Regardless of how cliché this introduction is, I have to say that citizen journalism is in its infantile stage of growth in Singapore. The Internet is an idealized conduit for many to air their opinion, and perhaps as a ripple effect many are clamoring for their views to be heard. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is quick to latch on this trend with a host of online portals for the hoi polloi to participate in and for them to subsequently score some column inches in the local newspaper.

This of course bodes well for a nation often accused for its apathy towards current affairs and societal matters.

But what many fail to discern is the difference between positive citizen journalism and negative citizen journalism. Of course, the underlying motivations behind citizen journalism is the same, that is, to push for a greater good in Singapore and to air otherwise unheard opinions. Yet in the pursuit for voices to be heard are we neglecting better methods that lie within our own fiefdom?

The main source of my ire, specifically, is budding citizen photojournalists who ostentatiously play the shame game by whipping out their handy camera phones. All this, without seeming to hold a modicum of respect for other individuals and the capability to posit a thought of the consequences of their actions. Though their motivations may be positive, their actions indicate otherwise.

Let me first clarify that I am NOT a victim of these budding citizen photojournalists, nor do I stand in the camp of the people they have photographed with regard to their wrongdoings.

Take the oft-photographed incident of seat-hogging on public transportation. Yes, it is a moral and ethical issue for youths to give up their seats to the needy. But for people to turn against them via the shame game through photography such that these individuals can be lambasted on Internet forums and lampooned on local newspapers is a shameless act by itself.

It makes infinite more sense for these self-supposed vigilantes to approach these guilty youths themselves and to politely request for them to give up their seats. It is, at the end of the day, NOT a right but a courtesy issue. What’s wrong with leaving the comforts of the ‘cushy’ MRT seats, going up to the person, nudging him awake (if he’s pretending to be asleep) or catch his attention (if he’s pretending to be oblivious) AND asking them to give up their seats?

Wouldn’t that be more likely to create an immediate, positive effect? Would wantonly uploading a photograph onto national portals yield the same effect? Are these people even members of these portals? Even if they are, couldn’t a “this-won’t-ever-happen-to-me” attitude be omnipresent?

Ditto, to some of the photos that appeared on a local tabloid newspaper over the past week.

A woman openly eating on the MRT: photographed and published, rather than kindly warned about the repercussions. Wouldn’t it be a better deed for the keen watchdog to approach her, and inform her of the possible fines in case of sheer ignorance?

A bus driver guiding traffic along the KPE and subjecting himself to danger: photographed and published. Okay this does not go along with the main throttle of my argument but for the driver to stop along the side of the road just to take that shot – isn’t that a case of a pot calling the kettle black?

While the motivations of these purported vigilantes are inherently positive, what is the point when it insinuates a lack of conscious courtesy and politeness in a nation that is quick to infringe on the privacy of other people? All this, at the expense of what could be an immediate and positive resolution to the conflict one views upon. Or could the root of the problem be incommunicado, a sheer ignorance of the perks of open communication?

rehash.

December 13, 2009

The world has gotten so caught up in the quagmire that is Tiger Woods’ transgressions that it seems to have lost plain sight of the more important matters at stake. Nothing like tabloid fodder to unleash some good old Schadenfreude amidst water-cooler conversations, come what may.

A crashed car, a wrecked fire hydrant, and an incensed wife later, more and more sordid allegations keep pouring out, each revelation serving as a catalyst for more women to come out of their closets in this explosive reaction. Or so they say, birds of the same kind flock together, and each precedent serves as motivation for the next revelation. Of course, the concomitant interest served by the mass media has a role to play in this as well.

And unsurprisingly, many people are crying afoul, feeling as cheated as his wife and his many mistresses of the blind faith they had placed in the Lothario. What of the ideal role model character that the world has gotten accustomed to? Was that a sheer, immaculately constructed façade to rake in the advertising dollars, to cash in upon his stature as the bona fide best golfer in the world?

Such naïveness. It amazes me how people are so quick to forget that celebrities are adept public relations practitioners of their own, and they yield full control over themselves and how they wish to present themselves to the media. It amazes me even more that people are so quick to seek attachment, and psychological cognizance towards people they do not even know. I am not saying it is entirely wrong to idolize, as long as it’s healthy. But when it comes to blind acceptance and idolization – it astonishes me how some matured adults remain prone to this death trap.

While it’s selfish in most cases to mind your own business given the greater good of the world, this is an instance where I feel that, perhaps, the line has been crossed in the insatiable pursuit for juicy information. Do you even personally know the guy at all? Why are judgments so quick to be passed? What if it was your friend or relative who was guilty of such transgressions? Will you be as nasty and unwilling to forgive?

