Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

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






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

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

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

1) It's a major rehash.

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

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

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

2) Too many holes in the plot.

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

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

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

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

3) Other annoying stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2015

2015 - The Year In Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Broadway 2015 Part 1

This year marked my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and since sightseeing was no longer on my to-do list, I fully concentrated on catching shows, managing to squeeze in 3 musicals and 6 plays in 7 days.

I also made sure to be at the stage door every single time, and had the most unbelievable experiences!

Another amazing addition to my 40th birthday celebration ( I'm only 5 months into it )! Once again, I'm grateful for God's many blessings, which made so many wonderful events possible.

My first entry is about Al Pacino and the play he stars in, David Mamet's new work, China Doll.

Mr. Pacino is a Broadway veteran, having appeared on the Great White Way more than 10 times in the past 4 decades, and won 2 Tony Awards.

China Doll is his 3rd Broadway show in 5 years. And although I was in New York in 2011 and 2014, my timing was never quite right. So when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn't believe my good fortune and bought tickets!

I've known about Mr. Pacino since I was a kid, but became a huge fan when I was 17, after watching Scent Of A Woman. I fell in love with the film immediately, and jumped for joy when he finally won an Oscar - the only one in his long career - for the role. That speech his character makes at the end still makes me tear up after more than 20 years. And the tango he does with Gabrielle Anwar is a classic!

As expected, China Doll's ticket sales have been through the roof since previews began on October 21, generating more than a million dollars per week. I attended the November 5 performance, and the theatre was packed to capacity.

The play itself isn't fantastic, but I also admit to having a much stronger preference for musicals. Mamet structures this script primarily as a monologue, with Mr. Pacino delivering almost all the dialogue, which spans a whopping 2 hours. Aside from him, there's only one other character - an assistant, who stays silent 90 per cent of the time.

When the lights came on and Mr. Pacino appeared on stage, the audience erupted in applause and cheers, and I was awestruck. He turned 75 in April, but remains alert and fit. And his stage presence is nothing short of staggering. It was commanding, effortless, mind-blowing. My heart almost stopped!

( I saw Bruce Willis in Misery the day before, and sat in the 3rd or 4th row, compared to the 7th / 8th row for China Doll. Willis can't hold a candle to Mr. P in terms of charisma and acting ability. More on that in a later entry. )

There's been speculation about difficulties brewing in China Doll - Mr. Pacino not being able to remember his lines and being fed these via teleprompters, Bluetooth devices and a laptop embedded in the set; conflict between Mr. P and the director; Mr. P observed looking despondent in his dressing room.
I don't know how accurate these reports are, but his November 5 performance was great. He stammered on and off but the overall delivery was smooth and he appeared comfortable and confident.

Personally, I think Mamet's script isn't well-written. He focuses too much on an issue involving a private jet purchased by Mr. P's character ( Mickey Ross ), which went right over me ( something about a sales tax, which depends on the aircraft's tail number, etc. ). Ross is supposed to be a billionaire with a shady past, who's also under the spell of a much younger woman. We never see this woman, of course, which is why I wish Mamet could've included much more information about her. How did she and Ross meet? Why is he so enamoured of her? I would've liked to hear about these instead of boring stuff about a plane.

There were people around me who didn't come back after the intermission. That's their loss. At the end of the show, everyone gave Mr. Pacino a standing ovation. Not for the play itself, but for the man - a true Hollywood and Broadway legend.

There was a huge crowd at the stage door, and I was swallowed by a sea of tall people. My optimism was non-existent at that point, then I suddenly felt an urge to pray. I'm not kidding. I really started to pray quietly, asking for a miracle to happen so I could get closer. So here's what happened:

Huge crowds on both sides of the stage door and even across the road. Lots of security and I think a couple of police officers on hand.
I hardly saw anything 'cos everyone around me was a head taller.
After about 15 minutes, security moved 2 of the barricades and I managed to inch closer.
However, I was still 3rd row from the front, with hardly any space to take a photo of him.
5 minutes later, Mr. Pacino emerged, to loud cheers from the fans.
He flashed a big smile and came to my side first, signing playbills and other items proffered.
I couldn't see him but gently pushed my playbill through a space between the people in front of me.
He saw it and instead of just signing it while it was in my hand, he actually took it from me, scribbled his signature, then pushed it back through the same space so I could grab it!
( I thought that was really nice of him. :))
After a few minutes, he moved to the other side.
The crowd in front of me dispersed - a few people left, but others stayed.
A space at the front became available so I quickly moved forward.
( A big thank you to the other fans around me, who remained orderly throughout and never squashed me, then later moved aside so I could squeeze to the front. I think God put angels around me that night! )
While Mr. P walked around on the other side, I recorded a short video clip of him. Later, I realized I captured a fan shouting, "Hoo-ah!" at him, which amused everyone immensely, 'cos it's a famous quote from Scent Of A Woman. :)
He spent a long time signing, 'cos the crowd kept moving and like me, people from the back came to the front and new items were presented.
He was very patient and obliging, and never said no to anyone.

After about 5-10 minutes of signing, fans started asking him for photos, and he agreed.
He didn't take pics with everyone though, only a few here and there. I don't know whether he did this deliberately or if fans were too scared to ask?
After he was done with the other side, he came back to us! But he only went to each end of our group, and walked right past me twice.
He thought that was it, then stepped back to scan the crowd on my side again. He never stopped smiling, and looked really happy.
That's when I plucked up the courage to call out to him.
"Mr. Pacino!" He heard me and made eye contact immediately.
( I remember thinking OMG, Al Pacino - THE Al Pacino - is looking at me! This is surreal! )
"Can I please get a photo? Please please please?"
I was holding the playbill in my hands and waving it up and down. I vaguely recall hopping as well. I can't imagine how I appeared to him. I guess he could tell I was freaking out!
He stood there smiling at me for a split second, then came over.

