Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Week In Review

After boycotting American Idol season 10 for a week, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to watch the final 2 episodes.

I definitely had very high hopes for this bunch. There was a lot of talent ( except for Paul McDonald, whom I consider the biggest fluke ever. ), but voters were inconsistent, especially in their treatment of Casey Abrams.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. He's the best of the lot, and deserved to be in the finals. The only other contestant I deem a worthy contender is James Durbin.

As Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson have said countless times: this is a singing competition. Instead, AI10 has turned into some weird popularity contest, and I can bet the new Facebook voting option ( which allows up to 50 votes per person ) resulted in tweens and teens staying glued to their computers / iPhones / iPads, frantically clicking away.

How else to explain the freakish success of the mediocre? Lauren Alaina has a voice, but Pia Toscano beat her hollow before being unceremoniously eliminated early in the competition.

And Scotty McCreery? I fail to understand the appeal. He looks very ordinary, sounds bland, and lacks charisma. I'm sure he's a nice, innocent young man, but winner of the AI title? Nah...

I'm sure Lauren and Scotty will gain confidence and maturity with time. But will they be lucky enough to attain Carrie Underwood's degree of success? Something tells me they probably won't.

Always rooting for Casey and James. I hope they get recording deals and outsell the 2 finalists. :)

Are you excited about X-Men: First Class, due for worldwide release on June 3rd? Can't believe I didn't post a picture till now.

The star-studded cast includes Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, and Jennifer Lawrence ( Best Actress Oscar nominee from True Grit, in case you're wondering ), but none of them compares to the 2 leads, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender ( pictured ).

McAvoy fans will know him well from The Last King Of Scotland, Atonement, Becoming Jane and Wanted ( I own many of his films on DVD :)). When I first learned he landed the role of the young Professor X, I was practically swooning. Because it's one of the coolest superhero roles ever, and this fine actor is perfect for pulling it off.

If the special effects don't swallow him up, I'm prepared to be awed by his talent once again. I predict a sensitive yet strong performance, peppered with heart-pounding action sequences that show off his physicality in the best possible way ( remember his turn in Wanted? I love that movie! :)).

Someone I'm watching closely - already mentioned in the previous entry - is, of course, Michael Fassbender. This being perhaps his biggest role yet, I hope he does well so it will lead to even better offers in the future.
After remaining just under the radar for years ( audiences might have noticed him in Inglourious Basterds, but didn't catch his name ), this could be his breakthrough performance, and he definitely has an edge over McAvoy with his tall lanky frame and movie star looks. But Jane Eyre isn't his best moment. Blame the makeup artist.

Last but not least, the movie poster for Tintin! I don't know about you, but I think it's fabulous. :D

Short post. Am still in the midst of a bad week, and nursing a painful mouth ulcer.

Friday, May 20, 2011


It's been 3 weeks since the last blog entry and of course, lots has happened.
The General Election revealed major cracks in certain constituencies which were considered sure-wins for the ruling party, and the Workers' Party secured a coup in Aljunied.

PAP supporters may hail the overall result as favourable, but considering the fact that the opposition contested many districts for the very first time, the proportion of votes for the latter was indeed significant. Even in Marine Parade, which is led by behemoth Senior Minister Goh, the PAP scraped by with only 57% of the total vote.
Not good...

In the subsequent weeks, there've been major reshuffles in the Cabinet, something I can never quite understand. For example, the Education Minister will now be in charge of Defence, and he's actually a breast surgeon by training. The ex-chief of the Monetary Authority of Singapore will take over at the Ministry of Education. Excuse me, but HUH???

And let's not forget the exit of our Senior Minister and Minister Mentor. However, I have a gut feeling it's all for show. We can imagine what happens behind closed doors, especially when the ex-MM is the PM's father. These people don't have normal dinner conversations like the rest of us, okay?

Anyway, we shall see how the new arrangement pans out.

On to more lighthearted topics.
This poster is for an upcoming comedy due for release in July, starring Kevin Spacey. Check out the cool trailer here.

The only cast member who looks out of place is Jennifer Aniston. Playing a sadistic maneater dentist with a penchant for phallus-shaped food. Err, yuck?

I fully expect Mr. Spacey to outshine everyone. Nobody matches him in the nasty-boss character department. Perfect example: Buddy Ackerman in Swimming With Sharks. My favourite KS role ever!

I do, however, like Jason Bateman a lot. Since his Hogan Family days on TV, in fact.

