Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Epilogue - New Year Resolutions That Will Make Me Happier ( and which I probably won't keep :))

Nag my junior doctors less.

You're right, I should stop caring so much. About poorly taken history, dodgy medication orders, the inability to interpret basic test results, and abominable ( lack of ) documentation. Most of the time, nagging doesn't work. It only gives me a dry mouth, lengthens each review by a few minutes, and the entire cycle repeats itself the next day because most of it doesn't sink in.

Besides, for all I know, even Talley O'Connor also gave up long ago and the textbook's Cardiovascular System now just says, "Who the hell cares?" ( or maybe every chapter says that lol ). Because Talley O'Connor wants to live long and prosper too, you know.

Ignore ugly Singaporeans.

They'll only get uglier. Locals these days like to fight over the smallest things, especially Hello Kitty dolls from McDonald's. At the hospital, they kick up a fuss over "long" waiting times ( 30 minutes to see the doctor, 2 hours for a bed, 4 hours for a specialist consult - the last one's not our fault okay? Who knows why XX doctor isn't answering his phone, or running clinic when an emergency activation occurs? ).

Anyway, where was I again? Ah yes, ugly Singaporeans should be left to their own devices. Don't bother to tell them off or your photo will end up on STOMP. If you're driving, at least make sure your car is bigger and faster than your opponent's if you're still keen on putting up a fight. But watch out for speed cameras and traffic police perched on overhead bridges - no point getting fined for being a righteous dude / dudette!

As for my pesky upstairs neighbours who think dragging furniture and bouncing balls at 7am and midnight is great fun, I have 2 words for them: ear plugs. :)

Be a social butterfly.

Conforming can be a good thing. Like Dexter Morgan - my favourite fictional serial killer - acting like "the rest of the gang" is superb camouflage. You blend in with the crowd, become quite popular, and no-one suspects you when dismembered body parts are found in a barrel in your backyard.

"It can't be Dexter Morgan - he's such a swell guy! Someone must've GIVEN him those body parts. You know, for RESEARCH!"

Note to self: instead of clearing queues during shifts, set aside an hour or two to chat up my juniors and peers. Ask about their holidays, their kids, their collections of rare pebbles / board games / laser discs. Develop a system of engagement: make constant eye contact, smile, nod every 5 seconds, and pay attention to every 3rd sentence so you can respond with a vague yet convincing comment.

Group activities are also good options. Paying for everyone is guaranteed to draw excellent attendance. :)

Win a Service With A Heart award.

Because that's the ONLY thing every doctor wants. That gold-lettered name tag! Out of the hundreds of thousands of patients I've seen throughout my career, I can't believe I haven't received enough rave reviews to help me secure this once. Instead, patients prefer to mail me thank-you cards or write me via Google mail or Facebook, like bloody stalkers. Next time, I'm putting a stack of forms in my pocket and handing them out personally. Some grovelling might help as well.

Watch less TV.

I sometimes wonder if it's reaching addictive proportions, but do you actually expect me to do anything productive after a shift kills half my brain cells? TV helps my cerebral tissues regenerate - scientifically proven... somewhere... - so asking me to stop is the equivalent of turning me into a blathering moron. Which is NOT what you want on the clinical floor of a busy ER.

But think of all the other fun stuff I'm missing out on! Enjoying Nature ( stepping on dog poo that someone didn't pick up, getting caught in a storm that came out of NOWHERE, or being hit by a crazy cyclist ), hanging out with friends ( see "Be a social butterfly" ) or heck, maybe even doing some research once and for all.

Err, I'll think about it.

That said, if you took any of this seriously, I hope your New Year resolution will be to develop a better sense of humour. :D

Happy 2014, dear readers!

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Roundup

With only 10 days of the year left before the arrival of 2014, I look back on the past 12 months with a big smile.
Not because it was perfect - it wasn't the least bit so - but rather, because it was by far, one of the most memorable of late, despite the lack of any personal encounters with famous people ( the fleeting M&G with Peter Cetera doesn't count ).

Concerts and theatre

I literally lost count of the number of shows I caught this year. In March alone, I saw 5, while in November, there were 4.
There were musicals ( The Phantom Of The Opera, Dirty Dancing, Hairspray, Next To Normal ), gigs ( Adam Lambert, Peter Cetera ) and plays ( Venus In Fur, Rabbit Hole ), not to mention a couple of truly excellent comedies ( One Man LOTR, Broadway Beng )!

Despite the large number of choices, 2 easily stand out:

The Exchange - this 5-member a cappella group from America, featuring alumni from The Sing-Off, paid a low-key first visit to Singapore in March, performing at a tiny venue to an audience of only 70 people.
However, not even the most luscious musical production can eclipse these guys! Their 90-minute set left me breathless, and no-one deserves a showcase at the Esplanade Concert Hall more than they do. Let's hope my feedback to the right people will finally bear fruit. Please come back soon!

Lang Lang In Recital - After missing his previous performance in the not too distant past, I was again oblivious about his November gala concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, as well as his intimate recital of Mozart and Chopin pieces. Thankfully, gallery seats were released at the last minute, and I managed to snag two that offered incredible views of all the action.

I was in heaven for 100 minutes, spellbound by what I heard and saw. Nothing I write will do him justice, so I'll just leave it to your imagination.

Before that evening, Jason Mraz's acoustic gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall ranked #1 on my list of all-time favourite musical performances.
Now, we have a tie. :)

TV shows

2013 also featured an unprecedented number of amazing television series, both new and old.

House Of Cards - starring my idol, Kevin Spacey - made my head spin. ( And thank God for the Internet because we don't get Netflix in Singapore. )

I finally started binge-watching Breaking Bad at my friends' recommendations - also via online sources, because it's banned on local cable. ( Pleeease, do you really think we're that pathetic? )

Lots of exciting new shows caught my attention - in particular, Hannibal, The Following, Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD and Dracula - while returning favourites like Justified, Elementary, The Good Wife, The Newsroom and Major Crimes continued to delight.

Dexter, which has stayed so close to my heart for 8 years, sadly ended on an anti-climactic note.

My top choices for the year:

Masters Of Sex - a no-holds-barred dramatization of Dr. William Masters and Mrs. Virginia Johnson's pioneering efforts in human sexuality research. Aside from the top-notch cast ( which includes Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan ), it also boasts some of the finest writing in existence.

The Paradise - Granted, season 1 hit local cable only a fortnight ago ( season 2 ended its run in the UK in mid-December ), but I absolutely must mention it because it's positively intoxicating. Everyone keeps raving about Downton Abbey but have they seen The Paradise, which is 10 times more interesting?
I have my eye on lead actor, Emun Elliott, a half-Scottish half-Persian 30-year-old whose charisma and intensity belie his youth.


The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. That's all I have to say on this topic. :)

Looking forward

I only took 2 short trips this year, with the primary aim of catching certain people in concert ( Josh Groban in Sydney; Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess and Lea Salonga in Tokyo ).

In 2014, I will embark on a 4-week journey through the US ( a country I love very much ), this time visiting Hawaii, Washington, DC and New York.

Very excited, of course, but especially so about NYC, because through some unbelievable stroke of good luck, I will be able to catch highly acclaimed actors such as Bryan Cranston, Tony Shalhoub, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Alan Cumming, James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in what promise to be electrifying plays.

Let's not forget Broadway legends Sutton Foster, Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale, as well as West End star, Ramin Karimloo, in Violet, The Bridges Of Madison County and an updated revival of Les Miserables, respectively.

I've already earmarked 8 shows in total, to be squeezed into 6 short days. In fact, I had to cross Denzel Washington off the list to make room for everyone else. Sorry!

Work-wise, I hope I'll be able to cope with the demands of a part-time ultrasound course I'm taking. And there's a conference trip to Hong Kong to boot, for an international emergency medicine convention.

What else is left? My personal life - or the lack of it, haha. :)

Once and for all, let me make it clear to anyone who gives a crap ( why should you anyway? I'm nobody. ) - I enjoy being single, and fully intend to stay this way unless something unexpected happens. Please don't try to set me up with a guy, and don't dish relationship advice. I gave it a shot once and hated it, I bounced back, and have zero desire to have my life turned upside down ever again. I'm a solitary, independent creature and there's nothing wrong with that.

On this happy note, may you have a blessed Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year! I don't know how often I'll be able to blog from now on ( with the course and other commitments piling up non-stop ), but I promise to keep this site going. Thanks for reading, and hope to see you again soon. :)

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I shall begin this entry with a tribute to Dexter - a TV series I've followed religiously since it first began in 2005, and which concluded last month after 8 seasons.

Those who read my blog regularly will know the depth of my affection for this show and its characters. And while I agree that seasons 6, 7 and 8 lost the lustre of its predecessors ( blonde femme fatale Hannah is a major thorn in my side ), there was always a lot more that kept me intrigued.

The final 12 episodes never quite met fans' expectations, with an ending which felt messy and cliched ( at least to me ). There was no monumental nail-biting conflict, and most disappointing of all, the writers failed to dream up a villain who could surpass season 4's memorable Trinity Killer.

