Monday, December 30, 2002

Here's my review of "LOTR: The Two Towers".
Warning: spoilers included

First off, it's unbelievably fantastic! In fact, this is an understatement! I sometimes find it difficult to fully describe this absolute masterpiece, because it's just so many things rolled into one excellent 3-hour film.

I loved "LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring", but the second in this trilogy surpasses its predecessor in numerous ways. Sure, I've heard that some people didn't enjoy this movie as much because the scenery isn't as visually stunning -- and yes, this is true. When compared to "Fellowship", which had the benefit of being the first LOTR film, and thus gave us our first glimpses of Middle Earth, with the Shire, Rivendell, Moria, etc, "Towers" can't come close in terms of breath-taking sights.

But "Towers" isn't about inspiring awe in that manner. No, this second installment is much darker, as the protagonists progress further towards Mordor, and come face to face with 10,000 Orc warriors in the final bloody battle at Helms Deep. We witness the gradual transformation of Frodo ( Elijah Wood ), who comes under the ring's power andturns on his friend Sam in one emotional, nail-biting scene. Gollum ( the amazing Andy Serkis ) has a much larger role here, and again demonstrates the ring's all-encompassing evil. The other members of the now-broken fellowship -- Aragorn ( the delicious Viggo Mortensen ), Legolas ( equally yummy Orlando Bloom ) and Gimli ( John Rhys-Davies ) -- also face their own obstacles, but again persevere and triumph, to much cheering from the audience. :)

Peter Jackson has repeated his feat, producing a masterpiece that will make all Tolkien fans proud. He picks up the pace, and with help from his excellent visual effects team, conjures up an eye-popping climactic battle scene -- the most remarkable one I've ever seen, might I add. However, he admirably intersperses all the action with intimate moments -- Frodo's spiritual and emotional turmoil, Sam's unwavering loyalty towards his best friend, Gollum's dual-personality monologues, the knowing looks exchanged between Aragorn and Eowyn ( a luminous Miranda Otto ), and my personal favourite: a scene where Aragorn is near-death, and dreams that he is at Rivendell with Arwen ( aptly cast Liv Tyler ). This last sequence is bittersweet and gentle, with superb acting from the two stars, who manage to convey the deep love the characters have for each other. Truly one of the most enduring romances of our time.

But LOTR wouldn't be complete without at least 1 spectacular scene. "Fellowship" had the encounter with the demon in Moria, and "Towers" its battle at Helms Deep. Jackson does well in creating momentum as the war draws near, so audiences experience the urgency and fear as the characters make preparations to defend their fort. Lace this with beautiful lines, and you've got the perfect mix. For example, when the king of Rohan asks Aragorn, "What can Man do when faced with such reckless hate?", the latter replies, "Ride out and meet it." And in a poignant scene where Frodo almost gives up on his quest, Sam manages to change his mind by saying, "There's still good in this world, and it's worth fighting for."

My eyes were fixed on Viggo Mortensen this time round -- Orlando Bloom caught my attention in "Fellowship", but his boyish good looks are overshadowed by Mortensen's rugged masculinity. :) Here is a man who was made for the role of Aragorn. Possessing the necessary physicality and agility, yet extremely capable in bringing out the character's soft side, he is a sight to behold, and eats up the screen whenever he appears. No wonder Miranda Otto, who plays his new love interest Eowyn, told reporters that she had no problem acting as if she were in love with him.

Already in the running for 2 Golden Globes ( Best Picture and Best Director ), "The Two Towers" also draws parallels with the political chaos in the world today. Sauron and Saruman can represent the Osamas and Saddams, and the Orcs the ever-increasing forces of al-Qaeda and other jihad affiliates. The theme of good versus evil resonates at this time of impending war between America and Iraq, and especially after 9/11. But there's always an optimistic conclusion to the tale, and good will triumph in the end, as long as we hold fast to our principles, and people with courage, loyalty and integrity still exist.