I tend to blank out when I'm super-excited, but thank goodness this moment turned into a slo-mo sequence, and I actually remember everything.
He positioned himself right next to me on my left. We were separated by the barricade but other than that, our upper bodies were in direct contact.
My hands were shaking so badly! I've met many famous people but this was a clear indication that Mr. Pacino was the biggest star of them all, 'cos I'd never been this nervous before.
I couldn't focus properly and it took me a few seconds to frame the shot correctly.
I worried that Mr. P would change his mind and leave, but he never once complained, and patiently waited as I adjusted my phone.
( Why was I worried? 'Cos back in April 2014, I met Chris O'Dowd at the stage door after Of Mice And Men, and also had difficulty focusing. Not because I was nervous, but 'cos I was doing a selfie for the first time and wasn't used to the camera angle. Instead of waiting or helping me, he walked off after 1-2 seconds, never to return! He didn't leave a good impression. )

Another interesting point to note: I've seen a number of YouTube videos of Mr. P at the stage door. When he takes photos with fans, he moves their arms to help them focus. So why didn't he do the same with me hmm... I'm happy he didn't - gave me extra time with him haha. :)

After I finally got the shot, I said, "Thank you so much!" and he smiled and nodded.
He walked back to stand next to his car, then a lady behind me called his name, also asking for a photo.
He didn't hear her though, and I moved so she could go in front of me, in case he spotted her.
No luck. He threw his marker pen into the crowd ( you should've seen the major scramble behind me haha ), got into the SUV and left.

The photo I took with him was the last one for the night.
And on later review, it turns out not only were our arms and sides touching, our heads were too!

Judging from the other videos I've seen, I got really lucky that night. He usually goes round only once on each side, signing and taking photos at the same time before heading out, staying 5 minutes tops. On November 5, I think he hung around for 10-15 minutes, 'cos he kept going back and forth a few times. What're the odds! :)

Celebrities are very unpredictable creatures, but Mr. Pacino is such a sweetheart, and made my entire life with his kind gesture.
Thank you, sir! I will always be a loyal fan, and wish you and the China Doll team all the best for opening night.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Narcos - A Review

The standard of TV series increases with each passing year, and just when I thought 2015 had met its quota of small screen awesomeness, Netflix's Narcos comes along. And blows my mind.

I actually had zero prior knowledge about this show, but stumbled upon a rave review in People magazine, after which I checked IMDB.com and saw its whopping 9.1/10 rating.
I gave episode 1 a try and was instantly hooked. I'm currently at the halfway mark, but judging from the way things are going, I'll probably end up rating it a 9 or 10.

In fact, I think it's even better than Breaking Bad.

So what's the appeal?

Before I go further, it's important to emphasize that my taste in TV is very unpredictable, especially now that I have access to so many programmes from countless sources. That's probably how I finally discovered what I really like.

My list of favourites includes both mainstream and much less popular fare, the top 3 being Dexter, The Killing and House Of Cards. Narcos is so incredible that I foresee it hitting the #4 spot.

The show's premise is simple, following America's efforts to capture notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, during the Reagan administration.

Doesn't sound very interesting on paper, but the presentation of this content is absolutely riveting.

I read about Escobar when I was a teenager. There're vivid memories of my poring over Time magazine, which documented his bloody exploits in a number of feature articles. Narcos, however, delves deep into the story and spits everything at you at breakneck pace, and best of all, the writers assume the audience will keep up. If you fall off the cliff at some point, that's just too bad.

Believe me, the ride is definitely not an easy one. 50% of the dialogue requires subtitles; the number of Colombian characters will make your head spin ( not helped by the fact that quite a few of them look somewhat alike ); the cat-and-mouse games between Escobar, the Colombian and American governments, the DEA and the CIA make Game Of Thrones look like child's play.

And the cast! From Wagner Moura as Escobar, to Boyd Holbrook as DEA agent Steve Murphy and Pedro Pascal as CIA officer Javier Pena - these 3 amazing actors burn up the screen.

They're not your typical gorgeous male specimens ( though I consider Pascal extremely attractive ), but each exudes his own brand of charisma. The best reasons to watch this series, IMO.

Special mention goes to the show's stellar team of writers, who never waste a single word and consistently churn out high-octane dialogue. They generously sprinkle every episode with voiceovers by the lead character, i.e. Murphy, which Holbrook delivers in a relaxed, monotonous drawl. Many of these occur during violent scenes, causing me to wonder if the writers and / or directors orchestrated this to convey a sense of irony. I find it highly amusing. :)

The series itself is terrific, but I do have a favourite scene which is on par with something from Breaking Bad's first season ( i.e. episode 2, featuring a drug dealer's disabled uncle who communicates by ringing a little desk bell ). In the 3rd episode of Narcos, after Murphy's beloved cat is murdered as a warning, he and CIA partner, Pena, doggedly track down 2 immigration officers who revealed the former's identity to the drug cartel. The interrogation scene at the police station, where the suspects are sternly informed that "This is a gringo cat of the DEA!" is a classic! I have no idea how all the actors managed to keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing!

I can't confirm how historically accurate Narcos is, but I believe key events are correctly portrayed ( the car bombs were definitely in the Time magazine pieces ). I accept some degree of dramatization in every biopic as long as it's done tastefully and doesn't distort facts to the point of absurdity.

If you're game, start watching now.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

What's Up, Doc?

It's been more than 2 months since my last entry. Time for an update!

First, I finally completed the ultrasound course, which lasted almost 2 years. It's been a long and arduous process, requiring a salary cut and other sacrifices. But in the end, I have no regrets, and will continue to push on in my field of interest, which is gaining huge momentum in emergency medicine.

Second, just when I thought plans for my 40th year ( which extends till next June of course ) were pretty much finalized, 2 unexpected events occurred.

Josh Groban's Australian tour

This may not sound unusual, but there was a period where he didn't visit this region for 6 years, returning only in 2013, which is when I saw him for the very first time, after being a fan for more than a decade.

His latest release, Stages, is IMO his best yet, so when the Australian dates were announced, I made sure to purchase tickets the day public sales began.
The experience, however, was unbelievably stressful. The morning I logged on, the Sydney Opera House website couldn't handle the heavy traffic and crashed. Phone lines were engaged for a full hour. By the time I managed to launch the site, most of the good seats were gone.
Strangely, 2 were available in the 10th row, even though everything around that section was already snapped up. To this day, I have no idea how this happened, except through divine intervention. Thank you, and see you in April, Josh! :)

Hugh Jackman's Broadway To Oz tour

Another sign of divine intervention came in the form of Hugh Jackman's suddenly announced concert series, also in Australia. Why do I see God's hand in this? Because I narrowly missed Hugh's Broadway variety show in 2011 ( it started 2 weeks after I left New York argh! ), then I couldn't make it for his stint in the play, The River, which ran from Nov 2014 to Feb 2015 ( I was in New York in April 2014 - double argh! ). When he came to Singapore in May last year for the premiere of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, an Australian friend of mine who's good pals with Hugh's father helped me get tickets to the screening, but couldn't sneak me into the meet-and-greet.

I've been praying so hard for another opportunity to see him on stage, and am elated to report that I have tickets to his concert in Sydney - 11th row, right next to the stage extension woohoo! I may ask my friend for another small favour - the last one, I promise :) - so keeping my fingers crossed!

