The State Of The World

I never thought I'd say this, but I feel really sorry for Americans right now.

The presidential election has always been a circus, but as many have commented, this year has hit a new low, especially in the past week when Donald Trump's derogatory remarks about women surfaced.

And while scandals are entertaining, at this crucial point in the electoral process ( 3 weeks before Americans cast their votes ), not only do they take precious time away from much more important issues ( the economy, the fight against terrorism, healthcare policies, civil rights ), they also make the U.S. the butt of jokes all over the world.

It's fun and games until the wrong person sits in the Oval Office and starts a nuclear war.

I pin a large portion of blame on the Republican Party - for vetting their candidate poorly, for making him their presidential nominee despite protests from many members, for not having the balls to shut things down before it was too late.

The other people responsible for this fiasco are those who support Trump for a variety of terrible reasons, buying into his repulsive hot-air rhetoric. I suspect these are the same people who actively tune out anything that challenges Trump's fitness to be president, including the news, talk shows and social media. It's the cult of Trump, and they're ready to pop cyanide pills when he gives the order.

I agree Hillary Clinton is far from perfect, and again, I express my sympathy for Americans who can't vote for the better candidate, but only for the one who's less deplorable.

American politics is extremely flawed, so that's the third recipient of blame. Just watch a few John Oliver segments and you'll know what I mean. Maybe it's the by-product of the country's sheer size, coupled with the need for a huge campaign fund in order to make any impact. Every politician owes favours, including Trump. Supporters who think he's "anti-establishment" live on another planet.

So here's wishing America the best of luck. I just hope the stock markets won't crash when the election results are in, because I've decided not to buy any gold bars - for now.

After suffering post-Narcos season 2 withdrawal symptoms, I obtained some relief with HBO's The Night Of - the second best TV series of 2016 ( Narcos being #1 of course ).

Created by Steve Zaillian and Richard Price, with 7 out of 8 episodes directed by Zaillian ( who adapted screenplays for Schindler's List, Hannibal, Moneyball and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ), this show dazzled me from beginning to end, and I will be monumentally pissed if John Turturro doesn't win a Best Actor Emmy next year.

I've seen countless police procedurals in my lifetime, but The Night Of still manages to offer fresh perspectives. I love series that focus on a single crime for one entire season, but other components - characters, subplots, cast, writing, direction - are vital ingredients.

You will find all the above in ample amounts here. I consider myself quite astute in predicting storylines, but was constantly flummoxed. The writing is magnificent - smart and realistic, with a surprising amount of humour despite the dark premise. There's also so much to praise about Zaillian's direction and the breathtaking cinematography. The tense 75-minute premiere is guaranteed to make you chew your nails off, while the 90-minute finale closes with a shot that I consider a classic ( more below, with a spoiler warning ).

As for cast and characters, it's nothing short of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

First, there's Riz Ahmed, who I noticed in Nightcrawler ( another incredible movie I highly recommend ). As young Pakistani college student, Nasir Khan, who's charged with a brutal murder but maintains his innocence, Ahmed starts off mousy and scrawny, before gradually transforming as he comes into contact with and is influenced by those around him. The performance is so subtle that the actual transition can't be nailed down. You just suddenly realize it's already happened, and try to figure out when it occurred. One word: remarkable.

Next is Bill Camp, who plays Dennis Box, the lead detective investigating the murder. He looks very familiar, and based on his filmography, I've probably seen him on-screen a few times. He's the sort of actor who blends in with the background ( especially in ensembles with much bigger names ), but he's given lots of solo time here, with Zaillian crafting star-making scenes for him. I particularly enjoyed the witness interviews, as Box managed to unnerve everyone with his quiet yet razor sharp questions.

But the show truly belongs to John Turturro - an actor I first sat up and noticed in 1994's Quiz Show. He's had a relatively under-the-radar type of career these past 20 years, but John Stone will probably propel him onto Hollywood's A-list at last.
Memorable characters are sometimes burdened by over-the-top traits, but the writers keep Stone's idiosyncrasies carefully modulated so they never overwhelm the scene in general. Stone is tormented by crippling eczema, forced to attend court in sandals and endure stares of disgust from fellow commuters as he desperately scratches himself on the subway. His crumpled overcoat and hangdog look induce cruel jokes from the police, fellow lawyers and clients. But over the course of the series, viewers will discover the heart of gold that lies within, as he not only goes way beyond normal legal duties to help Nasir, but also develops a forbidden bond with a homeless cat ( which he's severely allergic to ).