But despite my irritation, Dexter still remains at the top of my favourite TV shows list, at least for now. It's extremely rare for me to stick with a series for 8 years (aside from all the Law & Order variants, which are super-addictive! ), and Michael C. Hall will always have a very special place in my heart.

Is it too much to hope for a resurrection at a later date? Dexter's clearly alive and his Dark Passenger will surely become restless again soon. Rubbing my hands with anticipation. :)

Oh well, on the upside, I now have more time to binge-watch Breaking Bad. A detailed review to be posted soon. :D

This movie deserves special mention. Directed by none other than large-scale mayhem blockbuster maestro, Michael Bay, this comedy absolutely blew my mind - not with eye-popping special effects a la Transformers, etc. - but with perfect execution in directing, acting and editing.

Based on true events which are too insane to comprehend, the film traces 3 not-too-bright beefcakes' attempt to make money through kidnapping, which later escalates to murder. The plot sounds simple on paper, but so much happens within the space of 2 hours, buoyed by priceless performances from Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris and Anthony Mackie, it feels like drinking 10 cans of Red Bull.

Johnson, in particular, should win an award for Freaking Awesome Breakthrough Performance. I'd never really considered him a "real actor" - until now. His portrayal of Paul Doyle is multi-faceted and hilarious. I honestly don't know how anyone could keep a straight face during the shoot!

A must watch, highly recommended. :)

Next, a list of new TV series I'm sampling.
First, Sleepy Hollow, which boasts Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman among the list of creators. Why is this important? Because both have collaborated with J.J. Abrams on Fringe, Alias and the Star Trek reboots.

In this update, Ichabod Crane is somehow resurrected in the present day, and has to battle a variety of monsters to prevent the onset of the apocalypse.

Sounds ludicrous, yes, but so far, I've found it highly entertaining, mostly because of the appealing lead actors - Tom Mison ( Crane ) and Nicole Beharie ( the deputy sheriff who helps Crane and has a few of her own secrets as well ).

Mison is dashing and entirely believable, while Beharie is feisty. Both share wonderful chemistry on screen, and if at some point, a purple unicorn shows up, I'll still keep watching ( haha ).

Great job with the casting, people! :)

Masters Of Sex is very unlikely to come to local cable, and I think you can guess why. ;)

But don't be fooled into thinking it's a "dirty show" - that honour goes to True Blood, which has degenerated into vampire / werewolf / shapeshifter porn. Rather, MOS traces the history of world-renowned sex therapists, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, hailed as "pioneers of the science of human sexuality whose research touched off the sexual revolution" ( from IMDB ).

The YouTube trailer is delightful, but there're many more treasures sprinkled throughout each episode, mostly in the form of double entendres, zingy one-liners and feminine insights which leave you in stitches.

And yet again, the cast is top notch, with Michael Sheen as Masters, and Lizzy Caplan as Johnson. Both handle their scenes with class and finely tuned restraint, yet dazzle effortlessly. Caplan is especially charming, with her understated, smouldering beauty and deadpan humour. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Last but not least, we have The Blacklist, starring James Spader, whom I've had a huge crush on since childhood. He doesn't look anything like a heartthrob now, but during his heyday, he had a thick mane of wavy hair, a sinewy physique, and bedroom eyes to die for.
He also had an affinity for sexually charged roles, e.g. White Palace, Secretary and Sex, Lies and Videotape.

In the last 10 years or so, he's put on weight and developed alopecia, but remains as captivating as ever on screen, as evidenced by acclaimed performances in legal drama series The Practice and Boston Legal.

As Raymond "Red" Reddington in The Blacklist, he's truly in his element, playing a criminal mastermind who inexplicably gives himself up to the FBI, then helps authorities foil terrorist plots. Even more puzzling is his insistence on speaking only to a certain rookie agent who has no known connection to him.

The pilot episode was a little too action-packed for my liking, but episode 2 is much more satisfying, peppered with witty repartee and a plot revelation which propels Reddington's agenda in an interesting way.

I have my own theories about what's going on, and I'm curious to see if my predictions come true. Welcome back, Mr. Spader! How I've missed you. :)

In the next installment: Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD, Betrayal, Elementary season 2, and whatever else premieres before I blog again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pure Indulgence - Aaron Johnson

Prepare yourself for some serious gushing. :)

This entry is dedicated to a very young actor whom I only recently began to fully appreciate, despite having seen him in movies as far back as 10 years ago.

I'm talking about Shanghai Knights (2003), in which he played the impish Charlie Chaplin. I definitely remember him, but at the time, he was still just another cute child actor whose future remained uncertain.

Fast forward to 2006's The Illusionist, which starred 2 of my faves - Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. 16-year-old Aaron portrayed the teen version of Norton's character, and once again, I have a very clear memory of the performance, especially his angelic good looks.

Another 4 years passed before Kick-Ass (2010) materialized. I saw it soon after the release, curiosity piqued by all the rave reviews. This time, Aaron was front and centre in the lead role, but I still considered him a teen at best ( he was 19 but looked 15 ), and forgot about the show pretty quickly.

In late 2012, Joe Wright's Anna Karenina came along. I watched it primarily for the director and more famous cast members ( Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Matthew MacFadyen ), but Aaron's intense, sensual turn as Count Vronsky gave me palpitations. I doubt I even recognized him as the geeky fellow from Kick-Ass, since his brunette locks were dyed blonde, and his mannerisms were completely different.

At some point, I did a Google search and realized who he was. I also discovered his penchant for much older women - he's married to a female director 24 years his senior, and their first child was conceived when he was 19 (!) - which made him even more intriguing. ( Why, you ask? Just look at Ryan Gosling and his May-December romances. )

About a year passed before I saw Savages (2013), a violent drama/thriller directed by Oliver Stone, co-starring Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek. This was the definitive turning point - Aaron's ferocious, passionate Ben eclipsed Kitsch's bland Chon ( honestly, what do people see in the latter? I consider him grossly overrated. ), and I got the full blast of his charisma and sex appeal.

After that, I re-watched Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina and The Illusionist, and tracked down his other earlier films, e.g. Nowhere Boy, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging, and Albert Nobbs.

He was 18 or 19 in Nowhere Boy (2009), in which he played a young pre-Beatles John Lennon. It's a rather obscure film which I probably would've missed if not for the Internet, but I'm so glad I saw it because Aaron is positively electrifying. He doesn't burn up the screen or blatantly ooze pheromones, but is still effortlessly hypnotic.

He also demonstrates musical talent, showing off a lovely singing voice, though apparently simulating the guitar-plucking bits. Quite a few scenes involve stage performances, and he nails every single one of them.

Sam Taylor-Wood directed Aaron in this film, and they soon became a couple. Controversy aside, many interviews quote her describing him as an "old soul", which explains everything - his remarkable maturity, the consistently powerful performances, his gravitation towards a woman old enough to be his mum ( sounds creepy, but I applaud him for it! ).

At the still tender age of 23, he's married with 2 biological daughters, plus 2 stepchildren from his wife's previous marriage. Only time will tell if the union lasts, but I'm rooting for them to go the distance.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is a typical teen rom-com, but Aaron transcends the typically vapid genre to deliver a sweet, nuanced turn.

And last night, I watched Albert Nobbs, a drama about a woman pretending to be a man in 19th century Dublin. The lead role is inhabited by Glenn Close, with Aaron's name appearing 3rd in the opening credits ( after Mia Wasikowska ). He wasn't the first choice though, only getting the part after Orlando Bloom dropped out ( to care for his pregnant wife ). Personally, I think it's a huge blessing in disguise, because Bloom's abilities in the acting department are significantly inferior to Aaron's.

I'd also like to point out that AJ is absolutely dishy in this movie. His hair's properly combed, he's clean-shaven, and those 19th century outfits flatter his athletic physique beautifully. The scenes he shares with Mia are guaranteed to make your pulse race, and he really excels at brooding in a corner!

Please wait a moment while I mop up a puddle of drool. :)

I'm now trying to acquire Kick-Ass 2, and eagerly await his next 2 films - blockbusters Godzilla and The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Immensely pleased with his rising profile in Hollywood!

In the meantime, I shall attempt to obtain a copy of The Greatest (2009), a family drama co-starring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan.

I hope you become an AJ fan as well! I've never had cougar tendencies before, but for Aaron, I'll make an exception. :D

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Awesomeness At Its Peak!

It's been a most eventful few weeks since my last entry, but I've picked the following to wax lyrical about. :)

First, I watched a an excellent indie(?) film named Lovelace, based on a true story about a porn star who was forced into the industry for 17 days, thanks to an abusive, greedy husband who exploited her abominably.

Only 90 minutes long but really packs a wallop, thanks to a truly exceptional cast, script and directors.

Check out the leads - Amanda Seyfriend ( Linda Lovelace ), Peter Sarsgaard ( her a-hole husband ) - plus a stellar lineup of supporting actors including Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, James Franco, Robert Patrick and Wes Bentley.

Never mind the star power - another feature I greatly appreciate is how unexpected the casting choices are. E.g. Franco as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, wholesome Brody ( remember The O.C.? ) as a well-endowed porn stud, Stone and Patrick as a boring, dowdy couple ( Linda's parents! ).