Third, a recent invitation to a local theatre company's fund-raising dinner, where I brushed shoulders with Jim Rogers, of all people! I had no idea he'd be there, and he's kinda camera shy, so no photos sorry. But it was a really cool surprise. Many thanks to A for including me. :)

A couple of worthy mentions in the entertainment department:

Rebecca Ferguson, who is my girl crush for 2015, after a mind-boggling turn in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. I'm a fan of tough female characters, but Ilsa Faust takes the cake!
MI5 was extremely enjoyable, and my earlier distaste for Tom Cruise ( after Andrew Morton's damning biography was published ) has completely dissipated. He may have bizarre religious beliefs and could be an evil megalomaniac under that million-dollar smile, but there's no denying his work ethic and savvy film choices.

The Walking Dead

Like Breaking Bad, I'm a late bloomer with this one.
I actually finished season 1 in 2010, but gave up after finding it too draggy. Started watching it all over again last week, mostly because StarHub cable has made all 5 seasons available on its Fox Play demand channel.
Maybe I've gotten older and more patient with such formats - i.e. long, protracted scenes; lots of talking and plotting; super-detailed character development. Although this isn't that different from other series I love - e.g. Dexter, The Killing, The Fall. Maybe I just don't like zombies haha.
Anyway, my opinion has changed dramatically, so the second time round, I give TWD two thumbs up. Season 6 premieres in 6 weeks and I don't know if I'll finish season 5 by then, since I can only stomach 2-3 episodes in one sitting. I think I can make it if I ignore everything else on TV. :)

p.s. Andrew Lincoln is awesome. Especially because he's British and nails that Southern accent. Amazing!
p.p.s. Was invited to a press event for The Walking Dead's season 5 promo tour in Singapore last year, but declined because I wasn't following the series at the time. Wanted to hand my passes off to other fans but wasn't allowed to do so. Hope Lincoln and co-star Norman Reedus will be back. I'll go this time for sure!

Hannibal season 3

Special mention goes to Richard Armitage for his chilling, shocking portrayal of the Red Dragon, aka Francis Dolarhyde.
The first half of season 3 was intolerably slow and downright incomprehensible, but once the Red Dragon appeared, things got much more interesting.
While the season finale was disappointing ( and the show was not renewed ), Armitage impressed me immensely. Most of us know him as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit trilogy. You know, the hero, all round good guy, etc. As Francis, he's even more frightening than Ralph Fiennes in the film version. Hope this gets him noticed so he can snag meatier roles in the future. He is one talented man.

Ally McBeal reruns

These started in August and brought back fond memories of my 20s. Ahh, to be young and carefree again. :)
It isn't on my list of favourites, but it was quite a big hit in the late 90s, with many memorable characters, catch phrases and images. E.g. John "The Biscuit" Cage, "Fish-isms", Barry White, that dancing baby.
Not to mention numerous well-known guest stars like Tony Shalhoub, Mark Feuerstein, Haley Joel Osment and Josh Groban.
And don't forget Robert Downey Jr, who played Ally's love interest in later seasons. Or James Marsden, who sang Witchcraft in one episode and melted my heart!

Calista Flockhart irritated me then with her ditzy behaviour and deliberate stammering. She still irritates me now. So I just block her out.
Almost 2 decades later, I'm able to appreciate the show a lot more. Now, I hope cable will air reruns of The Practice. All 8 seasons please. But preferably not when I'm overseas, because seasons 3-7 aren't available on DVD so I need to record them on my player at home.

Looking forward to:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Martian


And of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!!

I watched Episode IV when I was a tiny tot and remember the experience very well.
Really appreciate JJ Abrams' update in my milestone year. This is something truly worth celebrating!

Last but not least, my Broadway show lineup for this November:

Sylvia - starring Matthew Broderick ( aka Ferris Bueller, hero to millions of teens during the 80s. :))

The King And I - multiple Tony Award wins this year, including Best Actress in a Musical, Kelli O'Hara.

Therese Raquin - stars Keira Knightley ( Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, Atonement, Anna Karenina ). I'm a big fan of the movie, which featured Oscar Isaac and Elizabeth Olsen.

Misery - Bruce Willis' Broadway debut. It's a privilege to see this. :)

Old Times - Clive Owen, whom I loved in The International, Closer and The Knick.

A View From The Bridge - Mark Strong, aka the badass in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes reboot, and Matthew Vaughn's super-violent films ( Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service ).

China Doll - Al Pacino. Enough said.

A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder - 2014's Tony winner for Best Musical. One of the original lead actors recently returned to the show after a short hiatus, so now's the time to see the original lead cast before they scatter again!

An American In Paris - very excited about seeing Robert Fairchild, who dances like a dream.

2015's turning out to be very exhausting. But also my best year yet! Until next time... :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review - Jurassic World

Right, so this entry is slightly delayed, and the movie's already grossed half a billion dollars worldwide since it opened less than a week ago. But a review is definitely warranted, because not only do I consider this a momentous event, I also gave it a 10/10 rating on IMDB. Because I love it that much!

I realize there're similarities to the previous 3 Jurassic Park films - messing around with dinosaurs, well laid plans going awry, children in peril, mayhem and a significant body count. But every franchise has its own successful formula, so why change it when it clearly works?

Rest assured that I asked the same exasperating questions:

1) Why are you playing with dinosaur DNA - AGAIN?

2) Don't you know electric fences and high walls never work?

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

Despite the obvious human stupidity, I really could care less because I'm mainly interested in the dinos. Perennial favourites like the T-Rex and velociraptors are back, with the addition of a hybrid - the Indominus Rex - which proves to be a nightmare to manage. As predicted, the monster escapes and various manoeuvres are utilized to recapture it, with disastrous results.

It all sounds very rote, but the execution itself is anything but. Believe me when I say that watching Jurassic World took me right back to 1993, when I was 18 and cowering in a dark theatre for 2 hours during Jurassic Park. The sequels never reached that peak, until now.

The screenwriters tweaked the plot here and there, my personal favourite being the 4 pseudo-domesticated raptors, which later become the humans' allies in their hunt for the I-Rex. Bred in captivity and trained from infancy by raptor wrangler, Owen, they're markedly different from their Jurassic Park counterparts yet retain key traits - exceptional intelligence, a capacity for bloodthirsty violence - that keep things grounded in reality. These are my favourites among the entire dinosaur population, so heed my advice when I tell you to stay alert during every raptor scene, so you can fully appreciate the complex relationship they share with Owen. It's definitely one of the highlights of the movie!

