Outlander – A Must Watch


Midway through a semestral break, I'm starting this entry with yet more raves about Outlander, the Starz channel series which is making women all over the world swoon ( myself included! ).

I haven't read Diana Gabaldon's acclaimed novels, but was immediately drawn to the unusual story after watching the excellent pilot episode. After that, it was effortlessly easy to become invested in the cast of colourful characters, and of course, the 2 gorgeous leads.

It's always a pleasure to see sizzling chemistry between TV actors, a few great examples being Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles ( The Good Wife ), Sarah Jessica Parker and John Corbett ( Sex and the City ), and Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens ( Downton Abbey ).


But what goes on here with Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan is unlike anything I've ever seen. And I've seen A LOT. From the very first moment Claire and Jamie meet ( she reduces his dislocated right shoulder, without any anaesthesia ), sparks fly. It takes another 5 excruciating weeks before they're finally joined in matrimony - albeit under unconventional circumstances - and episode 7, which aired a few days ago, was breathlessly anticipated.

Bearing in mind that the Starz channel is usually more well-known for slightly trashy shows with lots of bare chests and bodice-ripping, Outlander is significantly classier, with a high intelligence quotient. The plots move at a leisurely pace, ample time is allocated to character development and Scottish cultural immersion, and scenes involving medical treatment ( Claire is a military nurse ) and various horrific injuries ( open limb fractures, skin that's been mercilessly flogged ) are admirably realistic.

The entire cast is excellent, but Balfe and Heughan easily steal the show. Every time Claire and Jamie interact, the temperature palpably rises. When the wedding finally took place and the relationship was consummated, I was surprised my head didn't explode! :)

My curiosity got the better of me so I read the book chapter first. The TV adaptation isn't 100% faithful, but at least there's an actual conclusion, instead of the frustratingly truncated paragraphs in the novel.
Once again, the chemistry is off the charts, though you do need to suspend your disbelief a little, considering Heughan is in his 30s while Jamie is 22 and a confessed virgin. Does anyone believe someone that pure is capable of those searing stares and cheeky dialogue? Err, I don't think so. :)


Another unique trait of this romance ( aside from the male virgin angle ) is the humour and tenderness. I shared Claire's mirth upon hearing a few of Jamie's misconceptions, and there were so many sweet moments interspersed throughout the hour, as he paid her simple yet profoundly lovely compliments and promised his eternal love and protection, culminating in a gift of his deceased mother's pearl necklace and a heartfelt statement about how precious Claire is to him. Anyone who didn't turn to jelly is a cold-blooded reptile.

The series will take a short break after episode 8, returning in January for the second half. I read the synopsis and have an idea of what's going to happen, but watching these two beautiful actors bring this moving tale to vivid life is a joy.

Thank you, People magazine, for your recommendation! The show hasn't hit local cable yet, but it's going to be heavily censored if it does so don't bother, find a way to see the uncut version instead.
Now I'm wondering if I should make a 2nd trip to Scotland, 20 years after my very first visit. Hmm... :)


That's all for now. Just needed to get it out of my system. More next time!

It’s A Zoo Out There 2014-08-23 01:00:00


After a 2-month absence due to a string of presentations, assignments and exams, I return with a heavy heart.

Robin Williams - an actor whom I've loved very much since my early childhood - was found dead in his home on 11 August, and it was later confirmed that he did indeed commit suicide, after a long battle with depression.
When I first received the news through an email alert, I was in complete shock, then utterly devastated. Like millions of people all over the world, I couldn't fathom Williams as someone who was unhappy, not when he was such a skilled comedian and brought joy to so many. But as the story unfolded, I learned how he'd actually publicly discussed his personal issues in various interviews - which I didn't see - and yet, somehow even these never grabbed the headlines the way other celebrities' problems did ( enough about the Kardashians and Beyonce / Jay-Z and Justin Bieber already! ). I was overwhelmed with sadness - not just by Williams' passing, but by my ignorance about his struggles.

I'm not ashamed to say that I cried. I can't remember the last time a famous person's death affected me this way. I was absolutely miserable for a week, and even now, my heart aches whenever I think about him.

One of the reasons for my grief is, of course, the fact that Dead Poets Society is my favourite movie. Of all time. And is it a tragic coincidence that 2014 marks its 25th anniversary?
I was 14 when I first saw it - and believe it or not, I initially hated the film, before deciding to give it another try then appreciating it much much more. It has remained at the top of my list ever since, and in Mr. Williams' honour, it will stay there forever.


