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. :)

Entertainment Updates

Before I start, just a small addition to my previous post about Josh Groban's show in Sydney last month.

Aside from his musical artistry, I forgot to highlight his adorable sense of humour. I mean, I've known about it for many years since I'm a longtime fan, but opening night at the Opera House was a major treat for all of us!

Whether the jet lag was wreaking havoc with his mind or whether he was high from something else, I hadn't seen him that exuberant for quite a while, and it was absolutely delightful!

I especially love the stories from his childhood - about how his parents nurtured his love for music, how a school bully praised him for having "the voice of an angel, dude", and a rather nutty bit he had on Anything Goes.

He's a masterful storyteller, but had us all in stitches when he suddenly expressed a "wish to see your restrooms". He also referenced a "dick joke" together with You Raise Me Up, lol!

There's a reason I can remember everything so vividly, of course. But I can't reveal it here. :)

Anyway, I enjoyed your jokes immensely, Josh! Stay funny always.


On to some movie news...


I'm not one of those diehard comic book fans, and with all the DC / Marvel flicks flying around in recent years, I was beginning to suffer from fatigue. But Captain America: Civil War turned out to be one of the most awesome superhero films I have EVER seen, I kid you not!

It certainly helps that the same team behind Captain America: Winter Soldier took the reins on this one, in particular, the Russo brothers, who are raising the bar significantly.

I admit to expecting the worst, but instead, I was thrilled beyond words! The running time is 2.5 hours but felt an hour shorter. There was never a dull moment, and like Winter Soldier, the chase scenes are creative, adrenaline-pumping spectacles.

And that showdown at the hangar in Berlin! OMG my jaw hit the ground and just stayed there for 15 minutes!

Special mention goes to Paul Rudd, whose Ant-Man is so much more fun here compared to the mediocre standalone movie. Chadwick Boseman is perfect as the super-cool Black Panther, and Tom Holland melts hearts as an adolescent Peter Parker. Looking forward to the latter two's solo outings!



Another film I really want to discuss is The Danish Girl. Didn't manage to watch this when it was at the cineplex, and I'm guessing the DVD is banned in Singapore, so thank goodness it was available on KrisWorld.

It's an understatement to say that it blew me away. It's comparable to Whiplash in terms of the degree of awe it induced. But while Whiplash is brash and moves at a dizzy pace, The Danish Girl luxuriates in a leisurely tempo. Beautifully directed by Tom Hooper ( The King's Speech, Les Miserables ), the lead performances from Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are breath-taking and truly deserving of their Oscar nominations ( and Vikander's win ).

I was never a huge fan of Redmayne's but this role has converted me. He was incredible in The Theory Of Everything, but exceeds even that here - no mean feat, I assure you! His portrayal of a previously heterosexual man's gradual transition is riveting, simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. The last half hour of the film reduced me to tears, and I'd also like to point out that Alexandre Desplat's score is phenomenal! Check out his other amazing work on the soundtrack for The Painted Veil, which features Lang Lang ( the movie's another personal favourite of mine but was sadly overlooked by critics ).


A standout scene involves Redmayne and Ben Whishaw, whom I mostly know from the latest James Bond films. It takes place at a ball, and is just INTOXICATING. Again, the music adds tonnes to the overall atmosphere, but Whishaw also looks like a million bucks ( not scruffy and bespectacled like Q ) and demonstrates earth-shattering chemistry with Redmayne. I ended up pressing the rewind button multiple times. Wonder if any other passengers around me noticed haha.



As for TV updates, currently I have one - Netflix's second season of Daredevil.

Season 1 was good but faltered in quite a few places. However, season 2 is really terrific, especially from episode 5 onwards.

I think a major factor is the addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher. A comic book fanboy assures me that Bernthal looks exactly like the character, but I remember him from The Walking Dead and an assortment of movie roles, and consider him one of the finest yet grossly underrated actors of our generation.