The action sequences are also terrific, especially since they now take place on a much larger scale - i.e. the park is officially open to the public, so we have 20,000 tasty morsels for the hungry creatures to feast on. The animatronic and visual effects are spectacular, though I'm also much more appreciative of how advanced these already were 2 decades ago in the original classic.

Many kudos to director Colin Trevorrow, who's helming his first blockbuster after catching Steven Spielberg's attention with his indie flick, Safety Not Guaranteed ( which I intend to watch one of these days when I have time ). In his interview with Empire magazine, Trevorrow explained that Spielberg selected him for this important task because of his ability to handle multiple genres ( adventure, comedy, romance ). In recent years, I've noticed a trend in Hollywood where directors of low-budget movies or those with relatively short CVs are given opportunities to take on massive projects, often based on a powerful studio chief / movie star / big shot producer's gut feeling. This change in mindset has proved to be a game changer in the film industry, particularly in the blockbuster franchise department. Prime examples include Mission: Impossible 3 ( JJ Abrams ), Iron Man ( Jon Favreau ) and Thor ( Kenneth Branagh ). And the trend has continued with Captain America: The Winter Soldier ( Anthony and Joe Russo ) and The Avengers ( Joss Whedon ).

These directors bring fresh ideas to the table and invigorate the blockbuster genre. Mr. Trevorrow, welcome to the club. :)

Last but not least, the cast. For me, this is perhaps the most vital ingredient in any action-adventure film, and the selection of actors here is perfect.
The 2 boys - Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins - are extremely likable and convincing. I always marvel at how these talented children and teenagers manage to look so petrified when there isn't any real danger - it heightens the moviegoer's experience tremendously!

Bryce Dallas Howard, who excels at playing stern, standoffish women ( watch her bitchy character in 50-50 ) starts off effectively prissy then transforms into a true-blue heroine.

But this movie's biggest asset is none other than Chris Pratt. I'm not familiar with his work on TV and in earlier flicks ( when he was super chubby ), but came to know of him through The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn't enjoy Guardians very much, but Owen is an absolutely perfect fit for him! Lean and muscular, with a manly swagger and handling dinosaurs like a pro, Pratt finally wins my approval. He still can't match the intensity of Kevin Spacey, Michael Fassbender and Oscar Isaac, but I fully agree that he's the closest we'll ever get to Harrison Ford, so PLEASE have an Indiana Jones remake / reboot / sequel / prequel or what-have-you, and make sure he's the lead!

I predict a box office gross of $1 billion within the next fortnight, if not sooner.

A rousing revival of a beloved tale! Make sure you catch it. :)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Big 4-0

I've been neglecting my blog this past year, but of course, this milestone event cannot be ignored. :)

I guess this means I've officially hit "middle age" status, but unlike many women out there who view this stage of their lives with trepidation, I welcome it with open arms and a happy heart.

Growing older has never been a major problem for me - well, aside from the aching bones and faltering stamina. Why should it be, when over the past 2 decades, so many of my dreams have come true, and my life has improved immeasurably?

Granted, it wasn't always a bed of roses, but with age comes ( hopefully ) a little bit of wisdom, and with wisdom comes understanding and acceptance. Not all of my dreams have been realized, and a few probably never will be, but others remain possibilities, and those are the ones I fully intend to pursue for as long as I'm able to.

Another yardstick I use for gauging my level of contentment is asking myself whether I'm happier now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. The answer is a resounding yes.

Although there've been betrayals and regrets along the way - people who were cruel, ungrateful and reckless; bad decisions, etc. - and my life took a number of sharp detours as a result, I learned many important lessons, gained valuable insight, stopped trusting so easily, and lost interest in vying for popularity votes.

I've also developed a knack for wreaking vengeance on those who wrong me. If I don't manage to do it myself, divine intervention usually does the honour, for which I am extremely grateful. :)

But enough about the bad stuff - there's so much more worth celebrating! Family, friends, good health, financial security, the opportunity to travel and meet great people everywhere.

My original plan was to return to France this year, after falling in love with the country back in 2010. But a series of events led me to a tour of Greece, and while the trip left me mentally and physically exhausted, it turned out to be one of the most entertaining and memorable experiences I've ever had, which is rather appropriate for my milestone birthday.

Another greatly anticipated journey awaits in October, when I return to the U.S. for a conference, exploring Boston before visiting New York for the 4th time in 7 years. Broadway musicals on my must-watch list include The King And I, Gigi and An American In Paris, and star-studded plays I intend to catch have Al Pacino, Clive Owen, Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell as headliners.

And let's not forget momentous film events! From Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys to Mission: Impossible 5 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I mean, STAR FREAKING WARS! Turning 40 couldn't get any sweeter than this! :D

Career-wise, I have mixed feelings. 10 years ago, choosing emergency medicine was a no-brainer and I was convinced that it was the best path for me. Now, there're days where my heart sinks before a shift, and I can't move for 2 days after working overnight. My temper is short, and I often wonder why the hell I subject myself to such torture.
The practice of emergency medicine has changed so drastically this past decade, in a good way because many of the implemented measures improve patient care and safety. On the flip side, however, the well-being of the senior ED physicians is being severely compromised. And in case the powers that be are uncomfortable with my views, I'm voicing them in a purely personal capacity so you're off the hook. :)

I've spoken to many medical friends from different specialties, and like me, they all lament the quality of medical students and young doctors these days. We do encounter a few who exceed expectations, but many lack even basic clinical knowledge and skills considered appropriate for their level, or worse, display lack of insight and/or arrogance when reprimanded or counselled ( i.e. the Gen Y syndrome ).
Coupled with the huge patient loads that swamp the ED, the constant overcrowding problem, plus an increasingly elderly and sickly population, holding every junior doctor's hand and worrying about a patient dying on us takes a major toll. My worst nightmare is losing my practising certificate because an underling's oversight drags me into the fiasco just because I happened to be on duty when the incident occurred.

I fully empathize with colleagues who've left for the private sector. I wish I could follow suit, but every time a frail old man or woman grips my hand and weeps, telling me s/he has no money, no family support, and that s/he wishes s/he could die, my anger and frustration with the system dissipates, and the reason I first chose this route becomes clear again.

It takes a person with a very unusual disposition to endure the suffering of a public hospital ED physician in this country. It is quite possibly the most thankless specialty in the medical profession, but we all persevere. We complain a lot, but we stay put. If only the big shots and patients understood this!