If you haven't seen DPS before, then I strongly recommend that you do. At least once. And it definitely helps if you love literature. I was already studying Shakespeare and classic novels in secondary school when DPS was released, but the movie opened my eyes - and more importantly, my soul - to the simple idea of sheer possibilities. My literature teacher wasn't anything like John Keating. My love for the beauty of the written and spoken word was mostly nurtured by my mother ( bless her :)), then my own enthusiasm took over. When DPS came along, my world exploded. It inspired me to read even more; to pursue writing; to "suck the marrow out of life" by experiencing what mattered most as thoroughly and as passionately as possible; and later, to immerse myself in live theatre and support organizations which champion the arts.


So you see, DPS changed my life. And Williams' performance was an integral component. These past 25 years, I have endeavoured to "seize the day" as much as possible, even in spite of many limitations ( financial, familial, etc. ). Only in the past 8 years have my horizons been significantly broadened, yet, looking back at my life as a whole, I'm happy to report that I am content. And I am so looking forward to the next 25 years! :D

There're many other Robin Williams performances which I also love, but DPS will always be his career best in my opinion. So that's the one I will mention here. May you rest in peace in heaven, o captain, my captain!



Now, we move on to happier topics, the first of which is Outlander, specifically the new TV series on Starz channel.
I haven't read the novels by Diana Gabaldon, but watched this solely based on rave reviews - and I mean literal swooning - from People magazine.
What a great decision that turned out to be! I am now hopelessly addicted to the show, and totally enamoured of its 2 gorgeous leads - Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.

My friends from secondary school and junior college may recall my love for medieval romances. I regularly devoured such novels by the stack ( Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, Barbra Cartland ), and literature classics added to the mix ( Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare ). And let's not forget all the movie adaptations! The most recent TV series of this nature which I enjoyed was The Tudors ( not a Game Of Thrones fan anymore, sorry ). So after a long dry spell, Outlander finally came along and blew my mind. :)

Despite Starz's reputation for semi-trashy shows like Spartacus, Outlander has turned out to be very intelligent. It also boasts a stellar cast which easily rivals that from GOT ( and thankfully, with a much smaller, manageable size ), breath-taking Scottish scenery and equally beautiful cinematography.


Caitriona Balfe - who plays nurse, Claire Beauchamp - is a wonderful new discovery. Raven-haired, fair-skinned and willowy, she's the quintessential English rose, yet infuses Claire with quiet strength. The pilot episode opens with her clamping bleeding arteries in a soldier's injured leg, oblivious to her blood-soaked arms, face and uniform. Later, she reduces a hulking young man's dislocated shoulder without any analgesia. I like this woman! :)

That young man, by the way, is Jamie Fraser, played by the very delicious Sam Heughan. If you guessed an element of fantasy and time travel in this story, you're correct. But I shall leave you to enjoy the tale for yourself, just as I am refraining from reading the full synopsis on Wikipedia. The chemistry between Balfe and Heughan is scorching hot! I can't wait to see them get it on - which they obviously will at some point.
And make sure you watch only the uncensored version. Local cable will definitely snip certain scenes, which ruins the experience.

Awaiting episode 3 with bated breath. :)



Season 4 of The Killing has already concluded, but this series always deserves special mention because it's one of my absolute faves ( probably #2, just after Dexter ).

Despite being cancelled after season 3, it found new life on Netflix, which shortened its usual 13-episode run by half. I have to say the new format works equally well, and season 4 boasts a superb lineup - especially Joan Allen and Tyler Ross - in addition to the consistently excellent regulars - Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman.

Without giving away too much, all I'll say is that the latest murder investigation doesn't pale in comparison to those in the first 3 seasons. The characters are intricately drawn, their secrets skilfully revealed, and the acting is just freaking awesome! Coming from a TV fanatic, you have to trust me on this. :)

The award for breakout performance goes to Ross, whose tormented portrayal impressed me tremendously. Only in his early 20s, he demonstrates remarkable maturity as an actor, holding his own in emotionally charged scenes with his much older co-stars. He reminds me of a young Edward Norton in Primal Fear, I kid you not!

The ending was a bit of a head-scratcher, but I still give this installment 5 dazzling stars. Is it too much to hope for a season 5? :)



Next on the list is FX's The Strain. I am pretty familiar with the source material, i.e. a trilogy of novels written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I read parts 1 and 2 before giving up, because the writing isn't that great, and the prose is bogged down by lengthy monologues which I found distracting. However, I knew a film or TV adaptation would appear one day, since the premise is perfectly designed for such media. Turns out I was 100% correct!

