Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Few Brief Reviews

Before I start, I'd like to say hello to the visitor from Harvard University, whoever you may be. :)

Wall*E - Finally rented the DVD this week, and am suprisingly disappointed. I guess all the rave reviews raised my expectations a tad too much. Didn't enjoy it anywhere as much as I did Ratatouille and Finding Nemo. But there were definitely a few classic scenes - like the one with Wall*E and E.V.E. escaping from a diagnostics lab with a renegade group of defective robots in tow.

Surf's Up - This one's much much better. Probably not a box-office behemoth compared to Pixar's films, but the script is super-smart and full of inside jokes, coming fast and furious and delivered beautifully by the cast, led by Shia LaBeouf. That boy just excels at everything he does.

27 Dresses - Also disappointing, despite the leads, whom I really like. Guess the plot was too thin to sustain the 2-hour running time. The last 30 minutes REALLY dragged.

Made Of Honor - I thought this Patrick Dempsey flick was pretty good actually. Never mind the lukewarm reviews, my personal taste in movies has been taking some strange detours of late. The only complaint I have is the slapstick bits, which I found unnecessary.

Perfect Stranger - Yes, the one with Halle Berry and Bruce Willis, which was skewered by critics. I enjoyed it. Thought the acting and script were decent, and there's a nice twist at the end which I never saw coming. Give it a try.

Breaking Dawn - Book 4 of the Twilight series is picking up speed in the mid-section. Just got whacked with 2 major plot developments, and considering how blase I am about most storylines, these gave me major adrenaline rushes!
L, for your benefit, I'm talking about Jacob's imprinting, and the horrific birthing scene ( not suitable for young readers ).

I smell a sequel on the horizon. Who needs Midnight Sun when you've got RENESMEE? :)

It's gonna be 2009 in another 3 days. May you all have a great New Year celebration - I'll be at home watching television. :D

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Special Greeting

... to the regular visitor with the Google headquarters IP address.

Not too sure how you stumbled upon my blog, but thanks for reading.

I just think working for Google is so cool. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review Of Twilight

Note to L: No pictures this time. :)

spoilers beware

spoilers beware

spoilers beware

spoilers beware

spoilers beware

How should I begin this? Like all Twilight readers, I had expectations. Did the film meet the minimum requirements? Well, yes and no. Is the movie good or bad? Err, a bit of both.

First, the not-so-good parts.

1) Overall production

Not anyone's fault, I suppose, considering the skeletal budget. But the generally scruffy look of the movie does tie in with the small-town setting ( population: 3120, talk about depressing ) and provides a realistic rendering of sleepy / cloudy / perpetually wet Forks, Washington and its no-frills residents.

Still, I've seen indie films which feature breath-taking cinematography, so money isn't always the main issue. Maybe the Twilight crew meant for things to be this way, who knows?

2) Director Catherine Hardwicke

For me, she's a large part of the problem ( but that's just a personal opinion ). Aside from the horrifying script ( to be discussed later ), the direction fails in many respects. Camera angles in the forest scene gave me vertigo ( meant to be dramatic, but looked more like a soap opera ); many of the sequences ( especially the short ones ) feel extremely staged ( sure, it's a movie, but the trick is to at least make it SEEM real ); and worst of all, the chemistry between the 2 leads is sorely lacking ( more on that later ).

3) The script

It's been said that author Stephenie Meyer loved it, but I can't imagine why. So many important elements have been left out, it would be impossible for someone who hasn't read the book to fully appreciate the multiple plotlines.

Bella's fascination and infatuation with Edward is never fully explained. Neither are Edward and Carlisle's personal histories, which I found riveting. Jacob, who's a major character in the novel, merely flits in and out of scenes, and the day he spends with Bella in La Push - where they establish the foundation of a very strong friendship - is truncated to a mere 5 minutes, with him relating a Quileute legend.

Bella's visit to the Cullens' home leaves out many details, in particular, a huge painting depicting the Volturi in his study. Edward's first acknowledgement of his immortal status ( which took place in his Volvo ) is transplanted to a dark forest -- I hated it. And the meadow scene - my favourite from Twilight - was similarly scaled down to a short segment of silence with the couple lying on the grass staring at each other.

