27 January 2014

August: Osage County


Some plays make great movies, and some plays just make good movies. This black comedy falls more into the latter like Roman Polanski's Carnage, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning story is definitely the strong point here, but like all the previously mentioned plays-turned-movies, the acting are the aces here, and with a large cast like this almost everybody had their moments. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, besides being the biggest names here, also gave the best performances of the ensemble with Roberts a particular stand out. She definitely has been missed.

John Wells was an able director but perhaps a bit too safe and restrained. That said, not even Polanski could get Carnage to Oscar glory. However, Wells was at times too predictable and mildly overly melodramatic in his scenes.

Tracy Letts adapted his own award-winning play for the big screen and, having not seen the original play itself, I would not be surprised if there were changes made. However, what I see on the big screen is a richly dark family comedy that spoke of an estranged family with each member bearing a secret that all just comes tumbling out in one cathartic exodus. The reveals not only peels off layers of each character but also illuminate the themes of blame, self-responsibility, karma and, in a morbid sort of way, love. Throughout all that, there were many moments of comedic gems which really incited genuine laughters and smiles. But I think like most great plays, in the translation to the silver screen some form of intimacy and immediacy is lost in the words. And with big stars, we tend to over focus on the physical performances rather than the power of the words. As such, sometimes, the material gets overshadowed. Oh, and that epilogue is totally extraneous.

Streep gets another Oscar nomination for her role here as the matriarch of the family and I sincerely thinks she deserves it a lot more than Sandra Bullock for Gravity. Although, there are times when Ms. Streep begins to slightly overact and her accents slips up. Her dining table scene may be the most showy, but it is her quietly powerful swing-scene with her daughters and her final scene with Johanna that shows her brilliance.

Roberts has been missed, and it is easy to forget that she too has an Oscar for Erin Brockovich, and is not just the Pretty Woman. And here, she reminds us why she got an Oscar. She is at times fiercely independent and protective, and at moments silently fragile and vulnerable. Throughout the whole time we get a sense that she is a woman torn between family and self, love and responsibility. Her exasperation at things beyond her control tears her apart, and Roberts portrayed all these very convincingly. Unfortunately for her, the competition for this year's Best Supporting Actress is just too strong, but her nomination reminds us again of her true ability.

Briefly, Juliette Lewis was perfectly cast as the youngest, slightly more flighty daughter, however her beau in the show, Dermot Mulroney is typecast and rather boring. Julienne Nicholson was also excellent as the straight-woman to her other two sisters, and with Masters of Sex on her resume too, she is turning in very fine work these days. Her beau Benedict Cumberbatch, unlike Mulroney, was totally acting against type, all hunched up, mousey and stuttering, but pity his role was not really significant. Then we have the two older folks: the very excellent Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper. Martindale should deserve a nomination too alongside Roberts. She was a woman of restrained strength with her own secrets to bear. With Cooper, their last scene together was a heartache. Lastly, Abigail Breslin was kind of wasted to act as the broody, insolent, rebellious teenager, and Ewan McGregor barely had much of a time to develop an interesting backstory or category.

This show will be remembered as the one where Meryl Streep screams at Julia Roberts and Roberts jumps Streep. A dark family dramedy that was generally very well acted and in the end may give you pause to examine your own relationships with your family. One very memorable line early in the show, and I paraphrase from memory goes: "If we were able to see the future, we would probably not get out of bed."

23 January 2014

Her


All the hype about Scarlett Johansson is totally justified. Spike Jonze has given us a not-really-that-original-in-concept, post-modern love story that genuinely made me laugh out loud a few times, and smile a couple more, but nonetheless had a depressing undercurrent throughout as a commentary/satire on our current society and the route that it is heading towards.

The script is one of the more original ones this year and is a clear frontrunner for winning the Best Original Screenplay (although I have yet to watch Nebraska). It posits a question: what will happen if the technology that we interact with everyday, interacts back with us? It seems like an idea that Isaac Asmiov would have toyed with, but here we get Jonze's take.

The biggest challenge here will be how to keep the audience engaged when essentially this movie about one man talking to himself? And here was how Jonze scored a coup de grace by casting Johansson as the voice of the AI and Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely man. Johansson's smokey, raspy voice may be the best voice-acting since ever. She made the OS seemed so real. The passion, the self-doubt, the warmth, the curiosity...it's no wonder Phoenix's character would fall in love with her. But then again, his character just so happened to be in the right emotional spot for such an occurrence to occur.