The TV series is doing very well in the U.S. and has already been renewed for a 2nd season ( congratulations! ). Fortunately, it is a huge improvement from the long-winded novels because the boring narratives are omitted. The horror element translates extremely well visually ( one scene actually made my mum scream, maybe because she sat too close to the TV set heh! ), and after some initial discomfort in episode 1, I've developed strong affection for the cast and characters, particularly Corey Stoll's Ephraim Goodweather ( an infectious disease specialist from the CDC ). I also dig that nice hairpiece they put on his head - makes him look much younger and really dashing! Stoll is best remembered from his recent stint on House Of Cards season 1, in which he played a senator who was cruelly manipulated by Kevin Spacey's evil Frank Underwood, before meeting a tragic end.

Hasn't hit local cable yet, so thank you, Internet! :)


I'm still undecided about Cinemax's The Knick, which is helmed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Clive Owen. Yet another medical series, and so far, not a very good one.

The production value is, without a doubt, very high. The sets, props and costumes are spot on. And Owen is a very accomplished actor who excels at playing tortured souls. However, I'm suffering from "tortured soul fatigue", especially where doctors are concerned. Laypeople must think most doctors go to work hung over or high, which is NOT the case, dammit! But what else can you do in order to generate ratings right? Sigh...

Will I change my mind after a few more weeks? We'll see.

I'll let you chew on all this for a while. More next time - hopefully within the next fortnight. :)

A Rock And A Hard Place?

This entry deviates from my usual recreational posts. But a recent healthcare-related issue is bothering me significantly and I need to write something about it.

Before I begin, READERS PLEASE TAKE NOTE THAT THESE ARE MY PERSONAL VIEWS, AND ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE INSTITUTION I WORK FOR, OR THE LOCAL MEDICAL COMMUNITY.
The last thing I need is a phone call or email from one of my big bosses. :)

If you follow the news, you're no doubt aware of the recent revisions in healthcare coverage, in terms of Medisave and MediShield benefits.

While it is a timely move welcomed by many, I have reservations about this sort of "crowd-pleasing" tactic.

In addition, the government isn't addressing serious problems which contribute to poor personal health management, instead focusing mainly on healthcare expenditure and how to ease Singaporeans' burdens.

The nature of my work in the Emergency Department puts me in close contact with tens of thousands of patients each year. We don't need detailed statistics to know that
1) Many patients are aged 75 and above.
2) People are getting much sicker, and
3) A significant number don't bother to comply with prescribed treatment or lifestyle modification advice.

While a proportion of those in (3) have financial constraints, there're many others who behave in this manner due to lack of insight, stubbornness, or even plain stupidity.

Every day, I see at least a few active smokers with known histories of coronary artery disease, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coming in for angina and wheezing. When I tell them they're not supposed to smoke in view of their pre-existing conditions, the standard response is a sheepish grin, and comments like "Yes, doctor, I KNOW I should stop smoking, but it's SO HARD." And they always find it very amusing, like a joke which we should laugh at, hahahaha.

Then there're those who default follow-up and treatment, saying they have "no time" or "I felt fine so I didn't come back lor". Patients sometimes cite lack of money as a reason, then whip out their iPhones, iPads and other gadgets, or sometimes, a designer bag. I'm tempted to search for them on Facebook to see if they've been going on overseas holidays as well.

20 years ago, I was asked during my medical school interview whether smokers who get lung cancer should receive healthcare subsidies. Being young and naive, I replied yes, and that these would be adequately supported by the Medisave, MediShield and MediFund schemes.

2 decades on, my cynicism and constant frustration make me say otherwise.

Should recalcitrant patients be afforded the same level of subsidy as those who obediently follow their doctors' instructions? The former also tend to clog up the EDs and occupy inpatient beds, in addition to having lower quality of life, thereby sapping more healthcare and community resources.

[ p.s. I am excluding patients with cancer from this discussion, as their aetiologies are widely variable and can't always be attributed to lifestyle choices. ]

Should our government help people who don't even bother to help themselves? Shouldn't patients with such cavalier attitudes about their health be penalized in some way? Maybe arm-twisting tactics are the best solution?

Implementing a monitoring system isn't impossible. Proof of clinic attendance is straightforward, and failure to show up should prompt a phone call and an entry in the computerized records.

