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


This was a review I’ve done for Funkygrad:


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


This is a review I’ve done for Funkygrad:


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.


This is a review I’ve done for Funkygrad:


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?

Read how Adam Sandler’s latest silver-screen outing, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, which also features the scriptwriting team from last summer’s sleeper hit, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, fares with us!

Official trailer:

Lucky Number 13 of our Movie Review series goes to the silver-screen adapation of Sex And The City, or SATC, as it is more affectionately known. The movie has crystallised the four lead characters from the hit television sitcom as icons in modern pop culture – Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) with their flamboyant outfits and witty dialogue. Read how this big screen effort fares with us!


The Sunday Times editorial (22/06/2008 ) on “Stars at home or aboard – let’s cheer them both” threw up the quandary of how Singaporeans are generally apathetic in showing support for talented local individuals.

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall overlook local born-and-bred MediaCorp TV artistes, who generally film local drama serials without any real opportunities to break into the overseas market. These artistes naturally appeal to the mainstream masses, as watching television forms one of the most popular pastimes in the country. This is especially so for the local evening drama serials filling both the 7pm and 9pm slots. Of course, there are instances when local drama serials are marketed overseas (for instance, The Return of the Condor Heroes in 1997, which ignited regional fan bases for local stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee), but that is another story. As such, it is hardly surprising that most of them make their mark and are popular among locals alike.

On the contrary, for other Singaporeans pursuing other fields, reception from fellow countrymen, as mentioned within the editorial, is generally lukewarm.

It certainly takes more than sheer luck for Singaporeans to make it big overseas as compared to making it big within the country itself. For once, on the international arena, these artistes will have to compete with the global talent cohort for a chance to make their mark in their respective fields. It is no longer about standing out to a crowd of 4 million people, but about leaving a deep impression on the world.

Naturally, there will be both hits and misses. Let us take a look at the Chinese pop scene first, where the number of local artistes seeking breakthroughs is countless.

Stefanie Sun, Tanya ChuaThe likes of Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, Kit Chan, Mavis Hee and A-Do have all become household names around the region. On the contrary, they all have one thing in common – all of them based themselves in Taiwan first, gaining considerable success there, prior to turning their focus onto the Singaporean market. It remains to be seen how successful would they be if they had based themselves locally first instead. Meanwhile, in 2005 when Tanya Chua clinched the Best Female Vocalist award at the acclaimed Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, she had griped at how she was widely regarded as the shoo-in for the award in Taiwan, but was regarded as a dark horse in local reports.

Singing competition “Project Superstar” produced alums such as Kelvin Tan and Kelly Poon, who are widely popular within the country, having emerged victorious in the competition where audience polls are a decisive factor in the results. However, they have failed to emulate their success on the regional arena as their debut album in Taiwan failed to create ripples.

Kaira GongHowever, lukewarm reception to singers such as Jones Shi Kangjun and Kaira Gong has resulted in similarly lukewarm reception here.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans seem to be a forgetful bunch as with the case of Joi Chua. Her story is a roller-coaster one with her debut effort based in Taiwan in 2000 falling prey to poor sales. Neither did that effort raise her popularity locally, resulting in her being dropped by her record company then. Venturing into the local music scene again in 2004, her breakout release was a success locally with a number of chart topping hits. However, her popularity seemed to have fallen here as she turned her attention to the regional market instead for her subsequent albums. While she is currently widely popular in China, her latest effort translated into critical acclaim but not sales in Taiwan.

It is worth noting that in the forthcoming 19th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, Singaporeans Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and Joi Chua have all been nominated for the Best Female Vocalist, an unprecedented first for the country as locals take up half of the nominations for the category.

Olivia OngIn English music, will local songbird Corrinne May shift albums off the shelves in Singapore had she not been successful in the United States? How about Olivia Ong, a jazz singer based in Japan? What about the lukewarm reception which local bands such as Electrico, Ronin and The Great Spy Experiment receive at their gigs?

While young local designers are setting sights on international runways, these ripples are not being felt by Singaporeans who subscribe to tried and tested fashion labels such as Gap and Topshop. As reported in the International Herald Tribune article in the previous link, a new generation of young Singaporean designers is “trying to break away from the cosy domestic market, where it is relatively easy to be a big fish in a small pond”. Designers such as Jonathan Seow (head honcho of design label Woods & Woods which has been presented in Paris but remains relatively unknown in Singapore), Andrew Gn and Ashley Isham have their own influences in Europe before venturing back into their home countries.

Similarly, it seems, for movie directors. Eric Khoo is the only Singaporean film-maker to have three movies premiere in Cannes, with the latest offering “My Magic” up for the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, but how many Singaporeans have seen them? It appears that the more “arthouse” or critically-acclaimed the film is, the more turned away the local crowd is towards actually supporting them. The key, it appears, lies in mass appeal. Jack Neo is certainly mainstream in his films which depict the everyday lives of Singaporeans in an everyday manner. On the other hand, his films have yet to make much of a critical impact. Royston Tan had debilitating box office results with his earlier releases such as “24” and “4:30”, but earned a box office hit with the mainstream “881”.

In the meantime, Kelvin Tong and the Pang brothers hit big time with box office hits in their respective horror movies, “The Maid” and “The Eye”, with the latter even going on to their directorial debut in Tinseltown. However, does it seem strange that they were not promoted as local directors in the first place?

This article also highlights the success of local comics artist Foo Swee Chin whose works are being published in a monthly manga magazine in Japan, but alas, she is not a household name in Singapore.

It remains to be seen when, as our auteurs and artistes find their voices and identities and live their mark in their respective fields, the rest of us learn to be willing to discern and advocate their works, instead of following the crowd in supporting tried and tested formulae. Or when, the rest of us will discard our skepticism and bias towards performances which may break the mould, and readily accept local art ventures and local bands as well. All this will definitely go a long way in promoting a unique Singapore.