Bentley also has a few very memorable moments as a photographer who gets Linda to loosen up during a shoot. I've known about him since American Beauty, and he's hardly aged a day since that film, despite a hard-core drug habit which almost killed him ( he's been to rehab, so here's wishing him a successful recovery ). I mention him specifically because even though the movie is jam-packed with famous faces and explosive performances, Bentley's mere minutes on screen are hypnotic. I'll let you experience this for yourself. Even my mum - who isn't the sort to comment unless she's REALLY impressed ( or disgusted, haha ) - couldn't help blurting something about his sheer gorgeousness. If he'd been 5-10 years younger, I think he'd be perfect as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades. :)

I'm a huge fan of many of the cast members' work, but Peter Sarsgaard blew my mind! He'd already wowed me in Shattered Glass, Jarhead, An Education, Orphan and The Killing season 3 ( freaking amazing, that series ), but Lovelace is the current pinnacle of his career ( and I have no doubt he will surpass it again soon ). He's always excelled at playing flawed, complex characters, and although Chuck in Lovelace is obviously evil, Sarsgaard conveys his pathological paranoia and insecurity brilliantly, with a few comical scenes thrown in for good measure.

I am most eager to get my hands on Blue Jasmine, in which he stars with Cate Blanchett, and Woody Allen directs!

Another fantastic series I need to mention is The Fall, starring The X-Files' Gillian Anderson as a top detective on the hunt for a serial killer. A BBC adaptation of a European (?Swedish ?Danish) show, season 1 only has 5 episodes, but every single one is absolutely amazing.

I've included this variation of the poster because I want to highlight the male lead, Jamie Dornan, who plays the killer. He's remained far below the radar all these years, and I missed his turn in Once Upon A Time ( because I can't understand it ). Imagine my surprise when he surfaced in The Fall and blew me away with quite possibly one of the best serial killer portrayals ever ( aside from Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan ).

Again, I don't want to ruin your viewing, so I'm going to keep things vague. Suffice to say, there're numerous shocking moments, and episodes 4 and 5 are positively chilling. Be prepared for the major cliffhanger ( same goes for The Killing season 3 ), which will keep you going till the show returns ( no date announced yet ).

Breaking Bad is currently in its 5th and final season in the U.S., but I only caught on last month, so I'm now at season 2 episode 2.

I'd always wondered what everyone was raving about, but never felt the urge to find out for myself until recently, when I succumbed to multiple friends' repeated prodding.

I happily concede defeat, and am hopelessly hooked! :)

I've added various posters for your examination - if you follow the series, you'll realize that this sequence tells Walter White's story chronologically, i.e. a tale of gradual but alarming transformation, and a riveting study on how extenuating circumstances can drive decent, peaceful people to extremes.

The best part, however, isn't the sheer nastiness or intermittent spurts of psychopathic violence. As season 2 episode 2 ingeniously illustrates, even the simplest prop can elevate satire to the highest level.

Stroke patient in a wheelchair + counter bell. Watch and tell me you laughed your guts out too. :D

I'm taking my time getting the online episodes. Definitely one of my top 3 faves right now. A huge thank you to everyone who recommended this to me. :)

Will sign off with a photo of my next holiday destination next spring. Didn't take any big trips this year, so I can afford to splurge a little. The flights will be tough, but I expect a lot of R&R downtime. Beautiful, isn't it? :D

More reviews and updates in September...

Friday, August 09, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

It's been a while since I finished reading a novel of moderate length ( 400 pages ) within 3 weeks - yes, sounds a little pathetic I know, but I have a bad habit of juggling multiple books and magazines, plus a tonne of commitments which sap what remaining energy I have at the beginning and end of the day to do any recreational reading.

If I'd had the luxury of time, I would've probably taken 6 weeks to complete Crazy Rich Asians. Unfortunately, I got a copy brand new from the National Library ( first on the reservation list, hah! ) and a whole line of people was waiting for me to return it, so I apologize if this review is skimpy on detail, because the book is no longer in my possession.

Unless you've been hibernating in a cave these past few months, you would've at least heard or read about Kevin Kwan's debut which has become a national bestseller in the U.S. and was recently green-lit for a Hollywood film adaptation.

First, many congratulations to Mr. Kwan, a native Singaporean whose work is creating great buzz for our country.

Second, I look forward to news about the cast and shooting locations. I assume they'll come to Singapore? :)

Third, I would recommend this novel, but with caveats.

Synopses and reviews are available from various online sources, but in a nutshell, CRA focuses on Asian high society - a colourful group of powerful and insanely wealthy characters with equally exotic names and backgrounds.

Prepare yourself for over-the-top opulence and debauchery - regular trips to Paris to purchase haute couture gowns which cost $200,000 each; private viewings at exclusive jewellery galleries where millions are spent without guilt; a sprawling mansion behind the Singapore Botanic Gardens, guarded by Gurkhas and manned by an army of servants larger than Downton Abbey's ( the road mentioned in the novel exists - I was kay-poh enough to check my street directory :)); luxurious getaways via private jet - the list never ends.

Posh brands are mentioned extensively, and for the ignorant reader ( like myself ), this penchant for name-dropping might cause some irritation because not only does it affect the flow of the prose, it's also often performed without adequate description ( aside from the occasional footnote ).

I'm certain many will revel in the exhaustive expositions, and I can only imagine what such scenes will look like when the film takes shape. I consider myself an avid reader, and enjoy lengthy narratives immensely. While there's no question that Kwan writes well, his style has a superficial tone to it, and after the umpteenth paragraph waxing lyrical about someone's dress / shoes / face / palatial home, my attention started wavering.

Then there's the multitude of characters, many of whom are related through marriage. A helpful family tree is provided but I still found it difficult to follow. To me, it's an indication of the lack of depth with regards to portrayal, but I don't blame Kwan for his choices. CRA was meant to be savoured as a decadent dessert, albeit a really expensive one. Don't expect a literary classic.

It is, however, highly entertaining. Eccentric personalities abound, and even the super-rich run the gamut of extreme behaviour, from reckless extravagance to irrational miserliness. Many of the outrageous dialogues made me laugh out loud, and a certain bachelor party in Macau is positively hair-raising.

Viciousness also features prominently, and is mostly confined to the female cliques. Gossip traverses the Atlantic within seconds thanks to mobile phones and the Internet; tai-tai's spew venom during a bible study session; a tropical island holiday turns sinister, complete with a gutted fish and a savagely worded note.

Most readers aren't privy to what goes on within this relatively mysterious world, so many must be guessing exactly how much of this is actually true. Kwan has apparently denied that the characters are based on people he knows, but in one interview, he mentions his mother's clothes being exclusively tailored and how stylish his grandparents were. Plus, in the book itself, he admits to being an ACS boy. You do the math!

Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch for the authenticity of Kwan's depictions. I know a handful of high society figures, and they definitely span the whole spectrum. One family owns a business empire and has a son who once served as a U.S. ambassador, but they live frugally, dress in nondescript attire, and hand out a maximum of $10 per Chinese New Year red packet. A longtime friend is the only son of a couple whose abundant wealth I can only surmise, because he never discusses it with anybody, is one of the most humble and hardworking people I know, and doesn't seem to own anything faintly resembling a designer brand. How do I know his parents are filthy rich? People who were invited to his home - only once - told me he lives in "a palace". It was more than 10 years ago - I think I was invited but couldn't make it. Have been dropping hints ever since. Did someone tell me he lives at Tyersall Park??? :)
Then there's the 20-plus-year-old diva who loves to flaunt her lavish lifestyle for all to see. She travels frequently "to shop", shows off haute couture gowns at high society events, and is absolutely vile.

Concerns-wise, I do have a few. Like Amy Chua's controversial Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother ( which totally distorts the image of Asian mums ), CRA - though a fictional tale - may reinforce Western prejudices. While I agree that Singaporeans are generally loud, crass and gossipy, the novel amplifies this significantly, and for those of us who actively avoid behaving in this manner, being inaccurately portrayed to the rest of the world isn't a pleasant thought.

I suppose it all depends on Hollywood - who knows how much control Kwan can negotiate, what the producers / screenwriter / director want to do with the story, etc. I just hope they'll shoot the movie in Singapore, and have the decency to cast local actors. Rope in the theatre veterans ( Adrian Pang, Janice Koh, Tan Kheng Hua, etc ), whom I think are exceptional!

I've tweeted Kwan a few times over the past month, and haven't received any acknowledgement so far. Considering the fact that he has fewer than 300 followers, tweets daily and responds to other Twitter users, the silence is perplexing. Perhaps a tweet about my blog review will finally trigger a reaction? :)

Anyway, congrats again, and even though putting Singapore on the map in this manner may have repercussions, it's a significant splash nonetheless. Hopefully, it will help pave the way for other aspiring writers ( including myself ), which is always a good thing.