However, on a deeper level, it could also be seen as a chauvinistic movie with the females being more aggressive and the reason why man (?Man) built AIs in the first place. *spoilers* Olivia Wilde's character scares off Phoenix because she does not want to waste her time; the ?receptionist in Phoenix's office is a man who is dating a seemingly more powerful female lawyer; Amy Adam as Phoenix's friend gets left alone because her husband could not control her, and she designs games about being the stereotypical "Perfect Mom"; even Phoenix's ex-wife as played by Rooney Mara is shown to be a rather passive-aggressive manipulative bitch that seemed to be responsible for the divorce.*end spoilers*. It could also be turned around and say that it was a pro-feminist movie with women being superior or better than man.

Phoenix was a good match for the role. He inhabited the loneliness of his character and as he begins to fall in love, we see him come out of the shell that he had hidden himself in. But we always get the sense that he never really stepped fully out. Jonze needed a believable lead actor for whom the audience can relate to, and with that moustache Phoenix was not as easily recognisable and so more relatable. He always looked so alone and apart from everybody even when he was in the same room. His clothes by Opening Ceremony definitely made him stood out, although he kept wearing the same, distinctive pieces again and again, and it got rather annoying for continuity purposes. Unless Jonze is trying to make a statement out of it. That moustache really does age him like how it aged Watson on Sherlock.

Jonze directing was simple in its subtle complexity. The mixing of up locations: California and Shanghai to give us a sense of interconnectivity. Perhaps in the future we could really go from east-to-west through a tube. The stylised palettes to reflect the mood of his lead protagonist. Bright and sunny when he's in love, dark and grey when he's not. The gorgeous futuristic sets also deserve a praise (and an Oscar nomination), as does the hauntingly beautiful song "The Moon Song" (also a Best Original Song nominee) as sung by Johansson in the movie, and Karen O. over the end credits.

A smart, witty script that was brought alive by two actors, and explored an interesting concept that raises many questions, through a simple boy-meet-girl love story for the post-modern times.

Looking


Disclaimer: I don't watch Girls.

Episode 1, "Looking For Now": A look into the modern day singles in San Francisco filled with pop-culture references and lexicons like "OKCupid", "Facebook" and "Instagram". They being gay is absolutely irrelevant. As a series premiere episode, this was unique in that we just drop straight into their lives. There were no exposition-heavy introductions to load us down. Jonathan Groff is a pleasant character surrogate to this world, and his sweet, innocent baby-face makes us easy to feel for him and his quest for love. The other two leads Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett are at the moment not interesting enough yet especially when their narrative threads are so predictable and cliche.

Episode 2, "Looking For Uncut": The instagram filter like look continues as we proceed to be the fly-on-the-wall of these 3 men. Groff swings from irritatingly naive to winsomely innocent. But at the end of it all, nothing really much happens. No big revelations or epiphanies, but just 3 friends chugging along life and finding their way around it.

Episode 3, "Looking at Your Browser History": An improvement in quality in terms of characterisation and plot development. A much better thematic backbone about looking for your own identity. Each of the 3 main casts finally get some sort of conflict that they need to overcome, although Groff, as the lead character, just seems to be still looking for love. Well. Russell Tovey is in the house, and adding a British star is always fun and Lauren Weedman is the true breakout here. She has been given best lines/moments of the episodes she's in and she has been consistently funny too.

Dallas Buyers Club



Disclaimer: By now, a number of award-shows have already been out and both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have been sweeping them up. Inadvertently, expectations would be high, especially for McConaughey who is riding high on the McConnaissance.

This movie suffers from what I have now christened as The Iron Lady syndrome: a so-so movie that was bolstered by its star(s). In this case, we have a poor-to-mediocre movie with two great, nominee-worthy performances by its actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, but only Leto truly deserves the statue come Oscar night.