**spoiler warning**

**spoiler warning**

**spoiler warning**

I've seen Internet discussions about what the cat storyline represents ( here's one interesting take ) and I don't know if anyone shares my opinion here, but I think the cat is a metaphor for Nasir / the murder case. Stone's skill set involves making quick deals for small-time criminals. A xenophobia-tinged gory murder is way out of his comfort zone, causing him to break out in hives the night before closing argument, like a major allergic reaction. He's also allergic to the cat, but adopts it anyway, just like he takes Nasir's case despite having deep reservations - because he has the chance to save a life and it's the right thing to do.
Stone's yo-yo-ing with the cat is especially gut-wrenching, since I'm a feline enthusiast. I understand his reasons for returning him to the shelter, but share his pain regarding the furball's possible fate.

As for that classic scene - in the final minutes of the last episode, we see Stone sitting in his apartment watching an SPCA ad, looking forlorn as animals with sad expressions appear on the screen. Viewers will naturally assume he's thinking about the cat which has probably been euthanized, then after he grabs his bag and walks out the front door, we see the cat strolling across the hallway. The end.
I had such a good laugh over that. Thank you, Steve Zaillian and Richard Price!

**end of spoiler**

**end of spoiler**

**end of spoiler**

Do yourself a favour - watch this series.

Am ending with a link to a 2012 entry about Pangdemonium's production of Spring Awakening.
Because in the wake of Nathan Hartono's success on Sing! China, I'd like to highlight his stage debut ( at age 20 ), which remains one of the best performances I've ever seen anywhere in the world.
Congratulations, Nathan, your talent deserves to be recognized on a global scale!


It's been a very hectic 2 months so here's a quick entry before my life goes haywire again.

Now that Narcos has hit season 2, I can confidently say this is my new favourite TV series of all time. It used to be Dexter but that doesn't even come close anymore.

And the show is winning new converts, as a fellow colleague recently expressed his devotion through binge watching till 5am.

I wish I could do that, but I'm middle-aged and need to sleep in order to function at work haha.

But I generally prefer to digest TV programmes slowly. I find it more enjoyable that way.

Currently, I'm at episode 7, and season 2 is 10 times more explosive ( often literally ). Escobar, having escaped from prison, is on the run and evading everyone, from his rivals, the DEA and the CIA, to the Columbian army and right-wing militants hired to capture him. The plot sounds simple but there's a lot going on at the periphery - shady deals, double-crosses - and you can't help but marvel at Escobar's genius. He might have made an excellent politician if he hadn't been a wanted criminal.

The percentage of Spanish dialogue has increased, but my interest hasn't waned. One of the main reasons I love Narcos so much is its script, which contains no redundancies and is quite often hilarious in spite of the violent nature of the story. The Columbian characters are colourful and memorable, while the Americans navigate their legal options in intriguing ways.

There are numerous moments worth mentioning, but one that really stands out involves the DEA agent visiting the family of a colonel who was executed by Escobar. The colonel was known for his ruthless tactics, including the unsanctioned killing of Escobar underlings, which the DEA agent personally witnessed. However, when the colonel's wife asked if the rumours were true, and her despondent son sat beside her, the DEA agent lied and said her husband never did anything illegal.
It was one of the few quiet scenes in that episode, but resonated with great poignancy and perfectly illustrates the beauty of this show. Because the hunt for Escobar was so intense and prolonged, it completely consumed those who were involved, driving good men to commit crimes themselves.
And in return, the viewer is equally conflicted ( or at least I am ). Where do you draw the line when so many innocent lives are at stake and all other methods have failed?

Something else has become Narcos' trademark - expertly staged combat scenes, easily the best I've seen on television. This happens in every episode in season 2, and feature so many different permutations they make my head spin. It really is amazing how they milk the cat-and-mouse games for maximum effect.

Honestly, after watching this show, I've developed a tonne of respect for the Columbian drug cartels. I don't condone anything they did, of course, but those brains of theirs should be preserved and studied!

Another nice touch is the male cast, a large proportion of which is really good-looking. And everyone is just incredible on the acting scale.

Good luck at the Emmys! I hope you win a few awards, but even if you don't, your fans still love the series and we'll be waiting when season 3 launches next year.

I'm using Blogger's Featured Post functon, so read my 2015 review of season 1 on the upper right hand section of this page.

So far the BEST book I've read this year, I kid you not!

Birthed from the loins of People magazine's executive editor, Kate Coyne, I'm Your Biggest Fan had me hooked from page 1.

A collection of wonderful stories from her life as an entertainment correspondent, Coyne's breezy yet cerebral writing style made this memoir exciting and funny, and kept me up late on many occasions, as I couldn't stop myself from reading the next page.