As for lifestyle modification, how about making it compulsory for all patients with newly diagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma and ischemic heart disease to attend health education classes and join support groups, instead of engaging them only during hospitalization and clinic visits? Again, attendance should be marked, and absences met with penalties.

Patients' families should also be roped in. I really can't understand why many young, well-educated Singaporeans show no interest whatsoever in their parents' conditions. There've been many occasions where they don't know the diagnosis, treatment ( including surgery ), medications, or whether their mother / father has been taking his / her medicine. Even the patient doesn't know s/he underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. The definition of informed consent in this country is really quite unfathomable.

Families can do a lot to support a patient's lifestyle choices and compliance to therapy, and should be educated in a comprehensive manner instead of given brief, verbal instructions, 90% of which they forget within a day.

As for cigarettes, I strongly suggest the government take some definitive action and impose high taxes on these products. Nobody gives a crap about those ugly pictures on the packages, or those preachy print and TV ads. The ONLY way you can stop people from smoking is by making the prices of cigarettes so insanely high that no-one can afford them. And of course, step up border patrols to deter smugglers.

Singaporeans' ballooning body mass index also has not escaped my attention. Earlier this week, I attended to an 11-year-old girl who weighs 8kg more than I do. And everywhere I go, I see people stuffing their faces and bursting out of their clothes.

Enjoying your food is one thing, but these days, it seems the Singaporean mentality encompasses everything excessive - eating, spending money, enjoying life. Are our leaders aware of what's going on, and will they do something about it?

If the answer is no, then make sure you build more hospitals and hire more doctors and nurses. And prepare yourself for a catastrophic decline in national health, and its long-term effects on the economy.

More Viewing Bliss!

I take immense pleasure in writing today's entry, because I'm reviewing a film which is so incredible it's shot up my list of all-time favourite movies, hitting #2.

It is second only to Dead Poets Society ( which may never be dethroned ), and also ranks as my fave animated film, kicking Pixar's very worthy Finding Nemo to runner-up position ( sorry, Nemo, you've been up there long enough :)).


It is, of course, none other than How To Train Your Dragon 2. It just opened officially at cineplexes yesterday, but for some reason, was locally available for previews a week earlier ( not the usual midnight / weekend shows, mind you, but throughout the entire day ).

I couldn't pass up the chance, after being blown away by the 2010 original - which I saw at home much later, 'cos I knew nothing about the books it was based on.

The impact it made on me was tremendous. Everything came together so perfectly, from the script to the visual effects. I even forgave the ridiculous accent discrepancies ( Hiccup and his friends sound American, while the adults are Scots!? ) because the vocal performances were so wonderful. John Powell's score made the whole movie soar ( and reduced me to tears multiple times ), and the beautiful bond between boy and dragon - the beating heart of this masterpiece - moved me beyond description.

After 4 looooong years, I was - like millions of fellow fans around the world - DYING to catch the sequel. But I also shared the apprehension expressed by many. Would part 2 be able to reproduce its predecessor's magic? Could anything possibly top the awesomeness of part 1? And should we leave the tissues at home, or bring a box of them?

The happy answers to these questions are yes, YES, and definitely a box!

The following paragraphs include a few spoilers, so you've been warned. If you prefer not to read on, then take my advice and GO WATCH THE SHOW IMMEDIATELY. Then come back and finish the rest of this entry. :)

I don't read the HTTYD books so I can't comment on how faithful the movies are to the original stories. I'm quite certain liberties were taken by the producers and writers, but fortunately, the results are stellar.

So much is packed into 90 minutes, I was horrified when my bladder started acting up in the last 20, and practically sprinted to and from the toilet, making it back just in time to see the final, spectacular showdown between good and evil.

But I digress. What I'm actually pointing out is that the allotted 1.5 hours are super-efficiently utilized, making me ponder why most Hollywood films these days insist on exceeding the 2 - or sometimes 2.5 or 3 - hour mark, causing viewer fatigue ( though I admit there's better value for money ).

I realize cartoons rarely cross the 100-minute mark for obvious reasons ( try wrangling a restless kid in the theatre ), but with the majority of mediocre animated fare that gets churned out every few weeks or months, a release like HTTYD effortlessly towers over the rest of the pack.