All the best, Mr. Kwan!

p.s. If you'd like a taste of more sinful affluence, I also recommend Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby ( film ) and John Berendt's The City Of Falling Angels ( novel written by one of my favourite authors ).
The former is a sumptuous visual spectacle, and the latter a divine reading experience. Enjoy. :)

Sunday, July 28, 2013


The last time we had U.S. Secret Service agents in our department was back in November 2009, when President Obama visited Singapore for the APEC Summit ( link to blog entry here ).

Earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden dropped by on an Asian tour, and as per usual protocol, we had 2 agents stationed in the ER for 2 days, in case medical evacuation was required.

It was a stroke of good luck that I happened to be on shift on one of those days, and managed to find a couple of quiet periods ( even though the resus room can be hell at times ) to chat with the agents.

Before I go further, a big thank you to both gentlemen, who are extremely friendly, personable, and fantastic conversationalists. :)

The first agent I met was John. Looked about early 30-ish, very boyish and married.
Previously worked in the Washington, D.C. police department before joining the S.S. 2 years ago.
Told me about the absolutely hair-raising crime rate in D.C. ( the non-touristy areas, that is ), which surprised me tremendously. "They never show this in the movies or TV shows," he agreed. No s**t!
He's been shot at once, and almost stabbed twice ( during his DCPD stint ).
Specializes in investigating money laundering schemes, which also encompass identity fraud. Says the S.S. gets many referrals from police departments because the latter are just too weighed down by cases and need assistance for more complex crimes.
Finds Singapore "unbelievably clean and safe", and "so green".
Did some sightseeing as well - Chinatown, Arab Street, Orchard Road.
Remembers eating at a food court at a mall, where he tried a spicy Vietnamese pho dish.
Loves spicy food 'cos his wife is half-Indian.
Thinks Singapore's stiff penalties for drug smuggling are terrific. Stunned that we hardly see drug addicts in the ER.
Also discussed crime rates in other U.S. states, and TV series The Chicago Code came up. ( I couldn't resist. :))
Most S.S. agents assigned to V.V.V.I.P.s' ( POTUS, VP ) personal details stay an average of 6-8 years.
Says Biden flies around in a luxurious military plane ( I asked, "Air Force Two?", which amused him a lot heh! ), and "some of them are so big, you can do back flips down the aisle". WTF!?

Conversation lasted a satisfying 30 minutes. ( Quite proud of myself for squeezing so much out of him in such a small amount of time. :))

The second agent who took over the later shift was Chad. Aged 35, sported a military-style buzz cut, looked a bit stern but turned out to be totally hilarious and overflowing with information about everything. Spoke to him for almost an hour - thank you for staying quiet, resus room. :)

Chad originally hails from Seattle, after which he joined the U.S. Navy, went to college, worked in the Washington State police department, then moved to the S.S. 3 years ago.
He's currently based in Los Angeles, and specializes in investigating credit card fraud.
Appears to have done the same sightseeing trip as John, but also mentioned going to the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands, where the bar ( Ku De Ta ) is open all day. ( Okay, square that I am, I thought it only opens at night. :))
Shares John's glowing opinions about Singapore, and it's the first time here for both of them.

Instead of following Biden throughout his Asian tour, most of the more peripherally placed agents ( e.g. medical cover etc ) actually fly in from America, hang around for a few days, then fly back when Biden leaves for his next destination. So they suffer from severe jet lag as a result. ( Man, a bit cruel, no? )

S.S. agents all carry Sig Sauer P228 pistols. They approximate .357 calibre guns, which "will leave a big hole". I can certainly imagine!
Sig Sauer's chosen for practical reasons as well - the parts are easy to replace and the guns repaired very quickly by sending them back to the manufacturer.
They're also heavy, and S.S. agents must carry them even when they board commercial flights ( they fly economy, which makes it more uncomfortable ).
For this reason, they don't go through the usual Immigration check points, and there've been occasions where civilian passengers spotted their weapons when they reached up to the overhead compartment and their jackets opened slightly. He didn't elaborate on what exactly happened, but he did say people were "alarmed".

When asked why he joined the S.S., he replied frankly, "to get out of Seattle". Because the weather was too gloomy and he couldn't stand it.
Since I visited Seattle in 2007 for the ACEP conference, we had a big laugh about the rain, clouds and temperature. Apparently, it's like that even in summer. No wonder he wanted to escape!
Seattle also has the highest number of suicides per capita. Victims have mixed demographic profiles, but Chad is pretty convinced the weather has something to do with it.
As for why companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Boeing base their HQs there ( not to mention CEOs like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, who have homes in the city ), he explained there's a significant state income tax break, in addition to other major tax reliefs, which entice such companies to base their operations there and also stay on for many years.
However, Chad agrees the Seattleites are amazingly nice, even though the weather is the exact opposite. No, he has no idea why. :)

We also discussed other U.S. locations like LA, Vegas and New York, which we're both familiar with. And I offered tips about how to pick slot machines which won't make you lose too much money. :D

And he's been reading The Straits Times - saw a story about a guy who was jailed for 9 months for stealing a laptop, and commented, "We need more of that!"

Poor guy brought a novel to read ( one of those Jason Bourne thrillers - not the Robert Ludlum originals, but a more recent book written by a new author ), but I told him the computer right next to him had Internet.
He's also taken a walk around the hospital in the middle of the night, when he went to 7-Eleven to get a snack. I'm betting no-one even noticed him.

The funny parts? I'll omit the details, but the general health of Americans and Singaporeans was a hot topic, including diabetes and myopia. Lasik popped up, and for some strange reason, a 20/30 visual acuity ( from a previously perfect 20/20 ) is causing him distress. He stared at me really hard when I told him I'd had Lasik done. Think he was impressed with the result? :)

At the end of our chat, I scribbled down the name of an Orchard Road shopping mall which has a good spread of baked goods ( he expressed a craving for local pastries ) and he said he'd go search for it.

He has superb manners - when I first introduced myself, he immediately stood up, came forward and shook my hand; and when I said goodbye, he did the same.

I don't know when we'll see more S.S. agents again, but I hope it won't be another 4 long years. All the best to you both! :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

RIP Cory Monteith

If you're not a Glee fan - or to be more exact, a Gleek - you probably won't understand the grief so many all over the world are experiencing, after the untimely death of one of the show's stars, Cory Monteith.

News of his demise shocked everyone, even though in the past, he'd publicly acknowledged his ongoing battle with drug addiction, and had completed rehab a few times.

I, too, was stunned. And devastated. I've been a loyal Gleek since the show first debuted 4 years ago, and Finn Hudson ( the character Cory played so wonderfully ) was one of my favourites. The series became a huge hit and launched many of its stars' careers. And the song-and-dance numbers were the best ingredient - covers which almost always surpassed the originals, performed by immensely talented young actors.

Through the years, I revelled in Cory's progress. In season 1, he was clearly awkward with the complex dance choreography, and candidly admitted as much in interviews. I found his honesty refreshing, and also appropriate, considering Finn's own struggles within the glee club.

However, as time passed, Cory's confidence grew tremendously. By season 2, he was keeping up with his fellow cast members, and his vocal strength soared. Around the same time, his relationship with co-star, Lea Michele, blossomed, and they eventually became a couple, to fans' delight.

My love for Glee extends far beyond the music and dance moves. It's the first teen-based programme to fully explore subjects which are considered taboo, at least in terms of target demographics ( i.e. tweens and high schoolers ). Bullying, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, eating disorders, morbid obesity, gun violence - nothing is off limits.
The writers shoulder a lot of responsibility in the stories they choose to tell, but the cast is more than up to the task, and Cory was always great to watch in every scene.

Another reason Cory's passing affects me so much - the fact that I met fellow cast-mate, Jonathan Groff, in person. Groff played rival school glee club leader, Jesse St. James, in seasons 1 and 2. In real life, he's also Lea's best friend, following their star-making turns on Broadway's Spring Awakening, which is one of my all-time favourite musicals.

Jonathan shared quite a few tense scenes with Cory because Jesse and Finn were involved in a love triangle, in addition to the on-stage battles. Meeting the former in 2011 in New York was one of the best celeb encounters I've ever had, and yes, I told Jon how much I love Glee, and that there're lots of fans in Singapore, which pleased him very much! :)

The last time a young Hollywood actor's death saddened me to this extent was in 1993, when River Phoenix collapsed from a drug overdose. Also extremely talented with a bright future ahead of him, he left us all too suddenly, and I haven't forgotten him even after 20 years.

My mother sometimes comments that drug addicts' deaths shouldn't surprise anyone, that they were somehow "asking for it". But I've seen addiction in its various forms up close - relatives and friends, not myself thankfully - and while the addict isn't entirely blameless, s/he isn't necessarily bad or evil either. We're all human; we have weaknesses, and not everyone will be able to overcome their personal demons, even with adequate support.

The greatest tragedy, I think, is that Cory passed away alone in his hotel room, unable to say a proper farewell to those who loved him most. Perhaps he's also unaware of how much he meant to his fans all over the world. But I hope that, wherever he is right now, he'll find the peace which eluded him on this earth, and that he's still singing and dancing.