Most of the Cullen siblings are given only a few lines of dialogue, which is a great pity since they're fully fleshed out in the novel, with each possessing a complex personality and ability. The villainous vampires come across as token bad guys at best, with Bella's hurried evacuation from Forks a blur of activity rather than the intricately planned escape Meyer described.

Yes, I have a lot to complain about script-wise. The main problem is attempting to stuff too much into the allotted 120 minutes running time. If they'd taken a chance and extended the film another 30 - 60 minutes, I think it would've worked much better. Director's cut for the DVD release, perhaps?

4) Kristen Stewart

I honestly expected more from her, and was extremely disappointed.

Even though I can't stand Bella's damsel-in-distress routine in the novel, I do believe in some measure of accuracy in a film adaptation.

Stewart's performance is stiff. She tries to act tough, but just comes across as wooden. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I WANTED her to be a lot more needy. How else would audiences be convinced of Bella's unconditional love for Edward? She looks at co-star Robert Pattinson like he's any other normal guy. Nothing even close to Meyer's long-winded accounts.

Now, the bits worth praising.

1) Robert Pattinson

He does a fine job here. Since I watched the movie with my mom ( she's just as curious as I am ), and we've seen a lot of Pattinson's TV interviews, she kept whispering to me throughout the show about how "different he is in real life".

I couldn't agree more. Never mind the garish make-up -- the performance alone is worth the ticket price. Here's a guy who's perpetually laughing and full of nervous tics when he appears on talk shows. As Edward Cullen, he broods, looks absolutely miserable most of the time and speaks in a completely different voice.

His stillness is the perfect foil for Bella's insistent prying. And while Stewart remains relatively unaffected, Pattinson's intense stares effectively convey the depth of Edward's love for Bella.

What struck me most is how adult Pattinson looks, compared to his mostly teenage co-stars. He was probably 20 - 21 years old when he filmed this, but there're a couple of scenes where he appears almost 30. This is one of the things that works well for the story, since Bella is 17 when she meets Edward, who's 108. The physical discrepancy is key to their relationship, and I fully approve of it. :)

I hope Pattinson stays on for the rest of the Twilight saga films. Recasting Edward would be a disaster as far as I'm concerned.

2) My favourite scene

Surprisingly, it's the baseball game in the forest clearing. I didn't enjoy Meyer's account, but it looks great on the big screen! And Muse's Supermassive Black Hole is the perfect track for this sequence.

Best of all, you get a glimpse of each Cullen's personality. I've just finished Book 3, so Jasper is really growing on me. :)

Final verdict: 6.5 / 10

While some readers - like L :) - may prefer not to see the movie, I fall into the category that usually wants to see film adaptations, mainly so I'll have a reason to grouch about it afterwards, heh.

I will definitely catch New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn when they're released. Hopefully, a new director will result in a better end-product. Make sure you keep Robert Pattinson on the pay roll!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Only 1 More Day To Go

I just love YouTube. :)

Twilight opens here Thursday. Am all ready to catch the first morning show, free of charge thanks to my stash of movie vouchers.

It's easy to understand all the hype surrounding the film. Here's part 2 of the Tyra Banks interview, featuring Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner ( the latter plays werewolf Jacob ). I'm no teenager, but found myself laughing nonetheless!

The one Pattinson did with Jay Leno is also great. He's full of good humour here, almost giggly at times, and fellow guest Heidi Klum proved to be quite a sidekick with her witty jokes. I just don't understand what's up with that hair of his. The person who styled it just before he got on-stage must be cursing, haha.

New scenes have been added as well, most importantly the pivotal one where Edward saves Bella from being crushed by a schoolmate's van. Makes much more sense than the author's lengthy discourse in the book.

D.I.Y. New Moon trailers are flooding the Net -- obviously not actual footage from the sequel, which HASN'T EVEN BEGUN FILMING YET, HELLO. But you have to give the fans credit for their creativity, as long as you can get over the cheesy prose ( grammatical errors a bonus ) and shots from The Covenant.
There's even one for Book 3, Eclipse, which is surprisingly good.

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers has been raving about the movie, so I'm confident I'll enjoy it ( he liked Wanted too ). Like I've mentioned before, Stephenie Meyer's weak writing practically guarantees the film adaptation will be superior since it omits most of Bella's mushy love-sick obsessions.