Like all sequels, it obviously has to go bigger - more dragons, more jaw-dropping flying and battle scenes, new characters and conflicts. Hiccup and gang are 5 years older and look great ( the former even has fine stubble on his chin, with lots of close ups for the teenage girls in the audience :)). Hiccup's long lost mother reappears ( voiced by the lovely Cate Blanchett ). A motley crew of dragon hunters threatens the peaceful creatures' survival, and the villain is appropriately vile.

Last but not least, Hiccup and Toothless' relationship ( calling it a simple "friendship" wouldn't do it justice ) is tested once more - or more accurately, twice - when Hiccup has to find a way to save his beloved companion from a powerful enemy.

While HTTYD 2 has all the requisite ingredients for guaranteed box office success, much credit goes to director Dean DeBlois ( who also helmed Part 1 and co-wrote both screenplays ). Because we all know execution is key.

DeBlois strikes a perfect balance in every scene, letting it run long enough to keep us enthralled but not too long to cause distraction. The funny segments are hugely entertaining, but he truly excels when poignance takes centrestage. And there are many such moments scattered throughout the film, mostly involving Hiccup, his parents and Toothless. Inducing tears is one thing, but my heart was literally bursting out of my chest! I was so profoundly moved, especially during the last 15 minutes when Toothless' full strength was revealed, and his deep love for Hiccup gloriously displayed.

Finding Nemo came close in this respect, but HTTYD 2 surpasses even that.

Adults will have no difficulty appreciating its mature themes. As for the kids, I hope that 5-10 years down the road, they will watch this again and find new things to love.

Fellow fans rejoice! Because HTTYD 3 has been announced, and will hit the big screen in 2016 ( only 2 more years instead of 4 woohoo! ). Hiccup will be the big chief ( and probably married to Astrid ), and I have a strong feeling about Part 3 including a story arc about Toothless finally discovering another of his kind. A mate, perhaps? I'm getting goosebumps! :D


Before signing off, I'd also like to mention another reshuffle in my fave movies list.
After a recent repeat viewing of Independence Day, I've decided to place it at #3 - indeed, just below HTTYD 2.


I admit it's a little shocking, because the previous top contenders mostly comprised serious material ( e.g. The English Patient ). Perhaps HTTYD 2 hit a nerve, but I found myself beaming ecstatically just a few days ago, despite having seen Independence Day countless times these past 20 years. I was most struck by how it's remained so thrilling after 2 decades, bringing together a superb cast ( I still have the biggest crush on Bill Pullman, who is IMHO the best big-screen American President ever ), a rousing story, eye-popping visual effects and some of the most spectacular action sequences in existence, to create a work of art which I never tire of.


And that, I suppose, is the main reason for my current top 3 selections - they're all terrific movies, but more crucially, ones I can watch again and again without losing interest. Plus, they beautifully illustrate life's various ups and downs, teach important values, and boast satisfying, memorable ( though imperfect ) endings.

My writing aspirations are on hold for now, but if I ever get round to penning something ( hopefully before I become too old and tired ), these will be my gold standard. I'm not saying I can match them - please, my ego isn't THAT inflated! - but I will certainly keep their good points in mind for any story I consider.

I do wish I could see HTTYD 2 again at the cineplex, but alas, I'm too busy. And I thought seniority would bring more free time. Turns out it's the exact opposite...

Comments about HTTYD 2 are greatly welcomed. Enjoy, and please share your thoughts with me! :)

More Viewing Bliss!

I take immense pleasure in writing today's entry, because I'm reviewing a film which is so incredible it's shot up my list of all-time favourite movies, hitting #2.

It is second only to Dead Poets Society ( which may never be dethroned ), and also ranks as my fave animated film, kicking Pixar's very worthy Finding Nemo to runner-up position ( sorry, Nemo, you've been up there long enough :)).


It is, of course, none other than How To Train Your Dragon 2. It just opened officially at cineplexes yesterday, but for some reason, was locally available for previews a week earlier ( not the usual midnight / weekend shows, mind you, but throughout the entire day ).

I couldn't pass up the chance, after being blown away by the 2010 original - which I saw at home much later, 'cos I knew nothing about the books it was based on.

The impact it made on me was tremendous. Everything came together so perfectly, from the script to the visual effects. I even forgave the ridiculous accent discrepancies ( Hiccup and his friends sound American, while the adults are Scots!? ) because the vocal performances were so wonderful. John Powell's score made the whole movie soar ( and reduced me to tears multiple times ), and the beautiful bond between boy and dragon - the beating heart of this masterpiece - moved me beyond description.