But that is not to say that what Woods did was ‘correct’. Comme çi comme ça. The excuse some are trying to give, of Woods being just another human being and hence is as susceptible to such disgraceful behavior as another layman seems to be a rather pathetic attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance after the initial shocker.

I’m not sure what the ideals in a Western society are, and call me traditionalist if you like, but to cheat on one’s wife with one other woman is pretty incorrect in the first place. To cheat on one’s wife with 11 other women is a bottomless chasm of immorality, whether you are ‘just human’ or not.

After the public backlash ad nauseum against the debaucheries of  Eliot Spitzer, David Letterman, Edison Chen and even Bill Clinton, you’d expect people to realize that many celebrities are not as infallible as the media portray them to be. But nope, the reverberations just get bigger with every single scandal that erupts.

Yet what is the bigger picture? It is a problem which the Woods household have to resolve themselves, under the intense scrutiny of the media, and whether with a positive or negative conclusion. Armchair public opinion, to say the least, will only matter as much as the endorsement dollars and blind idolization.

Movie Review – Astro Boy

November 12, 2009

[REPOSTED]

This was a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1144&subcat=popcorn

*****

Release Date: 12 November 2009
Genre: Action/Adventure
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Featuring the Voices of: Freddy Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage
Director: David Bowers
Rating: 3/5

Astro Boy is one of the most popular Japanese manga characters around, a claim not so far-fetched if you consider the facts. The 1952 series by Osamu Tezawa had since seen three television animation spin-offs in 1963, 1980 and 2003 (the latter to celebrate the TV franchise’s fortieth anniversary) that has been broadcasted on television networks internationally.

But this first film adaptation has seen armchair critics quick to denounce Imagi Studios’ (the studio behind the 2007 film adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) attempted revival of the obsolete character that has greater halcyon days.

This is no surprise, as remakes these days are often trashed both critically and commercially for being much worse than the fondly-remembered original.

Yet if such historical anachronism is cast aside, this contemporary update is actually not half-bad. The film has defining moments along the way that will certainly connect with audiences both young and old, hence making it a pretty enjoyable day-out at the movies for the families.

Astro Boy follows the conventional superhero story arc that has been rehashed ad nauseam. The unwitting superhero, with all his debonair, is forced into dire straits by unbecoming circumstance. And in the mandatory fight between good-and-evil, Astro Boy falls down, comes back stronger, and of course, eventually emerges triumphant. All this, of course, provides for the perfect cathartic relief from the ills of society. Who does not like a story where the good vanquishes the evil?

Without going too deep into the spoilers, the story background remains generally true to the original (other than the fact that unlike the original, Astro Boy now dons a blue top rather than going topless). The year is sometime in the distant future and Earth has become a slum of discarded robot parts. With the exception of the cosmopolitan Metro City, a small metropolis that floats in the sky, an unveiled reference between the authority-wealthy rich and the poor who reside in the wastelands. Dr. Tenma (voiced by the versatile Nicolas Cage), is the chief scientist of Metro City and the father of Toby Tenma (voiced by the effervescent Freddy Highmore). The latter, mischievous as all young kids are, got himself killed in a laboratory accident through no fault of anyone else (and hence is unable to evoke my sympathy). Dr. Tenma then sets out to create a robotic version of his son, with “blue core” positive energy empowering his heart, hence establishing his superhero status. But along the way Dr. Tenma gets too conflicted with his own emotions for his own good.

Erstwhile, in a political twist President Stone (Donald Sutherland) is the overpowering leader who is pulling all stops to win the forthcoming elections with his popularity polls at an all-time low. And that includes creating an enemy character against the city for him to fight, and win, against so as to sway the votes of the public. Yet in reality winning a war is not a guarantee to winning elections, as President George H W Bush could easily testify, having lost to the succeeding Democrat President Bill Clinton-a relative unknown in the political scene at that time-due to the more pressing economic matters at home.

And this is where the main problem of the film lies. Within a short span of 1 hour 35 minutes the writers attempt to be apostles of too many pressing world issues, covering too much breadth but too little depth along the way. With so many directions pulling the film apart, there is no single clear focus. As a result more important factors like character development is sacrificed, which resulted in ambivalence quite a number of parts of the film despite Director David Bowers’ (the helm behind 2006’s Flushed Away) obvious efforts in milking emotions.