So the final question is: what comes next?
Considering the local population's average life span, this could be the halfway mark of my existence. Don't worry, I contemplated my own mortality years ago when my lawyer submitted my first will, and the risk of croaking hits me each time I get into my car, cross the road or board a plane. I'm not the type to think about "my legacy". I'm not an adrenaline junkie chasing the next high. I just do my best to stay healthy, take care of my parents, invest in relationships with good people, use money wisely, and never lose faith in God. Despite all the amazing places I've visited and the celebrities I've met, I never tire of simple pleasures - a delicious bowl of laksa, an excellent book, time spent with my best friend, laughing so hard I shed tears, marveling at the beauty of nature, finding peace in prayer and feeling God's presence beside me.

I am so grateful for everything, and will endeavour to stay grateful in the years to come.

A big thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes. You made my year. :)
To another 4 awesome decades!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daredevil ( Netflix )

This series has been on my radar since last year, and I am now digesting it at a leisurely pace.

3 episodes in, I'm still reserving judgment. It's garnered an average rating of 9.4/10 on IMDB.com, but I may wait till I finish the entire season before giving my verdict.

I'm no fan of comic book heroes ( my reading list leans more towards Archie, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Sherman's Lagoon, Tintin and Asterix ). Daredevil can't quite compare with the likes of Superman, Batman and Iron Man, but I was very excited after seeing the first trailer some time back - dark, bloody, foreboding.

I'm a huge fan of dark things. I mean, Dexter is my favourite TV series, and the character ( TV and books ) is my personal hero. My mind's wired that way. :)

Early impressions of Daredevil are a little mixed so far, but I give high marks to the casting choices, especially British actor Charlie Cox in the leading role. I mostly recognize him from a small part in Stardust and more recently, as a kind-hearted church choirmaster in The Theory Of Everything. After seeing him play such sweetly benign good guys, it was shocking to learn he'd be playing Daredevil. Even more shocking to see what he's capable of through the stylishly executed trailer.

I think he's doing a terrific job, and prefer him to Ben Affleck's version in the 2003 movie ( back when most superhero flicks were light-hearted and campy ). Cox has a boyish, almost angelic, face, projects a strong screen presence, and possesses just the right degree of gravitas without coming across as stiff or pretentious. According to Empire magazine, he went through a rigorous training programme to get that ripped physique - which I appreciate, thank you! - though I can't always tell if it's really him in those complicated fight scenes ( and there're lots of them ).

What I enjoy most, however, is his voice - deep, honey-smooth, oddly reassuring and menacing at the same time, depending on the situation. The same speech pattern can comfort a damsel or child in distress yet strike fear into the hearts of hard-core criminals. Reminder to self to pay more attention to the inflections used in future episodes, so I can figure out why the effects are so drastically different!

The other inspired casting choice is Vincent D'Onofrio, whose career I've followed for many years, since his days on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I'm a huge fan of his work on that series, and was endlessly delighted by his entertaining portrayal of a super-intelligent NYPD detective with OCD tendencies and a scary ability to see through any facade.
He also has 2 of the most beautiful hands I've ever seen. :)

D'Onofrio doesn't make an appearance in Daredevil until the last 5 minutes of episode 3, just before the suspense threatens to overwhelm you. Rest assured that the buildup doesn't fall flat. D'Onofrio has a large, imposing frame, and emanates evil effortlessly. Even as an NYPD detective on Law & Order, he played a good guy but always made me edgy because he seemed to have a dark side which he kept hidden, but which you could sense if you looked closely enough.

Now that he's playing a real villain - so terrifying that a snitch violently commits suicide after revealing his identity to Daredevil - I can only imagine what twisted fun is in store.
( I repeat, my mind's wired that way. :))

Writing-wise, it doesn't come close to the exceptional standard of House Of Cards ( another Netflix product ). Episode 2 was especially draggy, featuring Daredevil's encounter with an ER nurse who treats his wounds ( I would've preferred an ER doctor, for selfish reasons haha ). The dialogue is clumsy and the acting forced. Could be the director's fault since episode 3 fares much better.

I'm hopeful that subsequent installments will improve. In the meantime, Cox and D'Onofrio are more than sufficient to keep me invested.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Preliminary Review - House Of Cards season 3

I'm just about to reach the halfway mark, but can't possibly wait till the end before writing something!




After finally usurping the American presidency in season 2, the latest chapter focuses on the new challenges Frank Underwood faces as the leader of the free world. However, it has not escaped my attention that episode 1 was entirely devoted to one of my favourite characters - Douglas Stamper, played by Michael Kelly. Originally a more secondary figure, Stamper is now given abundant screen time, following a shocking accident which left little doubt that he had perished. Imagine my delight when it was revealed that he not only survived, but made a remarkable recovery after major surgery and aggressive rehabilitation.

His political career, on the other hand, suffers a huge blow. Previously Frank's right hand man, he is now sidelined and unable to return to the White House despite multiple pleas and a display of unwavering loyalty. But even the most stalwart servant has his limits. By episode 5, Stamper makes his counter move, and I can't wait to see how it's going to turn out.

The new American President has his hands full as well, making executive decisions on a drone strike in the Middle East, hosting a state dinner and trying to outwit a crafty Russian leader. And if these weren't difficult enough, he fails to secure the Democratic party's support for a 2016 run. I believe that bombshell dropped in episode 2. The writers really aren't holding back this season!

While the plot twists are highly entertaining, Frank's responses are what make this series so irresistible. It's easy to label him a villain - and who would blame you? After all, he did become the President through Machiavellian scheming, orchestrating the death of a hapless senator ( a role that launched Corey Stoll's career ) and personally shoving a nosy reporter in front of a subway train ( a moment many of us will never forget ). And yet, I find myself sympathizing with Frank; understanding his desperation; rooting for him to defeat his opponents. Because rising to the top of any hierarchy takes gumption, intelligence and fearlessness. And why shouldn't someone possessing these qualities be in charge of the United States?

But even Frank occasionally crumbles under pressure, which is where his wife comes in. Claire - played to perfection by Robin Wright - has ambitions of her own and takes bold measures to establish herself in the international political arena. And like her husband, she encounters her share of dissension and manages to claw her way through. The marital dynamic between Frank and Claire is both simple and complex. They've settled into a comfortable routine through the years, never arguing about bedroom arrangements or the open nature of their relationship. The complexity lies in their collaborative effort in maintaining political sovereignty - discussing power plays and boosting the other's morale when necessary.

