively. And we all love him for it!

I've also become a fan of SW's, after watching him play RF on day 1, followed by 1 set on day 2 and 2 more during the finals. He currently outranks Nadal ( no. 5 ) and famously defeated Djokovic at the recent French Open ( woohoo! ). He's an excellent player, though not in the same league as RF. But I know he clawed his way up the ranks and peaked relatively late in his career ( he's already 30 years old ), so I hope he continues to do well for the next few years.

Other IPTL highlights include faves from my younger years, like Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin. Carlos Moya, a former world no. 1 who's now retired, also dazzled in his singles matches. And has anyone noticed he and RF look very similar, down to the wavy dark hair and penchant for bandanas? Just look at these photos and tell me I'm not imagining things.




I realize there're those who sniff at the IPTL's format - strict time limits, power points, single set matches - which can understandably affect the quality of the performances ( definitely more serving faults ). But there was an abundance of phenomenal shots and never a dull moment. I paid a large sum for my seats and it was absolutely worth every cent.

Now, I'm so inspired I've finally started subscribing to sports channels, in preparation for RF's packed schedule in the coming year. I'm too old to take up playing tennis again, but hey, you never know.

Good luck, Roger and Stan! And here's crossing our fingers that both will be back for the 2016 IPTL, together with Djokovic and Nadal! I may purchase courtside seats if THAT happens. :)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Now that the dust has settled ( and I finally have time after a super eventful weekend ), I need to get this off my chest!

I'm not going to tiptoe around those who haven't seen it yet, so...



SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE



Let me be clear about one thing: I was 100% prepared to love the film.

I love the Star Wars franchise ( not every single movie, but on the whole ), and couldn't be happier when J.J. Abrams was chosen to direct episode 7. Add to that the exciting cast and the promise of a new adventure and I was on cloud nine.

There've been mixed feelings from moviegoers all over the world, including friends I spoke to here. Thankfully, I'm not alone in my complaints! Not sure if I can remember all of them at this point, but here goes:


1) It's a major rehash.

A friend called this an homage, but I think they went too far. I can understand the need to be respectful of what came before, the urge to please SW fans, etc. But let's compare this to the other monster blockbuster of 2015, Jurassic World.

JW was also a rehash, but only to a certain extent. And you can't expect that many changes to a story that takes place in an enclosed area containing prehistoric creatures.

SW, on the other hand, spans galaxies. There're millions of characters out there, with countless stories to tell in an infinite number of ways. I don't feel guilty for expecting a lot more.


2) Too many holes in the plot.

a) How does Rey, a scavenger who lives in the desert, know how to pilot different types of air- and spacecraft?

b) Where did that map leading to Luke Skywalker's location come from? Why does have a piece missing?

c) How did Poe Dameron disappear in the desert after the TIE fighter crashed? How did he return to the rebellion, which is on ANOTHER PLANET?!

d) When Finn tells the rebellion which section of the First Order's Starkiller Base to attack, he has no idea if he's right ( he only uses it as an excuse to get to the base to rescue Rey ) - but it ends up working. What kind of a dumb fluke is that?! Isn't Finn being terribly irresponsible, putting the rebellion force's valuable pilots at risk?


3) Other annoying stuff.

a) The villain, Kylo Ren, is completely miscast. Never mind the fact that he dresses like Darth Vader - he doesn't even need that OTT suit for any specific reason. At least in Vader's case, it was necessary to sustain life. Ren just wears it for kicks.

b) When Ren removed his helmet the first time and I saw Adam Driver's obnoxious face, I felt like punching his lights out. Yes, it's good for moviegoers to hate the villain, but there should be fear and dread attached to that hatred. Driver just gives off a petty adolescent vibe. Exactly like Hayden Christensen in episodes 2 and 3. Are all Siths supposed to be like this?

c) And why does Ren HAVE to be another Skywalker? It's like some warped variety of nepotism.

d) How do Rey and Finn instinctively know how to wield a lightsabre? I thought years of training are required? And Finn isn't even a Jedi...!


There were only 2 things I loved in this film: BB-8 and Poe Dameron / Oscar Isaac.


Huge credit goes to the designers of this adorable little robot, which outshines R2-D2 and C3PO by light years. Everything about it - the rounded shape, the colour, the way it rolls, the cute little touches like lasers and what resembles a tiny cigarette lighter doing a thumbs-up sign - is genius.



But my absolute favourite is Isaac, whose heroic Dameron makes me swoon.

And that first scene, where Poe is dressed like an adventurer, retrieving the missing piece of the Luke Skywalker map - I SWEAR it's the perfect audition for the next Indiana Jones sequel.