Looks like it's going to be one big rollercoaster ride. Will it come to Singapore?

Watched the much-hyped Jane Eyre last night at the newly renovated Lido cineplex. There were only approximately 100 seats in the theatre, but with lots of leg room. Audience comprised mostly middle-aged Caucasian couples and locals in their 20s or 30s. A generally well-behaved crowd except for 2 idiots seated behind me, who giggled during almost every scene, but shut up when I loudly told my irritated mother, "They're probably DRUNK!" :)

So does the film live up to my expectations? Definitely not. This is a problem when I read movie reviews. I start getting extremely excited and prepare to be blown away, only to be disappointed. But I'm not saying it was a bad show. Just that it wasn't quite worthy of all the praise it received.

The cast is very respectable. Mia Wasikowska, who became a household name in Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, has made some interesting choices since her big debut, recently in Oscar darling The Kids Are All Right. My cousin's 15-year-old daughter also happens to be her doppelganger, albeit with Asian features. I'm not kidding. :)

There's also Judi Dench, whose dignified presence is always dependable. And Jamie Bell is another favourite of mine, after his breakthrough performance in Billy Elliot ( the movie, not the musical ).

But the actor I was most eager to see was Michael Fassbender ( pictured above ), someone whose name didn't really register though he played a memorable role in Inglourious Basterds ( he looks fabulous in military attire :)), but who impressed enough in the Jane Eyre trailer to make me leave my home on a weekday and drive downtown to catch a late night screening.

I deliberately avoided YouTube clips of cast interviews, though I enjoyed the trailers immensely ( Gothic horror, wooo! ). It was the right decision, since I just found out he isn't British ( watch this clip ). Don't know about the rest of you, but this would've spoiled the whole experience for me.

IMHO, the only reason anyone should see a TV / film adaptation of Jane Eyre is Mr. Rochester. Same goes for Mr. Darcy in Pride And Prejudice. Casting this role is vital to the production's success, and in this respect, I believe Fassbender excels.

He may not be as handsome as I had hoped ( makeup artist, hello? ), but his performance is sufficiently tormented, even if his chemistry with co-star Wasikowska is rather lacking. The pivotal scene where Jane tells Rochester she is leaving Thornfield is meant to be heart-wrenching, with the latter tearfully begging her to stay.

Fassbender handles this beautifully, though again, I felt some discomfort seeing him and the very young Wasikowska locked in a tight embrace.

Perhaps other scenes are more palatable, and I am confident I will enjoy the film after watching it a few more times ( same thing happened with Pride & Prejudice ). Check out this clip. And how about this one? Fassbender's "You transfix me quite." is simple, yet enough to make one's heart race. I love Victorian love stories. :)

So how does the lead actress fare? I think she does a pretty good job considering her relative inexperience and the heaviness of the material. I believe she will improve further with time, the same way Natalie Portman did this past decade.

My biggest complaint, I suppose, is the editing. How much of it is the fault of director Cary Fukunaga versus film editor Melanie Oliver is anyone's guess. Condensing this particular novel into 2 hours is no mean feat. Remaking it for the 21st century audience is even tougher. Joe Wright did a marvelous job with Pride & Prejudice. Unfortunately, Jane Eyre does not live up to that standard.

Still, it isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours at the cinema, especially if you're a literature fan. And pay attention to the soundtrack, composed by Dario Marianelli ( also responsible for Pride & Prejudice and Atonement ).

Besides, I have another opportunity to see Fassbender in action soon, as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, with one of my fave actors, James McAvoy. Looking forward to that! :D

In the meantime, I'm going to rewatch his performance in Inglourious Basterds. Rakishly dashing as Lt. Archie Hicox, easily the best-looking male in the entire cast! Can't believe I didn't check his name in the credits. Here's a link that works. He appears at 64:30, continuing on to the superb, tense tavern scene. ( Sadly, Hicox dies. )

Cable has endless reruns. Shall record this the next time it airs. :)

I am highlighting this TV series because I watched it many years ago, when I was in primary or secondary school. Local stations used to broadcast BBC productions back then, and I loved it so much I bought the DVD recently. It is an EXCELLENT adaptation, mainly because of Timothy Dalton ( previously James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill ).

Regardless of how his career has nose-dived since his 007 heyday, I will always remember Dalton as one of the finest British actors around. I also consider him my favourite James Bond ( second fave: Daniel Craig :)).