I'm rooting for "Towers" to win the Best Picture Oscar come March 2003. A long shot, perhaps, but it never hurts to hope!
You MUST see this movie!

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Okay, I happened to be on the Internet, and thought I'd post this 'cos it's pretty unbelievable stuff.

I just watched a recording of "Temptation Island: Australia" and my jaw hit the floor. Yes, despite having liberal views regarding Western morals, the shenanigans on this Australian series ( ie. featuring native Aussies, instead of a bunch of Americans ) were positively SHOCKING. Sure, there were the usual drunken parties, overt flirtations and skimpily clad tight bods, but this pilot episode had 2 intoxicated women kissing each other -- yes, it was shown on Singapore TV! Intentional? Perhaps, in which case the Singapore Broadcast Authority is once again practising double standards -- ""Sex And The City"? No way! "Temptation Island: Australia" which depicts women tonguing each other? Proceed!"
I couldn't care less if this show continues to be screened every Saturday night. I think Singaporeans are becoming quite promiscuous and can handle this sort of thing without any problem. But please, if this reality series is considered okay for local consumption on free-to-air TV, then I think someone on the SBA needs to reverse the decision to ban "Sex And The City" ( which is based on FICTIONAL characters, btw ) from cable television. You do see a point in what I'm saying, right?

Saturday, December 21, 2002

This post is dedicated to reality shows.

The final 2 episodes of The Amazing Race 3 weren't as exciting for me, as I was on call the day it was screened, and already read about the winners over the Internet prior to watching the recording. But I can tell you that this series is by far the most engrossing of the 3, because all the contestants are captivating in their own ways, and the race was really really tight all the way to the very end.
Not to mention resident whiner Flo Pesenti, who grated on my nerves throughout the 2 hours with her incessant crying, shouting, threats to quit, etc. Prima donna and immature spoilt brat rolled into one, it's truly a miracle that she and Zach went on to clinch the milllion-dollar prize. I concur with the majority of opinions on the Net -- that Zach should get the whole million, and Flo should get nothing. After all, in the final leg, all she did was sit and pout, or delay the team by refusing to carry out their designated tasks, or putting in half-hearted efforts at best. Zach was the one running around booking airline tickets, figuring out the clues, and most importantly, pacifying Flo and doing his best to persuade her to stay in the race. In Vietnam, the latter really wanted out, but poor Zach put his foot down and told her, "This is my race too, so we should talk about it." Right on, Zach. You tell that selfish woman like it is.
Actually, I already suspected that Flo and Zach won the money, especially after an interview with the twins Drew and Derek in the papers a couple of days ago revealed that Drew is now long-distance dating Flo. Not only did it raise my eyebrows, I practically choked when he said all sorts of forgiving and nice things about her awful tantrums on international TV, citing reasons like how stressful the circumstances were, how fragile she is, and so on. But you know what? I think a lot of that motivation comes from the fact that Flo's now got half a million buckeroos in her bank account. Plus, she's absolutely hung on the guy, so you can bet she'll splurge a lot of her prize money on him. Smart move, Drew.
As for Zach, I'm sure he's won millions of female hearts all over the world with his good temper, optimism, and overall nice-guy demeanour. Not once did he lose his cool, and neither did he resort to any dirty tricks -- but let's give Flo some credit for playing a clean game too. He's wonderfully sweet, and I hope he finds an equally nice girl who'll make him happy. A word of caution to him though: most women he meets from now on will know about his fortune, and being the easygoing person he is, he may end up getting duped. So good luck to you, Zach. Wish you all the best.
Teri and Ian are the oldest couple to make it to the final, so good for them. Too bad Ken and Gerard didn't win. They're definitely the nicest team of the entire lot.

