2014 – A Review

How quickly yet another year has passed by! As 2014 comes to a close, it's time to look back on the past 12 months.

First, my 3rd trip to the U.S., visiting Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and of course, New York City.

Hawaii's spectacular beauty took my breath away. Although I'm no fan of sun, surf and sand, the experience was enriching, and for the first time since I became a working adult, I didn't check my hospital emails for a month while travelling. Full credit goes to the relaxing Hawaiian atmosphere, which enabled me to reach full Zen mode, carrying over to the rest of the trip. I'm very grateful. :)

Washington, D.C. was equally fabulous, though for an entirely different set of reasons. The historical monuments blew my mind, and I learned so much from just 5 days in this beautiful city. The food sucked, but its people are incredibly warm and hospitable to foreign visitors. Their high school students deserve special mention for being amazingly well-behaved at public places, be it the Holocaust Museum, a traffic junction or a food court. We met huge groups of them on a daily basis, and never encountered a single rude teenager. They were all respectful and disciplined, unlike our local kids who run amok every chance they get. Where did Singapore go wrong???

In NYC, I fed my insatiable appetite for Broadway, and fulfilled dreams to see my favourite actors on stage, including Dexter's Michael C. Hall, Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, Monk's Tony Shalhoub and The Good Wife's Alan Cumming. I got to meet Hall and Shalhoub at the stage door, and both were wonderful to their fans ( not to mention gorgeous in person! ). It was also a thrill to interact with the cast of Les Miserables, especially Will Swenson and Andy Mientus, who were sweet and gracious to everyone. Didn't get to meet Ramin Karimloo ( he was delayed by backstage visitors and I decided to leave when it began to snow - in April! ), but I'm confident an opportunity will present itself in the future.

Bonuses came in the form of Tracy Letts - an actor and playwright whose work I recently became acquainted with ( Homeland, Killer Joe, August: Osage County ) and whom I deeply admire - and Seth Meyers, whose monologue rehearsal tickets literally dropped in my lap while I was browsing the NBC store. Both gentlemen were so friendly and great to talk to, I'm now their fans for life. I never take celebrities for granted, so thank you very very much. :)

Last but not least, the Museum of the Moving Image's gala tribute for Kevin Spacey. I purchased tickets without much forethought, only beginning to worry closer to the event when I realized I might be out of my depth. Fortunately, it turned out to be the complete opposite of what I expected. Despite being the proverbial fish out of water, I met the loveliest people that night - mostly executives from the entertainment industry who share my love for films, television and the stage. For me, it was the perfect dinner party, despite not finding a chance to waylay Mr. Spacey. I did, however, brush shoulders ( literally ) with Hollywood producer, Dana Brunetti, and his girlfriend at the time, Broadway star Kristen Chenoweth, and stood beside actor Chazz Palmintieri ( The Usual Suspects, Bullets Over Broadway ) for 5 long minutes as we waited for our coats at the entrance. It was one of those enlightening moments when I realized how human celebrities really are. I was too star struck to engage any of them directly, but rest assured that if I get this opportunity again, I won't be shy anymore!

Second, my ultrasound course is finally coming to an end, after which life will gradually return to normal. I've learned so much, and met many great people who helped me through the process. I appreciate every single one of you tremendously. :)

Third, another major hurdle conquered - finishing my mortgage payments. In half the originally stated loan period.
To be honest, I don't quite know how I managed to do this on a single income, and with so much extra to spare. It is indeed God's grace that has made this possible, and I continue to give back by donating to various organizations and supporting my church.

Fourth, an amazing experience with Jason Mraz! It was my 2nd close encounter with my favourite musician, and despite the lack of a formal meet and greet, he deemed me deserving of a gift, which he hurled at me at the end of the sound check session. I didn't run to the stage only because the organizers had cautioned us not to approach him, but I know if I'd decided to break the rules, he wouldn't have minded. It's a terrific memory which wasn't captured on camera, but which I will cherish forever.

Last but not least, a year-end rundown wouldn't be complete without mentioning a few movies and TV shows.