Based on a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, DBC is a documentary-like presentation of one man's life that was schizophrenic in style, tone and identity. Borrowing from the movie, it felt like a Neanderthal seeing a transgender for the first time and not knowing to call the lady a Fella or call the chap a Miss

The movie cannot decide if it wants to be a dramatic or historical biography of Ron Woodroof. We got scenes that exploit homophobia and scenes of shameless Oscar-baiting despair, fear and lost; but we also have moments that tease of drama and emotions that were brought up then rapidly swept right away. All these and not counting some of Borten's and Wallack's clunky dialogue (Best Original Screenplay?!).

Then we also have Vallée's directing that was filled with clumsy metaphors, amateurish symbolism and foreshadowing, and bad continuity/editing (look at Gravity to see how clumsy imageries can at least be gorgeous depicted and shot). Characters have a tendency to pop up out of nowhere, and within moments forgotten. 

You sit through this movie trying to decide what kind of guy they want us to see, and it is all thanks to McConaughey's startling portrayal that we could even sit through all 116 minutes of it.

That brings us to the stars of the show. 

The charismatic McConaughey gave his career-best performance to date. No doubt about it. He has managed to give us layers within layers of this complicated person despite the poor characterisation on paper. However, despite his dedication to the craft and shedding all those musculature, his performance lacked the nuance that would have otherwise made it stoodout. There were still moments where he was still the same-old McConaughey of years ago - except a lot thinner. Partially it was also Vallée's fault for not giving him enough screen time to emote his drama. Just as we are about to hit a dramatic climax, we are cut off to the next scene. Also, McConaughey needs to take lessons from Claire Danes when it comes to the ugly cry-face (come on...some chin quivering, dude!). As such, although he is deserving of his nominations and the accolades, but when it comes down to "Best Actor", based on the nominees list, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) is still the one. 

Jared Leto, on the other hand, was simply amazing. He was the emotional heart of the show. With one particular scene, which again just came out of nowhere, he was utterly heartbreaking in its ethereal despair, loneliness, fear and pain (that scene was reminiscence of Anne Hatheway's award-winning I Dream A Dream in Les Miserables). The rest of the time, Leto was simultaneously funny and sad. The withering looks of sardonic pleasure were spot on, as were the downcast eyes of regret and self-pity. His character's emotional arc was more fleshed out, but his relationships with the other main characters were at best sketchy.

Lastly, a word about Jennifer Garner. No offence to her, but I remembered what I used to think of her back in her Alias days. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is Sydney Bristow. She still does that. However, the greatest fault here is that her character is absolutely useless and unnecessary from a narrative point of view. And unfortunately, Garner made it more so. 

Oh, and Denis O'Hare was a delightful snake.

In the end, you endure the movie for the ground-breaking, star-making turns of its two male actors and perhaps learn a bit more about a slice of history (and America's hypocrisy). But if you are looking for a great movie about the AIDS epidemic or the LGBT community, this is not it. Watch the play The Normal Heart instead.

16 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis


Another typical Coen Brothers production, which as always is usually not everybody's cup of tea. Sadly it got shutout in the Oscars except for a nod for cinematography, despite winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival (but, yes, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel was really a standout). Nonetheless, this was an intimate character study of one man's week-long journey in understanding and discovering himself. Where characterisation takes a back seat to plot narrative.

Oscar Isaac was a revelation, embodying his character's desperation to get out of his current situation for which he (may or may not) had a part in putting himself there. As he plods through the week and the hand that fate dealt him, one can't help but relate to having a similar kind of week where everything seemed to be just going against you. And that is his journey that we are witnessing. A man, possibly at one of his lowest point, always making the wrong decisions and plagues by the constant doubt of "What if?". How his story end we won't know for the Coens, wisely, chose to have the story end as it started. That kind of brave ending allows the audience to ruminate and contemplate and reflect both on Llewyn and on themselves.

Carey Mulligan and John Goodman stood out amongst the supporting cast. Mulligan, who was initially unrecognisable, gave her character just the slightest inflection such that we know she is not as hard-hearted as her mouth suggest; Goodman, on the other hand, was a hoot and scene stealer in his brief interlude on a very strange road-trip.

Most of the songs were sung live, and kudos to T Bone Burnett (he's everywhere these days! Nashville and True Detective) as the show's Music Producer.