Survivor:Thailand had me on the edge of my seat. Brian is definitely an excellent player, and though he isn't the best person to win, he played his hand like a pro and got what he wanted. Ken was a hot favourite -- handsome, nice, a police officer basking in the post 9/11 adulation -- while Helen worked really hard only to be sabotaged by the guys at the crucial point. If she'd won the last immunity challenge, she would've gotten everyone's vote, no question. I think it was a big waste that people like Brian and Clay ended up being the final two. As one jury member said, he chose Brian because he's "the lesser of the two evils", meaning he didn't want either to win, but had no choice but to vote for one of them.
Well, Survivor has always been the best of all the reality shows, and the next season promises to be even more exciting, as it will take place in none other than the Amazon. Woohoo!

Temptation Island:Australia starts tonight at 11pm on Channel 5. No idea if it's gonna be Americans vacationing down under, or a local Australian population.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Aaaahhh... I've got my new fix :) and it's called "Fear Factor"!
The latest season is currently being screened over Channel 5, but I've already seen a few of the episodes, thanks to cable TV ( AXN Channel 19, to be precise ).
Yet another addition to the reality show genre, FF is exciting because it's constantly testing the boundaries. Last year, I was actually bored by some of the challenges, but the new season promises lots of icky, scary stuff. Just look at the trailers for a quick preview -- I especially enjoy the one that ends with "bon appetit!", featuring all the creepy-crawlies that contestants have to swallow, e.g. LIVE larvae of various species, gigantic cockroaches, worms, or as in last night's installment, pig uteruses.
No big deal, you say? Yesterday, I watched a bunch of really tough-looking participants ( including 3 beefcakes ) gag and choke on the pig organs, which measure 15 cm in length, look raw ( though the host claims they're cooked ), and need to be ingested within a minute each. Unfortunately, everyone had to toss for the number of uteruses they had to eat, and all of them ended up hitting the number 5. Watching them was painful, yet eerily enjoyable. :P

Anyhow, watch for more out-of-this-world antics, such as a challenge to walk completely nude in front of an audience, having tarantulas poured onto your head in an enclosed tank, and yes, more eating of the most disgusting things imaginable. The prize money? $50,000, which equals slightly more than $100,000 in local currency, and isn't that much when compared to "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race". But FF banks on psychological endurance more than anything else, and most obstacles can be overcome with the right attitude -- hence, the constant heckling from fellow contestants, in a bid to rattle whoever is up next. Best of all, it's a competition where it's really anyone's game, where slim women can beat men twice their size, where the small-sized beat the Xenas and Goliaths, where your luck can literally run out ( e.g. if you have a terrible phobia of spiders, and the challenge happens to involve tarantulas ). So keep your Monday nights free, or at least, set the VCR timer!

Side point here. Just want to post something about a nice restaurant I went to a week ago with some friends. It just opened in November, and is called Colours By The Bay, located at the Esplanade ( aka Singapore's newest theatre for the arts, and recently graced by Jose Carreras, Jessye Norman, the New York and London Philharmonic orchestras, and The Swingles Singers ). I like to call this place the reasonably-priced alternative to Mezza9 ( which is housed within the Grand Hyatt Hotel at Scotts Road, and offers mouth-watering dishes, but at great expense ). Colours offers choices from 7 different eateries, all located next to each other, and you can sit in 1 restaurant and order from the other 6 without having to move. The prices vary, but are generally very affordable, and with a group of 5, you can share 5 dishes, and pay less than $20 a head. Plus, there's no service charge, though the waiters and waitresses are quite good at their jobs.
Our menu included:
1. Chilli soft shell crab noodles from The Garlic Restaurant -- spicy/sweet, very fragrant
2. Mussels with garlic in a claypot -- from the same place, again very tasty
3. Vegetarian pizza -- from Al Dente Trattoria, lots of cheese, not bad
4. Tau hoo with Thai sauce -- from the Thai restaurant ( sorry, can't recall the name right now ), quite delicious
5. Sashimi platter -- from the Japanese restaurant, very very good ( but then, I have a weakness for it! )

The winebar cum club, Embassy, is just next to Colours, so you can retire there for post-dinner fun and drinks. But they play techno music there, so we headed down to Embargo next to One Fullerton instead. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Too bad the parking fee at The Esplanade is $4, really steep, and non-redeemable, aargh!