Favourite films ( not considering The Hobbit since I haven't seen it yet ): Gone Girl, Interstellar, How To Train Your Dragon 2.

Favourite new TV shows: Outlander, True Detective, Gotham, Fargo.

Favourite returning TV series: The Killing season 4, The Fall season 2, House Of Cards season 2, The Newsroom season 3, The Voice season 7.

Breakthrough moments:

Chris Jamison - the 20-year-old college student with the honey-smooth vocals and shy smile caught my full attention when he performed a cover of Nick Jonas' Jealous during the live rounds. He came in 3rd in the end, but I predict great things in his future if he makes the right decisions. I haven't been this excited about a Voice contestant since season 2's Chris Mann, who came in 4th but went on to release a successful album, became a regular at White House events, and is now touring the U.S. as the lead in Phantom Of The Opera.

Reeve Carney - former star of the Spider-man Broadway musical, now positively sizzling as Dorian Gray in Showtime's Penny Dreadful. I don't normally go for pretty boy looks, so my interest hinges entirely on his intense performance. It also helps that I watch an uncensored version of the series, allowing Carney to fully showcase his range ( you know what I mean, right? :)). Am eagerly awaiting season 2!

David Mazouz - plays a young Bruce Wayne ( aka Batman ) in Gotham, with heartbreaking sadness.

Camren Bicondova - plays a young Selina Kyle ( aka Catwoman ). She's only 15, but strikingly beautiful, spunky and intelligent.

Finn Wittrock - plays a psychotic killer named Dandy on American Horror Story: Freak Show. Practically outshines everyone, including Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Kathy Bates. That's really something!

Colin Morgan - played Merlin in the BBC series for quite a few years, but has since grown up and caught my eye in The Fall season 2. A still image does him no justice whatsoever. Watch the show ( it's superb ) and see for yourself. Those eyes of his are unbelievable. :)

So what's in store for 2015?
Graduation from the ultrasound course.
A trip to Greece to celebrate my milestone birthday.
Another trip to the U.S. for a conference and more Broadway shows, woohoo! I'm aiming to see John Oliver this time round; he's a genius!
Catching up on my work commitments so I can get promoted again - tiresome, but needs to be done.
A few surprises which will no doubt come my way through divine means. ( I'm a great believer in this. There's no other explanation for the numerous blessings I've received all these years. )

I'm still aiming to write that book / screenplay. Maybe I'll be able to get started soon.

Thanks for reading! Here's wishing all my readers a joyous Christmas and fantastic New Year!

Review – Jason Mraz and Raining Jane, The Star Theatre, 17 November 2014

Words can't quite express the level of happiness I feel every time my favourite musician, Jason Mraz, comes to Singapore for a show. 2014 marks my 12th year as his loyal fan, and the 17th November gig at the Star Theatre was the 5th JM concert I'd attended ( having also been to all 4 of his previous performances here ).

Prior to this, Jason's 2006 acoustic show at the Esplanade Concert Hall had occupied the #1 spot on my list of all-time greatest concerts. But that changed a week ago, as Jason and Raining Jane surpassed all my expectations, delivering performances which were flawless, uplifting and life-changing.

As always, Jason's repertoire spanned the length of his musical career, with favourites from 2002's Waiting For My Rocket To Come ( The Remedy ) and 2005's Mr. A-Z ( Plane, Mr. Curiosity ), through 2008's We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things ( Make It Mine, I'm Yours, Lucky, The Dynamo Of Volition ) and 2012's Love Is A Four Letter Word ( 93 Million Miles, I Won't Give Up ).

For the first night, he included many songs from his latest album, Yes! - Love Someone; Hello, You Beautiful Thing; Long Drive, Quiet, 3 Things, Back To The Earth and Shine. I couldn't be more pleased, of course, because his collaboration with Raining Jane has produced what is, in my opinion, his best work yet.