The number of major celebrities included boggles the mind ( well, my mind at least! ) - from George Michael, Michael Douglas and Neil Patrick Harris, to Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.

Every encounter is vastly different from the rest, and highly enjoyable.

One of the main reasons I love the book is the spiritual kinship I feel with Ms. Coyne. Like her, I've been a huge fan of pop culture for as long as I can remember. According to my mum, the first words I spoke as a toddler were "Can I watch TV?" ( ask her, she'll verify it! )

Also like her, I love meeting famous people, though I'm a late bloomer by comparison. She met RDJ at an off-Broadway show when she was a teenager, while I met jazz musician Jamie Cullum at a showcase in Singapore when I was 28.

If I hadn't become a doctor, I would've definitely pursued journalism - specifically entertainment news. I would've loved flying around the world covering film festivals and interviewing actors/actresses I admire and know everything about. Granted, it isn't anywhere as noble as saving lives, but considering the amount of verbal abuse healthcare professionals endure on a daily basis nowadays, I'd say medicine is grossly overrated.

So yeah, I lived vicariously through Ms. Coyne's terrific tales, and shared her fangirl emotions as she described her encounters with Mr. Cruise ( yes, the lucky lady had more than one! ).

She's effusive where good experiences are concerned, but also gracious when they're downright unpleasant. I guess it's a smart move since she has to keep dealing with celebrities after this, but once you get a feel for the language she uses, you can tell when she dislikes someone ( Neil Patrick Harris is on that list ).

Absolute sweethearts include RDJ, Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks. OMG Tom Hanks is an angel! I'd love to meet HIM someday!

Highly recommended. Please write a sequel soon!

Not recommended at all - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I read it because I wanted to, but now totally regret doing so. The Harry Potter stories stopped being good after book 5, and I'm glad JK Rowling's going to stop writing them ( or so she claims ).

Although this is formatted as a play rather than a novel, it doesn't fare any better. The dialogue is ludicrous at times and the plot is a letdown.

Fans who caught the preview performances in London kept raving about the show. I guess they had low expectations.

I won't post any spoilers, except to say that a Da Vinci Code-like revelation near the end made me groan. Really? Is that all you've got? Tsk tsk.

No more Harry Potter for me. Ever.

Ending off this post with a brief review of The Secret Life of Pets.

In short, completely insane, at times ridiculous, but also freaking awesome. :)

I can't even describe what goes on in this film, so just trust me and watch it.

Gidget, you rock!

Till next time...


I planned to make a blog entry the week Anton Yelchin tragically passed away, but only managed to do so now after a lot of dust finally settled.

When the news first broke, I was in shock and wished it was yet another celebrity death hoax. Unfortunately, it turned out to be real, and I'm extremely saddened by this terrible loss.

I first noticed AY in 2009's Terminator Salvation and JJ Abrams' Star Trek. While the latter was a much bigger hit, Anton's role in the former was significantly more prominent, and I was struck by his mature, layered performance as a teenage Kyle Reese, admirably holding his own with the likes of Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

Then came Charlie Bartlett - a 2007 film I stumbled upon on cable and watched ONLY because AY was in it. ( Well, there's also Robert Downey, Jr. but even he couldn't outshine Anton. I kid you not! )

Charlie Bartlett is, in my opinion, a classic in the vein of the great John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club - i.e. populated by teens who are old souls, undermining authority in all sorts of creative ways, spewing sagely advice that adults aren't capable of thinking up.

The scene I love most is Charlie's audition for the school play, which made me laugh like Kat Dennings. It was yet another confirmation of Anton's immense talent ( he was 17 at the time ), and he remained a strong presence despite having RDJ to contend with.

The entire movie is available on YouTube. It's my favourite where Anton is concerned, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested.

Subsequently, I also saw Like Crazy, Fright Night, Star Trek Into Darkness and Burying The Ex, all of which I enjoyed, but which couldn't match Charlie Bartlett or Terminator Salvation.

However, I recently got my hands on 5 to 7 and Green Room. Will watch them soon, as well as Star Trek Beyond, due for release later this month.

It's comforting to hear personal anecdotes from his co-stars and friends, describing his kind heart, humour and intellectual curiosity. You will be missed by many, including me.

On to Independence Day: Resurgence, the movie I was most excited about this year.

The original Independence Day is one of my all-time faves, and the trailers for the sequel looked phenomenal, so yes, I had high hopes and was fully prepared to embrace and love Resurgence.

Sadly, my reaction was the exact opposite.

