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! :)

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