But I also knew his live renditions would be significantly different from the studio recordings, and in many instances, they turned out to be far better than the original versions. The one that really stood out that evening was The Remedy, which I last heard as a solo way back in 2006 ( it's usually done with a full band ). Jason always puts his heart and soul into this piece, which he wrote in honour of his good friend, Charlie Mingroni, who's thankfully now in remission after successfully battling Ewing's sarcoma. I'm familiar with the inspiration behind the song, but there really was an extra element of poignance this time round. Rather than the usual belting of lyrics ( the album arrangement makes it sound like a rock anthem ), Jason opted to sing it like a gentle lullaby, with mind-blowing results. The entire theatre - a 5000-strong crowd - sat in awed, hushed silence, completely hypnotized by the moving story and inspiring message. I'd heard The Remedy countless times these past 12 years, but after more than a decade of life experiences, including the loss of additional relatives and friends, and too many tragedies witnessed in the course of my work as an ER doctor, the words "I won't worry my life away" suddenly struck me in a way it never did before. That moment truly took my breath away.

Lest you think it was a gloomy affair, let me assure you that it was anything but! Jason isn't a stellar live performer just in terms of the beautiful music he makes - he's also extremely witty and charming. And despite telling the same jokes over and over again as he continues his world tour, he also loves to ad lib, and even when he doesn't, his sincerity and joie de vivre always shine through.

That first night at the Star Theatre, Jason had all of us laughing our hearts out in between - and even during! - the 20 songs he performed. There were cute anecdotes, astute observations, some corny stuff ( "Don't think of this as an intermission, but more of an inner mission." Lol! ), not to mention a dance move which came out of nowhere ( according to Jason at least, who said he'd never done it before - lucky us! :)).

My favourite segment was Sail Away, a piece he wrote for the environmentalism movement, which his foundation supports. He began with a leisurely intro, sharing gorgeous pictures ( Jason's a skilled photographer ) from an expedition to Antarctica, featuring glaciers, penguins and seals. His love for nature was evident in the way he described the images, and we lapped up his Happy Feet ( penguins, get it? ) and Kenny G references ( his hair was long and curly during that period ). The song itself was classic Jason Mraz - a breezy melody and playful lyrics, but with an important underlying message. The live performance was synchronized perfectly with the video playing on the big screen behind them, and the effect was both hilarious and dazzling.

This also marked the first time I saw graphics being utilized at Jason's concert. Perhaps budget or technical constraints made it unfeasible in the past. Now that this has been added to his performances, I really hope he continues with it for future tours! It adds an entirely new dimension to the overall atmosphere, giving the show a surreal quality that further enhances Jason's ethereal vocals. I loved seeing pictures of Jason's own garden as he sang Back To The Earth, of a giant moon as he played the piano and belted Plane, and of the vast galaxy during Shine. So incredible!

Last but not least, kudos to the 4 lovely ladies from Raining Jane, whose sweet harmonies blended effortlessly with Jason's voice, and whose instrumental accompaniment helped him sound better than ever. They also co-wrote the songs on Yes!, creating a new style which I love immensely. Percussionist Mona Tavakoli is a worthy replacement as Jason's sidekick ( after predecessor, Toca Rivera, retired from touring a few years ago ), while guitarist Becky Gebhardt - a cool cat but one helluva guitarist and sitar player! - garnered loud cheers for her admirable skills.

The concert lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes ( excluding intermission ), but even after the encore ( a rousing performance of I Won't Give Up ), nobody wanted the night to end. Jason and Raining Jane were given a standing ovation and many of us yelled requests for another song, but it was very late and we knew they needed their rest, although Jason lingered on stage after the ladies left, his gaze sweeping across the theatre before he placed his palms together and bowed in appreciation.

I've read about Jason's hints in interviews regarding possible retirement when he hits 40, but really hope he'll reconsider! He still has so much more to share with the world, and millions of new fans to win over. But most importantly, we need people like Jason to keep the tradition of truly good music alive - songs with positive messages, lyrics that change lives, and concerts which set the benchmark for musicians everywhere.

I had to miss the 2nd night because I had course lectures to attend, but heard from various sources that it was equally terrific, with a set list that was 80% different from the first evening's. Another testament to Jason's total commitment to giving his fans the best experience possible. I know of no other artist who consistently changes repertoires the way he does. And we love him even more for doing so!