Also, while it is obvious that Imagi Studios was attempting to create an animation style in extolment of the original series, but the result was inconsistently glaring in a potpourri of animation and visuals that are neither modern nor historical.

For all its flaws in the kitsch artistic sense and poor editing, Astro Boy remains an enjoyable movie that has both laugh-out-loud moments and touching scenes, hence the above-average rating

Movie Review – Saw VI

November 5, 2009

[REPOSTED]

This is a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1142&subcat=popcorn

*****

Release Date: 5 November 2009
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor
Director: Kevin Greutert
Rating: 3/5

Halloween is upon us once more, the October 31st celebrations capturing the visceral imaginations of many around the world. While the festivities here (or lack thereof) are unfortunately restricted largely to the club scene and do little justice to the age-old festival, we can seek solace in how horror films have simultaneously hit local screens en masse, perhaps an indication that we are not a wimpy nation afraid of those fiends that go bump in the night.

Trick-or-treating we may not be going, nor are we displaying jack-o’-lanterns around town, but Darah, Saw VIParanormal Activity,Halloween II and Lesbian Vampire Killers, amongst others, are worthy companions.

Heralding the advent of the monster/horror genre was the 1922 vampire classic Nosferatu, considered a film noir gem today. The genre has since expanded to include all forms of fiends, the plethora ranging from ethereal ghosts and poltergeists, indestructible humanoid mass murderers like Freddy Krueger (Wes Craven’sNightmare of Elm Street) and Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and even plants (Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors; M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening).

But along the way the show was a victim of its own success. The writers threw in more twists than the audiences could bear, and more questions slowly popped up along the way than were answers proffered. Of course confused audiences would not stick to a sinking ship and ditched the franchise, as evident from its free-falling ratings. The bloodbath stuck but it was insufficient in keeping viewers faithful.The Saw franchise was a successful departure from the mass murderer norm. Despite being a bloodbath in itself, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was an advocate of egalitarianism thus providing a modus operandi of Pecksniffian righteousness as he aims to rectify society’s ills. This was unlike Krueger and Vorhees who killed at their own whim and fancy, anyone who dares to cross their path. The astute concept and ingenious weaponry that could only be borne in the minds of a pervertic engineer led to a critically-acclaimed box office hit for the first editions.

The series expanded from the originally-schedule trilogy to six installments, and from the cliffhanger in this episode, future parts are certainly likely. Continuing its tradition of a US release the weekend prior to Halloween, Saw VI successfully redeemed itself in a step-up from the recent installments. The metamorphosis can be attributed to a change in focus as the film offers answers to many questions that were thrown up in previous installments, tying up many loose ends in the saga. The gore remains, albeit in a more mellowed fashion as much of the screen time was devoted to flashbacks. But with more coherence in the plot this time round, cinemagoers sure would not be left so bewildered.

The writers cleverly tackle the health care system, perhaps a timely social commentary in view of the debate thrown up with Obama’s presidential campaign this year. In particular, the ineptitude and conniving nature of insurance companies that engage in pseudo-Darwinism was scrutinized. The famous naturalist purported that nature yielded “the survival of the fittest”, and the writers attacked the despotic manner some insurance companies take in denying coverage to the weak. In a flashback scene, the late Jigsaw (who died two installments ago), having been denied insurance coverage due to his malignant cancer, questioned William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) of his insurance company, “Who are you to judge who has the will to live,” the latter refusing to take the gambit by claiming it’s company policy.

And of course William would find himself a victim of Jigsaw’s game, posthumously continued by his successor Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), having to complete a series of gruesome tasks in order to survive. Of course, it ain’t going to be pretty, and the effort put in devising the repugnant devices this season is remarkable. The steam room was disgusting in itself, at least to me, due to a natural revulsion for the notion of burning flesh (yes, the botched sun-tanning machine scene in Final Destination 2 vividly sticks in my head), though it passed pretty mildly. And if you hate carnival rides, wait till you see what the victims strapped onto the carousel in this edition have to face.

You just cannot help but root for the protagonist, himself a victim of his own occupation in a double-bind situation in spite of his own character flaws, as he weaves through the maze. The concise direction and editing lends itself to a tense atmosphere from start to finish.

But the episode is nonetheless unlikely to win the series any new fans with its tried-and-tested formula, and you wonder how many more installments could there be before the writers finally exhaust themselves of devices to torment, or of posthumous twists to introduce for Jigsaw.

