Sunday, May 27, 2012

10 Years And Counting

This entry comes about 10 days early, but considering my upcoming schedule, I thought it best to write something early rather than late.

It's the first time I'm celebrating a blog anniversary, so it seems appropriate to start at the very beginning.

When I first began blogging, it was a hobby more than anything else. I just wanted something to divert my attention from work, which was stressful and at times downright depressing.

I remember being an orthopaedics MO in June 2002, often sequestered in the emergency department's plaster room for 24 hours, or doing wards rounds and assisting in theatre, none of which I enjoyed.

It was all part of a bigger plan, of course. I wanted to be an emergency physician, and rotations were an essential part of the training. Somehow, venting on the Internet helped ease the journey, and for some strange reason, I developed a small following not long after the site was launched.

Looking back, the past decade has been truly amazing. Yes, I grouch and bitch a lot, but hey, I completed my training, passed the exit exam, and turned consultant in 2010. I found my calling in emergency ultrasound, and now have so many teaching and administrative commitments I seldom have enough free time to sleep or engage in meaningful recreational activities ( TV and swimming don't count ).

I've also travelled quite a bit, finally fulfilling long simmering dreams to see countries I'd only read or heard about since childhood. I now count New York as my favourite city, followed by Paris and Tokyo. However, every trip has been a blessing, and I look forward to more. :)

The other major milestones? Definitely celebrity encounters. 2004 kickstarted the cycle when Jamie Cullum grabbed my hand during an impromptu moment at his showcase at a nightclub. Since then, my luck and persistence have paid off abundantly in the form of meet-and-greets with Michael Buble ( 2005 ), Peter Cincotti ( 2005 and 2008 ), Jason Mraz ( 2009 ), Kevin Spacey ( 2010 and 2011 ), Jonathan Groff ( 2011 ) and David Foster ( 2011 ).

Kevin Spacey, in whose honour this blog is named, remains a source of inspiration after 15 years. I will always be grateful for his reply to my fan letter in early 2011, and although I have yet to hear from him since his November '11 visit to Singapore ( fan letter and donation to his foundation successfully handed over ), I remain supportive and hopeful of a return trip in the near future.

In addition, special mention goes to all the new friends I've met through the blog, from a local doctor based overseas, to a friend's brother's younger sis who's become a great pal, to a fellow emergency physician at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital who was instrumental in introducing me to a world-renowned professor.

Last but not least, I have not forgotten the SARS saga, which I charted on this site that fateful year, conveying the local medical community's many struggles to a global audience that shared our pain and offered prayers daily.

It was a humbling experience, though one I hope will never repeat itself. But the seeds have been sown, and despite my chronic procrastination, rest assured that I have made progress in my writing efforts, and that I will accomplish what I set out to do many years ago, no matter what it takes.

So thank you for reading; thank you for accompanying me on this journey; there's much more on the way. :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

50/50 - A Review

I first heard and read about 50/50 while in New York last September, with a distinct memory of a making-of segment on continuous loop on a TV screen in the back of a taxi which was hurtling through traffic.

What followed was lots of Oscar buzz, but somehow, no major nominations materialized, and I stored this title for consumption at a later date.

I don't know why it took me more than 6 months to sit down and watch it. Maybe it's the subject matter: young guy diagnosed with cancer. I mean, I'm all for "indie" films, but I see enough death and illness daily in the ER. I don't need more of it at home on the goggle box, my last place of refuge from depression and suicide.

So imagine my surprise when I ended up loving the movie, so much in fact that I would say it's one of the best I've ever seen, and probably the best where the cancer / terminal illness topic is concerned.

There're a few spoilers ahead, so you've been warned.

Where should I start?

How about at the very beginning, when we see Adam ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) jogging in Seattle? He stops at a red light on a quiet morning; the roads are completely empty; someone runs across the street but he stubbornly stays put.

Those couple of minutes pass by in the blink of an eye, but the significance is not lost on me, and the patient viewer will be duly rewarded throughout the rest of the film.

Adam's story is written by Will Reiser and partially based on his own experience with cancer, which I think adds a lot of authenticity to the script.

Although I say I avoid shows like this because of my job, another big reason is the fact that many such movies make a mockery of the situation. The characters are near death but look like a million bucks ( Autumn In New York, Sweet November ). Or they're dying and still super-horny ( Autumn In New York, Sweet November, Dying Young ). Or they decide to build a house ( Life As A House ).

