3 spoilery thoughts about Rogue One

I saw Rogue One today. It was a bloated appetiser of a movie, quite fun but substanceless.

  1. Given that the key part of the movie depicted a mission whose success gave hope to the entire free galaxy, the import of that mission was strangely downplayed. It came across as something the heroes did out of personal defiance, rather than out of commitment to some great cause. The reason some others later joined the mission was never convincing. At some point near the end, it became obvious that the mission was one of the suicide variety, but even that realisation was strangely devoid of feeling. The script did not give Felicity Jones and Diego Luna much to work with, and the silent looks and gestures which made up the bulk of their dialogue then emphasised what to me was a lack of chemistry.
  2. Cynical me thought Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen were in the movie purely to attract into cinemas people of a similar colour, of which there are hordes, the size of which guarantees heaps of profit no matter the quality of the film. Nothing I saw made me revise that thought. The two played guardians of a destroyed temple, Yen a staff-wielding blind man who seemed to retain an almost comical faith in the Force, Jiang his burly laser shotgun-toting buddy. There was chemistry between the two of them, but only between the two of them, there being no meaningful dialogue between them and the others on the mission, which could have been a concession to their lack of fluency in English, though I doubt it because (i) at least Yen spent considerable time in the US when he was in his teens and (ii) subtitles are a thing. The script simply left the audience to fill in their motivations.
  3. Apart from the poor script, I think two other things will stay with me. One is the new droid, used for both comic relief and emotion heft, and of course merchandise sales. Two is the cut-through-swathe-of-minions performance at the end by the imposingly helmeted one, voiced by James Earl Jones. It was a thrill to hear him.

P/S. The young Carrie Fisher – or maybe it was an older Carrie Fisher, with the appropriate digital enhancements – made a cameo appearance. I never knew her beyond the Star Wars movies. I did not know she was a writer, or known for being open about her mental illness and therefore bringing awareness to and banishing taboo from the same. She seems to have done good that will last beyond her time.

Hero, and more from the list of stuff I’ve been wanting to blog about

I watched Hero with a friend at the theatre today. My friend had a craving for popcorn, and the movie was as fluffy as the popcorn that the friend got. There was no danger to the protagonist or anyone I cared for, and no danger that the culprit would get away, and so the movie kept my attention because it was like an extra-long episode of a cherished TV series, and I had wanted to spend more time with the characters, who were all so reliably themselves (even though I barely remembered all but the most prominent). And later, at an unremarkable cafe very near my place, my pal and I discussed the difference between Japanese dramas and Korean dramas, which have taken over the place of the former in many TV viewers’ hearts. My pal said that the good Japanese dramas (those shown in Singapore anyway) tend to be episodic, with characters who stay in their roles and do not develop, while Korean dramas – though formulaic in that the people who matter are always inter-related in some often perverse way – tell stories better than Japanese dramas. I wonder what sort of love stories the Japanese make nowadays.

***

I got hooked onto this story/song a while back – a long time ago, back when I was living in Bishan. It’s about a forlorn and steadfast and ultimately fruitless wait. Condensed in these few minutes is much more than the contents of many movies.

***

This song, I got introduced to more recently, indirectly by the pal who took a class in which she was introduced to Joni Mitchell. I had thought “A Case of You” referred to some illness or affliction – like a case of rabies. Recently I realised that Joni Mitchell was comparing “You” to a case of wine. So, addiction then. She has an amazing way of performing the song, strumming that zither-like string instrument in her blithe way, but I think my favourite version is Diana Krall’s.

This is the same Diana Krall of course (I never get tired of telling this story) who had an outdoors concert in Singapore on the weekend of the first F1 race ever held here. The concert was in Fort Canning, on the Friday, when qualifications or test drives took place. On the evening of the concert, the rain had stopped an hour or so earlier, and the field in front of the erected stage was muddy and the collapsible chairs just about in their rows. And that was when I learned that yes, the zooming whines of each and every car at the Padang could be heard all the way at Fort Canning, the aggravation and discordance of each squealing squelch of tyres somehow made worse by the distance. Possibly because of this, Ms Krall was not happy. At one point, she said something along the lines of, I think I just swallowed a bug, and I’m not even kidding. I can’t quite remember what she sang that evening.

***

The coffee in the cafe was quite mediocre – too milky.