[REPOSTED]

This is a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1140&subcat=popcorn

******

Release Date: 29 October 2009
Genre: Romance
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Brandon Camp
Rating: 1/5

The surefire equation for romantic dramas or comedies ad nauseum reads:
(Guy x Girl) + a slew of supporting characters & knotty obstacles = Love

Unfortunately, the sheer ridiculous number of romance films hitting theatres over the past year has since rendered the genre prosaic, to say the least, seemingly to the extent of being factory-churned. Thrust a lead character in a different setting with some climactic variation and voila! You get a whole new marketable love story. It’s only a low budget getaway for Hollywood during these tough economic times, I hope?

Pardon my sardonicism, but whatever it is, our dear SDN, or Social Development Network-that’s the new name for the merged SDU-SDS (Social Development Unit-Social Development Services), if you haven’t been following the news lately-can’t possibly be complaining.

After all this year alone, we have had the sleeper box office hit 500 Days of Summer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel)-a breath of fresh air with its reworked formula, the indie darlingPaper Heart (Michael Cera, Charlene Yi), the wonky Proposal (Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds), the mediocre Ugly Truth (Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler) and He’s Just Not That Into You (Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston), even when Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Cera, Kat Dennings) remains fresh in memory.

Director Brandon Camp doubles up as co-scriptwriter in this directorial debut, which regrettably falls short due to an implausible, meandering storyline borne out of an evident attempt to make mondo déjà vu out of pre-existing, archair storylines. To make matters worse, Love Happens cannot really decide whether it should be a romantic drama or a romantic comedy. Feebly unfunny moments are peppered throughout the movie, while the shoehorn attempts to crack the audience up seem like desperate attempts to salvage the movie along the way. With a lowly 17% approval rating from movie portal Rotten Tomatoes, it certainly does not bode well for Camp’s career resumé. And, the film is barely breaking even though it only just began its international run.

This is considerably a real pity, given the star-studded cast at Camp’s beckoning. And they did turn in pretty decent individual performances too, though their blatantly insipid chemistry proved cataclysmic to the film. Acting can only take the storyline that far in the absence of the quintessential ‘spark’. Aaron Eckhart follows up his stunning supervillain turn in The Dark Night by venturing back into his Thank You for Smoking mode in a self-help guru-cum-motivational speaker role. Aniston is well, comme cicomme ça in yet another cookie-cutter role following He’s Just Not That Into You and Marley & Me. Nothing spectacular for the prolific actress, yet nothing too detrimental in a role that does not offer much room for improvisation anyway.

Eckhart is Dr. Burke Ryan, a therapist who ventured into the self-help scene following the death of his wife to seek cathartic relief. Or so it seems, as he urges his clients to let go of their past baggage and move on with life by confronting their pain head-on. Yet he does the profession no favours by being, unsurprisingly a quack, who is himself hitherto unable to heed his own advice. A case of self-indulgent narcissism, perhaps, though poor editing will be the scapegoat for the several instances where Burke’s story arc falls short.

Erstwhile, enter Eloise Chandler (Aniston), the surname certainly a mere coincidence to its Friendsnamesake. The quirky spurned bachelorette has (surprise, surprise) decided to remain a swinging single in favour of her floral business. A penchant for words also has her vandalising hotel walls with arcane, idiosyncratic words that do not feature in many a layperson’s vocabulary bank. Like “poppysmic” (the sound produced with lip-smacking) and “quidnunc” (an inquisitive and gossipy person). Whatever the reason is anybody’s guess, as Camp fails to attribute anything at all to this eccentricity.

And so the two characters have a chance love-at-first-sight meeting as Burke holds a seminar in the hotel where Eloise happens to be arranging flowers at. Yet one cannot help but ponder the reality of their attraction and all their subsequent coincidences. The story then develops in such a mawkish and predictable manner that, with its cliché moments, is foreseeable even by a mile.

Yet the fallacies behind the plot and storyline aside, a redeeming quality of the film lies in its artistic direction, where Camp manages to turn in a fair performance. The framing of his shots and the usage of foreground-background techniques are noteworthy enough a mention.

Without wanting to give away too many spoilers, look at the title as a dead giveaway for the ending the film leads up to. Love “happens”, not “happened” or “will happen”, does it not?

It has been widely reported that certain American food manufacturers have turned to downsizing package sizes on the quiet in a bid to cut costs, fuelled by rising production costs due to soaring oil and food prices (what’s new).

Of course, the hush-hush game is being played so as not to repulse consumers who may not be observant enough to notice the downsizing at all. After all, in a world where prices of everything else is going up, it will be a promotion of the items of some sorts should their prices remain stagnant. Such coy marketing ploys at work, albeit underhand. Who cares about honesty being the best policy if profiteering is affected at the end of the day?