The Coen Brothers can be depended on giving unique films that are not of the Hollywood rut. As a comedy this is way smarter than American Hustle or The Wolf of Wolf Street but smarts does not necessarily translate to financial bonanza. Their directing here was simple and un-showy, but coupled with Delbonnel's gorgeous cinematography, gives an intimate sense of their protagonist's journey. Even the narrative structure boosted the desperate, repetitive nature of Llewyn Davis' life like how he pioneer-ed couch-surfing.

And that cat! Reminds me of Haruki Murakami and his novels which is what this movie seems to emulate.

True Detective


Episode 1, "The Long Bright Dark": 2014 may be remembered as the year TV landscape changed, although some may argue that the change started in 2013 with Netflix's House of Cards or even 2011 with American Horror Story. Notwithstanding, 2014 may be the year that the mini-series, anthology-format of story-telling really comes to the fore, and it all started with HBO and Nic Pizzolatto's modern-retro gothi-noir. Written solely by Pizzolatto and directed throughout its 8-episodes first season by Cary Joji Fukunaga who gave us one of the best adaptation of Jane Eyre and introduced the world to the fabulous Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, we have a sumptuously gorgeous series, that is written with meticulous care and detail, and acted with the intensity and brilliance that is so rare. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are spell-binding. Their characters could not be more opposite, but yet both actors imbued such complexity and intensity into their roles that it is almost impossible to not want to get to know these two fellows more. Kudos to Pizzolatto and Fukunaga for giving us a first episode that not only relied on exposition to set the ground, but also gave us a hook to bite into. And this hook is two-pronged. Not only do I want to find out more about the Hannibal-ish crime(s), but I want to even find out more about these two men. Their past, their present, their future. What happened to them to change them? Especially McConaughey who was rather annoying with the psycho-babble (an effective tool by Pizzolatto to alienate his character even subconsciously in the audience) but then became this rough talking town drunken philosopher. We have 1995, set in a gorgeous late-autumn kind of palette. and we have 2010 which initially was as stark but slowly faded into a more summer-ish, high-noon kind of colour tone. The beauty of having a self-contained anthology format is that we can lose of the filler stuffs and the time in between can be spent on slow, deliberate moments, enhancing the details and adding layers. T Bone Burnett is the show's composer and his scoring was spot on. Adding tension and suspense, but without the melodramatics. "True Detective" gives us a series that is written by only one writer and directed throughout by only one director, ensuring narrative and visual cohesiveness throughout the season. Factoring in the two lead actors who are clearly in a class of their own here: the intense McConaughey and the solid Harrelson, you get an arrestingly gorgeous, smartly written, retro-modern gothic-noir appointment TV.

Episode 2, "Seeing Things": The crime continues to unwind slowly as Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw fill the screen with luscious wide-angled landscapes. The music by T Bone Burnett continues to give an atmospheric twinge to the series. On the relationship front, we begin to see the start of the conflicts that may have torn the two men apart, although the words that come out of McConaughey's mouth is starting to sound a bit overly pretentious (time to tune it down Pizzolatto), it's lucky McConaughey is able to drawl them words out believably. The acting is still ace, and this episode, Michelle Monaghan also starts to stand out. However, on the 2012-front, not much updates there, although McConaughey's backstory got some fleshing out. This would have made a good binge watch.

Episode 3, "The Locked Room": The words coming out of McConaughey's mouth, especially the future him one, is getting more and more pretentious and annoying. At this stage, Harrelson's character actually seems more complex and complicated despite (or because of) all his flaws, and this episode, Harrelson really nailed his scenes. The murder case continues on and that is actually developing rather nicely. At least Pizzolatto and Fukunaga got us hooked to tune in again for the next episode to see what happened.

Episode 4, "Who Goes There": A good episode that is just filler. Kind of oxymoronic. We get a bit more character development and backstory (and backstory of the backstory), and thankfully very minimal pretentious lines from Pizzolatto. The last 10 minutes or so had really good directing from Fukunaga, and after these couple of weeks/months or riding the McConnassaince, I am ready to say that, yes he has improved a lot but he's really not that great with only a couple of repertoires that he uses again and again, at least in here.