Have you ever seen a really sick patient? They're pale, skinny, lethargic and have zero interest in screwing or swinging a hammer.

50/50's accurate depiction of Adam's struggle with cancer won me over immediately. After he's diagnosed, you never see him exercise ever again. He becomes pallid and tired, with dark circles under his eyes. Makeup, I know, but I appreciate the effort!

The film's appeal doesn't end there. Another surprise comes in the form of humour. Not heh-heh-chuckles funny, but laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Nothing is off limits - Adam's tumour ( "the more syllables it has, the worse it is" ), Adam's girlfriend ( too dirty to print haha ), Adam's friend Kyle's raging hormones and penchant for marijuana ( look out for the night blindness excuse :D).

There aren't many movies where every scene, every word spoken or unspoken, has significance. I'm a fan of "intimate" films, some of which are kooky, most of which never reach blockbuster status - Into The Wild, There Will Be Blood, Lars And The Real Girl, Shame - except maybe a handful like American Beauty, Dead Poets Society and Sixth Sense.
50/50 joins this illustrious list for its poignant script - which left me in stitches then in tears - and deft direction by Jonathan Levine ( who also helmed teen-horror-flick-with-a-twist All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, which I think is excellent by the way ).

But it is the cast who make the 100 minutes zip by so enjoyably. Seth Rogen, whom I've always felt rather ambivalent about, steals my heart with his sensitive portrayal of Kyle. Unlike most BFFs who are written as either clowns or psychos, Kyle is refreshingly real and familiar, possessing traits all of us would recognize in ourselves or our friends. His love for Adam gradually builds up momentum, until a simple but key scene late in the film - involving a self-help book - drives the message home.

Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, who plays therapist Katherine, turns in yet another sharp performance here. We share Adam's incredulity when she reveals her age and lack of experience, but their relationship evolves at a reasonable pace, and she soon proves to be extremely insightful despite her youthful appearance.

Anjelica Huston's Diane ( Adam's mother ) actually reminds me a lot of my own mom - protective, strong-willed and sometimes hard to handle ( heh ). But Katherine's advice that "You can't change who your parents are. The only thing you can change is how you choose to deal with them." rings true.

Even Bryce Dallas Howard's thankless role as the horrible girlfriend should be savoured. She brings a whole new meaning to the word "betrayal".

Last but not least, Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves endless accolades for an absolutely dazzling tour de force. The role was originally offered to James McAvoy, who would've done a terrific job with it if he hadn't bowed out due to a family emergency. But JGL is marvelous despite stepping in a week before shooting began.

I've been a fan since his days on 3rd Rock From The Sun, and I couldn't be happier when he finally hit the big time with ( 500 ) Days Of Summer and Inception. Although already 31, he pulls off the role of 27-year-old Adam effortlessly, never sinking into melodramatic self-pity. If only all young people were as stoic as he is. :)

In any movie like this, the lead actor or actress' greatest challenge is getting the audience to embark on a journey with the character and push to the finish line, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it may be. What's even harder is transmitting the character's deep pain directly to the viewer. Sure, it's easy to shed a few tears during well-orchestrated moments. But there's a scene where Adam sits in Kyle's car and finally succumbs to his suffering, letting it rip with a gut-wrenching scream that hit all my synapses like a freaking sledgehammer.

I don't know how else to describe it. I hope you get my drift.

JGL was robbed of an Oscar nomination this year, and so was Michael Fassbender ( Shame ). I honestly don't know how the Academy of Arts and Sciences, which prides itself on recognizing excellence in film, can overlook 2 outstanding performances in favour of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who are practically mediocre in comparison.

I used to think The Artist deserved the Best Picture honour. Not anymore.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fifty Shades, Suits & A Certain Mr. Renner

As we near mid-2012, I find multiple sources of inspiration for a new blog entry. :)

First, a novel which is receiving tonnes of media attention, not unlike the Twilight series which had hordes of teenage girls ( and quite a few women ) lusting after vampires and werewolves.

I came across the Fifty Shades trilogy a few weeks ago, via an encounter so fleeting I have no clear memory of it, except a hastily scribbled book title on my to-read list.

The second time was much clearer - an article in Time magazine, in which editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe practically lambasts author EL James for her poor literary style and horrendous description of copulation.