We'll miss you always, Cory.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reviews: Pacific Rim & Behind The Candelabra

[ Warning: Embedded spoilers. ]

I'm a self-confessed movie nut, but due to schedule conflicts, I often don't get to see shows before reading reviews.
However, it doesn't really matter that much anymore, because in recent years, I've realized my opinions are usually the opposite of what critics write. Better still, they concur with the majority of fellow film buffs. :)

To be frank, Pacific Rim wasn't high on my must-watch list. Giant robots, giant monsters ( kaiju ), mass destruction, sci-fi, etc. - not exactly my thing.
The only reason I was even remotely interested in going to the cineplex is none other than director Guillermo del Toro, whose career I've followed closely since 2001's The Devil's Backbone ( gosh, was it really 12 years ago?! ). Then came Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and Hellboy II - 3 exquisite films which showcase his creativity and storytelling skills. If you don't know what the heck I'm talking about, you don't know what you're missing!

What sealed the deal, however, is del Toro's fanboy writeup in the July issue of Empire magazine - aka my movie bible.
His lifelong obsession with Japanese monster flicks leaps off the pages, and the nuggets of information he provided about Pacific Rim were more than enough to whet my appetite. More on those later.

Now, how do I begin my review? Let's start with the first sequence, where del Toro throws us in the deep end by staging an epic showdown between a kaiju and a Jaegar robot, in the middle of Alaska.

You can read the detailed synopsis for yourself. Just be prepared for the awesome spectacle, because my jaw hit the ground. And I couldn't stop gawking for the next 2-plus hours.

Yes, this is a typical summer blockbuster, filled with over-sized creatures / machines / weapons, waging fiery wars that flatten entire cities and kill unknown numbers of humans. We get them every year, from The Avengers to Transformers. But kaiju-wise, perhaps Godzilla ( the vapid 1998 Hollywood version ) comes closest to Pacific Rim's subject matter. In terms of fighting robots, there's Real Steel, which I gave up on after just 15 minutes.

I didn't have high hopes for Pacific Rim, having decided to sacrifice an afternoon solely in honour of del Toro. Imagine my surprise when I fell under its spell. 2 hours flew by in the blink of an eye, and I didn't even need a toilet break! :)

It incorporates the best elements from other box office greats, including Independence Day, Inception and Star Wars.
For the first, there's the multiple-story-arc format which revolves around a central humans-vs-alien-invasion theme. You get in-depth perspectives from the Jaegar pilots, the Jaegar project commander, the scientists, even the crime syndicates which harvest kaiju parts for black market profit. I'm not kidding!

For the second, you get a highly inventive tale about "neural handshakes", "drift compatibility" and "the breach". I still recall Inception's "kick", "totem", "limbo" and "dream architects".

And for the third, look out for a stick-fighting scene between a veteran Jaegar pilot and a rookie hopeful. A definite homage to The Force! :)

Battles-wise, I stand by my statement that they make Pacific Rim "the most freaking awesome movie I have ever seen". To expound on del Toro's Empire article, he mentions how he designed each kaiju based on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Japanese monster films, and highlights that each Jaegar-kaiju fight was choreographed meticulously so audiences wouldn't end up watching the same thing over and over again.

He delivers everything as promised. Each creature is brilliantly crafted, not just in appearance but personality as well. Yes, they're all prone to stomping, roaring and destroying stuff, but pay attention to their defence strategies ( powerful tails, acidic venom, and one super-cool electric-current-generating species capable of inducing a city-wide blackout ). You may also notice how, by the climactic finale, the kaiju start demonstrating serious intelligence and manage to overcome 3 Jaegars in a single attack. Scary...

The robots are no less interesting. With names like Crimson Typhoon ( China ) and Gipsy Danger ( USA ), they also have specialized artillery and even their own battle moves ( thundercloud, anyone? ).

Usually, such things hold zero appeal for me, but again, it is to del Toro's credit that I found myself completely caught up in the excitement! :D

Charlie Hunnam, an actor whose previous work I am unfamiliar with, is a great casting choice as heroic lead, Raleigh Becket. He is extremely good-looking, absolutely convincing as a Jaegar pilot, and handles the emotional scenes with a nice balance of sensitivity and masculinity.

Rinko Kikuchi, as aspiring Jaegar pilot, Mako Mori, is mesmerizing. I didn't like her that much in Babel, but she is wonderful here. No theatrics, skimpy outfits or romantic scenes. For some reason, when she first appears, standing in the rain under an umbrella and quietly staring at Becket as he arrives at the Jaegar base, she captures my full attention, and never lets go until the final credits roll.

And both actors shine the brightest when they're together. They banter, they stick-fight, they pummel monsters into the ground, and they have me rooting for them all the way. Kudos to the scriptwriters as well ( del Toro co-wrote ) - pay attention to the kaiju battles, where Raleigh repeatedly looks out for Mako. It's a tender, heartwarming relationship, forged quickly as a necessity, but which results in an unbreakable bond.

As for the supporting players, Idris Elba is appropriately regal and dignified as Commander Stacker Pentecost ( what a name! ), though I take issue with the rallying pre-climax speech and that slightly ludicrous "we're cancelling the apocalypse" tagline.
Charlie Day ( from Horrible Bosses ) delivers a breakthrough performance as eccentric scientist, Newton Geiszler, whose role gets a major expansion when he leaves the base to locate a shady figure ( Ron Perlman in a short but memorable appearance ), and proves vital in the eventual closure of the breach.

Ultimately, however, huge credit goes to del Toro, whose ingenious mind gave birth to this beautiful masterpiece. He's often lauded for his ability to coax fabulous performances from children, and this is evident in a few scenes featuring a Japanese girl ( Mana Ashida ) who plays young Mako. These show her walking through a devastated, deserted Tokyo, sobbing so desperately I found myself weeping along with her. In less deft hands, these segments could've easily sunk into cliched melodrama. But del Toro not only paces them expertly and chooses prime insertion spots ( when grown-up Mako "chases the rabbit" during her maiden drift - still with me? :)), he makes them even more poignant by revealing the identity of the Jaegar pilot who rescues her from the clutches of a vicious kaiju. ( Not going to mention that here - you need to see this for youself. )
That moment is forever seared into my brain. It is so powerful yet also delicate, and explains a pivotal part of the storyline. I can't remember the last time I was affected like this!

Don't pay any attention to the critics. Sometimes, I think they deliberately pan movies like this because they want to sound intelligent and intellectual. Even Empire's Ian Nathan ( one of the best writers I know of ) gave Pacific Rim a paltry 3 stars.

Well, sci-fi definitely isn't my thing, and I've never raved about a kaiju / giant robot film in my life. But Pacific Rim scores a 9/10 in my book, and if I had time, I would've returned to the cineplex for a 2nd viewing.

So please listen to me, and go see this movie. If you end up hating it, let me know. :)

I watched Behind The Candelabra a few weeks ago, but didn't manage to review it until now.

Chances are, it will never make it to local cable. And even if it does, it may be so heavily censored you'll scratch your head and go "Huh?" for most of the film.

My profuse thanks to Z, who got this for me from "alternative sources" when my "usual source" didn't work. :)

It is an impeccable piece of work, one I rank as Steven Soderbergh's career best.

Like many other people, I cringed when I heard Michael Douglas was cast as flamboyant pianist, Liberace, and Matt Damon his lover. Both actors have well-established heterosexual heartthrob reputations, are married with kids, and have never played overtly gay characters before. ( Damon's Tom Ripley doesn't count. )

I was rather worried, to be honest, but their performances are nothing short of astounding.

Douglas, whom I've followed since I was kid, is almost unrecognizable as Liberace. The bouffant wigs, outrageous costumes and makeup markedly transform him physically, but his mannerisms stand out even more. This is the man who practically oozed pheromones in Coma ( gorgeous beyond words ), Romancing The Stone and Fatal Attraction. He's also played ruthless villains with no redeeming qualities ( Wall Street, A Perfect Murder ).

As Liberace, he's effeminate, insecure, and ogles other men with aplomb. He also appears nude a number of times, and plays the piano ( or simulates it ) very very convincingly. ( I play the instrument, so yes, he's hitting the right keys. )

Damon matches him superbly. The guy who stole hearts in Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Identity / Supremacy / Ultimatum, The Adjustment Bureau and Ocean's Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen is 100% believable as Scott Thorson, the young stud who was Liberace's lover for 6 years.

Both men are exceptional actors in their own right, but I'm certain Soderbergh is also hugely responsible for their amazing performances in this film. Especially the intimate scenes. There's no sign of any discomfort whatsoever. I found myself squirming a little at times, but they're totally immersed in the moment, and the chemistry is SCORCHING.

Of all the straight-people-playing-gay-or-lesbian-characters films I've seen so far - and I mean hard-core ones like Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don't Cry - this wins hands down. In fact, I read somewhere that it's deemed too risque for theatrical release, making its way to HBO instead. Really, even in the USA? Unfathomable!

I shall conclude my entry here. More to follow in the near future. Considering another cineplex trip to catch The Wolverine. Hmmmm. :)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

TV Show Update

I'm just going to skip the usual intro and go straight into this.