Before ending the review, a HUGE thank you to Jason for throwing me his guitar pick at the end of the soundcheck session that afternoon. I'd won passes through a contest, and about 20 of us were treated to a half-hour rehearsal comprising 3 songs which didn't appear at the Monday show ( major bonus woohoo! ). We were allowed to sit in the 2nd and 3rd rows in the centre block, and cameras were permitted. Jason didn't come down to meet us personally, but he said hello from the stage as we filed in, and we waved back.

When the 30 minutes were up and we were herded towards the exit, I felt something softly hit the right side of my head, turned, looked down and spotted a green triangular object lying just behind me. I squatted to retrieve it, then as I stood up, I heard Jason holler from the stage, asking, "Did you get it?" When I raised my arm and showed him that I did, he replied, "Yay!" and I shouted, "Thank you!" in response.

I was pretty much stunned by what happened, and in retrospect, wonder if I could've taken the opportunity to ask for a picture and pass him my donation to his foundation. But the organizers had been clear in their instructions to us, specifically telling us that passing Jason gifts directly was deemed "inappropriate" ( whether he's aware of this rule or not, I have no idea ).
Still, I didn't want to disobey the nice people who'd let me attend the session, and I'm already eternally grateful for the chance to meet him properly back in 2009 ( super hug included :)), so I apologize if Jason thought I didn't seem appreciative enough and left despite being thrown the guitar pick. Believe me, it took a lot of self-restraint to NOT run up to him!

Most of all, I'm happy to have experienced not one, but two, great encounters with someone I admire so much. I was amazed by Jason's warmth and sincerity 5 years ago, and this time, completely floored by his cheeky act. What did I do to deserve it? Hum along to his songs during rehearsal? Whip out a giant camera while everyone else was using their mobile phones? Or maybe my blouse stood out because it was so damn gaudy? :)

I'll always be your fan, JM! Hope you'll continue performing for another 20 years if you can. But I also wish you the best in whatever you decide to do in the future. God bless, and please come back to Singapore soon!

Film Review – Interstellar

My reviews have been delayed for the past year, but I persist because for some reason, people are reading them. :)

And while this probably isn't going to make a huge difference since most moviegoers catch new releases within the first week, I hope this post will make you ponder over a few things, and perhaps help you pass a bit of time in a pleasant manner.

The spoiler-free verdict: 9/10, definitely worth seeing.


First, I don't consider Interstellar a film about space. Or space travel.

I realize it sounds preposterous, but that's exactly how I feel.

And it isn't a bad thing. Not by a long shot. In fact, I give writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan huge credit for once again exceeding all my expectations, just like they did with Inception and The Dark Knight.

So what do I think Interstellar is really about?

The full answer is extremely complex - and I no longer have the luxury of time ( or brain stamina ) to pen lengthy essays like I used to. But the main message I took home was how extraordinary human beings are, in both good and terrible ways.

The concept of planet Earth being in peril and prompting heroic measures to save it isn't new, of course. Remember Armageddon and Deep Impact?

Where more cerebral versions are concerned, there's Contact ( which coincidentally also starred Matthew McConaughey ) - and hey, turns out it's also NOT about space after all! But it's one of my favourite "space" films of all time, and now, Interstellar joins the list.

While there're more than enough scenes to satisfy those who expect a grand spectacle, for me, those are merely the icing on the cake. Instead, the main course comes in the form of astute and multi-layered character studies, all of which got my synapses firing, and which will likely stay in my head forever.

Two, in particular, stand out. Professor Brand - aka the guy who came up with the whole save-the-Earth plan, and wonderfully portrayed by Nolan's regular collaborator, Michael Caine - initially comes across as a veritable saint, only to be revealed near the end as duplicitous. Because despite formulating 2 possible outcomes, he opted not to tell anybody that he always knew only one of them might succeed. This was a major WTF moment for me. I mean, my jaw literally dropped. I don't expect many viewers to agree, but Brand's action struck me as shockingly ruthless and cruel. And yet, one can also argue that he may have done it out of love, because he also sent his own daughter on the mission, hoping to save her above anyone else.