***

The latest indication that I’ve been reading via the smartphone too much, in addition to (a) turning to the next page of a magazine made from wood pulp by sliding the edge of the current page and (b) looking at the top of the page to see the current time, is that, reading a Chinese book by this Taiwanese singer/poet strewn with her photographs, when I saw one I wished was larger, the first thing that came to my mind was to double-tap it to enlarge.

***

Had passable beef noodles – well, actually the beef and beef soup were passable and I didn’t really eat the noodles – at LeNu for lunch, but I may have been slightly unfair, since I had just had some superb Mum-cooked Hokkien noodles (thick rings of fresh sotong, succulent shrimp, thin strips/slices of pork belly, yellow noodles and thin rice vermicelli, stir-fried to perfection in some prawn stock and stuff) around 10am. The beef noodles, and the friend’s enthusiastic recommendations about Taipei food, got me sort of keen (that’s the extent of my passion these days) to head to Taiwan soon. I remember Taiwan from several visits in uniform half a life ago, and a more recent trip during which I discovered one of my five favourite places in the world (another is Monterey Bay Aquarium): an eslite bookstore, open till late, woody and welcoming of browsers, a reminder of when I was curiouser and less weighed down by self-imposed loads, altogether younger.

Miscellany

I love Diana Krall’s cover of “Just the way you are”. I find that it shares its sentiment of an abiding reassurance to one’s longtime and maybe somewhat inevitably neglected loved one with a Chinese song – 黄韵玲’s 喜欢你现在的样子 (the song name translates to something like “Like how you are now”).

***

A couple of concepts that struck a chord with me:

1. Cesar Hidalgo’s idea of “personbyte” i.e. the full person’s worth of knowledge, which I came across reading Tim Harford’s post about the importance of harnessing teamwork and collaboration in today’s complex economies.

2. Resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues

***

Bought my pal durian a week or so ago. Made my week when she and her family enjoyed them.

***

I recently saw a pillion-rider scrolling through her smartphone while the motorcycle she was on weaved through some sedate traffic. That is some serious addiction, I thought. Plus my own smartphone is too oily for me to confidently do that. Then another time I passed by Chong Pang in a cab. This was either early morning or late, late in the evening. The shops were closed. Under the dark sky, silhouetted against the fluorescent white of the HDB corridors, was a man lying on his back on a bench. His face was aglow with the light from his smartphone, which he looked up at, rapt.

***

I came across this line in a 陈绮贞 book: 生活习性越来越肖似的恋人. Loosely translated, the line means lovers whose habits become more and more alike. And I got to thinking about my pal and her soon-to-be-husband.

***

Watched Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool within a few days of each other. Both were entertaining, but while Hail, Caesar! had an intriguing mystery and fun set-pieces and some engrossing acting, Deadpool had a heart. An incorrigibly tasteless, good-for-nothing bum-with-a-sex-joke-a-second sort of heart, but a heart nonetheless. I enjoyed Deadpool more.

Miscellany (12 Aug 2013)