Last but not least, don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for the following shows:
1. This Wednesday, 18th December, Channel i, at 7pm -- a documentary on Matt Damon's career.
2. X'mas Eve, 12mn, need to check which channel -- Nobody Someday, a documentary on Robbie Williams

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Anyone follow the exploits of Temptation Island 2? Wow, this season was really addictive. :) And the final episode aired just last night. Result: 2 couples split, 2 couples stayed together. But there were also additional twists, and 2 couples' fates changed later on -- the one that broke up got together again, and the one that intended to carry on with each other broke up. Okay, some pretty mindless stuff to preoccupy myself with, but it does offer some lessons for anyone who's ever been in a relationship. The one I felt for the most, surprisingly, wasn't Catherine and Edmundo. No, I actually applaud Kelly for finding strength to leave Mark. If you don't follow the show, you'll be asking, "What???" But for those who do, you may share my views.

As for Scrubs, which I intially hated, I've had a complete turnaround and absolutely love the show now. :) The characters grow on you, especially J.D. and his resident, Dr. Cox. The former is lovably good-hearted, someone we can all identify with as we go through various stages of our medical career, and the latter is a grouch with a hidden heart of gold, fighting the administration to provide proper healthcare for poor patients. In this day and age of materialism, even in a so-called "noble profession", Dr. Coxes are vital in preserving what's left of our dignity.

Speaking of dignity, there was an article in the Life! section of The Sunday Times today, about how men and women react differently to jealousy in relationships -- females tend to stay silent and become depressed, and males respond with violence/rage or drinking binges. ( That's the general gist of it. ) There were a few case reports as well, about how one woman tied her husband's wrist to her own while they slept, and another ( well-publicized ) incident where a woman bashed cars when she suspected her spouse of cheating on her.

Here's what I have to say: the first woman's off her rocker, of course. But the second? She merely did what most females would love to do, but fear to. As a victim of a cheating ex, I can confidently say that if we live in a society without any penal codes, most of the male species would be wiped out. We just have more self-restraint. Food for thought the next time you look at a woman. :)

Thursday, December 12, 2002

This is in continuation to the previous post below. Yes, the server is sucking again.
Of course, there're so many other treasures to dig up. His fear that his little brother's Scottish babysitter is a psychopathic paedophilic killer. His unbelievable interview with the casting agent of "The Real World", previously a hit reality TV show on MTV. His many conflicts with above baby brother, who deliberately behaves as if he's a victim of horrific abuse. His naked sprint along the seaside during a magazine photo shoot, describing the flopping of a certain part of his anatomy as "a bird shaking the life out of a worm".
But this book may appeal to other medical professionals like myself, because of his many references to the sick -- his parents, his friends, cancer, suicidal attempts, traumatic intracranial haemorrhages. His experiences are accurately and sensitively depicted, again with a dose of intelligent wit.
Word of caution: don't read this with any expectations beforehand, 'cos it will shatter them all. Just buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

A sidepoint here. I noticed an article in Life! today, about some awards ceremony for the local Chinese channel actors, written by Lionel Seah. This guy was kinda snooty, saying things like how someone's outfit was the cheapest, how someone's makeup was too heavy, etc. The nastiness made my stomach turn. Hey Lionel, Sharon Stone once wore a T-shirt under a jacket to a swanky event, and was congratulated for it. If you've got class, you don't need a $10,000 dress in order to look like a million bucks. And he actually thinks Zoe Tay's gown was fantastic? This is in no way an insult to Zoe, but the outfit looked like a dead spider -- or make that many dead spiders. Some people have the weirdest taste.
Okay, Blogger seems to be working again. The maintenance people really need to do something about the server problem.