The other is Dr. Mann, featured in one of the best cameos I've seen in a long time. Played perfectly by Matt Damon, Mann also possesses a dark side, manipulating others with great skill, but only for the purpose of self-preservation. A tense sequence involving Mann's struggle with and subsequent overpowering of Cooper ( McConaughey ), followed by an adrenaline-pumping explosion and a split-second life-saving decision made by Cooper, was exhilarating! A truly magnificent example of movie magic!

The entire cast is excellent, and I can't single anyone out because they're all great. However, I do love TARS the robot. A lot. I was curious about this character after reading about it in Empire magazine's interview with Nolan ( there wasn't a picture attached, just a bunch of cryptic descriptions ), but the final product is marvelous! Indisputable proof that less can be more, because our notions of artificial intelligence in a physical form ( as opposed to computer software like what we saw in Her ) have been tainted by the likes of Star Wars, A.I., Wall-E and countless other shows. And Nolan cleverly subverts this influence by crafting a machine which is honestly quite ugly, but gradually reveals a personality ( snarky humour! ) and quite a few nifty abilities ( it's made up of 4 finger-like pieces, which form a cogwheel that can whirl through a body of water and save people! ). Super cool. :)

Then there's the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer - nothing short of AWESOME. I'm familiar with his signature style ( he also wrote music for other Nolan films like The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, as well as Man Of Steel ), but this is by far his best. I've read complaints about the ear-splitting volume on Interstellar - which I disagree with - but this may have highlighted the score much more clearly, with gut-wrenching effect. Unfortunately, there was a lot going on so I can't name specific scenes, but if you decide to watch the film again in the future, keep your ears open!

Last but not least, Mr. Nolan the director.
I've been a fan since 2000's Memento, and have seen every single one of his movies since then. He never disappoints, and has only gotten increasingly better with time. In addition to handling action on a grand scale with amazing skill ( and style ), he always manages to inject a distinctly human element into his work, through a thought-provoking script filled with classic quotes ( remember The Joker's line in The Dark Knight? "Insanity is like gravity - all you need is a little push." ), complex scenarios that test the limits of one's conscience, and numerous career-high performances which only he can draw out.
( I also think he's absolutely gorgeous. Who does his hair? It's glorious! :))

Interstellar isn't flawless, of course. I was completely confused by the last 15 minutes, although there're a few helpful explanations on the Internet, and a hokey bit about "love and gravity" which I think I blocked out ( the repressed memory was triggered by this rather hilarious piece ). Perhaps I'll appreciate the movie more after figuring out what the heck happened, but in spite of this, I still think it's an incredible achievement, and a terrific way to spend 3 hours of my precious time.

Comments are welcomed! For the next entry, I hope to review The Newsroom season 3, which just started airing this week. It is just sooooo freaking fantastic! :)


Starting with the film EVERYONE's talking about at the moment, Gone Girl definitely met my expectations, but didn't quite exceed them. Partly because it can't beat director David Fincher's best work so far - i.e. Se7en - but also because it isn't as dark as what I prefer ( Fincher's other credits include Zodiac, Fight Club and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which delve much deeper into the abyss of the human soul ).


However, GG deviates sharply from conventional thrillers because the tale's golden girl turns out to be a cold-blooded killer, instead of your usual male recluse who's socially awkward or physically unattractive, or brainwashed by a Nazi serial killer father. ( All plotlines from Fincher works, mind you. )

The first half of GG plays like a typical crime investigation, but the story gradually builds through flashbacks of the couple's early romance, followed by a troubled marriage and mounting mutual resentment. When it's finally revealed that ethereally beautiful Amy has carefully planned an elaborate scheme to frame her husband for her supposed murder, I wasn't extremely surprised ( even though I haven't read the book - which, by the way, is the best way to see this movie :)). The only scene that REALLY shocked me took place in a bedroom during a passionate interlude, and ended with someone's gory exsanguination.

I suspect many will compare GG to Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and various other films of a similar nature, but there're many significant differences to be noted. GG's Amy consciously chooses to punish her spouse not by killing him or those he loved, but by destroying him bit by bit. She is patient, methodical and frighteningly intelligent, painstakingly faking 5 years' worth of journal entries over 12 months, acting oblivious to his infidelity and leaving a trail of damning evidence to secure his conviction.