The Americans is AWESOME. I only started watching it on local cable a couple of weeks ago, mainly because I had my hands full with a load of other more prominent shows, but it is positively addictive.

Bear in mind my personal taste, of course. My favourite series aren't always the biggest hits ( note: I don't watch ratings juggernauts like NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc ) and for good reason. Let's face it, the majority of TV viewers don't enjoy too big a challenge, which explains the appeal of fluffy programmes where characters are two-dimensional / flaky, and complex crimes are solved within the last 10 minutes of each episode.

The Americans isn't a crime drama. Rather, it's an espionage thriller chopped into 13 parts. Granted, it's relatively light compared to certain movie classics ( the Bourne series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Debt, Patriot Games, to name a few ), but this is completely understandable given the medium. The best film comparison I can think of is Little Nikita ( 1988 ), which starred River Phoenix and Sidney Poitier, and also focused on a KGB sleeper couple based in the U.S.

In this TV update, the moles are played by Keri Russell ( Felicity, Mission: Impossible 3 ) and Matthew Rhys ( Brothers And Sisters ). I read or heard somewhere that creator Joseph Weisberg used to work for the CIA or NSA or something along those lines, so it's up to viewers to decide what's based on true events, and what might have been made up.

So why do I love The Americans so much? The pilot is one heck of an adrenaline rush! There's an ambush involving a KGB defector, flashbacks to the couple's training and meeting in Moscow, tension over the new neighbour ( an FBI agent in the counter-intelligence unit, dammit! ), marital issues ( wife tries to slit husband's throat when he kisses her, yikes! ), and a major twist when husband discovers a brutal link between defector and his traumatized wife.

Russell, whom I watched 15 years ago on J.J. Abrams' Felicity, has undergone a major transformation, especially after MI3. All that physical training paid off, because she's totally convincing as a fanatical, coldly efficient operative. Still reed thin with youthful looks, but when the fight scenes start, she's a force to be reckoned with!

Rhys, who played a gay lawyer on Brothers And Sisters, also does a 180 degree turn here. I relish moments like this which I describe as nothing short of magical. Within the first 5 minutes of episode 1, I sat up and asked, "Who the heck is this guy? I've seen him before... ( does a Google search ) WHAT?! The gay lawyer from B&S? I never knew he was capable of playing a KGB agent. Wow..." :)

Whether future episodes will match the premiere in the excitement quotient remains to be seen. So far, I'm still riveted 3 episodes in. But there's no denying the excellent cast, which is more than enough reason to tune in.

Rhys has also won the role of Darcy in the BBC series A Death At Pemberley, due for release later this year. Looking forward to that!

Next, we have The Killing season 3.

I've been obsessed with this show since the very beginning. Quite a number of people dislike the snail-paced plot development ( best evidence: 2 whole seasons devoted to ONE case ), but I think it's just too bad that they can't appreciate its many other attributes - i.e. great characters, mind-twisting investigative work, memorable quotes, and a stellar cast.

Mireille Enos, who plays lead detective, Sarah Linden, is fiercely compelling. Unlike most female protagonists on TV, she rarely demonstrates her true feelings, preferring to maintain a constant veneer of outward calm, even when her entire world falls apart. In fact, the first time I see her lose her cool is in season 3. Hearing her shout and bang the table for less than a minute made my jaw drop. It is such a powerful scene, whoa...

Joel Kinnaman is also back as Linden's partner, Stephen Holder. His reunion with Linden is a joy to behold ( watch the show for details ), and if you're an ardent fan like me, you'll understand what I mean. :)
I've always loved Holder, but Kinnaman really shines this season, and like Matthew Rhys, is shooting up my radar very quickly.
It also helps that Kinnaman gives fantastic interviews. Check out his stint on Jimmy Kimmel a year ago - it's guaranteed to make you laugh till you drop. :)

Oh yes, and I am fully aware of how gorgeous he is. Half American, half Swedish. Yum. :)

At last, the final season of Dexter has arrived! My all-time favourite crime series thus far, and the novels are also terrific.

I'm sad to see this great story conclude, but at least it's doing so on a high note. Dexter remains strong ratings-wise, with a substantial and loyal following, but even good things must come to an end.

I'm a little overwhelmed by nostalgia as I ponder the past 7 years. Dexter has introduced us to a plethora of colourful characters, many of whom demonstrate moral ambiguity of the highest calibre, and I love every single one of them.

Many aren't aware of my fascination with serial killers - real and fictional. This began in secondary school and reached a point where my junior college GP tutor expressed concern when almost every essay I submitted somehow managed to incorporate a murderer. Sorry about that. :P

But come on, serial killers are extremely interesting, and while they share a number of common features, they're also very unique. Author Jeff Lindsay created one of fiction's best characters in Dexter Morgan, whose gruesome childhood steered him towards homicide, only to have that bloodlust diverted towards those who deserved it. By his police officer adoptive father, no less.

Michael C. Hall has been nominated for Emmys for the role but hasn't won any to date. I consider it a major injustice, and fervently hope this will be rectified next year. Stop awarding Mad Men, for pete's sake. Give someone worthy a chance!

Two shows to look forward to...

Suits season 3 returns on 16 July. While I admit the later half of season 2 lost some steam, I hope the writers will return to form and reward fans with what made us fall in love with it in the first place - i.e. memorable legal tussles ( not crime-related ), zingy quotes, and more vicious power struggles.

My personal wish list:

1) A new love for Harvey Spector - one who can REALLY handle him, preferably with lots of epic courtroom battles. (Because his previous love interests hardly ever showed their faces at trial. Harvey, what the heck did you see in them? )

2) Something earth-shattering involving Louis Litt. I ADORE Louis, no question. He's brilliant yet juvenile, cunning yet remorseful, absolutely hateful at times but completely relatable because we picture ourselves doing exactly the same thing.
So what could be in store for Mr. Litt this season? I'm thinking either a major client with a whopper of a case, or a female legal opponent who whips him into a drooling frenzy ( preferably a drop-dead gorgeous blonde who returns his affections ). Forget about the Harvard professor and their S&M sessions. I want him to snag a lady everyone wants, but whose heart belongs only to him. In your face, Harvey! :)

And yes, expect the usual upheaval at the law firm, Mike Ross' perpetual stress over being outed as a fake, and his tumultuous romance with legal assistant, Rachel.

I can't wait. :D

Last but not least, the premiere date for Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, has been confirmed!

25 October on NBC, and from the looks of the YouTube trailers, it promises to be a Gothic, lavish, sensual affair.

I can't think of a better choice for the lead role. I've been a fan of Rhys Meyers' since his Henry VIII days on The Tudors, and aside from the fact that he's an exceptional, gorgeous actor, he also doesn't seem to have aged one bit since 2007 when the Tudors began. Hmmm, creepy... :)

Haven't found time to blog about my recent Tokyo trip yet. Maybe sometime soon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Man Of Steel

Time constraints allow only 1 entry so far this month, and I'm going to dedicate it to the first film of 2013 to leave me in complete awe.

I realize reviews have been mixed, so take this as a personal opinion, and form your own if or when you see it.

My verdict: Man Of Steel is INCREDIBLE.

***Beware of spoilers ahead. Apologies, but I can't do it justice without going in depth.***

Let's start at the beginning - not this reboot, but the original movies which starred Christopher Reeve.
I saw Superman when I was in kindergarten, and the experience was nothing less than life-changing. Not only was I formally introduced to my first superhero, it's also my earliest memory of eye-popping special effects ( before I saw Star Wars ), and believe it or not, my first crush on an actor. :)
Superman II made an even bigger impression - that's the one with Zod - and remains my favourite of the Reeve franchise.

Bryan Singer's 2006 update was a massive letdown despite the presence of my all-time fave actor, Kevin Spacey. Aside from an awkward script and lacklustre directing, they made a huge mistake in casting Brandon Routh who, though physically appropriate for the role, is a terrible actor.

To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for Zack Snyder's reboot. I enjoyed some of his earlier work - 300, Sucker Punch - but didn't connect with Watchmen or Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. And while his films are known for being visual adventures, they suffer in the script and acting departments.

Man Of Steel also has its flaws - a few clunky scenes and lines, a less-than-stellar villain - but these are totally obliterated by the brilliant parts.

You're welcome to disagree, of course, but the first scene that practically tore my heart out of my chest involves a school bus careening off a bridge. Young Clark Kent defies his adoptive father's repeated warnings to keep his powers hidden, lifting the vehicle to safety, then diving into the river to rescue a bully who tormented him moments before the crash.

This sequence moved me immensely, and no other superhero movie has ever had the same effect.

There's another scene, also featuring young Clark as he's cornered by a group of bullies who taunt him to fight back. Somehow, he manages to restrain himself, and only after someone helps him up (the same boy he saved from the river ) do you see his hand release its hold on a pipe that is deformed as a result of his superhuman strength.

Another major tissue moment for me. :)

These two scenes really stand out for the following reasons:
1) We know Clark has superpowers, and so does he.
2) However, he chooses not to use them even when he has good reason to.
3) He is invincible, yet becomes the target of bullies.
4) His obedience to adoptive father, Jonathan, is truly remarkable.
5) In spite of his tender age, his unwavering sense of morality is already established.