First up, Derek and Drew were eliminated! Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhh! It was a terrible twist of fate, and they couldn't find the clue and were beaten by Ken and Gerard. So sad. Really really sad. Ho Chi Minh City is a real mess, by the way.
And guess what? They misspelled our international airport's name -- "Changai"?!?!? Hello??? Someone needs a caning.

And I suppose you expect me to comment on the finale of The Bachelor? Sorry, it was dullsville, so I'm not going to spend anymore time on it. I think The Bachelor 2 will be lots more fun. Too bad I already know who gets chosen in the end.

I'm finishing up a very good book -- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers -- which has been in my possession for maybe a year, but which I only picked up last week because I finally found the time to read something other than patient files and textbooks. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, this autobiography rocks, and anyone who doesn't find anything to laugh about in here must be dead. Eggers writes with a manic-depressive tic, oscillating between euphoria and misery with disturbing ease. He almosts degenerates into mindless rambling at times, but is saved by an incredible writing style. He engages the reader, drawing you into his world, letting you share his intimate secrets, exposing his innermost thoughts.
The novel opens with his account of his mother's battle with terminal stomach cancer, with a detailed description of the various ways of coping with epistaxis secondary to thrombocytopenia. He somehow manages to inject humour into the situation -- something about how ridiculous it would be for his mom to die from a lousy nosebleed. And it's this particular trait -- the ability to find something funny in any situation, no matter how miserable -- that makes AHWOSG a riveting read.
Having some trouble posting at the moment, will continue another time when the stupid Blogger server starts working properly again.
My leave is ending soon, sob! Okay, better start prepping myself for the ward rounds and night calls which will resume next week. Can't believe time passes so quickly. Sigh.
Anyway, I realize that my Changi compatriots follow my blog on and off, so if David or Siau Chuin is reading this, I'm very grateful for your help in covering the MICU while I'm away. Hope the mortality rounds haven't been too stressful, and please let me buy you a meal when I return. :)


The Amazing Race 3 episode last week was excellent! First, let me say, "Aieee, Drew and Derek were in Singapore! " Sorry :P But I still don't understand what all the hullabaloo about PCK being chosen to appear is all about. He's described as "a popular TV star", not "a typical Singaporean". And I think he performed very well on the show, being his bubbly and crazy self.
I also applaud those who thought up the tasks for the competitors. Very imaginative stuff that also proved challenging. First, a race to the Orchid Gardens, then a detour, either to the zoo or Choa Chu Kang, followed by a trip to The Fountain of Wealth, and a run to Mt. Faber ( the pitstop ). Considering how even I sometimes get lost navigating the roads here, the teams did remarkably well on their own, and with right-hand driving some more. They even found block whatever, unit whatever, in Choa Chu Kang avenue or street whatever. Wow, I'm impressed.
Everyone's a strong player this time round, and it's anybody's guess who will emerge the victors. My favourites are the twins, of course, but mostly because they've proven to be forces to be reckoned with, and that pretty-boy looks doesn't always equal brains the size of peas, mind you. They're also nice, and haven't played any dirty tricks on the others, unlike the gay couple in the first Amazing Race ( boy, I detested those guys! ). My next fav are Ken and Gerard, the balding brothers who laugh and smile all the time. Ian and Teri -- the bickering middle-aged couple -- are a hoot to watch, and may make it to the final 3, but win? Nah. If the previous 2 seasons are anything to go by, the very last episode always features some dragged-out sprint to the finish line, something Drew and Derek will have no problems with, while Ken/Gerard and Ian/Teri will probably pass out from.
An interesting little twist is provided by Flo and Zach, who describe themselves as "good friends" but appear to be more. Zach seems to have feelings for Flo, but she's blatantly flirting with Drew ( was wondering why Drew and not Derek, but Derek's the one with a wedding ring. Ohhhhhhh... :)) Anyway, Flo's terrible lah. She's so hung on Drew it's nauseating, and I feel so sorry for Zach sometimes. He's such a nice guy, putting up with her screaming tantrums, never losing his temper or patience, carrying her backpacks whenever she gets exhausted, never complaining about anything. Let Drew have her! Zach deserves so much better.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Ah, being on leave is fantastic. :D Ok, let's get down to it!