The distance between armchairs at lunch and scenes from Before Midnight

A few days ago I had lunch with a colleague. This was again at the TCC at Central, with the mini armchairs that always make me wish I could settle more deeply into one but that would end up with me too far from the table and the meal and definitely too far for conversation. Come to think of it, this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks store – hm… “store” seems not particularly suitable for a Starbucks place; let’s use “location”, which is antiseptically neutral but accurate enough – this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks location in Singapore, which nowadays feels packed and spacious at the same time and is sprinkled with comfy yet low-maintenance sofas and armchairs and a place to feel like you want to feel comfortable in, but it’s tough because the instinct is to sit opposite each other, which places you too far apart, and sitting next to each other results in the sort of dynamic that also happens when two people watch a movie, which is similarly side-by-side self-directed focused enjoyment of the scenes unfolding before you, which only occasionally merit staccato bursts of mutual sideways looks and exchanges for the purpose of ascertaining that the other person feels the same way about the scene that you do. (There were lots of these when my pal and I watched Before Midnight, whose script I found topnotch and intensely engrossing. There is the opening scene where Jesse sends off his son with entirely and understandably too many promises. And then there is the scene in which Jesse and Celine drive back to their Greek holiday villa and quarrel the way significant others who can plot out the meanders of each other’s lines of argument quarrel, during which Jesse eats a half-eaten green apple which one of his twin daughters have yet to finish and said daughter wakes up and blearily asks for said half-eaten green apple and in so doing keeps the quarrel from boiling over. Then come the scenes of Greek meal preparation in which Celine helps her hosts stuff peppers with stuff that made me hungry, interspersed with scenes of Jesse testing the (pretentious) concepts for his next novel with an old fellow writer and a couple of fans, and then the dinner scene in which various models of love (including the model in which both parties know break-up is certain at some point in time, being young and independent and having no need for the sort of committed companionship and partnership that marriage is) and couplehood (including the model in which the party who dies second continues to think of what the party who dies first would say if he is still around) are discussed and bickered over and there is the continuation of the couple’s quarrel in the car, leading to a sharp rise in temperature then a very welcome drop in same as those around the table deftly conduct some reconciliation and set up the finale (Celine’s and Jesse’s hosts insisting on taking care of the twins while the couple enjoy a night at this hotel). Then there are the long takes where Celine and Jesse just walk and talk and walk and talk as if we are not there (in a way that movies, which by definition presuppose an audience, are usually too self-aware to show), and the scene in which Celine and Jesse check into the hotel and Jesse is asked to autograph some books by a fan and Celine too and Jesse obliges and Celine doesn’t want to until Jesse says out loud that yes Celine would be happy to and she does so in a way that hides her true fury from the fan and sends a clear message to her husband. Then comes the climax-which-felt-like-it-lasted-half-the-movie, in which the quarrel escalates into an emotionally violent argument with its own rhythm and plot about sex and gender roles and one partner’s success and guilt which is absurd yet raw and real, and lastly the scene in which there is some much longed-for time travel. There were points where my pal and I laughed together, and winced and cringed and flinched together, and after it ended, I felt – in no particular order – deeply relieved, tired and satisfied yet determined not to put myself through this movie again, solidly impressed with the chemistry and generosity of the actors in working out the script and then in acting out the script, and oddly optimistic about the future of Celine and Jesse as a couple.)

***

Crime book dichotomies

And I had thought that we discussed it during the lunch, but now I remember that the colleague and I had discussed books on the way to lunch. She asked what I was doing that long weekend – I said reading and spring cleaning, the latter of which I haven’t done, at all – and she then asked what books I liked to read and mentioned she liked crime books by James Patterson and Jeffrey Deaver and I replied I read crime books too but preferred PD James and Ruth Rendell and stumbled over myself trying to articulate the differences I saw in the crime books she liked and the ones I liked and, after dropping the too easy and slightly inaccurate action vs. procedural dichotomy, arrived at the international/cosmopolitan vs. little town/village dichotomy.  (And after reading Ruth Rendell’s dense and quite brilliant Harm Done, whose commentary on a vulnerable class (battered women, and women in general to a lesser extent) reminded me of Donna Leon’s The Golden Egg (which focused on one horrendously treated child), I find I have to consider also the popcorn plot vs. social commentary dichotomy.)

***

Love = capable of causing pain

Before Midnight came up again in a discussion with another colleague – we had exchanged books (Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl for me and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for her) – who, after I mentioned the movie required a lot of emotional investment and was raw and not something I’d want to watch again, said it sounded so sad. I thought about that a bit, and concluded that for me the movie is not sad overall, but certainly the parts where Celine and Jesse show that each knows exactly where the other has poorly healed wounds to messily and thoroughly unscab – those parts are sad in the sense people who love each other so deeply are in the best position to cause that commensurate pain and sometimes fully aware they do just that, harshly jerking away the scabs and precisely salting the exposed parts.

***

7/8

This year, 7 Aug came with some warning – in that it was the day before a four-day weekend and therefore had stuck in my mind for other reasons than the usual, which I have more or less forgotten – and perhaps leading up to the day I had thought however fleetingly about what that date used to mean to me, so on the day itself I found myself humming 优客李林’s 输了你,赢了世界又如何, which had come out around the time the date meant the most.