The original films never explored Clark's youth in detail. I think it's much harder for a child / teenager to control his primal urges, especially when he's fully aware of his abilities. Making a conscious decision to do the opposite is almost impossible for someone in his position. Hence the poignance of these scenarios.

These insightful snippets are utilized to great effect in the form of strategically placed flashbacks - another format not employed in the earlier movies.

Adult Clark also has his fair share of turmoil - i.e. leaves home, spends time working on a fishing boat and a diner - before discovering his origin and true purpose.

The parallels with Jesus Christ are glaringly obvious, especially when taken together with Jonathan Kent's cautionary words about the world not being able to accept Clark's powers, and Jor-El's intonation about Kal-El becoming human so he can be a bridge between two worlds. There's also the number 33 being tossed around - Superman's current age in Man Of Steel, also Christ's age when he was crucified.

David S Goyer and Christopher Nolan co-wrote the script, and I definitely would like to know why they chose to tell Superman's story from this particular angle. Maybe when I have time, I'll do an exhaustive Google search and solve the mystery.

Henry Cavill does a splendid job as Clark / Superman. I watched all 4 seasons of The Tudors and he featured prominently in the series, so I'm no stranger to this handsome young man who narrowly missed snagging leading roles in Casino Royale and Twilight. Christopher Reeve is a very tough act to follow, but Cavill is a very worthy successor.

Empire magazine mentions the lack of humour in Man Of Steel, but I don't mind it at all. It's a welcome change from the formulaic blockbuster with its snarky one-liners and gimmicks. MOS doesn't match The Dark Knight's foreboding gloom, but its somber tone fits the storyline and adds a nice touch of maturity.

Amy Adams is lovely as Lois Lane. I've never been a big fan of Margot Kidder's clownish portrayal, and Kate Bosworth lacked fire. Adams may not have that much to do here, but she exudes a classy intelligence and demonstrates good chemistry with Cavill. Their single kiss was a tad forced, but hopefully things will improve in the sequel ( already announced, woohoo! ).

Michael Shannon as General Zod was quite disappointing - unfortunate, considering his impressive body of work thus far. After the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch ( Star Trek Into Darkness ) and Guy Pearce ( Iron Man 3 ), Zod comes across as a bit of a wimp. This is not helped by redundant lines like "This can only end one way - either you die, or I do." Huh???

Russell Crowe does an admirable job as Jor-El, rising above the campy armour costume, winged creatures and strange names. But it is Kevin Costner who is the beating heart of this film. No other superhero mentor comes close to Jon Kent, who nurtures an extraordinary child and transforms him into an exceptional adult.

Oh yes, the visual effects are also quite spectacular. I wasn't paying as much attention to those though. :)

I'll probably watch this many more times when it's released on DVD. Suffice to say, it's my favourite superhero movie to date, regardless of its commercial performance.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Waxing Lyrical

It's been a while since I dedicated an entry just to TV shows. I find it very relaxing so please bear with me. :)

I am a big fan of Ghost Hunters. Probably for at least 5-6 years now. It used to air regularly but local cable stopped screening it for ages, before season 7 recently reappeared on the Thrill channel ( which specializes in horror and suspense ).

There're a lot of paranormal investigator-type programmes out there, in the U.S. and U.K. alone. I've seen quite a few of them, but GH always wins hands down. ( Ghost Adventures is also pretty good, but I have no idea what happened after season 1 and haven't tried Google searching. )

GH was founded by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, who are - get this - plumbers by trade. A moonlighting gig earned them a network contract, and the rest is history.

The format for every episode is standard, but the entire team keeps things interesting. They go to the coolest places - Sharon Tate's home ( scene of the grisly Manson family murders ), sprawling forts / asylums, even a resort in Maine which reminded me of the film, The Shining - the team members all have different, dynamic personalities ( my favourite, Dave Tango, and his pal, Steve Gonsalves, like to investigate together and crack corny jokes which have me in stitches ), and they sometimes pick up the eeriest paranormal phenomena ( disembodied voices, weird sounds, video footage of strange occurrences ).

I'm not saying everyone will enjoy this sort of thing, but I can't get enough of it. :D

Something else I'm addicted to: The Chicago Code.

Originally aired in the U.S. in 2011, after which it was cancelled after 13 episodes. It only materialized on local cable a few weeks ago, and I think it is EXCELLENT. ( Capital letters necessary, believe me. )

I'm a bit of a conoisseur when it comes to American legal procedurals. NYPD Blue, Law & Order ( original plus all the spin-offs ), CSI, Dexter and The Practice, to name a few.

The Chicago Code is right up there with my top 3. The cast is impeccable - Jennifer Beals, Jason Clarke, Matt Lauria - the stories fascinating ( though I don't think I'll have the balls to step into the city ever ), and the action sequences nail-bitingly awesome.

Is Chicago really this frightening? Who cares, when it makes TV viewing so exciting? :)

Beals is superb as the new female police Superintendent - smart, tough, and really cunning. The tactics she employs to solve cases, battle sex discrimination and fight corruption are ingenious. I've learned a few things which I use at work heh!

Lauria is adorable. All boyish good looks and earnest innocence, but blossoming quickly, with sharp instincts of his own.

Clarke, however, is the star. An Australian actor whom I've already seen in Zero Dark Thirty ( caught my eye as one of the Navy Seals who stormed Bin Laden's hideout ) and a few other not-so-prominent films ( e.g. Texas Killing Fields ), he has my undivided attention every time he appears in Code.

As Jarek Wysocki ( talk about a creative character name! ), the Superintendent's ex-partner and best friend in the force, Clarke is perfect for the smart-mouthed, swaggering role. He nails the American accent, keeps me on the edge of my seat whenever a suspect is interrogated, and handles a gun like the best of Hollywood's action stars.

Not conventionally handsome looks-wise, but an incredible actor who oozes massive sex appeal.

Little wonder he's recently won roles in The Great Gatsby and the upcoming Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. He's 43 but still single. Please stay that way. :)

And now, on to Hannibal. It took 20 years for Thomas Harris' Dr. Lecter to hit the small screen, and the result is quite spectacular.

While the first 4 episodes annoyed me slightly - solving serial murders within one episode, plot holes sprinkled here and there, a ludicrous story about abducted boys returning to kill their families - the show has improved significantly since episode 5.

If it had been any other series, I would've stopped watching after episode 3. But I'm a long-time fan of the Hannibal novels ( excluding Hannibal Rising, which is obscenely bad ), and love Hugh Dancy to bits, so this was a no-brainer.

Dancy's Will Graham differs greatly from Edward Norton's version in Red Dragon. Here, Graham is psychologically scarred - by the gory crimes he investigates and his unique ability to think like the killers he hunts. He's socially withdrawn, moody, unshaven and plagued by terrible nightmares. Which is where Lecter steps in, when Graham's boss requests his expertise in keeping poor Will from teetering off the edge.

Mads Mikkelsen is an inspired choice for this crucial role. Following in Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning footsteps is never an enviable task, but he does so very well indeed. It's refreshing to see Hannibal in a younger form, still enjoying his freedom and indulging in culinary activities. Part of the fun for the viewer is figuring out what's in those delectable French dishes he whips up. The first 5 episodes keep his true nature ambiguous, but episode 6 reveals him committing a murderous deed for the first time ( that we know of, that is ), and the cat-and-mouse game ramps up 10 notches.

I think Mikkelsen may soon outshine Hopkins as the quintessential Lecter. Perhaps a TV series format helps flesh out ( apologies for the pun ) the character better, making it easier for audiences to embrace him. But there's no denying Mikkelsen's charisma - he doesn't always do or say much, but every act and word, however simple, resonates. He speaks with a rather thick European accent, in an unnervingly calm manner, always assessing the other subject with great interest if s/he is worthy. I've grown very fond of Hannibal's therapy sessions with his unsuspecting patients. Look out for a simpering, bearded, chubby fellow ( I can't recall his name offhand ) whose clumsy attempts to befriend his psychiatrist is guaranteed to elicit pity and uneasiness. Will he be Hannibal's next main course? If he keeps irritating him, yes!

More importantly, we learn of Lecter's previous specialty before he switched to psychiatry - "ER surgeon". Oooh, thank you, scriptwriters! :D

There're plans for a 5-season run, so I'm rubbing my hands with glee. Keep up the good work. Don't take us for granted! :)

Dexter fans unite! Looking forward to season 8, which, as the picture aptly describes, signals the beginning of the end.

I'm sad to see one of my all-time favourite TV shows sing its swan song, but I'm sure it's going to be epic.

Check out the many YouTube promo clips, which are fantastic. Crime scene nastiness-wise, Hannibal is a worthy successor. Thank goodness - I need my gore fix every now and then. Oh wait, there's also True Blood. And Game Of Thrones. And The Following. And Bates Motel.

TV isn't suitable for kids anymore. I'm glad that phase of my life is long over. :D

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Catching Up

After more than a month of silence, it is time to update the blog. :)

First, my recent trip to Sydney, which was primarily for Josh Groban's concert at the Opera House. However, I ended up getting much more than I bargained for!

