30 November 2012

Jersey Boys

Lucky us to be the out of town tryout venue for this South American company. A nostalgic roadtrip for fans of The Four Seasons and 60s era rock n roll. Initially the South African tinged Jersey/Italiano accent was a tad trying on the ears which made the starting a bit slow and boring. It was not until the group officially formed that the musical hit its stride with all the hits coming on one after the other. The American Band Stand scenes stood out for its innovativeness and choreography. But some scenes' blocking definitely needs more work. As do some of the dialogue and delivery which fell flat. The highlights were surely the hits and in particular "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". Singing wise they do sound like The Four Seasons especially Valli but he did occasionally slipped in and out. An enjoyable night out especially for fans!

29 November 2012

La Cantine

Bruno Menard's new restaurant at Asia Square is solely for the office crowd: it doesn't open on weekends. Pity us non-Shenton people. That can be a turn off. The set lunch was a three course meal priced at $39++ which seemed alright. The amuse bouche was prawns based which I'm allergic to; server 1 says can change to salad but server 2 says cannot then went to check with chef which apparently says it is pre-prepared so also cannot change. First disappointment. First acid test failed two ways: 1) it's basic enough to change starters in a set course due to allergy, even a simple salad is good enough (but I can respect a chef's decision, but that doesn't that mean I approve of it); 2) servers shouldn't have conflicting opinions/instructions. After that incident, I was too miffed to search for a main course so settled on the set lunch's main. And watcha know!, they removed my butter knife even before I was done with the bread or the main course was served (!). The main was a polenta dish served with ham, cheese and sweet meat (like those you find in bacang). It was quite tasty, very filling but veered towards being too filling (because of the polenta) and jelat. Quite a modern/local twist to a French dish. The main was coupled with a crisp house Chablis which I ordered after 3 servers/managers asked me separately whether I wanted wine with my lunch. They did not ask me whether I want dessert my meal!!! Sacrilegious! They just served my partner's who ordered the set lunch! And when dessert came (3 pieces: lemon creme brûlée, chocolate macaron and cream with ?raspberry coulis jelly), 2 servers asked to clear the plate before we were done!! Poor service!! The lemon creme brûlée was good, tart but creamy, but another point of contention: no one really told us what we are eating I'm just guessing the dishes here. Bistro rather than proper dining I guess. The decor was warm and woody and inviting. Cappuccino was from Nespresso and the foam fell flat in bout 2 minutes.

Verdict: Will come back again to try their dinner or a la carte menu purely out of residual goodwill towards Bruno Menard (and his awesome L'Osier).









28 November 2012

Life of Pi [IMAX] [3D]


disclaimer: I just finished the book the day before the movie

Book: Finally re-read this book 10 years after I gave up on it less than midway through. Back than, I remembered reading it and going "huh?", but now, 10 years older, I kind of better appreciate the storytelling, the structure and the underlying message of faith, belief and life. Part One and Three nicely bookmark the themes that was presented in an allegorical Part Two which Martel described with such cinematic quality that it makes me very excited to watch Ang Lee translate it into 3D on IMAX (for good or bad)!

Movie: Visually stunning! 3D is really an absolute must for this Ang Lee spectacle! There's no doubt that he will get another Best Director nomination and the show will get noms for Best Picture, Best Effects, Best Cinematography (side: my bet still on "Skyfall" actually) and Best Adapted screenplay. Whether it will win is another matter, perhaps in Effects. But Ang Lee's direction was amazing and some scenes really stood out! Beautiful and poetic. 3D was really used effectively here. From the opening montage to the Pacific adventures, the 3D gave the events a depth and realism that is both effective and immersive. Some shots are a tad gimmicky but they are not redundant. After Scorcese's "Hugo" last year, this really shows how 3D can be used brilliantly! The tiger was astounding especially in 3D. The acting was acceptable for first timer Suraj Sharma. The score by Mychael Danna was suitable but sometimes it lacked the sweeping grandeur that befit an epic fantasy adventure such as this. As for the plot, it was very straightforward. Some of the best lines were actually Yann Martel's own words from the book. <from here on, discussions may involve the inevitable comparison with the book which I had reviewed above> Unfortunately I think it lacked "something" from the book. Ang Lee made the incredible story more credible and plausible, and explained some inner thoughts via visual translation which suits the big screen. But all were in context with Part 2. The most cinematic part of the book. However, what was lost in translation was the heart and soul of the book. Part 1 was condensed and diluted and we lose out on Pi's religious growth which sustained the backbone of his survival in the Pacific. One new scene added by David Magee and Lee was totally irrelevant and added nothing to the story. If it did, it would have been acceptable, but nothing (*spoiler* the dancer). Part 2 was cinematic in the book and it was gorgeous on the big screen, but we are missing Pi's desperation and despondence. Without the increasing feeling of lost, and isolation abandon-ness, we cannot root for Pi to overcome his situation nor connect on a deeper emotional level with him. This was what was essentially missing from the movie. A lead character that the audience only have a superficial connection with. In addition, in my opinion, the book is not about "making you believe in God", but instead it makes you believe in Faith. The filmmakers tried too hard to jam the "God" bit in and missed out on the theme of Faith and the power of storytelling. The ending in the movie could have been more open and ambiguous like in the book, which would have made it more satisfying. Also, by censoring the violent, gruesome and bloody details of survival in the book, the movie sugar-coats the story and simplifies suffering. Granted, this book is difficult to translate to the screen, and Ang Lee has done a very commendable job. By itself, it is visually stunning with a simple, yet effective story about survival (and God if you so choose to believe). However, in comparison with the book, it loses depth and forgets about the power of a story to move, to instill faith and belief in the human soul.