Though, with the latest reports, these ploys are likely to have been foiled and the companies have some answering to do to their customers.

Then again, are consumers that blind not to notice the surreptitious marginalising privately at play?

As Ms Deirdre Cummings, legislative director at consumer advocacy group MASSPIRG aptly puts, “So many times, they put ‘new improved package’ on the label but they would never put ‘new, improved and smaller’.”

Shouldn’t it be made clear for consumers that they are paying less for the same amount? As buyers, we definitely have the right to know about such changes. Well, at least the Singapore market is not that badly affected yet, although even if it is, we can probably trust our Consumers Association (CASE) to set things straight.

In the meantime, however, has any other fellow local readers noticed a possible covert shift taking place in the fast food restaurants here, in terms of the food portions? I was having supper with a friend recently when he commented, rather aptly it seems, that “unlike 10 years ago when the Big Mac was so huge that we have to split the hamburger into two layers to eat it, the Big Mac is more like a Small Mac now”. Apart from which, the sizes of the burgers at McDonald’s, the fried chicken at KFC, as well as the meat at Long John Silver’s certainly seem to be shrinking by the year, while the prices of their meals are still going up.

As consumers become savvier while the business world gets tougher, it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh.

Tourism in Sports

June 28, 2008

The world of sports is certainly a lucrative one, giving the recognition being placed on it, whether as a barometer of human progress, a showcase of indomitable human spirit, or simply, a chance to earn bragging rights on an international or regional platform.

This is further exemplified by how numerous countries have invested money into building up their burgeoning sports industries, amplified more so by the efforts and incentives of the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) in attracting foreign talent to Singapore, as well as the carrot being dangled in front of our sportsmen as motivation for them to perform.

The number of sporting events which capture global attention is countless, with the Summer Olympics, World Cup, Euro Championships and Commonwealth Games being some of the few large scale events with a lot of hoohaa attached.

The prestige of hosting a major sporting event has therefore grown leaps and bounds over the years, as a nation welcomes the best athletes from around the world for approximately a month of friendly competition. The benefits are boundless – a chance to build political ties and to gain recognition, as well as the promising tourism revenue which is bound to come along.

The onus lies with the host country to invest hefty sums of revenue to refurbish pre-existing infrastructure, as well as to construct new systems and to erect supportive tourism promotion campaigns so as to ensure the successful execution of the event.

Euro 2008 logoVia Euro 2008, Austria and Switzerland is bound to reap rewards from the European fans that are expected to descend on the countries during the championships, with an estimate of $358 million gained by the Swiss economy and $369 million gained by the Austrian economy. In Austria alone, overnight bookings have hit the 2-million mark during the campaign, which is well above the usual rates for the month of June, while almost 11,000 temporary jobs have been created to cope with the visitor influx.

However, while it may still be too early to tell, things do not look especially rosy for the upcoming Beijing Summer Olympics and Singapore’s Formula One Night Race.

Both events have been in the news lately in the run-up till the kick-off of the events.

The Beijing Games have been fraught with controversy surrounding the Chinese-Tibetan rule and the subsequent exile of the Daila Lama, and as a result, an unprecedented spotlight was shone on the global torch relay.

Formula One Grand Prix posterThe Singapore Formula One Night Race has been vigorously marketed as a world’s first-ever F1 night race.

Yet, recent reports have shown that the Formula One hotel booking is looking sluggish, while there is no sign of Olympic boom for Beijing hotels.

So, what ticks and what does not?

In the case of the Beijing Games, fingers are being pointed at wildly inflated prices within the country in view of the impending games despite a global economic slump, tighter visa regulations (ironically to keep out excessive visitors, a plan which has since proven to backfire), as well as possible anti-Chinese sentiments in the wake of the deadly Tibetan rioting. Tourism figures have dropped by 12.5% comparing May this year to a year ago.

As for Singapore, it is speculated that the sluggish outcome is a result of escalated hotel rates, especially for the hotels surrounding the race track, so much so that hotels have started pushing down their prices. But seriously, could there be an over-estimation for the demand? Ardent F1 fans would have snapped up grandstand tickets when ticketing sales first open. And, who would want to watch miniature-sized cars zoom by at a fraction of a second from, say, the thirtieth floor? Where is the kick in that?

The sciences behind generating revenue during a major sporting event may not be that simple, but the works are easy – for money to be earned, people have to come, and apart from placing too much focus and reliance on the sports itself, perhaps there is also a need to sell the country per se as well.

 

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