One memorable scene from an early episode depicts Frank curled up on the floor in the Oval Office, sobbing silently after failed attempts to secure campaign funds for a presidential run as an independent candidate. Claire discovers him in this sorry state, says nothing, then proceeds to please him sexually. Cut to the next morning, and Frank is a changed man, full of new resolve to beat the odds after almost giving up the night before. I have never encountered a more vivid illustration of the saying "Behind every great man is a great woman."

The lead characters are what viewers tune in for, but the secondary players are no less worthy of our attention. Russian President Petrov - a salute to Putin - features prominently, as does Solicitor General Heather Dunbar. Both are thorns in Frank's side and seriously undermine his authority. There's really no way to predict the final outcome of these conflicts. I look forward to seeing who emerges the victor. :)

My brain isn't working very well post-call, so I'll try to post a more coherent entry once I finish all 13 episodes. So far, season 3 is turning out to be everything I hoped for - smart, twisted and deliciously sarcastic. Bonuses come in the form of jazz musician Peter Cincotti, who plays himself at the state dinner ( I've met him twice and he's a real sweetheart ), and an amusing epiphany involving President Underwood, a magazine review of a video game, and a job offer to pen a propagandistic book. Made me think hard about my own writing skills - why hasn't anyone harnessed my potential for political agendas yet? Probably because they know I'll refuse. ;)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Film Review - Fifty Shades Of Grey

I finally saw this today, a week after its worldwide release. The hype hasn't abated, and neither have the negative / mixed reviews.

Yes, I've read books one and two of the trilogy ( I own the entire set but somehow lost momentum and didn't get to book three ) and am familiar with the storyline. I've also gone through a number of reviews written by well-known critics. Lacklustre word-of-mouth feedback from friends added to the mix, so my expectations weren't high as I entered the theatre.

So no-one is more surprised than I am about the strange yet undeniable outcome: I liked it. A lot. In fact, I rated it 9/10 on IMDB.com.

First, kudos to Kelly Marcel for condensing 500 pages of lovesick ramblings into a palatable end-product. It's no secret that author EL James was originally inspired by Bella and Edward's romance in Twilight, and the novels mirror Stephenie Meyers' writing style, i.e. long, detailed descriptions of the main characters' state of mind, and numerous repetitions ad nauseam of certain physical attributes or behavioural quirks.

Those of us who had more than enough of Anastasia's "inner goddess" and Christian's "laters, baby", not to mention their endless email exchanges, are spared the torture since the first is completely omitted, the second reduced to two lines in one fleeting scene, and the third summarized succinctly, leaving out the childish teasing which made me flip pages like crazy.

So thankfully, I felt no pain ( apologies for the unintended pun ) sitting through 2 hours of relatively normal dialogue. And FYI, the trailers and clips on YouTube really do no justice to the movie. Whoever orchestrated those should be flogged ( pun fully intended :)).

Second, the two lead actors are excellent casting choices. I previously watched Dakota Johnson in a TV sitcom ( so forgettable I can't even recall the title ) and had major reservations about her ability to handle this role, especially after seeing those clips where she talks like a wooden puppet. In the film proper, she's actually pretty impressive. With each passing minute, I became increasingly convinced that innocent Ana wasn't the pushover everyone thought she would be. I found the novel version of Ana extremely annoying, but Johnson makes her likable and believable.

Then there's Jamie Dornan, the Irish actor who took over when first choice, Charlie Hunnam, backed out. Most are probably more familiar with his work on the American series, Once Upon A Time, as The Huntsman, but I know him as Paul Spector, a vicious serial rapist / killer on the excellent BBC crime drama, The Fall. When his name was announced for Fifty Shades, I had no doubt he would nail the role, and nail it he did.

The physical part is easy - Dornan used to model for Calvin Klein and is clearly very comfortable with his body in front of the camera. He's tall, lean and walks with a sexy swagger. Though known to favour a scruffy look with thick facial hair and flattened locks, he's given a full makeover here and looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous. He's 33 compared to Christian's 25 but easily passes for the latter, thanks to his flawless skin, thick hair and cheeky smile.

As for the "essence" of Christian, well, Dornan hits it right out of the ball park. That casual yet confident air, the simmering undercurrent of danger, the occasional flash of boyish mischief - even my mum ( who's in her 70s ) admitted defeat and succumbed. :)

There's a scene in the second half where Christian takes Ana gliding, then they have a quiet moment standing outside a hangar before he leaves. Dornan looked like a gazillion dollars as his face was illuminated by the setting sun. It's been a while since my breath was taken away like this. Nothing EL James has written can compare with such a vision. My effusive thanks to the cinematographer! :D

Third, the debate about the questionable message being conveyed. Pornography disguised as a love story; anti-feminist; an erosion of family values, etc. Look, I'm a devout Christian and lead a clean life, and Fifty Shades doesn't bother me one bit. I know what the real world is like: people like Christian Grey exist; this film is R-rated, not PG13 - what is the big deal? Sex-wise, the novels are nothing compared to some hard-core stuff I've read ( as a teenager, mind you ). I didn't turn into a nymphomaniac dominatrix. As for the movie scenes, some people complain that they're too tame, but I personally prefer them this way. They conveyed what was needed to propel the story and weren't gratuitous. As for viewers who are on the other side of the fence - i.e. think they're too graphic - then let me steer you towards Shame ( Michael Fassbender ) and Boogie Nights ( Mark Wahlberg ).

I give huge credit to director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, for drawing great performances from her leads. I watched Nowhere Boy, which featured an amazing turn from a very young soon-to-be-star Aaron Johnson ( also her future husband ), and congratulate her on doing yet another admirable job.

Last, the movie soundtrack, which features a score by Danny Elfman ( of all people ) and a list of really beautiful pop / R&B songs. I've already downloaded the digital album and intend to play it on repeat for the next few weeks. Fabulous compilation. Sets the mood for the best scenes and makes them even better. There's a classical companion as well, which I will also sample.

Fifty Shades Of Grey received a sad 4.1/10 overall rating on IMDB, but definitely deserves something at least double that. I won't deny that I was fully prepared to hate the movie ( I went only because of Dornan, whom I consider worthy of my time ), but ended up thoroughly enjoying myself. Yes, it's totally unrealistic, but bestselling romances often are, and this has been a well-known fact for decades. I, for one, love such diversions, and couldn't be happier about spending 2 hours of my Chinese New Year afternoon at the cineplex.