Episode 5, "The Secret Fate Of All Life": Like most shows, the half-way mark is when things get flipped around and it is no difference here. For one, the format gets shaken up a bit. We leave 1995 behind and looks like the story is going to focus on to 2002 and 2012. Still 2002 seems more interesting because 2012, McConaughey is just so annoying with all his pseudo-psycho/science philosophy. Pizzolatto needs to be reined in. At least we are getting somewhere with the 2012 detectives, and what they are up to. Fukunaga really knows how to amp up the atmosphere.

11 January 2014

Sabah Kuo Man Fish Paste Noodles 沙巴国民鱼滑面





Disclaimer: I've known Chef Andy since Ikyu opened, and he was my usual omakase chef when I used to go down to Ikyu quite frequently since it was near my place of work. 

This place opened in Bedok in July 2013. The chef, Andy, used to work as a sushi chef at Ikyu but has left to bring in this almost 40-years old Sabah institution to Singapore. It serves good old fashion noodles with a wide variety of simply honest, hearty, old-fashion and delicious sides.

The noodles were generous, either mee kia or mee pok, and served either dry or soup. I had both noodles in the dry version and the sauce was a tasty mushroom-based meaty stock. The mee kia was more Q and would be good for da bao, whereas the mee pok was smoother and better suited for in-house eating. Andy shared that the noodles were from the famous Yong Siak Road which explained the high quality. He could not bring in the original hand-made noodles because of Singapore's restrictions. Pity.

The fish balls were made entirely of mackerel fish with some herbs (?coriander) within, without any flour or starch, etc, and they were genuinely springy and tasty, although I am not a fan of the herbal after-taste. The beef stew was excellent! Tender chunks of beef briskets with tendons that almost melt in your mouth. This is a rare find these days where briskets are under-stewed and tendons a rarity at most "beef brisket noodles" stores. The slice beef soup paled in comparison to the other two aforementioned dishes, but it was still good tender slices of beef that was clearly cooked in the hot soup since it still retained the slight pink colour.

The other stars in this down-to-earth place are the roast pork and pan-fried fish cake. The roast pork puts most other places to shame. Just the right amount of fats in the top layer that was capped off with a golden-ochre crispy skin and seasoned with a tinge of salt, it was fantastic with the chili.

Speaking of the chili, it is also made in-house, and boy, is it spicy. With a tang of vinegar or lime, the chili complements the fish ball, raw beef and roast pork excellently, but maybe not so the beef stew.

Anyways, the last big star belongs to the pan-fried fish cake. 100% mackerel fish and pan-fried till just right such that the outer layer is crispy but the inner layer still has the springy texture of the fish. It reminds me of the famous parang fish fish cake from the famous Chinatown Yong Tau Foo store. The fish cake was served with its own chili, a sweeter version, then helped to bring out the flavours, and thankfully, the coriander taste here was a lot less.

The food was simple but wonderfully tasty and everything was very, very affordable! It was so good, or I was so hungry, that I forgot to take pictures for most of them. Darn it!

Verdict: Will definitely come again, and more frequently so, if I stay in the East.










Masa: Steak and Hamburg



A little Japanese meat place in Robertson Quay that serves a very fine hamburg steak. Possibly one of the better ones in Singapore. Served sizzling hot on a mini hot plate and on a bed of sautéed onions the hamburg steak was soft and juicy with just enough pinkness in the centre to retain the beefiness. Served with a side of chips, 1 small broccoli and a cherry tomato which were mainly after-thoughts. The starter of yukke Masa style was delicious. The sweetness of raw beef with the slight tang of raw egg yolk and the fragrance of mildly roasted sesame seeds was a delight. Similarly the hot bowl garlic beef fried rice was wonderfully fragrant with generous amount of sliced beef and garlic and mixed long/short-grain rice. Not terribly expensive for the hamburg, but the other beef seemed a bit pricey.

Verdict: Good beef hangout that is atypical of the usual steakhouse.





Take Me Out



Richard Greenberg's Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer-nominated black comedy comes to Singapore. And it is rather surprising considering. Yes, there are homosexual themes and gratuitous male frontal nudity, but there was nothing overtly sexual involved. So, we should be thankful for small things that it even made it to our shores. But then again, the lacked of advertising may also have contributed to the barely half-full theatre on a Friday night. Pity. The other half of the theatre was missing out on a play that is still relevant to our times, even more so in Singapore, despite it being first staged in 2002. 