After 4 looooong years, I was - like millions of fellow fans around the world - DYING to catch the sequel. But I also shared the apprehension expressed by many. Would part 2 be able to reproduce its predecessor's magic? Could anything possibly top the awesomeness of part 1? And should we leave the tissues at home, or bring a box of them?

The happy answers to these questions are yes, YES, and definitely a box!

The following paragraphs include a few spoilers, so you've been warned. If you prefer not to read on, then take my advice and GO WATCH THE SHOW IMMEDIATELY. Then come back and finish the rest of this entry. :)

I don't read the HTTYD books so I can't comment on how faithful the movies are to the original stories. I'm quite certain liberties were taken by the producers and writers, but fortunately, the results are stellar.

So much is packed into 90 minutes, I was horrified when my bladder started acting up in the last 20, and practically sprinted to and from the toilet, making it back just in time to see the final, spectacular showdown between good and evil.

But I digress. What I'm actually pointing out is that the allotted 1.5 hours are super-efficiently utilized, making me ponder why most Hollywood films these days insist on exceeding the 2 - or sometimes 2.5 or 3 - hour mark, causing viewer fatigue ( though I admit there's better value for money ).

I realize cartoons rarely cross the 100-minute mark for obvious reasons ( try wrangling a restless kid in the theatre ), but with the majority of mediocre animated fare that gets churned out every few weeks or months, a release like HTTYD effortlessly towers over the rest of the pack.

Like all sequels, it obviously has to go bigger - more dragons, more jaw-dropping flying and battle scenes, new characters and conflicts. Hiccup and gang are 5 years older and look great ( the former even has fine stubble on his chin, with lots of close ups for the teenage girls in the audience :)). Hiccup's long lost mother reappears ( voiced by the lovely Cate Blanchett ). A motley crew of dragon hunters threatens the peaceful creatures' survival, and the villain is appropriately vile.

Last but not least, Hiccup and Toothless' relationship ( calling it a simple "friendship" wouldn't do it justice ) is tested once more - or more accurately, twice - when Hiccup has to find a way to save his beloved companion from a powerful enemy.

While HTTYD 2 has all the requisite ingredients for guaranteed box office success, much credit goes to director Dean DeBlois ( who also helmed Part 1 and co-wrote both screenplays ). Because we all know execution is key.

DeBlois strikes a perfect balance in every scene, letting it run long enough to keep us enthralled but not too long to cause distraction. The funny segments are hugely entertaining, but he truly excels when poignance takes centrestage. And there are many such moments scattered throughout the film, mostly involving Hiccup, his parents and Toothless. Inducing tears is one thing, but my heart was literally bursting out of my chest! I was so profoundly moved, especially during the last 15 minutes when Toothless' full strength was revealed, and his deep love for Hiccup gloriously displayed.

Finding Nemo came close in this respect, but HTTYD 2 surpasses even that.

Adults will have no difficulty appreciating its mature themes. As for the kids, I hope that, 5-10 years down the road, they will watch this again and find new things to love.

Fellow fans rejoice! Because HTTYD 3 has been announced, and will hit the big screen in 2016 ( only 2 more years instead of 4 woohoo! ). Hiccup will be the big chief ( and probably married to Astrid ), and I have a strong feeling about Part 3 including a story arc about Toothless finally discovering another of his kind. A mate, perhaps? I'm getting goosebumps! :D


Before signing off, I'd also like to mention another reshuffle in my fave movies list.
After a recent repeat viewing of Independence Day, I've decided to place it at #3 - indeed, just below HTTYD 2.


I admit it's a little shocking, because the previous top contenders mostly comprised serious material ( e.g. The English Patient ). Perhaps HTTYD 2 hit a nerve, but I found myself beaming ecstatically just a few days ago, despite having seen Independence Day countless times these past 20 years. I was most struck by how it's remained so thrilling after 2 decades, bringing together a superb cast ( I still have the biggest crush on Bill Pullman, who is IMHO the best big-screen American President ever ), a rousing story, eye-popping visual effects and some of the most spectacular action sequences in existence, to create a work of art which I never tire of.


And that, I suppose, is the main reason for my current top 3 selections - they're all terrific movies, but more crucially, ones I can watch again and again without losing interest. Plus, they beautifully illustrate life's various ups and downs, teach important values, and boast satisfying, memorable ( though imperfect ) endings.

