One More

I didn't think I'd be posting again before the year ended, but these deserve entries!


Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life


It took me a while to watch this due to access issues ( many thanks to a good pal for the help! ), and I read a number of unflattering reviews before getting my hands on the show, but my fears were totally unfounded - this is a terrific sequel, and all you nasty critics out there: what the hell is wrong with you?

Staying true to the series' timeline, Rory is now 32 and Lorelai's 48. Both go through their own personal turmoils, but the essential ingredients are still there - witty banter delivered at lightning speeds, pop culture references, quirky characters, even quirkier Stars Hollow events, junk food and, of course, lots and lots of coffee.

Covering 4 different seasons, episodes 1 and 2 were fun but lacked oomph. But once episode 3 kicked in ( the one with the crazy Stars Hollow musical ), things really started cooking. And the final installment was everything I hoped it would be - heartwarming, hilarious, poignant - with the last 4 words promising more adventures in the future.

I was hopelessly addicted to the show when it ran from 2000 to 2007, and couldn't be happier that it hasn't lost its magic. I'm even more pleased to learn that it's attracted a cult following, thanks to reruns on Netflix.

What I looked forward to the most was the return of Rory's guys - Dean, Jesse and Logan. However, Dean appeared in only one brief scene, and Jess didn't share any romantic interludes with Rory ( a real pity since I'm Team Jess argh! ). So Logan gets the most screen time, though their relationship is less than ideal ( both already have serious partners ).

But for all its minor flaws, I love this because it just seems to speak to me so directly. The past year has been tumultuous, to say the least, and I definitely share some of the characters' anxieties. Which is why its messages about embracing change, never giving up on one's dreams, and finding happiness when you least expect it, are so comforting.

Please continue this series, and soon!


La La Land


The rave reviews are true. La La Land is absolutely incredible, and a clear frontrunner this awards season.

It's always a good sign when the opening scene makes me smile. That song-and-dance routine on a jammed up L.A. highway is a huge visual treat!

I saw the film at GV Grand Hall 1, which features a gigantic screen and a seating arrangement that makes any movie-watching experience exhilarating. Previous shows I caught at this theatre include Vertical Limit and the 25th anniversary edition of Phantom Of The Opera. My eyes almost popped out of their sockets!

I'm happy to confirm that La La Land lives up to the hype, and had me reaching for the tissue multiple times. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfectly cast, displaying their talents in full glory as they sing and shimmy through 2 hours of pure heaven.

I'm fans of both actors, especially Gosling, whose career I've followed since his big break in Murder By Numbers. The role of jazz pianist Sebastian is unlike anything he's ever played before, and I really marvel at his abilities, from tickling the ivories to effortlessly floating across the floor during the waltz.

Then I realized that he was once part of the Mickey Mouse Club, together with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. His vocal skills aren't as impressive, but he has a rich tone and the songs aren't too challenging.


Director Damien Chazelle, who's only 31 years old, is the one to watch for the next few years. After blowing everyone's minds with the phenomenal Whiplash ( which earned JK Simmons a well-deserved Oscar ), he follows THAT with THIS.

All I can say is, he makes me feel like a giant failure haha. :)

Chazelle's grasp for drama is a wonder to behold. In Whiplash, a young jazz drummer's interactions with his demanding teacher had me chewing my nails.
Here, Mia and Sebastian's various encounters are all vastly different yet equally compelling.



But Chazelle's execution of the film's most breath-taking sequence - where the couple dance among the stars at the planetarium - is genius.
Everything - the music, the colours, the choreography - fit flawlessly. OMG, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. :)

I can't find an exact picture of the waltz itself, so this is the closest I can get. Just go to the theatre - this segment alone is worth the ticket price!

Special mention goes to Justin Hurwitz, who penned the score, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics.

One of the final scenes has Mia ( Emma Stone ) singing The Fools Who Dream at an audition. This was the biggest tissue moment for me, and here's a sample of the lyrics:

She told me: a bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that's why they need us
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make


There's an arc to the story which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen La La Land yet. It involves a suggestion Sebastian makes, regarding a very difficult task that Mia later completes, though she regrets it severely. It causes a rift in their relationship, but in the end, it's this very task which turns Mia's life around.