Superficially, this penis-fest - as the producer, Tim Garner, himself describes it - utilises baseball as a metaphor for Life and Religion, and Homosexuality as a surrogate for all social inequality; but on a deeper layer, it explores themes of bigotry, friendship and society's responsibility for its basest members. With an international cast, this rojak (is it a Singapore-production? Or a NZ production?) production had good actors (standouts included Hayden Tee, Chris Bucko, Tim Garner and Kynan Francis) and a good director (Peter Lucas). However, it was let down by poor lighting and, possibly, a lack of orchestrations (didn't Andrew Llyod Webber win a Drama Desk for this?). Lead actor, Juan Jackson, is a fine example of the male specimen, but at certain scenes his connection with his character's seemed very tenuous. The conundrum and emotional conflict that he should be experiencing was absent. Hayden Tee brought the most consistent laughters in his un-self-conscious, cheekily closeted flamboyance role. The words of Greenberg was smart and witty, double entendres aplenty but yet sharp, piercing and honest at times.  

Understanding a bit about baseball and the mentality of sports fans will definitely enhance the enjoyment of the play, but it's not really necessary. However, the total alienation of this particular sport to an average Singaporean may also have contributed to the poor attendance. Sure, the male nudity is there to titillate. but other than a small minority of the LGBT community, and an even smaller group of straight people, I doubt it really is that much of a draw (from a financial point of view).

10 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Artwork by:  Danish Ahmad

Martin Scorsese's latest epic is a 3-hour long comedic satire on (American) greed that is filled with sex, drugs, profanities, and more sex, but at least we get a fantastic Leonardo diCaprio, and a very adventurous Scorsese. Pity that it's censored (I think) in homophobic Singapore!

However, it also gives us one of Leonardo diCaprio's - Sorcese's muse - best performances since The Aviator and Revolutionary Road, and at times it seems to be an extension of his role in Django Unchained. It looks like diCaprio may have found himself a type for which he could really excel in: the exaggerated, larger-than-life, alpha-male. Although these kind of role is unlikely to give him the Oscar that he so craves.

In addition, in this film, we also get one of Scorcese's most adventurous directing ever. The camera swoops, swirls, swipes and the pacing is actually not too bad for a 179 minutes movie. It only felt draggy towards the end, last 30 minutes, and this is a great compliment to the skill of the director. It was wise of him to choose to make this more a comedy rather than a serious drama; with the laughters and absurdities as befitting a satire, the audience gets more easily distracted. Hence too the gratuitous nudity as well as the multiple drug-infused moments. But the downside is that, there is perhaps one too many broad comedy moments - slapstick schticks - that was too long. No surprise that almost all those scenes contained Jonah Hill in them (more on him later).

Terence Winter screenplay will too get a nomination come Oscar time, but as an adapted screenplay it lags behind John Ridley's 12 Years A Slave as it ultimately lacked heart. The monologues that diCaprio give were good, well written, but it was more effective because of diCaprio's delivery and Scorcese's directing than Winter's words. Also, the plot itself lost focus and got too saddled with the debauchery. The evolution of diCaprio's protagonist from the wide-eyed country boy to the foul-mouth, multi-addict, stockbroker just happened after a smoke in the back? Neither was there much actual depiction of the crime he was charged with. Perhaps that was also Scorcese's fault.

As aforementioned, diCaprio gave a great performance. You believed him as the naive young man that he is, and you believed him as the debauched, addicted, horn dog; you laugh at him, you pity him, you believe him and you envy him. Without a doubt, he is willing to go-ugly for a scene, and his comedic timing is actually quite good. Even in the dramatic moments, diCaprio has finally gotten the hang of expressing through subtlety. Scorcese really does bring out the best in him. At times he even reminds me of a young Jack Nicholson.

Jonah Hill is an annoyance. Throughout the film. I guess you really got to be a fan of his and his genre of comedy - broad, loud and borderline slapstick. In really small doses, he is tolerable, but when his scenes get extended, with way too much improvisations, it was painful and the movie just abruptly changed gear.