Pay attention, Hollywood! It's either Isaac or Chris Pratt as Indy ( or Indy's mentee / successor ), but Isaac's much better. :)


Star Wars episode 8 has already started filming but of course, the plot is highly classified.

Anyway, there're loads of spectacular movies coming up next year, including Suicide Squad, Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. But the one I'm REALLY excited about is Independence Day: Resurgence. It looks freaking awesome!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

2015 - The Year In Review

Every December, as I look back on the past 12 months and forward to the next dozen, I keep telling myself that nothing could possibly top what I've experienced so far. And every time, I turn out to be wrong. :)

2015 has been particularly special, of course, because I turned 40 in June, and wanted it to be memorable in every possible way.

January kicked off with a bang as Michael Buble performed at the Marina Bay Sands.

In April, it was a gorgeous production of Beauty and the Beast followed by a fabulous SSO Pops concert.

Mum and I flew off to Greece in May, where we spent an exhausting but unforgettable fortnight exploring the mainland and the beautiful islands of Mykonos and Santorini. It wasn't an easy tour and I almost couldn't stand up straight at the end of it, but it was one of the most amazing trips I'd ever taken, and I have a soft spot for the Greeks, who treated us with great warmth and generosity.

2 more fantastic shows came in July - Singin' In The Rain and Disney On Classic.

August sprang a surprise when I attended a fund-raising dinner organized by Adrian and Tracie Pang's Pangdemonium company - and came face to face with Jim Rogers!


The annual F1 race came round in September, but my main interest was Maroon 5, who delivered a spectacular performance which was attended by 60,000 fans. It was hot, humid and extremely tiring ( try standing for 3-4 hours without proper ventilation ), but it was all worth it!

October brought another SSO Pops concert ( unbelievably good! ), followed by a trip to the United States, where I attended the American College of Emergency Physicians' Scientific Assembly in Boston, then hopped over to New York for a week of Broadway shows, which spilled over into November.

Broadway proved to be even more incredible than I could've imagined! It was my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and previously, I'd already seen my fair share of stars ( Daniel Radcliffe, Bernadette Peters, Bryan Cranston, James Franco ) and personal favourites ( Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Tony Shalhoub ).

This time, my cup really overflowed, with the likes of Matthew Broderick, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Kelli O'Hara, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis and Al Pacino treading the boards.


The most awesome thing that happened? Having Mr. Pacino notice me when I asked for a photo, and snapping a super cool shot of our two heads touching. It was the prize of a lifetime, and I still can't believe how great he is to his fans, compared to other less accomplished actors with attitude problems.


Another darling - Mark Strong, who was so friendly and attentive, and whose performance in A View From The Bridge blew my mind. A Tony nomination is guaranteed.


Within 3 weeks of returning to Singapore, we were off again to Sydney, this time catching Hugh Jackman's Broadway To Oz Australian tour.
After missing his Broadway stints multiple times over the years ( timing issue ), I prayed for another chance and God answered! We caught the 2 December show - I chose the date because it was originally the last one for Sydney, but they added a 4th performance shortly after - and it turned out to be a huge blessing because Russell Crowe made a special appearance. Yes, THAT Russell Crowe!
The 2 men did a Les Mis duet then Mr. C went solo with his guitar on an incredible rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. I'm telling you, I LITERALLY LOST MY MIND at that point. I kept screaming "OMG" at my mum for 10 minutes lol!
It's been confirmed that Mr. C appeared only on that night, and not on any of the other 3. My head is still reeling! :)

And thanks to a few kind souls from the Dainty Group which organized the tour, Mr. J autographed my show programme and my fan letter was confirmed as forwarded. A meet and greet would've been impossible for a nobody like me, so this is the next best thing and I thank everyone who helped!


Later this month, the International Premier Tennis League will come to Singapore, bringing Roger Federer, whom I've admired for years. Really looking forward to that!


And next April, we return to Sydney to see Josh Groban at the Opera House. Both shows sold out within days, with most of the tickets snapped up within the first few hours. The website crashed and the phone lines were jammed, so it's a miracle I managed to get seats within the first 10-15 rows, when everything else in the back was gone. Divine intervention yet again!

Also let's not forget my graduation from the Nanyang Polytechnic sonography course in August, after almost 2 years of hard work. I'm very happy about the achievement, but I don't think I want to go through something like that again. Made my hair turn white!


Last but not least, I can't wait to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day!

I don't know what else 2016 will bring, but my 40th year officially ends in June so anything can happen in 6 months! Thank you, Lord, for such a blessed year. :)