My writing aspirations are on hold for now, but if I ever get round to penning something ( hopefully before I become too old and tired ), these will be my gold standard. I'm not saying I can match them - please, my ego isn't THAT inflated! - but I will certainly keep their good points in mind for any story I consider.

I do wish I could see HTTYD 2 again at the cineplex, but alas, I'm too busy. And I thought seniority would bring more free time. Turns out it's the exact opposite...

Comments about HTTYD 2 are greatly welcomed. Enjoy, and please share your thoughts with me! :)

Viewing Bliss!

Today's entry is dedicated to 3 TV series and 1 film, all of which I highly recommend.


The first is NBC's Hannibal. Season 2 has already concluded, but it's worth a mention because frankly, the show completely fascinates me.

The plot twists induce whiplash while talky scenes go on and on forever, but the wildly changing tempo keeps things fresh and surprising, and I never knew how each episode will end.

I shall refrain from analyzing the strange dynamics between characters, other than saying that they border on ludicrous at times, yet somehow remain believable ( though this depends entirely on the viewer ). Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham's constant cat-and-mouse games are nail-biting, and what I initially thought were weird / moronic acts have finally revealed themselves as entirely the opposite.

The addition of Michael Pitt as deranged billionaire, Mason Verger ( who actually appeared in Thomas Harris' sequel to Silence Of The Lambs and was played by Gary Oldman in the film version ), is genius. Pitt is riveting in the role and almost unrecognizable with nerdy glasses, bedhead hair, a cackling high-pitched voice and twitchy posture.

Main grouses? Definitely the romantic subplots. Hannibal and Will both succumb to feminine wiles, which I suppose the writers felt would add dimension to the storylines, but which I find tiresome. Please stop.

The murder scenes are still as creative and artistic as ever, accurately described as intricate tableaux of death. One killer stitched corpses together into a mural, then sprayed chemicals on them to harden the skin, before admiring his work from the top of a grain silo. Another buried his victims inside dead horses, while another removed internal organs and replaced them with fresh bouquets.
Totally wacko stuff - I love it. :)

The finale was absolutely shocking, but I won't reveal spoilers here. In a nutshell, it was a gruesome bloodbath with a significant body count involving major characters, ending with a cliffhanger guaranteed to make you scream, "AAARGH!"

That's what great television is made of, and season 3 was confirmed 3 weeks ago. Congratulations!


Next is FX's Fargo, based loosely on Joel and Ethan Coen's Oscar-winning comedy/thriller. Certain key elements remain similar - the small Minnesota town setting, the constantly miserable weather, a smart and determined female police officer, and at the centre of it all, a hapless dorky fellow whose life is turned upside down, causing him to reveal a previously dormant dark side.

The cast is exceptional, especially Martin Freeman as abovementioned dork. He really nails the character - from the grating accent to the villainous transformation. Like Breaking Bad's Walter White, Lester Nygaard straddles that fine line between good and evil - you wince as he displays moments of violent ruthlessness, but also feel sorry for him as he sinks deeper into the hole he's dug. I guess the most important lesson taught here is that every single one of us is capable of murder, as long as there's motive, opportunity and that little push that tips you over the edge.

Other standouts include Allison Tolman as the suspicious deputy sheriff ( a non-pregnant version of Frances McDormand's Marge ) and Bob Odenkirk ( Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad ) as her gullible boss.

Many new series these past couple of years have opted for a leisurely pace in terms of scene setup and plot / character development, with Hannibal and Fargo following the same format. I'm a huge fan of this particular style ( excluding Game Of Thrones, which has way too many people in it ). Keep it up!


Showtime's Penny Dreadful sounds positively nuts if you really think about it - i.e. a mashup of famous Victorian era literary characters, including Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Mina Murray and Dracula. The pilot episode set things up; after that, everyone got down to having some REAL fun.

For a horror fan like myself, a show like this can go either way. Aside from True Blood and X-Files, I've avoided most paranormal-themed series because they're either too campy or over-ambitious, or most commonly, feature pretty young casts with zero acting talent.

Penny Dreadful suffers from none of the above. The leads are Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett, none of whom is below the age of 30. Dalton played James Bond in the late '80s ( my favourite 007, FYI ) while Green's resume includes a string of Hollywood blockbusters. Hartnett's the least experienced of the lot ( though he, too, had his moment of stardom with Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour ) but has aged well and suits the role of hot-headed cowboy, Ethan Chandler, who's recruited to join Sir Malcolm Murray ( Dalton ) and Vanessa Ives ( Green ) as they hunt for Murray's daughter, Mina ( from Bram Stoker's Dracula, get it? :)).