A brief word on Matthew McConaughey. Spotting likely his Dallas Buyers' Club weight-loss, McConaughey is on a career-renaissance. His brief spot is actually one of the most memorable scene of the movie. And no, there isn't any sex or toplessness scene involved. Only he could make that scene as effective as it is. (Can't wait for Dallas Buyers' Club)

Kyle Chandler is sure getting a lot of these small bit roles in big movie eh? At least he is still reliable and always give a good performance. Hope he breaks out soon!

Enjoy this movie as the twisted, cautionary morality satire on Greed that it is, but taking it more than that and you will see the flaws. One of the better films of 2013/14 and may just get a nomination for Best Film but more likely based on pedigree than pure substance.

9 January 2014

Intelligence


Disclaimer: I have never watched Chuck before, although I do know of the similarities between these two shows. The clear draw of Intelligence would be in the main cast that they had assembled: Josh Holloway and Meghan Ory.

Pilot: A fairly interesting new addition by CBS to the multitude of procedurals that are out now, and this is clearly not going in the same comedic vein as Chuck did with a similar concept. Like all pilots, this one was exposition heavy, not only because the creators and producers have created a "new superpower" and now got to clearly define its powers and limits, but also because the setting is unique: US Cyber Command (and yes, it is a real thing). But as with all series these days, even procedurals, there has got to be an over-arching mythology that keeps its core audience reined in, and here we have "What happened to Amelia?". Welcome back to the small screen Sawyer! We have missed your smirks, thankfully this time round Josh Holloway is squaring off with an equally snarky and sassy Meghan Ory. These two have much better chemistry than Sawyer and Kate, and this first 42 minutes have clearly set their relationship boundaries and given them both a simple complexity in characterisation that should nicely continue on. Here's hoping that these two are more like Elementary's Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, or Sleepy Hollow's Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, than one of the many recent failed pairings which got so boring quickly (here's looking at you The Blacklist). Marg Helgenberger's role is a lot like her ex-colleague Laurence Fishburne's in Hannibal, in that they both are superiors to the series' protagonist and serve as exposition and narrative tool with possibly some secret lurking in the back, waiting to pop up during Sweeps. And like Hannibal, there is a fair bit of FX-heavy evidence rendering, though here, Hugh Dancy triumph over Holloway in the acting department. The actual storyline in the pilot is predictable and derivative, so the story has got to get a lot better. Even the ending was expected. That has got to improve to keep the audience tuned in. As for procedurals go, this has the potential to be more fun like Alias than straight-laced and boring, IMO, like Persons of Interest.

Episode 2, "Red X": Now that was fast! Way to hook the audience but sadly the ending just missed the mark. Did not expect to actually see Gabriel's wife in the second act, much less so have Gabriel meet her face-to-face. And then that outcome...let's just say without a body, I think Zuleikha Robinson will still make more appearances in the future. If that is the end of the "mythology" then the creators got to quickly come up with another good one. Although it seems this may just all me a ploy that Lillian is orchestrating. Let's hope the next episode can hook us in some more, because just relying on the chemistry between the two leads, and gratuitous Sawyer topless scenes, are not enough to sustain a loyal audience. Elementary has its Moriarty and Sleepy Hollow has Katrina. Also, the scenes where Gabriel is using his "superpowers" are ridiculous with everybody standing around, and so far there is nothing really "super" about his "superpowers". A hacker could do most of what he has done so far.

Episode 3, "Mei Chen Returns": The exposition-credits are here to start. How annoying. The main attraction so far remains the chemistry between Ory and Holloway, but that can only last so far as the plot continues to evolve and other sources of drama intervenes. The wife-thingy could had been so much more, even if she remained dead, there could have been so much more drama to be had from a widower's grief, but instead, with just a few words from Red Riding Hood and the Axe-man is back in the game.

Episode 4 - 6: These few episodes have confirmed that the show is riding on the chemistry of its two leads, and I sure hope they keep it platonic. They have to re-introduce the wife again. Helgenberger is getting interesting, and there seems to be a trace of the start of some sort of intelligence arc as the show finds it footing.