I think it was around the 45-minute mark when I started checking my watch to see how long my torture would last. There are just so many things wrong with the film, from the dumb storyline ( a queen and her workers / soldiers; an elderly, frail ex-POTUS effortlessly flying a fighter jet into combat after years of inactivity; key characters conveniently converging in the desert where the final showdown occurred ) to the limp new cast ( Liam Hemsworth is unbelievably dull OMG! ) to the annoying editing ( cutting between scenes every 3-5 minutes isn't cool dammit! ).

One of my major complaints is how the wild-haired scientist from the first movie ends up in a coma for 20 years, miraculously wakes up one day ( presumably "activated" by the second crop of aliens heading to earth ) and suffers zero muscle atrophy. He just hops off the bed and goes running down the hallway. He didn't even have a feeding tube!

So sloppy, ugh.

Anyway, I was happy to see Bill Pullman again. He's aged a lot but also stayed slim. His thick wavy hair is also intact ( I love his hair haha ). Can't stand Jeff Goldblum or Judd Hirsch, but my biggest peeve is Angelababy - a Chinese / Taiwanese ( not sure and don't care ) actress / singer who got completely miscast as a fighter pilot, and pouted her way through the whole production.

Clearly a stunt to drum up box office sales in Asia. Shame on you, Roland Emmerich.

There's talk of a part 3 on the way. I'll be sure to give it a miss. But I still love the first Independence Day. A real class act, that one.

After a loooong absence from local TV, season 20 suddenly appeared, and I'm hooked.

I loathe most reality shows, especially those with lots of melodrama, but something about The Bachelor is just... irresistible.

No, it isn't the guy, because he obviously isn't the star of the show - the ladies are. And they never disappoint.

Every season has its share of bitchy, psychotic and weepy contestants. Again, not something I can usually tolerate, but strangely enough, I find it highly entertaining here.

The quality of bachelors has dropped over the years, after peaking with Andrew Firestone ( indeed, THAT Firestone ) in 2003. The latest, Ben Higgins, is a software sales rep from Denver, and got the gig only because he was so popular on The Bachelorette ( yes, he was chasing another woman together with other men! ).

With this in mind, I find it hard to understand why all the women are so nuts over Ben. Sure, he's tall, athletic and good-looking, with beautiful manners and a gentle demeanour. But he's, well, ORDINARY. Why do the ladies throw themselves at him in such embarrassing ways? Maybe that's another reason the show appeals to me - its sheer inexplicability.

One of the things I like to do is see how many women the bachelor ends up kissing. Some past bachelors were quite discerning while others just went for it. Ben lies somewhere in between. He kisses A LOT of ladies, but is capable of turning a cold shoulder if he senses Fatal Attraction vibes.

I'm at episode 4 right now, and the villain is Olivia - a former news anchor who claims she gave up her job to be on the show. She's glamorous and impressed Ben so much on the introduction night that he gave her the "first impression rose". It's interesting how things go downhill from there, as she becomes consumed by jealousy and paranoia.

BUT - and this is important - past contestants have publicly stated that the Bachelor / Bachelorette series are staged and creatively edited, calling into question the authenticity of the process.

Coincidentally, I recently started binging on UnReal, after a friend's repeated recommendations.

Blatantly based on The Bachelor ( here it's called Everlasting and the bachelor is "the suitor" ), it illustrates all the ugliness we suspect goes on behind the scenes, and ramps it up ten-fold. Everyone's sleeping around, the big boss is constantly high on drugs, the bachelor's in it for all the wrong reasons, and the crew's job is to manipulate the ladies and milk the ratings to the max.

It isn't too bad, but can get tiresome after a while, so I advise small doses.

What I will give them credit for is daring to feature an African-American bachelor in season 2 - something the real show doesn't have the balls to do.

That's it for today. Looking forward to Narcos season 2 on September 2nd! Super awesome, that one. :)

Review – Roots

This History channel mini-series has shot to the top of my list of favourite 2016 TV shows so far, so a blog entry is inevitable.

It was rather unexpected, to be honest. I read Alex Haley's epic novel as a teen ( and did a massive book review for my school holiday assignment, which my English teacher never marked hmph! ) and am familiar with the story. But I wondered if the small screen adaptation would succeed in conveying the key elements of this saga and managing its large number of characters.

3 episodes in, I'm emotionally exhausted and in complete awe. Every episode averages 90 minutes but feels a lot longer - not because it drags or bores, but because of the mind-boggling amount of material packed into each installment. It just doesn't seem possible for so much to happen within such a short duration. ( If only more films could follow this format! )

Since the story spans multiple generations, the writers devote one episode to each protagonist, allowing ample time for key storylines to play out before moving on. And lest you think they start to become repetitive and dull after a while, the complete opposite happens. Slave owners and drivers come in different shapes and sizes, with individual quirks and torture method preferences. Some may be less cruel than others, but pay attention and you'll notice fleeting moments that illustrate the deep-seated hatred simmering beneath even the most benign-looking faces ( clue: Matthew Goode's Dr. William Waller ).