Victor Frankenstein also gets enlisted, with ample screen time devoted to his backstory ( though I find the scenes with his monsters - yes, there's more than one - a little dull ).


The character I'm currently most intrigued by is Dorian Gray. Played exquisitely by Reeve Carney ( last seen on Broadway in the Spider-man musical ), Gray looks like a boy band member but exudes a pulsating undercurrent of menace and wild eroticism. A scene involving him and a prostitute was equal parts disgusting and sensual. A fine balancing act which was expertly pulled off!

Another highlight was the seance in episode 2. Green took centrestage and practically made my skin crawl with her extremely convincing interpretation of a full-throttled demonic possession. Like I've said before, my horror threshold is quite high, so whenever something scares the crap out of me, it's like hitting the jackpot! I'm very pleased. :)

I hear Dracula and Van Helsing will make an appearance soon. The crowd is growing but I'm confident that the show's creator and writer, John Logan, will keep things organized. He is, after all, the man who wrote the screenplays of Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Skyfall AND the next one or two Bond films.
You can't get any better than that!


Last is the film In Secret, starring Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton and Jessica Lange.
A brooding romance / thriller set in France, it revolves around sexually frustrated Therese ( Olsen ), who's trapped in a loveless marriage to her cousin, Camille ( Felton ), and bossed around by her aunt ( Lange ). When Camille's handsome and intense friend, Laurent ( Isaac ), enters the picture, he engages Therese in an affair which later leads to tragedy.

The plot isn't that unusual, and the movie doesn't boast major A-listers. But I'm extremely impressed with the performances, especially from Olsen and Isaac. The former consistently wows with her screen presence and maturity in project selections, while the latter recently hit the jackpot with the Coen brothers' dark comedy, Inside Llewyn Davis, and a role in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII.


Isaac is one of my new favourites, after catching my eye in Won't Back Down ( he played a cool high school music teacher ) and The Bourne Legacy ( a glum-faced fellow assassin opposite Jeremy Renner ). But I'd actually also seen him years before, in Sucker Punch and Robin Hood, without noticing him.

Every actor hits his/her stride at some point, so this is Isaac's time. His performance as Laurent is explosive - Isaac scorches the screen every time he appears, and steams it up in his love scenes with Olsen. He also handles the dramatic bits skilfully, infusing them with just the right portions of rage and restraint. Laurent's layers are gradually peeled away, exposing the monster beneath. Isaac is truly amazing!


Before I sign off, a quick mention about another TV show which I've become hopelessly addicted to. Titled Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, it's sort of a spinoff from Jon Stewart's political satire talk show, though I find Oliver's far more entertaining.

I literally fell in love with him when he stood in for Stewart for ( I think ) a month last year when the latter took a break, and absolutely KILLED it! Perhaps the British accent makes everything sound funnier, but Oliver's delivery is also key. He looks like a dorky university professor ( or librarian, it works either way ) but has one of the sharpest wits I've ever encountered. Sure, there's no doubt the show has cue cards ( don't they all ) but there're so many moments when he doesn't even seem to be reading them, ad-libbing snarky comments that make me laugh out loud, not just from a direct interpretation of the joke, but from additional analysis of its other meanings.
Because the beauty of Oliver's humour ( which exceeds Stewart's and even Jimmy Fallon's ) is its sheer depth. He doesn't merely poke fun at a person or a situation, he extrapolates it to all mankind, illustrating our many foibles and follies, yet somehow managing to make it seem cute and totally okay.

And no topic is beyond his grasp, be it food product labelling, Google software, the death penalty or India's general election. The last one's especially fantastic, and I really applaud Oliver's staff for collecting a set of side-splitting clips from Indian talk shows, ingeniously comparing them to their American counterparts.

Yep, we're all a lot more alike than we originally thought!

I'm adding Oliver to my list of "nerd crushes", which currently stands at 2 ( Martin Freeman has the honour of being the other candidate ). It's important to differentiate these crushes from simple admiration / fan appreciation ( that list is pretty long ). Because someone I have a crush on is capable of reducing me to a quivering heap of jelly if or when I come face to face with the person.

I fully intend to try getting tickets for Oliver's show when I return to New York in late 2015 ( yes, again! but it's for a conference in nearby Boston :)). He completes my trio of adorable talk show hosts - the other 2 being Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon.

Till next time, happy watching!