25 November 2012

Rise of The Guardians [3D]

An entertaining, fun cartoon that will surely appeal to the children. Adults who do not mind escaping into their childhood fantasy will also find it to be a rather good way to spend 90mins or so. 3D definitely is an added bonus and should enhance the enjoyment. With Guillermo del Toro as one of the producers, there is some expectations for this animation. It was short and sharp, well-paced with a root-able hero(es) and a despise-able villain. It seemed a trend these days in animations to have cute, lovable, and memorable bit characters, and this one too does not disappoint. The most memorable characters are actually the ones that have no dialogue and main purpose is to incite sniggers, chuckles and a smile. It may appear slightly too messy and schizophrenic at times, and the cacophony of colours may be over-dazzling, but nonetheless, the animation was still excellent. The plot was simple and starts in media res, with little background provided, but that's not necessary since target audience are the young 'uns. Sure, objectively and logically there are some gaps, but for a fantasy animation like this, reality is meant to be checked at the entrance and the audience just got to let go and enjoy the ride. A very excellent score by Alexandre Desplat and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra which added layers to the ambience and elevated the scenes. Stay back for the credits for a short epilogue.







24 November 2012

La Pizzaiola

Cheap pizza place somewhere in Serangoon area. From the same couple who owns Pietrasantra at Portsdown. Crowded place where reservation is necessary, but unfortunately I think it is over-rated. The best thing was the Chablis wine that I brought over myself (corkage $15) and the low price. However, this place validates the adage you pay for what you get. The garlic bread was in a pizza dough with garlic slices, salt and parsley strewn over. First intro to their pizza dough and it was plainly bland. The rucola and Parma ham pizza was so-so. The dough again was bland and uninteresting. Not thin nor chewy, and the tomato/cheese base was too stingy. The pizzas are baked in an electric oven, hence the lack of wood taste. The Parma ham was overly cured. Service was fast. The house/chef speciality pasta was too bland for my liking. It did not tantalise and felt gimmicky. Just because something is "healthy" does not mean it cannot taste good. The panna cotta was passable, topped with slightly burnt and salty caramel. Cappuccino barely had any foam.

Verdict: Cheap food and value for money. Will only come back if I stay around this area but not something I will actively seek out.







17 November 2012

Frankenweenie [3D]

A fun little black & white stop-motion animation twist of the classic Frankenstein tale from the darkly macabre mind of Tim Burton. Updated with some interesting modern and classic horror sight gags and in jokes: Dracula, Gozilla, Mummy, Super 8, Bride of Frankenstein, etc. An interesting first third and a fun, exciting, darkly funny last third, but pity the middle was too slow and draggy. Partly also because it was in B&W, so the slowness in story and pace was not negated by any visual excitement. Even Danny Elfman's score also seemed to take a snooze in the middle portion. 3D was definitely a fun experience in this case without the colour element. The animation is very similar to "Corpse Bride", so perhaps with the same colour palette it may have been even better. Occasionally I was reminded of that classic X-Files episode "Post Modern Prometheus", particularly during the slow moments.

13 November 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin [Blu-Ray]

A totally dark drama that was a showcase for the finely nuanced and intense acting of the very under-rated Tilda Swinton. It was a story that was excellently told. The non-chronological storyline revealed glimpses of the end-game and although the viewer can guess what will/had happened, they never really know if it was true till the end. There was minimal dialogue in this show, and it all relied on the abilities of Swinton and the reliable John C Reily to tell the audience this story. Although it has many cliches throughout in trying to explain the motives of Kevin, we can see it as Eva trying to rationalise within herself why he had done what he did through what society has always been blaming bad/sociopathic behavior on. Similarly, it also falls upon us, the audience, to reflect whether the sins of the child should be repaid by the parent(s); or even whether the sins of the parent(s) should be repaid by the child. We experience Eva's anguish on trying to re-council whether her son's actions are her fault. Was she a bad mother? It aimed to deliberate on the age old question of: Nature vs Nurture. And throughout,  Swinton was amazing in translating on the complex emotions and turmoil onto the big screen. The ending was a tad too "Hollywood" but it did give her closure. This is clearly a Mother's journey but it would have been interesting if other POV's were given: the father's? Kevin's? But I guess her view is the strongest and most important because she is the one that is left behind.