Bad review notwithstanding, it was enough to send me scrambling for the nearest bookstore the next day. Believe it or not, family-friendly Popular stocks the stuff, albeit in a discreet corner where only the desperate or resourceful can find it. :)

I've been reading the first part - Fifty Shades Of Grey - for about a week now, and concur with Luscombe on many counts. Though I don't write about romance novels much on this blog, I used to devour them during my formative years in secondary school and junior college.

Barbara Cartland, Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught were personal faves, but more hard-core fare from the likes of Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins also featured prominently, even while in primary school. ( Yes, mum, you should've locked your cupboards. :))

James' work pales in comparison to these well-established authors. The plot is simplistic and requires major suspension of disbelief. Aside from Christian Grey, the other characters grate on my nerves. And yes, for someone who has 700 romance novels in her attic, James' sex-act vocabulary is in dire need of a thesaurus' assistance.

So why do I persist? I've hit the 300+-page mark and show no signs of slowing down. I stay up way past my bedtime, and frequently surf the Internet for casting rumours - Ryan Gosling for Christian? Lily Collins for Anastasia?

This is the magical effect of the hype phenomenon, also credited for the success of Twilight, a 4-book series which is pretty awful but somehow made bestseller lists and broke box-office records when it became an equally awful movie franchise.

I've read all the novels and watched all the films, so I'm not hypothesizing here.

Hype isn't always a good thing, but the curiosity it generates can be intoxicating. Perhaps it's basic human instinct that makes us yearn to be part of something bigger, something everyone's talking about. We don't want to be left out or labelled ignorant. We don't want to be alone.

For me, hype results in a rather reckless compulsion. Once I start reading a book, unless it's a total train wreck ( best example: Thomas Harris' Hannibal Rising, blech ), I can - and must - finish it.

Like most romantic tales, Fifty Shades pits a virtuous girl against a worldly older man. She's all wide-eyed innocence, blushing under his "intense gaze". He enjoys making her squirm, but she demonstrates her own capacity for seduction despite her inexperience. Any of this sound familiar?

My last foray into the world of romance was 4 years ago, when I ploughed through all 4 Twilight books, which made my head spin, and not in the best way.

Fifty Shades, I'm happy to report, fares better. I don't think I can tolerate another dose of teen angst, though I'm tempted to read The Hunger Games at some point.

If you're wondering about the "sexual acrobatics" everyone's talking about, rest assured that it's actually pretty mild. I don't know what happens in Book Two, but Fifty Shades Of Grey is plodding along at a leisurely pace, and the S&M action is maybe a 3 on a scale of 10.

( I've read hard-core stuff in the past. Don't ask me how I got it. :))

Anyway, I wish James the best of luck in her career. I think she'll improve with time, and I am always supportive of someone who shares my own love for writing, no matter what form it takes. ( Thank you also for the Twitter message, which was a most pleasant surprise! :))

More to follow as I progress...

Here's a long delayed review of what I consider to be one of the MOST AWESOME TV shows I've come across in a long time.

I literally chanced upon Suits while watching Smash on local cable. The latter ended and I had nothing else scheduled, so I decided to give it a go.

I'm so glad I did! The pilot blew my mind into another galaxy, and I've been hooked ever since.

Don't be fooled by the dodgy premise: a sharp senior litigator in a top law firm hires a new associate, knowing that he never even went to law school.

Patrick J. Adams' star is rising as he infuses Mike Ross with a lovely mixture of intelligence, charm and innocence.

But it is Gabriel Macht who steals the show - and my heart :) - as Harvey Spector, a tough but fair mentor who dispenses nuggets of ruthless advice, yet displays intermittent moments of compassion and guilt when Ross appeals to his conscience.

The script is top-notch ( you need large doses of caffeine to keep up! ), the acting superb, the humour classic ( laugh-out-loud moments abound! ), and the cases absolutely fascinating.


Last but not least, a little homage to Jeremy Renner, whom I've been paying a lot of attention to in recent months.

The Avengers is a fun movie, and deserves to reap huge profits. But I am not a comic book fan, and although Robert Downey Jr. is 3rd on my list of favourite actors, I went to this film because of Renner.

I have no idea if his portrayal of Hawkeye is faithful to the source material, but he blew my socks off, and the opportunity for a spinoff should not be missed!

Can't wait to see him in full action star mode in The Bourne Legacy. :D