Bernthal definitely changes the series' momentum and tone. He's unbelievably intense and handles the violent scenes like a pro. He also has great chemistry with Charlie Cox, who finally loses his boyish charm and turns completely dark.

Then there's Elodie Yung, who plays Elektra. I confess that I initially loathed her because of her posh accent and rather slutty performance, but she gradually grew on me and thankfully stopped playing the bimbo. She also kicks major ass in episode 10! Going head to head with French hottie Gilles Marini, no less! I almost got a heart attack haha.

Vincent D'Onofrio makes a welcome return as Wilson Fisk, but Debora Ann Woll and Rosario Dawson are even more irritating than ever, overdoing everything and just getting on my nerves. I just try to ignore them until their scenes are over.

Oh, and for the record, this show makes me have a strong urge to take up kickboxing lessons. But I'm currently preoccupied with Pilates, so maybe next time. :)


No chance to discuss Batman vs Superman, but I loved it even though the critics weren't impressed. Will be catching X-Men: Apocalypse next week, in spite of Empire's 2-star review. These are the people who thought Star Wars VII deserved 5 stars. WTF!?

2016!

My first blog entry of the year comes after a 5-month hiatus.

I do regret not being able to write more regularly these days, but returning to full-time work, plus a series of personal issues, pushed blogging way down my list of priorities.

However, I still want to keep this site alive and kicking, so this post - though short - offers a brief summary of one of the more significant events that occurred recently.


I flew to Sydney to see Josh Groban in concert for the second time in 3 years, and FINALLY met him face to face!

Featuring songs from his wonderful new album, Stages, the show was breath-taking from start to finish, with Josh hitting every note perfectly and demonstrating amazing vocal strength I'd never witnessed before.

I've been a fan for 15 years and couldn't be happier about him scaling new heights. At 35, his voice has fully matured and sounds incredible! This was especially evident during Bring Him Home - an extremely difficult piece for even the most accomplished tenors. Josh nailed it 100% and made my mother cry. How's that for skill? :)

My personal favourite was the encore - Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz. That's the song that brought tears to my eyes, not just because of Josh's poignant delivery, but because of its message of hope in the midst of sadness and despair.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Way above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me.


Together with Charlie Chaplin's Smile, this is in the top 3 of my all-time personal favourite songs list.

3 years ago, I went to the stage door after the concert but arrived late and ended up quite a distance away. Josh only signed autographs for a handful of fans closest to him before leaving in his car, probably because he was tired.

This time, I had an aisle seat in the theatre and was very near the exit, so I managed to secure a great spot near the stage door. Josh appeared about 20 minutes later and was so friendly, chatting with fans and signing everything they gave him. However, his bodyguard gently said, "No hugging please." to someone.

When my turn came, Josh signed my concert programme then got distracted by a group of Filipino fans next to me. He'd already spoken to them earlier before coming over, but they were quite selfish and wanted to continue the conversation. Josh being Josh, he talked to them some more, which left me no opportunity to say anything, like the fact that I was a longtime fan and had flown to Sydney twice just to see him argh!

So when his attention was finally on me, I quickly asked for a photo, and he obliged. But it wasn't just a quickie sort of thing - he looked at my phone's screen intently and positioned himself while I pressed a button to focus. My Samsung took a few seconds to do this but Josh was very patient, never once asking me to hurry up or moving off before the photo could be taken.

After the camera snapped the wefie, he even asked if it was okay and whether I got the shot, which I thought was very very sweet. I said, "Yes, thank you!" then he smiled and replied, "Thank you for coming!" before going down the line of excited fans.

I stayed for another 5 minutes and noticed that Josh didn't take photos with anyone else, which made our wefie very precious! He isn't the touchy feely sort either, standing a short distance away while signing items, and yes, the no hugging rule was enforced.

En route to the hotel, I checked the picture and realized Josh had a gorgeous smile when he posed, and looked positively ecstatic for some reason! That was the icing on the cake!