Am in the process of finishing Eclipse before moving on to Breaking Dawn, while juggling countless other commitments. Will be glad when I'm done with the series so I can get some sleep, heh.

A review will follow soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Year In Review

It's been another marvelous one. I'm starting to worry that things go downhill at some point, but for now, I'm enjoying myself. :)

Aside from the usual annoyances ( mostly work-related ), it's been great in many other ways. I visited a country so rich in history and culture it was a truly magical experience; I made lots of new friends from across the globe, caught a truckload of great concerts and got to meet Peter Cincotti again; plus, I've made significant progress in my career, scoring firsts in a few areas.

I've also kept in touch with old acquaintances, especially those I met through blogging. And 2008 was a bumper year in terms of excellent books, films and TV shows!

Last but not least, a new addition to the family in the form of a beautiful cat, whom I already love dearly.

The Year Ahead

There's much to look forward to. July will include a long holiday to a region I've dreamt of for years ( France is now out of the equation as I refuse to interact with the Paris Fashion Week and Tour de France mobs ). Haven't quite decided whether to divulge my destination just yet, but it's probably going to be freezing.

September will allow me to return to Sydney, this time for a medical conference which I'm very excited about. I hated my last trip to the city ( mostly because I came down with food poisoning during my 2 days there ), so I intend to soak in the sights and sounds during this 2nd round. A dolphin-watching cruise is a must for me. :)

Then there's The Bridge Project's staging of The Winter's Tale, of which Kevin Spacey is a collaborator. I'm wondering if he'll be curious enough to visit Singapore during its run here. Long shot, but not impossible.

Will also be hosting a professor from Mt. Sinai Hospital during his HMDP visiting expert programme. I met him once last year in Manhattan, and can't wait to see him again. He's internationally renowned but so humble and friendly. I have no doubt he will be a huge hit with the local medical community.

Back To Normal Programming

Rented a few DVDs recently, of which 3 deserve special mention.

The Other Boleyn Girl, which stars Natalie Portman ( Anne Boleyn ), Scarlett Johansson ( Mary Boleyn ) and Eric Bana ( King Henry ) completely skewered the novel, taking severe liberties with everything from the sequence of events to dialogue and characters. The main problem lies in squashing 600 pages of political intrigue into less than 2 hours of Hollywood cheesiness. There is nothing redeeming in the film adaptation, which suffers from wooden acting, a laughable script, poorly executed scenes and a lack of continuity ( e.g. Mary's second husband, William Stafford, is never given a proper introduction, appearing from out of nowhere to propose to her ).
Obviously, the book is 1000 times better.

Definitely, Maybe - I borrowed this at a friend's recommendation ( L, you may recall mentioning this to me previously ), and ended up liking it quite a bit. Although Ryan Reynolds isn't one of my favourite actors, he delivers a very satisfying performance as a political campaign manager with a young daughter, recalling 3 past romances in the form of a bed-time story.
What elevates the film above run-of-the-mill fluff is the script. At one point, a couple discusses the concept of soul-mates, and how, in many instances, it isn't who you meet that matters, but when you meet. Because if you're not at a point in your life where you're ready to commit, nothing will happen.
I totally agree.

There's also a scene where Reynolds' character does something for one of the women -- a small gesture, but extremely significant because of its underlying meaning. Again, something I completely identify with, although no guy has succeeded in really blowing me away with such an act... yet. :)

Martian Child - this one, I highly recommend, especially if you're a diehard John Cusack fan like me. He's been taking on more emotionally demanding roles recently, with electrifying results. I last saw him in tortured mode in 1408 ( a so-so film at most ). Martian Child, on the other hand, is a real treasure. I don't know how faithful it is to the novel it's based on, but the script is warm and witty, the actors perfectly cast, and the scenes expertly directed.
Cusack turns in one of the best performances of his career ( quite close to Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything ) as a widow who adopts a troubled young boy and manages to make a breakthrough. What I find interesting is how Cusack has such wonderful chemistry with kids even though he has none of his own. I also suspect his private life has undergone some turmoil in the past few years, as evidenced by a more haggard look and some major emoting in his latest projects.
The scene that really got to me is the one where Cusack's character's old dog suddenly drops dead. He sits on the bed, dazed for a few seconds, then breaks down and sobs helplessly. If you watch the movie, you'll understand that he isn't just crying over a pet, but over his beloved wife as well.
I also enjoy the bits where he shares the screen with his real-life sister, Joan. The two of them have appeared in many films together over the decades, and the mutual affection really shows.
He's just so terribly underrated. Wish he'd win an Oscar and show them all.