Josh Groban's releasing a Christmas DVD/CD package, probably within the next week or so. It's a recording of a PBS concert he gave in October, and includes bonus tracks like his wonderful rendition of "O Holy Night" -- available on his website -- and "Broken Vow" ( which was sent to me by Diane, a lovely Japanese-American lady ). The latter has taken my breath away -- an understatement in itself! Any of you who want to hear this beautiful beautiful song, just email me ( ) and I'll forward it to you. I can't wait to get my hands on the DVD!

Just bought "Escapology" by Robbie Williams. Had a quick listen, and have to say that I still prefer his 2 previous albums -- Sing When You're Winning ( with gems like "Rock DJ", "Supreme", "Better Man" and "Eternity" ) and Swing When You're Winning ( his coup de grace! ). Escapology has some nice ones, of course, such as "Feel", "Something Beautiful" and some irreverently nonsensical yet hilarious songs like "Me And My Monkey", with lyrics that relate how his pet cum travel companion was being hunted by the mob. But most of the CD comprises heavy rock, which I found a tad too noisy for my taste. But hey, being a diehard fan, it hasn't stopped me from playing it in my car this past week!

On to reality TV. Tune in to Channel 5 on Thursday at 7:30pm for "The Amazing Race 3: Destination - Singapore". Yep, the cat's out of the bag, and Drew and Derek, the hubba-hubba twin models, were actually in our country! And Gurmit Singh got to meet them! ( Not that it matters to him, I guess. ) It's a 2-hour special, promising lots of laughs and good footage, so don't miss it.

The last episode of "The Bachelor" is next Monday night, and had a fun time watching "The Women Tell All" version yesterday. After thinking Shannon was a prude initially, I now have great respect for her. But I also don't judge Alex for his choice. Some men are ruled by their dumb-sticks ( a term borrowed from "Ally McBeal" ) rather than their brains, and as long as the women they end up with are willing to pander to that, good for them. Thank goodness Aaron Buerge, the hunk from "The Bachelor 2" isn't so shallow. Yes, I know who he chose, thanks to People magazine, and guess what? The lady refused to sleep with him, and he still proposed. Aaaah, if only there were more guys like him. :)

Speaking of People magazine, I've got the issue featuring Ben Affleck, who's been picked as 2002's Sexiest Man Alive. Not top on my list, but I do like him, and have sufficient background info to know that he is indeed a great fellow. And in case you're interested, my choices would've been either Viggo Mortensen ( Aragorn in LOTR, Gwyneth Paltrow's lover in "A Perfect Murder" ) or Richard Gere. But I really worry that his marriage to J. Lo will end in disaster, and make him turn back to alcoholism. So here's wishing you good luck, Ben.

Also attended a concert by The Swingles Singers last Saturday at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Thoroughly enjoyable! Pure a cappella, and of an admirable standard. I was a little surprised by the young age of the members, plus the fact that 2 of the guys are very good-looking. :) The abundance of Christmas songs was a big bonus, with sprinklings of their trademark vocal renditions of classical pieces -- in this particular set, themes from "Star Wars", "Mission: Impossible", and a killer "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky. My personal favourites, though, were the Spanish songs: "The Girl From Ipanema" had me swooning, while "The Soul Bossa Nova" ( aka the catchy tune from Austin Powers and the World Cup 2002 ads ) had us in stitches because of its nifty accompanying choreography. And yes, humour is a big part of their performance, thanks to a curly-haired tenor who even pointed out that the spotlight overhanging the stage reminds him of the spaceship from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" -- and it does, by the way. Thank goodness the audience was appreciative, calling the group back for 3 encores, before they indicated their fatigue by singing a lullaby for their last piece, bidding us goodnight and asking us to "go to sleep". Bravo, Swingles! If you're hungry for more info, here's their website address.