Carnage [DVD]

Disclaimer: I have never watched the play.

The first thing that greet the audience is Alexandre Desplat's wonderful score, and if you listen carefully it and watch as what unfolds on screen silently, it does kind of sets the mood for the rest of the show. Firstly, this whole movie is directed brilliantly by Polanski and it looks and feels like I am watching a play, rather  than a movie. The excellent cast is of course the other reason that makes this dialogue driven drama so compelling. Looking at these 4 adults devolve from civilised adults to child-like pettiness is riveting. Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet are both amazing! John C Riley was a late bloomer in this show but so much better to underlie his character. Christophe Waltz's character surprisingly was the one that stayed the truest throughout so Waltz was slightly more underplayed. Because it was directed like a play, a lot of elements that Polanski. used was more subtle. He played with camera angles, the characters posture (from straight and stiff in the beginning to slack and lazy in the end) and long takes. But the real champion here is the words, the script by Yamina Reza. It explored so many issues from gender roles and stereotypes, morality and impulses, personal values vs community, local vs foreign idealogies, misogyny and bigotry. And the tension in that house simply mounts with every interspersed dark comedy and interrupted conversation. None of these four individuals are likable but none of them are downright despicable because they all speak a certain amount of truth. The characters' dynamics are also very interesting with emotions and alliances ding-donging and shifting constantly, from couples vs couples, to husbands vs wives, men vs women, people who are who they are vs people who pretend to be who they are. Everybody did an excellent job here! But I can see that this may not be acceptable entertainment for a lot of people. Should go watch the play one day

10 November 2012

Argo

A definite crowd pleaser. It may get some critical love but I do not see it getting much Oscar love in the end. Although we have got to wait for the rest of the movies this year to decide on that. It may make it to the top ten movies. A great intro that supplied background and bring the audience into the situation, but the one big problem for this movie (especially for a non-American audience) is that we do not care about the hostages. The first act was good (how to rescue the hostages?); the second act was a drag (no empathy for the hostages); in the third act, Affleck and Terrio tuned up the tension with cheap (and meaninglessly dramatic) scenes, quick cuts, and Desplat's score. Ben Affleck sure has improved as a director in his third outing, but he tend to over-indulge in showy shots which do not really serve any purpose. However, his attention to historical details was laudable. Unfortunately, I do not think he is Oscar-nominating calibre yet. Furthermore, he should stop casting himself in his shows if he wants to excel more. Besides he is one of the weaker actors of the ensemble. I said it before, and I'll say it again, John Goodman's agent need a raise. He and Alan Arkin were easily the best moments of the show. Cranston and Garber are always reliable. The other big names were too briefly on screen for much impact. As aforesaid, the hostages were not sympathetic, not too hard to insert a scene tugging at the heartstrings. Sadly, I think this was also one of Desplat's poorest/least memorable score. Ultimately, a crowd pleaser that unabashedly turned a real life implausible event into Hollywood entertainment. Affleck is running the risk of turning into Eastwood, "The Town" could just be his "Iwo Jima".

9 November 2012

Pitch Perfect

Passable Glee meets Step-Up mash-up with some mild laughs. A potentially strong first act that turned weak, a mediocre second and a third act that lacked the underdog triumphant climax. all bundled in a contrived excuse for a plot. A waste of the strong, young comediennes ensembled. It's sad when the funniest people are not the top billed ones, but the always reliable Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Anna Camp and Brittany Snow were the best actresses of the bunch, but such a waste! Rebel Wilson had some good lines but her best were sadly after the end credits! As for Anna Kendrick, she's saddled with playing the straight girl. Sure, she's charming and cute and has cleavage, but her character is so boring. What a waste of an Oscar nominee! Her romance with Skylar Astin needs more work. It was strange, inorganic and rather unbelievable. As much as they like to diss "Glee", Ryan Murphy's gang had better songs, choreography and chemistry; Glee also better captured the zeitgeist. Jason Moore and Kay Cannon should have trimmed the movie by 10 to 15 mins.

6 November 2012

Kith Cafe@Park Mall

A new breakfast available in town at the corner of Park Mall where Dome used to be. Nice ambience with a chill out al fresco area. Sadly, the food was much to be desired. The fruit brioche with fresh strawberry and yogurt was pathetic. 2 thin slices of brioche which was not really the melt-in-your-month kind; the yogurt and strawberry was a small serving and should have been served with a spoon. The bratwurst at the side was a saving grace. And thankfully one can't go that wrong with a green apple, beetroot and carrot juice. Service was acceptable, although they forgot about my cappuccino. But most unforgiveably, my friend's bowl of grapes has mould!! and there was a baby cockroach roaming around the magazine stands behind the seats. Unfortunately, for the price, neither quality nor quantity is justified.