He'll still be on tour for the next few months before making his Broadway debut this fall. Really wish I could see that, but I won't be heading to the U.S. for a while. Especially when Donald Trump is running for president ugh. ( Don't let him win, please! )

That's it for this entry. Will post again another day if I have time.

International Premier Tennis League – 18 to 20 December 2015, Singapore Indoor Stadium


I wasn't planning on posting another entry until 2016, but my weekend was so amazing, I couldn't let it pass without writing something!

Not many people are aware that I used to play tennis. My mum arranged lessons for both of us when I was a teenager and we played regularly for a number of years before I started university and didn't have the time or energy.

But I continued to watch matches on TV, even catching Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg at the Indoor Stadium about 20 years ago.

When the IPTL began in 2014, I gave it a miss because the lineup wasn't appealing.

This year, when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were included, I still resisted.

But when Roger Federer was confirmed, I bought tickets that very day.

I'm not a sports stats type of person, so I don't keep track of scores and such. But I've been a fan of RF's for more than 5 years. My most vivid memory is from 2010 - I was sitting in my hotel room in Paris, watching the U.S. Open semi-finals live on my laptop ( believe it or not, the TV in the room didn't have the sports channel! ). It was RF vs Djokovic, and the latter eventually won. But I remember being awed by RF's skills on the court, not to mention the charisma he effortlessly exuded and how graciously he handled the loss. A truly unforgettable moment.

Since then, I've followed his career intermittently. I didn't subscribe to cable sports channels so the Internet was very helpful. And I always wondered if I would ever get the chance to see him play for real one day.

2015's been an extraordinary year for me, with many completely unexpected events and bucket list items being checked.

Roger Federer was on my bucket list. And let me tell you, the first time I saw him walk onto the court on day 1 of the Singapore leg of the IPTL tour, for a warm up session during the halfway mark break, my adrenaline level shot through the roof! I was standing at the top of the tiered section eating a slice of pizza - away from my seat and nowhere near the court - and still felt the entire stadium's atmosphere change in that split second. RF emerged unannounced but everyone instantly recognized him, and the roar of excitement that echoed through the vast arena is something I will never forget.

The rest of that evening was surreal. Mum and I returned to our seats, which were located just behind the courtside boxes, and were treated to a spectacular display of aces, smashes, drop shots and slices. RF played 3 sets - mixed then men's doubles, ending with a super-exciting men's singles with world no. 4 and fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka - and the huge crowd lapped it all up.

It all added up to approximately 80 minutes of court time. And I deeply appreciate RF's generosity! He could've easily refused to play more than 1 or 2 sets, but ended up playing 3 consecutively. And we all love him for it!

I've also become a fan of SW's, after watching him play RF on day 1, followed by 1 set on day 2 and 2 more during the finals. He currently outranks Nadal ( no. 5 ) and famously defeated Djokovic at the recent French Open ( woohoo! ). He's an excellent player, though not in the same league as RF. But I know he clawed his way up the ranks and peaked relatively late in his career ( he's already 30 years old ), so I hope he continues to do well for the next few years.

Other IPTL highlights include faves from my younger years, like Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin. Carlos Moya, a former world no. 1 who's now retired, also dazzled in his singles matches. And has anyone noticed he and RF look very similar, down to the wavy dark hair and penchant for bandanas? Just look at these photos and tell me I'm not imagining things.




I realize there're those who sniff at the IPTL's format - strict time limits, power points, single set matches - which can understandably affect the quality of the performances ( definitely more serving faults ). But there was an abundance of phenomenal shots and never a dull moment. I paid a large sum for my seats and it was absolutely worth every cent.

Now, I'm so inspired I've finally started subscribing to sports channels, in preparation for RF's packed schedule in the coming year. I'm too old to take up playing tennis again, but hey, you never know.