7 January 2014

Whole Earth


You know you are in a rather authentic vegetarian restaurant when the table next to you is a whole group of monks. On a weekday lunch, it was quite full with mainly an office crowd. Parking can be quite challenging at Tanjong but there are a number of public car parks in that area. The restaurant itself is pleasant enough and the wait staff were polite and quite responsive. They actually offered you the snacks (preserved vegetables and fried seaweed/tofu skin) before plopping it on the table ($2/plate). The main focus is of course the food. Started off with the Imperial Beauty Soup which was well brewed and very sweet, with the sweetness coming from the papayas and red dates. Although the mock abalone and sharksfin was rather extraneous. The fried olive brown rice was a standout, if only just a tad oily. The olive masked the organic taste of brown rice and actually gives it a rather distinctive flavour. The teriyaki monkeyhead mushroom was a conundrum. The vegetables that came with it was fresh and well stir-fried, however, they chose to serve the monkeyhead in small chunks and deep fried, rather than the whole bullous head. The result is that the meaty-taste of a delicious monkeyhead is lost within the crunch and overpowered by the teriyaki. Although when dipped in the sambal (which must be asked for) does bring out more taste. The sambal too does wonders for the olive rice. The cabbage roll with spinach sauce was alright. Nothing too wondrous, but similarly, the ingredients were fresh and the spinach sauce does give it that additional rather irony taste. Dessert was the golden pumpkin with black glutinous rice and coconut milk which was a decent end that was not too sweet or cloying. The portions here are rather big, and each order is good for 3 - 4 persons. However, the downside of this place is the price which ended being a bit on the pricey side, especially if you go in with the idea that it's just vegetables. But, for a decent, authentic vegetarian restaurant that serves tasty and good food, the price is only slightly pricey.

Update (19 Feb 2014): Now they are charging 30 cents for water. This is going against my personal belief. 

Verdict: Will come back when I really feel like going vegetarian or if I have got vegetarian guests to entertain; charging for water is a turn-off. 






6 January 2014

Frozen


Disclaimer: Expectations were a bit high for this movie since I am watching it rather later since its premiere, and the movie has been en massing a very respectable box-office receipt since then.

A feel-good, child-friendly, typical Disney animation that is just slightly above average. It does not break any new ground in terms of story line or animation. Actually, the latter was rather bland considering the potential that laid in snow and ice animation. Was not wowed by the ice-castles, perhaps would have been in 3D? A braver and more daring company, think the old Pixar or the old Dreamworks, would have embraced the darker aspect of Hans Christian Andersen's source material and even perhaps give it a more sweeping and epic plot. It also lacked the witticisms that made "Tangled" a standout. Then again, since the primary target audience are children, what we have left here is definitely aimed squarely at them. One day, maybe Hollywood would give us a more adult-friendly cartoon (like the brilliant animes from Japan).

The best thing about "Frozen"  is the sure to be nominated for Best Song in the Oscars, and most likely to win it, "Let It Go" by Idina Menzel and the excellent voice cast assembled by Disney. Who knew Kirstin Bell had such a lovely singing voice? It seems that singing is getting to be a very valuable commodity for an actor these days. However, it is a serious crime when you have in your stable, two Broadway belters but are grossly under-utilising them. Jonathan Groff does not sing in his role, instead we have the competent Santino Fontana duet-ing with Bell, and Menzel only have that one title song (at least it's a show stopper of a number) and a small duet with Bell. A powerhouse duet between Groff and Menzel, perhaps on love lost and being alone, would have surely brought the house down.

The short film before the movie perhaps would have given me a clue to the main movie after it, a modern classic story but without no discernible improvements added in the flourishes.

Stay tune for a cute end-credits. 3D may have enhanced some of the sequences. If for children a sure winner, but for adults, a pleasant way to spend almost 2 hours.

4 January 2014

Papasan

Based in the new Dorsett Residences at the corner of Cantonment and Eu Tong Seng, this new restaurant headed by Chef Han was doing rather good business, especially for its buffet, when I was there on a weekend lunch. Looking through the menu, the a la carte signature western dishes were clearly not cheap. But since Chef Han is known for his chicken rice, that was what I ordered. Sadly, the chicken rice was at best mediocre. The chicken itself was tasteless and the sauce just did not enhance the flavour, and most importantly the rice lacked the fragrance and intensity of good chicken rice. Coupled with a small plate of vegetables and a soup, and at the total cost of $16.50, this meal was not really worth it despite the air-con environment, comfortable chairs and free water. 

Verdict: Won't be coming back again. 

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...