Before I sign off, here're more VCD reviews.

Bend It Like Beckham
Didn't really like it, sad to say. Despite all the rave reviews, I found the humour forced, and the story less than inspiring. But it's an overall good effort anyhow. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is fun to watch, doing terrific things for white shirts. :)

About A Boy
Now this one, I absolutely love! Hugh Grant stars as Will, a guy who literally "does nothing", living off royalties from the single hit X'mas song his late father penned decades ago, leading a swinging bachelor's life and hitting on single moms ( ie. extremely vulnerable women ). He starts off loathsome, but later meets Marcus, a precocious yet insightfully intelligent boy who manages to touch Will's heart and later transform him into a better person. Based on Nick Hornby's bestselling novel ( he also wrote "High Fidelity", which made me laugh out loud, but tanked as a film, despite the presence of my idol, John Cusack ), the humour is wry yet guffaw-inducing, and helped in large part by the excellent casting of Grant, Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, and Toni Collette as Marcus' depressed mum. Hoult, in particular, shines, and almost steals the show, portraying an awkward teen who has to cope with a miserable mother and a new school. At first bearing unnerving resemblance to Damien, the devil incarnate from "The Omen", he later shows his true colours and worms his way into our hearts, making us cry and cheer for him as he faces life's many obstacles and subsequently triumphs. Grant, on the other hand, looks lovely without his trademark wimpy flop of a fringe, and pulls off a great performance -- I may even go as far as to say it's his best work so far. Now if only I have time to read the book!

The Sum Of All Fears
Yet another one of Ben Affleck's forays into the mainstream blockbuster action film genre, but this time flanked by heavyweights Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, and a very charismatic Liev Schrieber ( who played Meg Ryan's ex-fiance in "Kate & Leopold" but portrays a ruthless CIA operative/assassin here ). As a younger version of Jack Ryan, Affleck does an admirable job, and is convincing as he rattles off political jargon about Russian presidents and rebel generals. Interestingly, there isn't much hands-on fighting on his part, most of it being carried out by Schrieber or other bit actors in the movie. This remains predominantly a talkie film, with tense, well-written dialogue as the centrepiece. The only blast comes from the nuclear bomb, a scene that is both awesome and harrowing. The first hour is slow, but don't give up, 'cos the 2nd hour is gripping, rivalling "The Hunt For Red October", "Crimson Tide" and (my personal fav) "Thirteen Days" in terms of edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Murder By Numbers
I highly recommend this exceptional thriller, which details how 2 rich prep school students think they've committed the perfect crime, only to be outsmarted by an intuitive homicide detective ( a very convincing Sandra Bullock ). The taut script and direction keep the pace brisk, and special mention goes to the very capable young actors -- Ryan Gosling ( the rascally Richard Haywood ) and Michael Pitt ( brainiac Justin Pendleton ). Had me biting my nails the whole time.

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone
I rented this purely to relive the experience. I've seen it only once, and that was a whole year ago, and am not really sure why I didn't watch it again till now. But I sat down and viewed the first hour last night, and couldn't stop grinning after the first 10 minutes -- the start of the film, if you recall, is dreadful, because it depicts Harry's life with his awful aunt, uncle and cousin. But as soon as the owls started arriving with the letters summoning Harry to Hogwarts, I got goosebumps, and a smile began to spread across my face. It's certainly a fantastic show, and it's pretty amusing seeing the young actors in their pre-pubertal states. I can't get over how darn cute they all are. :) If you ever have a bad day, this is the movie to watch!