But this production obviously belongs to the African-American cast. I know a few of the actors ( Oscar winner Forest Whitaker being the most prominent ) but the ones I don't are the most impressive. Malachi Kirby ( Kunta Kinte ) and Rege-Jean Page ( Chicken George ) stand out from the pack, infusing their roles with intense, heartbreaking performances which reduced me to tears. Anika Noni Rose also shines as strong-willed Kizzy.

Special mention goes to Jonathan Rhys Meyers ( Tom Lea ), whose career I've followed since 2002's Bend It Like Beckham. Accomplished but underrated, he scorches the screen as a complicated villain, and practically steals everyone else's thunder. If he isn't nominated for an Emmy this year, I'm going to be extremely upset.

I'm finishing up the final episode this weekend, but am likely to rate it at least a 9/10 on IMDB.

Slavery is a horrific part of American history, and even today, racial tensions still permeate the country. The revival of Roots is a timely one, occurring while the United States is being governed by its first black President, and police brutality against African-Americans keeps making headlines. It's hard to imagine how one human being is capable of unspeakable cruelty towards another, but even harder to understand why it still happens today.

Roots expertly illustrates cruelty in its many forms, including a harrowing flogging scene which is not recommended for those with weak constitutions. However, it also shows that the greatest pain isn't inflicted through physical or verbal abuse. Instead, it's through a broken promise - a softly spoken betrayal, moments after giving a man hope of attaining freedom.

This series needs to be seen and its message conveyed. Like the Holocaust, slavery must never be forgotten, and those of us who're blessed with the opportunity to live as free people should cherish this privilege.

( Now awaiting season 2 of Netflix's Narcos, rumoured to be premiering in August! This was my favourite TV series in 2015. One of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. )

It’s A Zoo Out There 2016-05-20 02:00:00

This is my 3rd blog post in 3 weeks. Making up for lost time haha. :)

But I feel compelled to write something about X-Men: Apocalypse - the 3rd movie I've seen at the cineplex this year ( all superhero blockbusters, strangely enough ), and my personal favourite.

There aren't any more scheduled this year right?

Anyway, I doubt X-Men will outdo Captain America: Civil War at the box office, and I also enjoyed Batman vs Superman immensely. But there's just something about X-Men that affects me on a deeper level, especially the newer films which feature younger versions of Professor X and Magneto - these are the ones that make me cry.

One big reason is that Erik Lehnsherr's personal life is much more prominent - from his tormented childhood at Auschwitz and subsequent Nazi-hunting missions, to an attempt at having a normal life by going into hiding and starting a family. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes again, but it adds more layers to his character's complexity. I can definitely understand his motivations and don't define him as a clear cut villain.

Then there's his love-hate relationship with Charles Xavier - another recurring subplot I greatly appreciate. I find it fascinating how it keeps see-sawing in every movie, yet their brotherly bond remains intact.

It definitely helps that the cast is so amazing! James McAvoy is perfect as Charles - warm, kind and eternally optimistic - while Michael Fassbender as Erik is one of the most spot on choices in the history of casting! Both actors were on my list of favourites for years before snagging these roles, and their on-screen chemistry is always a wonder to behold.

This time round, I got a triple dose of ecstasy when Oscar Isaac joined as Apocalypse. Watching all 3 men in the final climactic scene was a dream come true! Playing a character that's blue and looks like a cross between a robot and a rock toes the line between dramatic and downright campy, but Oscar keeps it together and is effectively terrifying.

Special mention goes to Evan Peters, who's back as Quicksilver, with another hilarious slow-mo montage, reminiscent of the Pentagon prison break from Days of Future Past. And yes, there's a cameo by you-know-who.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey was an unexpected delight. I only know her from Game Of Thrones and thought she looked awkward in the X-Men photos I saw in Empire magazine. She doesn't get to do very much for most of the film, but hang onto your seats in the last 15 minutes, because when Jean finally unleashes her full power, it will make your heart stop!
( Even my usually poker-faced mother gasped. :))

Super highly recommended!

Next on my to watch list: Independence Day: Resurgence, Jason Bourne, Now You See Me 2, The Legend of Tarzan, The Conjuring 2 and Assassin's Creed ( Michael Fassbender's highly anticipated solo action hero outing! ).

2016 is turning out to be an awesome year for movies. :)