Here's a YouTube clip of that pivotal scene I mentioned earlier. It is a million times more affecting than Fukunaga's version. Watch Dalton as he paces the room like a restless lion, breathless with anxiety and fear. Listen to his voice, thunderous then tremulous. See the tear trickle down his left cheek as he kisses his co-star, holding her tight against his chest.

If you don't want to buy the DVD, then watch the entire series in 10-minute installments, on YouTube. Your choice. :)

Before I sign off, a link to the official trailer for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, due for release this Christmas.

I love the comic book series. I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. I took The Lord Of The Rings tours when I visited New Zealand in 2003, and our guide drove us right past Jackson's home in Wellington. So yes, I will be watching this at the cineplex! :)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Turning Point?

I have cast a vote at the General Election only once in my life. That was in 1997, when I was 21.

It is indeed sad that, in a First World country like Singapore, the majority of citizens isn't given the opportunity to exercise a basic right by participating in a democratic process at regular intervals.

There was a period when the younger generation was criticized for being politically apathetic. Now, as Generation Y comes of age and harnesses the power of the Internet, the tide has turned, and it is nothing short of a tsunami.

I remember how, back in 1997, I attended a Workers' Party rally at Yio Chu Kang Stadium, and heard Tang Liang Hong stir the tens of thousands who attended, with an impassioned speech in multiple languages and dialects. It was an unforgettable experience, and I felt very sorry for him when Cheng San went to the PAP, and he was forced to flee the country.

This year, I see a worthy TLH successor in the form of the National Solidarity Party's Nicole Seah. I have been viewing YouTube clips of her rally speeches, and she is a remarkable speaker, especially when you consider her tender age.

Hot issues being debated include the skyrocketing costs of living, subsidies for the poor and elderly, ministerial pay, etc. There is significant overlap with what was covered back in 1997, and I can't help wondering: is it because the ruling party isn't solving these chronic problems, or are they merely part and parcel of any country's general woes?

What the PAP needs to worry about now are the increasingly disgruntled 20- to 30-something-year-old voters, who are much more vocal and unafraid of telling you to go f*** yourself. They eagerly engage senior politicians and, as illustrated by a recent university student's witty quip to the Prime Minister, are more than capable of making you look stupid in front of the mass media.

In 1997, my mind was made up the minute the GE was announced.
This time, I remain undecided 5 days before Polling Day.

Being 14 years older is a factor. At 21, my comprehension of political issues was hazy, and my vote was significantly influenced by my parents' views.
One's temperament shifts over the course of a decade. So does one's ability to exercise moderation in the face of controversy and inflamed emotions.

While it is true that the PAP has messed up in certain areas, it has also succeeded on other fronts. However, the opposition will naturally gravitate towards the former in order to win votes. This can be a double-edged sword - a decision made in anger is rarely the right one. A cooling off period the day before polling will do nothing to extinguish that.

If the PAP is startled by the degree of hostility they're witnessing from many Singaporeans, it didn't develop overnight. Every General Election sees its fair share of political rallies, and the crowds at opposition party events easily outnumber those at the PAP's. The same issues are brought up, and every 5 years, the resentment builds further. Many have been waiting for the chance to cast their votes, and now... they have it.

It's practically confirmed that the ruling party will lose a few constituencies. The extent of that loss, however, is open to speculation. I moved to a new residence 5 years ago, and now stay in a neighbourhood which is considered a PAP stronghold. Imagine my surprise when this stronghold got contested by an opposition party, led by someone from another district. Apparently, he feels confident enough to run here, and the PAP's response can be described as 'panic mode'.

So that makes me a 'swing vote', correct? We're the ones the politicians will fight the hardest for, since we could go either way. Whichever party I end up voting for, I hope it will realize that times have changed, and certain issues that have been hanging over our heads for eons need to be addressed once and for all. As costs of living reach unbearable levels, even middle-income ( or upper middle-income ) groups will feel the pinch, and you can't just focus on the welfare of those with low salaries. Singles - especially those taking care of elderly parents - should not be ignored when dishing out financial goodies. Foreign talent has its advantages, but should not result in the marginalization of Singaporeans.

The biggest mistake the PAP may be making is the refusal to admit accountability for certain actions they have taken. I, for one, place more value in a person who is willing to accept criticism, re-evaluate his stand, and hopefully alter his decision when presented with hard facts and unpleasant truths, than somebody who refuses to listen and repeatedly defends himself in the face of indisputable evidence.

Trying to attend a few opposition party rallies this week. May post an entry if I succeed.