Verdict: Won't be coming back again. No pull factors at all.

3 November 2012

Trouble with the Curve

Tries to be this year's "Moneyball", but it lacked that certain spark of cohesion and brilliance. In the end, it's just another feel good movie that occasionally veered towards made-for-tv schmaltzy. Clint Eastwood replays his curmudgeon old man but unfortunately it does not break any new ground. Same for Amy Adams. They both will likely get overlooked by the Oscars this year. Justin Timberlake definitely has charm but this role is not really as outstanding as his role in "Tje Social Network". The whole movie could be trimmed a bit shorter and should decide whether its focus is on baseball or family. Robert Patrick and John Goodman should give their agents a raise. Ultimately, a watchable movie that failed in its Oscars ambition.

2 November 2012

Arrow

Episode 1, "Pilot": One thing you can surely depend on for any CW show is the cast are definitely good lookers. Arrow does not disappoint in this aspect, with the handsome and charismatic, if still a bit stiff, Stephen Amell, and the pretty Katie Cassidy in the lead. They are supported by a cast of good looking young and slightly older adults including Susanna Thompson (from the oldie, but goodie "Once and Again") and Paul Blackthorne (Harry Dresden from "The Dresden Files"). Of course, with creators/EP Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim at the helm, this series has a lot of potential. As expected in a Pilot, the exposition was heavy, but at least it laid the threads for a larger conspiracy, some interesting potential character developments, and an interesting visual style. The Pilot was well executed and definitely hooks you in for more. For comic book fans, this has a potential for continual viewing. Although, the voice-over, though excellent in "Everwood", is a bit annoying here, and disrupts the pace of the show. As is the clunky dialogue.

Episode 2, "Honor Thy Father": Stylised show, but the VO got to go unless they really work harder on the dialogue. I understand it's supposed to imitate a comic and this is on CW where the target audience is younger, but seriously, the dialogue needs work. Diggle is turning out to be the most likeable character of the show. As a Hero, Green Arrow is sure killing a lot of people. And, by gosh, the mandarin in this show sucks (even Kelly Hu's!). Not much to say about the plot, typical Robin Hood-esque stuff. The conspiracy slowly inching forward. The island past gets interesting. The VO should really just be used to bookend the the episode.

Episode 3, "Lone Gunmen": Seriously, Oliver Queen's morality has gone apeshit. Character development arc! Not too bad and we are only in the third episode. Again, the damn VOs are killing it. I think I know what is irking me about them. The discordant between the tone of the VOs and Amell's face/"acting". Thea is getting annoying. She needs something more to do than just the bratty sister. Finally someone on the show that speaks better Mandarin. Interestingly, the hero-reveal is a bit sooner than expected. But at least these two have some chemistry.

Episode 4, "An Innocent Man": How does Oliver Queen even know the strange man is speaking Mandarin?? Actually, this ditching of bodyguards and constant rotation could be made into a rather amusing running gag. Also, they should really stop making Detective Lance appear so incompetent, though his storyline seemed to be getting interesting. Will he be Green Arrow's inside man? 4 episodes in and I am now more interested in the family conspiracy and Walter is starting to be intriguing. And finally, John Barrowman appears (pity no more Captain Jack Harkness) with cryptic warnings of "the list".

Episode 5, "Damaged": This episodes throws more questions than answers. Minor character development for Oliver, but major reveal for Moira. Who is she? What other secrets does she have? Also, hopefully Barrowman gets more to do than just making threats. Hopefully Walter stays around more, I am just getting warmed up to his character. One good thing is the VO is only in the start, and at the end we have Diggle - as the voice of reason/conscience - talking to Oliver instead over a montage.

Episode 6, "Legacies": 6 episodes in and we have yet to glimpsed the "Big Bad". There needs to be an overarching mythology to make it more interesting. The familial conspiracy died down. No Big Bad. This is becoming a regular superhero outing. At least the supporting characters got a bit of development, but otherwise, not much happening here this round.

Update (20 Dec 2012): I kinda stop caring about this show. Not much impetus to actually follow the exploits of Oliver Green, regardless of how rip his body is. Even the introduction of the Huntress did nothing to excite me, although the news of Seth Gable joining the cast is truly exciting, the producers should have introduced him earlier. Instead, now he seemed like a last minute attempt to get the fanboys (and girls) to watch the show. News of John Barrowman being the second archer is intriguing, but Jack Harkness he is not.

Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

This was unexpectedly good. It was not Oscar-winning good, but it was a thoroughly entertaining horror-thriller. Kudos to writer/director...