The last quarter turns the tables yet again, making this an exhilarating roller coaster ride, but I'm betting every person who knows this story is unnerved by Amy's ruthlessness and cruelty.

Kudos to author, Gillian Flynn, for creating one of the most intriguing characters I've encountered in quite a while. One of my junior colleagues recently told me he was so traumatized by the film, he refused to talk to his girlfriend ( who brought him to see it ) for a few days. I can imagine how men feel after any movie that features a homicidal woman wreaking vengeance on her male partner - I'm guessing "emasculated" is a good description. ;)

Perhaps GG's most disturbing element is its finale - Amy returns home, deftly frames another innocent man for her "kidnap" and "assault", is hailed a heroine, and completely gets away with everything. Even more amazingly, her husband opts to stay in the marriage ( fear? resignation? to salvage his shredded reputation? ).

As I said before, GG isn't as explosively entertaining as Fincher's other masterpieces, but I'm a total sucker for vengeful women flicks, because I have had personal experience with a treacherous man. Different people have different thresholds, of course, but I can absolutely relate to any tale involving a man who lies and cheats, and shows no remorse for the pain he inflicts. Believe me when I tell you that revenge is sweet. Amy, I raise my glass to you for teaching your complacent hubby a lesson. He will NEVER cheat on you again. :)

As the U.S. TV networks launch their fall season lineups, I've sampled a handful of new series and pick Gotham as the top new show thus far. I admit that my initial reaction to its premise was rather dubious, but after 3-4 episodes, it's turning out to be riveting fare.

The key to Gotham's success is its cast, led by The O.C. alumnus Ben McKenzie, who plays young detective Jim Gordon ( who later becomes Batman's most trusted law enforcement ally ). McKenzie sort of fell off the radar for a few years after The O.C. ended its run, briefly starring in Southland, which didn't appeal to me. Every actor needs a dream role in order to get that big break, and I believe McKenzie's found it in Gordon. Despite still looking very boyish, he infuses the character with convincing gravitas yet never veers into melodrama territory. It also helps that he shares great chemistry with co-stars Donal Logue ( his partner, and one of the city's countless dirty cops ) and David Mazouz ( a pre-pubertal Bruce Wayne ).

The producers and writers really pile it on from the get go. Instead of introducing the comic's many colourful characters in stages, viewers see practically all the key players in the pilot, albeit in pre-villain form. Except the Joker - the producers have decided to make us wait for that one.

I don't know how faithful the TV version is to the comic books, but so far, I'm very pleased with the result. Aside from a couple of so-so additions like Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney and Gordon's over-glamourous girlfriend, everything else is terrific. Keep up the good work!

From Dusk Till Dawn completed its first season run in the U.S. a few months ago, but only started airing on local cable last week. I didn't bother catching it early because I thought it would be a replica of the campy film original, but am glad to report that it's anything but that.

The pilot was leisurely paced, well-written and chock-full of compelling performances, rivaling the standards of recent critically acclaimed series like True Detective and Fargo. And I'm especially pleased with the casting of lead actors DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz, as bank robber siblings, the Gecko brothers ( played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino in the film ). Both are completely unknown to me, but exude tonnes of charisma and play their parts with huge confidence. There's also lots of chemistry that makes them 100% believable as brothers. Episode 2 opens with an amusing discussion about Mexican food, which I thoroughly enjoyed. :)

Other recent new series I've caught include How To Get Away With Murder, Gracepoint and Legends. The first is ludicrous but guaranteed high ratings because of creator Shonda Rhimes ( Grey's Anatomy and Scandal - both also equally ludicrous ); the second is yet another slow-burning crime show ( an Americanized version of BBC's Broadchurch ) but can't compare with The Killing which is my idea of the gold standard; and the third is pretty good but I stopped after 2-3 episodes because I had other shows to follow. Madam Secretary is on my radar, and I'm ecstatic to have The Good Wife and Homeland back again. Maybe more on these next time.

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. :)