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.

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.

Three research ships break through Arctic ice near the North Pole [Photo courtesy of The Telegraph]

Reports like these surface: 

It appears that the dire consequences of global warming are bearing down fast on our generation, in spite of the numerous efforts which have been set in place to step up action against practices which are bound to destruct the Earth.

The signs are there. The possibility of the complete melting of the Arctic ice cap as early as this year has compounded with the earlier reported issues of rice shortage / oil shortage / quirky weather patterns (floods in India during a dry season and vice versa; extremely hot summers in the US, just to name a few).

On the individual level, perhaps it is really time for us to listen, to leave our complacency and procrastination aside, and to get out of our comfort zones. And actually ‘go green’. The rising sea levels the melting Arctic ice is bound to result in will certainly cause catastrophic damages to the world, so what next?

At the rate things are going, perhaps it will not be so surprising after all if Nostradamus’ end-of-the-world prophecy in 2012 actually comes true.

With Singapore’s wish to establish and sustain its status as a nation with burgeoning nightlife, it has spent much effort in forging an active clubbing night scene.

However, one area of neglect is to have major shopping malls open later into the evening instead of closing prematurely at the godforsaken early time of 9.00pm or 9.30pm. And by major shopping malls, I refer to the malls along Singapore’s premier shopping district that is Orchard Road, such as Paragon and Takashimaya, not just Mustafa Centre (Singapore’s only 24-hour shopping centre till date, which sells mid-range products at cheap prices and is located away from the city area).

With tidal changes in the lifestyles of Singaporeans, late-night shopping ought to be the norm, instead of the exception that is marketed as a weekly event.

The implementation of the five-day work-week has resulted in students staying back in schools later into the day with their co-curricular activities and extra tutorial commitments. Similarly, professionals are knocking off work later and later into the evening as well. All this translates into a lack of retail time should shops continue to close early.

Great Singapore SaleThis is especially so with the current Great Singapore Sale (GSS), a prime opportunity to milk the wallets, of both incoming tourists and local Singaporeans alike, dry.

How is Singapore going to gain an edge as a retail haven over regional shopping districts which offer a wider range of products at cheaper prices continue to baffle me. Furthermore, shops in these districts such as Hong Kong and Taipei open later into the night catering for the late-night shopping crowd. True that they may open later in the day instead, but who’s complaining?

It is apparent that crowds flock to shops later in the night as opposed to earlier in the day, evident from observing crowd flow along Orchard Road.

With the impending opening of the Integrated Resorts and the annual Formula One race promising to draw a flurry of crowds to our sunny garden city, many tourists could find themselves disappointed with the minimal amount of time there is for shopping, or, for the lack of activities to do after shops close at 9.30pm and before midnight, when crowds start to pack local clubs.

Instead of writing off late-night stragglers, why not offer them the opportunity to shop by opening doors slightly later, till about 11.00pm instead?