Just wondering if I'll be able to get a copy when the DVD comes out. It isn't going to pass our censorship board or customs inspection.

p.s. Still very thrilled about brushing past one of the movie's producers - i.e. Dana Brunetti - at last April's New York Museum of the Moving Image gala tribute for Kevin Spacey. Was too shy to greet him then, but if there's a next time, I'm not going to let the chance pass me by. :)

Film Review - Kingsman: The Secret Service

I always get a massive adrenaline rush when I watch a great movie, but the one I experienced with Kingsman: The Secret Service was truly off the chart! At the end of 2 hours, I was so high I practically floated home. IMDB rating given: 10/10.

I became a fan of director Matthew Vaughn's work after the incredibly violent yet superbly executed Kick-Ass, which turned lead Aaron Johnson into a Hollywood star ( interesting convoluted connection to Fifty Shades Of Grey, helmed by Johnson's wife, haha ). After that breakthrough came X-Men: First Class, which was much less aggressive, more successful at the box office but equally enjoyable in its own way.

If I'm not wrong, Vaughn passed on the opportunity to direct an X-Men sequel, opting instead to pour his heart and soul ( plus his own money ) into Kingsman. It's a ballsy move but one I'm very grateful for, because I can no longer imagine life without this magnificent film.

Rid your mind of James Bond. That man is a wimp compared to Harry Hart / Galahad, played impeccably by Colin Firth. In an interview with Empire magazine, Firth revealed that he has never received any offer to play the British spy. But after seeing him in Kingsman, no-one will ever comprehend why he didn't make the cut.

Firth, after all, is known for playing gentlemanly characters - Mr. Darcy, King George VI, you get the idea. I don't recall him demonstrating any on-screen violence, much less move beyond the pace of a saunter. So it's no wonder my jaw hit the ground when he started bashing, shooting and stabbing people with deadly skill and great relish. It was actually shocking, but only for a split second, before the pleasure centre in my brain - whatever that's called - was activated and everything started to get saturated in a rosy hue. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But he looked damn amazing slicing his opponents open!

Vaughn already demonstrated his affinity for extreme depictions of bloodshed in Kick-Ass ( utilizing the very young Hit Girl in a disturbing yet strangely artistic way ), and does more of the same in Kingsman. This time, however, there's no concern regarding age limits ( many of the main characters in Kick-Ass were kids ). And the choreography is freaking awesome! I'm trying to figure out how much of the stunt work was performed by the actors themselves, and it's to Vaughn's credit for (a) making it quite impossible to tell, and (b) making the actors look bloody fabulous doing them.

In this day of massive blockbusters and Marvel superhero franchises, Vaughn shows he's a force to be reckoned with, delivering scenes that are thrilling and almost balletic in nature. I notice a penchant for slow motion, which can sometimes irritate, but here, it only enhances his artistry.

Casting unknown Taron Egerton is a stroke of genius. But hey, Vaughn is known to have a sharp eye for young talent - i.e. Aaron Johnson. I admit to feeling extremely guilty - EXTREMELY - about finding Egerton incredibly hot. The only way I will ever eliminate these feelings is by having a bilateral oophorectomy. Short of that, I'll just have to wait for menopause. :)

Not since Aaron Johnson have I been this excited about a new young male star. Like Johnson, Egerton looks deceptively docile and one-dimensional on the surface, but later turns out to be ferocious and quite complex. But the money shots are definitely the ones with Egerton wielding deadly weapons. That final showdown at the villain's lair, with Eggsy the killing machine pulverizing an army of guards before an eye-popping confrontation with Gazelle ( aka the gal with giant knife blades for legs ), had me practically jumping out of my seat! Unbelievable stuff!

The source material - Mark Millar's comic book series - is key. Millar also wrote Kick-Ass and Wanted ( another super-violent tale adapted into a 2008 Hollywood film starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman ), and after a while, you'll see the similarities. An underdog in the form of a downtrodden young man, a mentor who trains him to become a ruthless killer, and a memorable bad guy. In every one of these stories, the protagonist is vital, as is the actor chosen to play him. Egerton is as perfect a fit as anyone can hope for. Only 25 and already showing immense potential: handsome in a non-threatening way, rugged and athletic so he can handle the action without difficulty.

But aside from that, he needs the all-important X factor: charisma, charm, and something intangible which makes him stand out, even in the company of greats like Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson. Egerton achieves this effortlessly, even throwing in a flair for comedy. A true gem of a discovery. I look forward to his future projects with bated breath!

Plus a Kingsman sequel, of course. As many as possible. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

At Last!!!

After a long absence from the blogosphere, it's such a joy to return, especially after a huge burden has been lifted.

I'm referring to the ultrasound course, which commenced more than a year ago, and which has caused me many sleepless nights these past 16 months. The end result may be an advanced diploma, but considering the level of difficulty involved, it deserves to be a full degree.

I've learned so much it borders on ridiculous. The amount of theoretical information is daunting even to someone like me who's pretty used to heavy reading loads. The exams are TOUGH! And the case studies major nightmares. The hardest part, I think, is balancing this with our jobs. I'm the sole doctor in a class of sonographers, but every single one of us bonded over our shared suffering, with a few of my cohort mates pushing through pregnancy, childbirth and a variety of family issues, never once giving up or dropping out.

For me, I had to reset my brain to student mode after many years of relative inactivity in the mugging department. Learning how to manage my time was another major challenge, necessitating a pay cut to free up an extra day ( on top of training leave which turned out to be insufficient ) each week for proper training. Yes, it caused some heartache, but I give God all the credit for the incredible timing that allowed me to do what I had to do and still live very comfortably.

Along the way, I made lots of new friends who taught me so much, and the skills I picked up have made a significant difference in how I manage my patients. Due to the way I planned my schedule around the course format, now that the theoretical component is over, I need to step up the practical part, and write more case studies which were deferred in the first semester due to my relative lack of experience. Without having to contend with frequent exams, it's going to be much easier from now on, but I'm taking a break till the end of the month to recuperate first, before getting down to work again in March.

On to the meaty part of the entry - REVIEWS. :)

Whiplash has the honour of being the first movie I watched in 2015, and is so freaking awesome I doubt any other film will be able to surpass it for at least 12 months.
Already nominated for Oscars ( best picture, best supporting actor and best screenplay ), but I'm proud to say that I loved it before the awards came pouring in.

Please DO NOT be put off by the synopsis. It doesn't matter if you can appreciate jazz or drumming - Whiplash is much much more than that. Its central themes - passion, ambition, crossing lines, perseverance - can apply to almost any situation in life. Think about one thing you want more than anything else - how far are you willing to go to attain it? What will you do to the person who stands in your way? Or on the flip side, what will you do FOR the person who can make or break your future career?