That's the message I took home with me, and I will always remember it when times get rough. We all have inner voices that tell us not to do certain things, mostly because we fear change, failure or ridicule. But once in a while, taking that leap of faith alters everything, and you'll wonder why you ever wavered in the first place.

This has happened to me a few times in the past, but I admit that certain aspects of my life are still governed by apprehension, even though they shouldn't be.

Perhaps it's a directive of a divine nature. I've already taken one recent leap, with a very positive outcome. I will strive to do better in the future.

DO NOT MISS LA LA LAND. I expect it to win the Best Picture Oscar come February. :)

The Year In Review

It's that time of year once again, and interestingly, almost everyone I know has had a really crappy 12 months.

Never mind the mind-boggling international events, especially major political upheavals across the globe. It seems many individuals suffered on a personal level as well, be it illness, family or work-related issues.

I don't know if 2016 counts as the absolute worst in my book, but it's definitely up there in the top 3. And yet, despite all the turmoil, my luck does seem to be changing for the better, and I believe 2017 will bring new and exciting developments in various aspects of my life.

Entertainment-wise, 2016 saw a bumper crop of TV shows. My favourite picks, in descending order:
Narcos season 2
The Crown
The Night Of
Good Behavior



I've reviewed 3 of the above, so I should include a brief mention about Good Behavior.
It stars Michelle Dockery ( Lady Mary from Downton Abbey ), who plays a troubled ex-con, single mother and drug addict. Somehow, she gets caught up in the middle of a hit and soon gets tangled up with a hired killer ( Juan Diego Botto ), who ropes her into his assignments, followed by mutual attraction and gradual bonding.

The reason I like this series is its constantly surprising twists. I attempted to predict the storyline multiple times and often failed, which in turn piqued my interest.
Dockery does a 180-degree turn from her prim and proper Lady Mary role, opting for plunging necklines and vampy wigs. Her American accent is competent, but she still retains her trademark tight-lipped smile, unable to shed Lady Mary entirely.


Another reason I keep watching is Juan Diego Botto, who plays hitman Javier. I think this is the first time I've ever seen him, and whoever selected him for this role deserves a prize, because he's perfect for it. Already in his 40s but lean as a 20-something, with gorgeous wavy dark hair and a velvety voice, he scorches the screen and has great chemistry with Dockery.
If you decide to start watching and reach episode 4 - the one with Lettie's high school reunion - let me know how you feel when Botto appears in the final minutes of the show, after being absent for the first 40. I had a huge smile on my face, 'cos I realized just how much I missed him. :)


As for movies, I haven't seen as many as I'd like, but my top choices are:
Captain America: Civil War
The Secret Life Of Pets
Florence Foster Jenkins
Captain Fantastic
Nocturnal Animals
Indignation


I'll be catching La La Land next week, and am confident it will also make the list. Can't quite find the time for Sing just yet, but the trailers and clips alone are a hoot!

I've already reviewed Captain America, so here're short descriptions of the rest, in case you're curious.

The Secret Life Of Pets is completely insane but in a very grownup way. Unlike Finding Dory, which was equally nuts but bored the crap out of me, Pets had me rolling with laughter the whole time.

Florence Foster Jenkins is also extremely funny, thanks to its flawless cast, a sparkling script, and wonderful direction. A story like this one could've been easily mangled without the right combination. Simon Helberg is spectacular, but Hugh Grant steals the show.

Captain Fantastic, another smart, moving dramedy, features Viggo Mortensen at his kookiest, and a cast of youngsters whose fearless performances deserve award nominations. I love this film because it highlights the deficiencies of so-called "normal society", where kids who go to school know next to nothing, while those who live in the wilderness can quote and explain the Constitution, among many other things.

Indignation stars two actors I'm huge fans of - Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts. A thought-provoking coming-of-age story, with one exceptional, brilliantly executed scene between Lerman and Letts.

Nocturnal Animals is unlike anything I've ever seen. I haven't read the novel but I find Tom Ford's direction most intriguing. Gorgeously shot with truly incredible performances from the entire cast, this film left me hanging at the end but in a good way. It's disturbing, tragic and unpredictable. Definitely an awards contender.