The day I arrived - after severe sleep deprivation thanks to a mistake I made with my roster request and zero rest on the plane - I prepared for an evening of R&R, only to receive a message from a friend based in Sydney about the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness being in the city at that very moment. A frantic Google search revealed details of their appearance at a red carpet premiere near my hotel, just an hour after I got the notification!

My mum, who travels with me regularly, wasn't too pleased with the last-minute change of plans, but was surprisingly game to accompany me. After a hurried shower and a series of Facebook message exchanges with staff from the George Street Cinema ( they're amazing :)), we had 30 minutes to find our way to the venue.

Weaving through rush hour human traffic was no joke, but George Street is easy to navigate and the directions I got were accurate. Sadly, by the time we arrived, all the spots in front of the theatre were gone, and we had to make do with places across the road. However, it turns out we managed to get a good look at the proceedings, and my camera's zoom lens helped a lot. :)

Despite not being in a prime position, I could see J.J. Abrams, Karl Urban, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto very clearly. Initially miffed that security wouldn't let us through despite the sparse crowd along the red carpet, this proved important when I realized it actually enabled those of us across the street to see what was going on.

The experience was incredible! Sure, I've caught celebrities from varying distances and interacted with a few of them previously, but this is a major blockbuster, and I'm a huge fan of its director and stars.

J.J. Abrams - I've followed his career from the beginning, from TV series Felicity, Alias and Lost, to wonderful movies Mission: Impossible 3, Star Trek and Super 8. He is soooo tiny in person, but extremely personable in spite of his A-list status. Even when reporters' attention was fixed on Pine and Quinto, Abrams continued making the rounds among the fans, chatting, signing autographs and posing for pictures. This is the man who's going to direct Star Wars Episode VII!
I also recently realized I've now seen 2 key figures from Alias in person - in addition to creator Abrams, I also met Jennifer Garner at the stage door on Broadway in 2007.
Who's next? Bradley Cooper? :)

Karl Urban - not exactly A-list just yet, but I love his work in Lord Of The Rings, and most recently, was awe-struck by his turn in Dredd. The latter is sorely underrated - I personally think it's mind-blowingly excellent!
The very tall actor towered over everyone and arrived with his wife and children. Quite friendly, but not as sociable as Abrams. It was great to see him. :)

Chris Pine - everyone arrived separately, and Pine was third. Clearly the hottest crowd favourite, he elicited loud squeals of joy when he emerged from the car, and a bunch of Chinese girls were on cloud nine when they reached out for hugs and he happily obliged. That was probably the only moment I was tempted to climb the barricade in front of me and dash across the road heh! Security can drag me away after I get a hug. :D
I too have been following Pine's career for years, from as early as his role in The Princess Diaries 2. Yes, when he and Anne Hathaway were still acting in Disney fairy tale flicks.
He's done very well for himself since scoring the role of Kirk in Star Trek. And after seeing him treat fans with such affection, I hope he achieves even greater success in the coming years. Nice chap. And equally handsome in person. :)

Zachary Quinto - the last to step onto the red carpet, and significantly more subdued than Pine. Didn't hug anyone, but posed for photos with an arm gently placed on each fan's back, flashing a slightly tight smile. I'm not too familiar with his work, having only watched him sporadically in Heroes, and films-wise, in Star Trek and Margin Call. YouTube clips of interviews reveal a strong command of the English language for sure ( "propinquity", anyone? ), but I'm particularly pleased about meeting both halves of a Hollywood couple ( Quinto's boyfriend is actor Jonathan Groff, whom I chatted with after an off-Broadway play in 2011 ).
Interesting how different they are in terms of fan treatment. Groff is unbelievably friendly, loves to converse and gave me the best hug ever. Maybe Quinto warms up under the right conditions. Who knows, if I'd said something he liked, maybe he would've hugged me too. :)

Day 2 was spent recovering from Day 1's excitement! A little bit of shopping after breakfast, then a short rest before heading to the Opera House.

It was Josh Groban's 2nd performance during his stopover in Sydney, and the audience comprised a large number of middle-aged and elderly people, with a smattering of younger fans. It was also the first time I'd ever attended a show which actually started early! Though scheduled to begin at 8pm, Josh and his band appeared on stage 2 minutes before that, without any fanfare, to everyone's delight.

The next 100 minutes were totally awesome! Not only did the repertoire feature songs from his latest release, All That Echoes, he also included popular hits from earlier albums ( his self-titled debut and follow-up, Awake ).

Selections from the former sent me into the stratosphere! Alejate, Alla Luce del Sole, Vincent ( Starry Starry Night ) and To Where You Are are among my all-time favourites, and he sang them flawlessly.

To Where You Are holds special meaning for me because it was mentioned by the fiancee of a young doctor who succumbed to SARS during the 2003 outbreak. She reached out to me on this very blog and we later corresponded via email. The song brought her great comfort and will always be a significant part of that era. When Josh sang it that night, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I swear I could feel my heart breaking all over again.

Aside from the heavenly music, Josh's humour also shone through. Famous for his witty and often corny jokes, the concert hall regularly erupted in uproarious laughter. At one point, he invited a lady in the front row to go on stage and sing a duet ( it was The Prayer ). She did an amazing job, and Josh's attempt to upstage her had us all in stitches. ( I have it on video too, what a treat! :))

Later, he hopped down and ran to the back of the hall to give someone his drumstick. Lucky girl! :D

I wish the night could've gone on forever, but it had to end sometime. When I got to the stage door, the place was swarming with around 200 fans, and Josh was only able to stay for about 10 minutes, signing autographs for those closest to him. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to meet him, but it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless, and I hope another opportunity will present itself one day in the not too distant future.

Most importantly, please don't bypass Singapore again argh!

On Day 3, we took in the annual ANZAC Day parade - a military extravaganza which we had no idea about until the day before. We also took a ferry ride to Manly. If there's time, perhaps I'll write more and post pictures in a subsequent entry, but I'd like to say a special thank-you to all the wonderful Australians we met on this trip! Strangers offered directions on the street and opened doors; drivers always let us cross the street even though it was their right of way; almost everyone we met was incredibly gracious and kind.

The locals were nice the last time we visited in 2009, but have improved even more 4 years later. Singaporeans have much to learn from other countries. Coming home is such a rude awakening. :(

Next, I need to send some love to Robert Downey, Jr. :)

I've been a fan for decades now, since his heyday in Chaplin, Chances Are and Only You. My support did not wane during his up-and-down periods, and I was hopeful about his comeback during a well-received stint on Ally McBeal.

Regardless of his trials and tribulations, I couldn't be happier when he slowly returned to prime form, notably in Zodiac, followed by Iron Man, which sealed his status as a profitable leading man.

Iron Man 2 was equally terrific, but the franchise scales new heights with Part 3. Don't think I've been this thrilled since Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol!

It's always tough to follow 2 super-successful films, but everything came together perfectly here. The mind-blowing special effects are present, but relatively toned down compared to its predecessor. Still, the plot and subplots move along efficiently, and nothing feels gimmicky. Stripping Tony Stark of his powerful suit is pure genius, and a detour to a sleepy town, with Stark befriending a precocious boy and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting inhabitants, is one of the movie's best highlights.

That, and a certain sky-diving sequence, minus parachutes!

Also, Guy Pearce has never looked better, WOW! :)

My only grouse - a small one - is the purpose of the female characters. Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen has a pseudo-pivotal role that doesn't optimize her talent, while Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is suddenly transformed into a super-powered fighting mutant. Err, okay...

Small wonder Iron Man 3 is raking in hundreds of millions at domestic and international box offices. I'll bet the studio is doing everything it can to keep RDJ in the franchise, because who else can play Tony Stark so perfectly? Stay on for at least Part 4, yes? :)

Someone else worth raving about: local actor Eden Ang.

I saw him last February in Pangdemonium's Spring Awakening, and more recently, in Rabbit Hole.

He played polar opposites in both productions - in the former, he was a mohawked rebel who belted rock songs; in the latter, he played a wholesome schoolboy trying to make amends for a tragic accident.

I thought he was remarkable in Rabbit Hole, despite having a relatively small role. Whenever he was on stage, I couldn't look anywhere else, and a scene he shares with Janice Koh is absolutely gut-wrenching.

He also reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A LOT. That's a huge compliment, by the way. :)

Here's my review.

Last but not least, another upcoming trip overseas, also to catch a show which will not come to Singapore.

The main draw is Ramin Karimloo, a theatre star I've hoped to see since 2011. Purchasing tickets for shows in Japan is a horrible nightmare, and I managed to do so only because a friend who lives in Tokyo kindly offered to help. I initially gave up when 2 websites wouldn't allow seat selection, but for some strange reason, a 3rd site popped up and offered a great location.

I hope attending the show won't present any complications! Also crossing my fingers that I'll be able to meet the cast - a friend who knows Lea Salonga personally may be able to help. :)

Was planning to review Hannibal, but perhaps in the next entry.