Writer and director Damien Chazelle ponders these questions then analyzes them in the most explosive manner. Assembling a dream cast which includes Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, penning one of the most amazing scripts I've come across in recent years, then threading them together in a tense, entertaining, positively breath-taking roller coaster ride is something truly wonderful to behold.

Simmons, an actor I'm familiar with from his work on Law & Order, The Closer and the first Spider-man trilogy, used to be relegated to background roles ( which he always nailed, by the way ). I couldn't be more pleased to see him front and centre this time ( though technically, still a supporting role, as indicated by the Oscar nomination ). He just turned 60 this January and I can imagine how he feels about finally being recognized. It is extremely well-deserved indeed - his portrayal of Fletcher, the sadistic music school instructor who torments his students so they can achieve "true greatness" is perfect. A character like this is bound to have over-the-top moments, but Simmons somehow manages to rein it in just enough so Fletcher doesn't become a caricature. In fact, don't be surprised if you find yourself nodding in agreement during one of his many rants about his young charges' abysmal IQs, complete lack of talent and inability to get the right tempo ( something apparently only his superior senses can detect ).

Teller, as eager student Andrew, is aptly described by one reviewer as "a revelation". I've come across a couple of his earlier movies, where he usually plays a stoner or slacker of some sort, and wasn't quite sure what to expect from his performance in Whiplash. However, he completely blew my mind into outer space! I now realize how gifted he is, and yes, he plays the drums like a demon. Andrew's transformation from a compliant, frightened puppy to a mirror image of the man who torments him is magnificent. Teller turns 28 this month, and was probably around 26 or 27 when he shot this film. I find it absolutely astounding that an actor this age is capable of such a mature, unforgettable performance.

He wasn't nominated for an Oscar but has generated enough buzz to land a role in the upcoming reboot of Fantastic Four, and I predict great things in his future if he keeps this up. I'm a HUGE fan, Miles. I wish you all the best. :)

Also keep your eyes on director/writer Chazelle, who's only 30 years old. He hasn't built up a long resume just yet, and I hope he doesn't go the way of M. Night Shyamalan ( i.e. peak too early then roll downhill from there ). Good luck!

Listen to me carefully - WATCH WHIPLASH. As soon as possible. Because Simmons is the front runner for his Oscar category, and it's up for Best Picture as well. It probably won't win for the latter ( this usually goes to some heartwarming / preachy film with a positive message blah blah blah ), but in my opinion, it's the best of the whole pack. This movie will make you laugh, cry and cringe, but most importantly, it will make you think really hard. About many things. And that's what great films are all about.

On to the new crop of TV shows.

One I couldn't recommend more highly is Better Call Saul, a spin-off series that capitalizes on the critical acclaim and popularity of Breaking Bad.

Saul was a drug cartel lawyer in BB, and here, the story travels backwards so viewers can learn about his early - and sadly unsuccessful - legal career, before things began to change.

Played flawlessly by Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman is known by another name here ( same person, don't worry; so we know that at some point, for some reason, he decided to change it ), and there're definitely similarities between him and Walter White. Both are middle-aged men, stuck in ruts career-wise, struggling financially. But they're also intelligent and possess hidden talents which they discover only under extraordinary circumstances. And unfortunately, these talents aren't exactly legal.

BB fans will rejoice at the return of a beloved character ( well, 2 others also appear in the first 2 episodes, with side-splitting results! ) and the humour remains in full effect. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould excel at throwing ordinary people in outrageous situations, and after watching episode 2, the next time you're injured by a stranger, I guarantee you'll think twice before going after him for compensation.

My latest TV addiction. Do not miss!

Another drama with a Cold War theme like The Americans, but this one's set in the present day. Two KGB moles planted in the U.S. marry, have children and appear to be the perfect American couple, but decades later, are compelled to recruit their grown-up offspring into the espionage business. They succeed with their elder daughter, but when their son, Alex, is pursued because of his recent induction into the inner circle of the CIA, things start to get complicated.

I can't say much about the show at the moment because I've only seen 1 episode so far, but it's quite good thanks mostly to the cast. Scott Cohen - who plays Alex's father, Mark - is a long-time personal favourite from Gilmore Girls and Necessary Roughness. But new face, Gavin Stenhouse, is a great find. I mistook him for T.R. Knight ( aka George from the early seasons of Grey's Anatomy ) and tuned in for that reason ( oops! ) but Stenhouse really impresses as an actor. Alex is quickly revealed to have a genius level intelligence, though encumbered by a rather anti-social personality. Hmm, I wonder where we've seen this before?

I'm not going to lie and say Allegiance is fantastic, because it isn't. However, a show doesn't have to be perfect in order to win my loyalty. As long as I find the storyline and characters interesting, and find at least one cast member to invest in, I'll keep watching.

Look at this photo and tell me whether he's T.R. Knight's twin. I'm not imagining things, right? Stenhouse is British, according to the short biographies I've read, yet he's able to rattle technical jargon at machine gun speed in a flawless American accent. He possesses that intangible "X factor" which I've seen in young actors who later went on to extremely successful careers. A few examples include Aaron Johnson , Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf and Josh Hutcherson. Let's see if I hit another bull's eye with Stenhouse. :)

Fortitude is 3 episodes in, but I'm still trying to make up my mind about it. Marketed as a drama / mystery / thriller, this slow burner is set in an isolated Icelandic town, where everyone who lives there is "running away from something". In fact, it's so quiet that when a brutal murder shakes the community, the police can't handle the case and a special investigator is deployed from London.

That's the story in a nutshell, but like recent series Broadchurch, Gracepoint and The Missing, quaint little towns are never what they seem. The residents of Fortitude are put under a microscope and multiple suspects are lined up. As the plot thickens, the web expands further, and your brain goes into overdrive.

I've mentioned before that The Killing is the one to beat in this genre, and I still stand by that judgment. Fortitude, in my opinion, tries too hard. Instead of skipping through 10 different characters, the writers should focus on a selected few and develop their motives in greater detail. Right now, I'm beginning to get increasingly distracted. Let's hope a few people get killed off so the list is shortened ( haha ).

If nothing else, tune in for Stanley Tucci, who plays the special investigator. I've followed his career for many years, and his cool, reassuring presence is always welcomed. Also, keep your ears open for juicy anecdotes regarding the promiscuous Fortitude dwellers. The population is so small, practically everyone is sleeping around, and wind chimes are booty call signals.

Although if you ask me, if I wanted to run away from something, I'd go somewhere with much nicer weather. Why would anyone who's already miserable go live in such a depressing place?

That's all for today. Hope I can post more regularly from now on. Thanks for reading! :)