A brief note about Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Nocturnal Animals - he's my favourite actor for 2016.
I've been a fan for many many years, from 1999's October Sky and 2005's Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead, to 2007's Zodiac, 2011's Source Code, 2014's Nightcrawler and 2015's Southpaw.
I love actors who make brave and unusual choices, but Jake has an uncanny ability for picking really great roles, especially when you consider how young he is. He'll be 36 in a week's time, and has already worked with Lee Ang, David Fincher and Sam Mendes.
Recently, I also discovered YouTube videos of Jake singing. Flawlessly, might I add. My admiration for him shot up a hundred notches! The one to watch for the next few years. Someone please give him an Oscar soon.


2015 was THE year of starry meet and greets, but in early 2016, I finally got the chance to say hello to Josh Groban after his Sydney Opera House concert, and snap a wefie!
In August, I met Charlie Puth at Sentosa, and he obliged with a hug and an awesome photo.

And although I couldn't snag tickets to Coldplay's National Stadium show in April, I did score seats for Bruno Mars' Paris gig in June. On my birthday, woohoo! It's a VIP package, so let's see what I can do in terms of an autograph. A meet and greet is probably too much to ask, but you never know. :)

Other tentative plans in the pipeline: tickets for The Graham Norton show ( they're known to be very partial to foreign visitors ahem :)), catching Damian Lewis at the West End, the French Open men's singles final, Paris Disneyland, lots of museums, and meeting my Parisian penpal again after 6 long years apart.

To all my readers, may you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year! And may 2017 be a much happier time for everyone.

OMG


One week after this clown was elected President, it still hurts.

And the pain got worse after this issue of Time magazine arrived in the post.

As the turmoil in America continues - and I highly doubt the protests will change anything - the world watches anxiously as Trump assembles his White House team and picks his Cabinet members.

So far, it looks extremely depressing. And I've decided to avoid travelling to the U.S. until the next election is over.

This is democracy at its worst. Not that democracy per se is bad, just that it can still go terribly wrong.

It's obvious that a significant number of Americans feel very disenfranchised - by globalization, industrialization, etc. - and government leaders everywhere should learn from this election. Because even I harbour some resentment towards the ruling party, and while no-one is expected to be perfect, there will come a time when something reaches deal breaker status and one's vote shifts to the opposite side.

Pray for America, everyone. They need it.



On to something a little less awful.

Netflix's The Crown has been garnering rave reviews, and I totally agree with the critics.

Since I'm incapable of binge watching no matter how hard I try, I'm currently at episode 9, with one more to go before completing season 1.

It is an absolutely breathtaking series, lavishly costumed and set designed, full of political intrigue.

But Peter Morgan's script is the real star here, managing to make the British monarchy highly entertaining and, according to my knowledgeable mum, historically accurate as well.

Claire Foy is luminous as Queen Elizabeth, and John Lithgow's magnificant performance as Sir Winston Churchill is sure to be Emmy nominated ( with a good chance of a win ).


But my eye has been caught by Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip. I knew of him in passing from Doctor Who articles I'd come across, and didn't realize I'd seen him previously as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ( a really stupid movie, FYI ).

Whoever cast him as Prince Philip is a genius! Matt is a lot of fun to watch, even when he's hovering in the background. He has enormous screen presence, and is at his best when sparring with Foy.

Episode 5 is a definite standout. Philip and Elizabeth tussle verbally during preparations for her coronation, as he implores her to forego the traditional kneeling segment of the ceremony, and she stubbornly refuses. Later, when the moment of truth arrives, Philip's inner conflict is evident, and I found myself holding my breath as I wondered if he would submit ( he did ).
Those tense few seconds sealed the deal for me. I am now a huge fan of Matt's. And I just discovered he's dating Lily James ( Cinderella, Downton Abbey )!

The Crown is currently my 2nd favourite TV series for 2016, after Narcos season 2. But of course, things might change again when Gilmore Girls comes out!


And as the year draws to a close, I welcome 2017 because 2016 has been rather crappy, to be honest. Not just on a global scale, but on the personal front as well.
All I can say is, change is coming, and I'm greatly looking forward to it.
Not to mention concerts featuring Coldplay ( Singapore ) and Bruno Mars ( Paris ), the French Open, Paris Disneyland, a possible detour to London, and a couple of other trips around Asia.

My 2016 roundup entry will follow soon. Stay tuned!

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!

Reviews

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...