Good luck, Roger and Stan! And here's crossing our fingers that both will be back for the 2016 IPTL, together with Djokovic and Nadal! I may purchase courtside seats if THAT happens. :)

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Now that the dust has settled ( and I finally have time after a super eventful weekend ), I need to get this off my chest!

I'm not going to tiptoe around those who haven't seen it yet, so...



SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE

SPOILERS BEWARE



Let me be clear about one thing: I was 100% prepared to love the film.

I love the Star Wars franchise ( not every single movie, but on the whole ), and couldn't be happier when J.J. Abrams was chosen to direct episode 7. Add to that the exciting cast and the promise of a new adventure and I was on cloud nine.

There've been mixed feelings from moviegoers all over the world, including friends I spoke to here. Thankfully, I'm not alone in my complaints! Not sure if I can remember all of them at this point, but here goes:


1) It's a major rehash.

A friend called this an homage, but I think they went too far. I can understand the need to be respectful of what came before, the urge to please SW fans, etc. But let's compare this to the other monster blockbuster of 2015, Jurassic World.

JW was also a rehash, but only to a certain extent. And you can't expect that many changes to a story that takes place in an enclosed area containing prehistoric creatures.

SW, on the other hand, spans galaxies. There're millions of characters out there, with countless stories to tell in an infinite number of ways. I don't feel guilty for expecting a lot more.


2) Too many holes in the plot.

a) How does Rey, a scavenger who lives in the desert, know how to pilot different types of air- and spacecraft?

b) Where did that map leading to Luke Skywalker's location come from? Why does have a piece missing?

c) How did Poe Dameron disappear in the desert after the TIE fighter crashed? How did he return to the rebellion, which is on ANOTHER PLANET?!

d) When Finn tells the rebellion which section of the First Order's Starkiller Base to attack, he has no idea if he's right ( he only uses it as an excuse to get to the base to rescue Rey ) - but it ends up working. What kind of a dumb fluke is that?! Isn't Finn being terribly irresponsible, putting the rebellion force's valuable pilots at risk?


3) Other annoying stuff.

a) The villain, Kylo Ren, is completely miscast. Never mind the fact that he dresses like Darth Vader - he doesn't even need that OTT suit for any specific reason. At least in Vader's case, it was necessary to sustain life. Ren just wears it for kicks.

b) When Ren removed his helmet the first time and I saw Adam Driver's obnoxious face, I felt like punching his lights out. Yes, it's good for moviegoers to hate the villain, but there should be fear and dread attached to that hatred. Driver just gives off a petty adolescent vibe. Exactly like Hayden Christensen in episodes 2 and 3. Are all Siths supposed to be like this?

c) And why does Ren HAVE to be another Skywalker? It's like some warped variety of nepotism.

d) How do Rey and Finn instinctively know how to wield a lightsabre? I thought years of training are required? And Finn isn't even a Jedi...!


There were only 2 things I loved in this film: BB-8 and Poe Dameron / Oscar Isaac.


Huge credit goes to the designers of this adorable little robot, which outshines R2-D2 and C3PO by light years. Everything about it - the rounded shape, the colour, the way it rolls, the cute little touches like lasers and what resembles a tiny cigarette lighter doing a thumbs-up sign - is genius.



But my absolute favourite is Isaac, whose heroic Dameron makes me swoon.

And that first scene, where Poe is dressed like an adventurer, retrieving the missing piece of the Luke Skywalker map - I SWEAR it's the perfect audition for the next Indiana Jones sequel.

Pay attention, Hollywood! It's either Isaac or Chris Pratt as Indy ( or Indy's mentee / successor ), but Isaac's much better. :)


Star Wars episode 8 has already started filming but of course, the plot is highly classified.

Anyway, there're loads of spectacular movies coming up next year, including Suicide Squad, Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. But the one I'm REALLY excited about is Independence Day: Resurgence. It looks freaking awesome!