Before I sign off, my perspective on Prof. Lee Wei Ling's Sunday Review piece about medicine being a calling, not a career.

I always enjoy reading her opinions, because let's face it, she's the only doctor in Singapore who can whack the profession without fearing any repercussions. And speaking from personal experience, I agree with many of her comments.

Still, I expect laymen to form certain judgments because of the way her remarks are phrased. It seemed to me that she was targeting those in private practice, whether it's the abolishment of the guidelines on fees, or the triumph of greed over integrity.

I've heard numerous stories over the years, and nothing is ever that clear cut. Not everyone leaves the public sector for monetary gains alone, although a large number do. Many are driven away by intolerable working conditions -- long hours, lack of recognition, slow career advancement, sparse training opportunities. When one becomes disillusioned, sometimes the easiest way out is private practice, where you can be your own boss and feel better just by earning lots more money. It isn't necessarily selling out, but what your threshold for suffering is.

While there are those who think nothing of fleecing ignorant patients so they can purchase that flashy new sports car, others end up returning to public hospitals after a few years following a change of heart ( I know a few of these doctors ).

In Prof. Mohamed Khadra's book, Making The Cut: A Surgeon's Stories Of Life On The Edge, there's a chapter about a surgeon who started out as the best in his discipline, only to spiral out of control in later years. He couldn't cope with his packed schedule, causing serious complications and handling them with a cavalier attitude. But it wasn't just about making more money. He merely pushed himself too hard and didn't know when was enough.

I know one such surgeon, once a highly regarded expert in his field, who became overconfident and picked the wrong patient to cause post-op complications in. Suffice to say, he was promptly demoted, then left for a lucrative private setup, only to cause more complications thanks to the lack of regulation ( unlike the anal M&M rounds public hospitals are obsessed with ). A friend of mine became a guinea pig of his and ended up bleeding out a few days later, requiring a week of hospitalization ( Changi General ) and a massive clean-up of the mess this once meticulous surgeon left behind.
I don't know how he could've deteriorated this badly -- after all, my own mother was treated by him 10 years ago, with superb results. It's just really sad.

Other examples of black sheep in restructured hospitals? If you know how to suck up to the right people and cover your tracks, you've got it made. I see it all the time -- MO trainees who miss diagnoses, refuse to see my referrals and give me attitude, getting awards for being outstanding in their chosen disciplines. Err, didn't that guy miss a cord compression last week, which I overrode and admitted? Where's the accountability?!

Then there's an oncologist who's won awards and gives great soundbites to eager reporters, going on about doing good for humanity, blah blah blah. I only recall him once telling me that the greatest motivation for his research is getting a patent and making money from it.

Just yesterday, one of my consultants asked me, "If you could do it all again, would you be doing this?" as we fought the never-ending battle of clearing the post-holiday weekend crowd. I hesitated for only a split second, answering with a resounding "Yes". He didn't seem convinced, and I don't blame him. But I was telling the truth, and even my own reply surprised me. I suppose there's some masochistic streak egging me on, but for now at least, it's also an indication that I made the right choice, and I only hope it can sustain me for the rest of my career.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Really Short One

1) Congratulations to Jason Mraz for getting a Grammy nomination for Song Of The Year!

Although I think it's for the wrong song ( I'm Yours ). Love For A Child is so much more deserving.

2) A YouTube clip of an interview Robert Pattinson did with Tyra Banks. Go to the 2:35 mark if you'd like to see the highlight of this segment ( won't spoil it with a description here ). It's even better than the one he did with Ellen DeGeneres! My mom was so tickled by this. :D

3) My new cat arrived 2 weeks ago, and has been an absolute joy to me. We adopted him from SPCA, he's a few months shy of 3 years old, and HUGE. I get breathless picking him up, but he shares many of my previous cat's traits, most notably crawling up to my pillow and cuddling next to my neck / shoulder.

Work's been a lot more tolerable since I got him. :)

Will write more next time. Dinner awaits.