***

A three-inch diameter ear-stud

Recently I got a seat on the MRT on the way to work. And while listening to my favourite podcast on my ear-buds (which by the way is an activity I seem to have become addicted to; I think the fundamental attraction to me is the ability to choose the world I alone want to experience), I saw this chap – possibly from Anderson Junior College; he looked the right age and had on trousers of the right colour and possibly the appropriate insignia – with what I thought were clear plastic headphones which turned out to be a gigantic hoop ear-stud (I only saw/paid attention to his left ear). Yup, it looked like he had on a ear-stud – which I always thought was some inconspicuous mini-thing to keep one’s earring-hole open – that was essentially a three-inch diameter hoop, I kid you not. It was surreal looking through the ear-hoop and seeing clear through to where his neck connected to his collar. I thought that was quite bizarre, and could his school condone it, but maybe he liked it.

***

Some much-needed self-bashing

I have become less and less appreciative of my folks, I’m afraid – plain choosy about my dinner, for example, asking Mum to cook me some noodles when she’d already painstakingly prepared rice and perfectly adequate dishes to go along with it. So the other day I came home, and she showed me that she had fried some rice, and I stared at it, reflexively thinking up reasons to reject it in favour of some noodles – I love noodles – including, I remember, complaining in my mind that the egg in the fried rice was too clumpy and not scrambled enough. I went to take a shower without either committing to the rice or saying I’d like some noodles, please, and after some well-deserved self-bashing came out and ate up two bowls of the rice, which was not the best but yummy enough. I need to be more self-bashing in this aspect of my life :)

***

Airsless people

Few people I know are totally without airs – I’ve met a President’s scholar a few years younger than me who was, and there is this high-ranking civil servant and former boss who is – and the other day I bumped into the latter at a stairs landing in Hong Lim Food Centre after I had bought my breakfast, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me and spend those next few minutes with me to find out how I was doing, to the extent that, although people using the landing had to go around us, it felt as if he was perfectly focused on talking with me. That was a great start to the day.

***

Dear cab-driver, I wish you well…

I was going to work on a cab the other day. (Yes, this peasant princeling enjoys such uneconomical luxuries.) At around the same time I was thinking how new the cab was, the driver said that I was his first customer for this cab, and that he’d gotten it only the day before, after which he had driven his wife and two children (I think it’s two) around in the cab. He had only been driving a cab for a few months, and he was previously with TransCab (he was now driving a ComfortDelGro Hyundai Sonata), and his was among the last batch of Sonatas and the next batches would be i40s, he said. He said he did not like driving a cab – it was a lot of pressure, having to deal with different customers and not knowing which kind he was going to get next. A couple of his friends had gotten into trouble because of customer complaints already. He much preferred his previous job as a container truck-driver, which he felt he and other Singaporeans had been pushed out of because of PRC drivers, which he said he perfectly understood because that’s what someone else would do if he was in the boss’s position, and because the job paid by the trip and more and more the PRC drivers were getting the trips because they were cheaper, he could see how the inevitable would happen and had decided to quit, and his friend and fellow container truck-driver had talked it out with the boss but to no avail. He said that was why he asked his daughters (I think) to study hard and to his understated pride it was clear that they were doing well in school. I noted that his boss should be finding it harder to get good container truck-drivers and he said yes in fact his boss had called him to ask him to go back, but he had asked if his friends and former colleagues had been asked to as well and the boss had said no, and therefore he had decided not to go back, even though his friends had told him he should, because – he explained – he was the sort of person who didn’t like others to think that he had made some side arrangement with his former boss. I’m afraid I hounded him on this – perhaps you need not be so focused on what others think or say, I said; this is a job you like, I said; and which pays better etc. etc., I could have said – but he was adamant and appeared totally at peace with his decision and keen to continue on his current path to the best of his ability. Then we arrived at my destination, and I paid him and wished him well, and he wished me well, and said he hoped his other customers would be like me, and I slid over to the curbside and stepped out and closed the door and he drove off.

I hope he is doing well, this cab-driver.

***

One day, on my way to work…

Outside the MRT gates, I saw a man casually dressed in jeans and a light-coloured shirt at the side of the gates watching someone go up the escalator to the MRT platform. In Chinese, this would be described as 目送, literally “eye send” – as in using one’s eyes to send someone off. He watched and watched, and then finally turned away and, I think, caught me watching him and smiled a little smile.

The Grandmaster

I’ve enjoyed Wong Kar Wai films, but The Grandmaster made me think he’s fundamentally unbalanced – able to piece together beautiful compositions of colour and shape and texture and movement (I happened to like the fight scenes) and often capable of drawing out terrific bouts of acting (thought the last scene of dialogue where Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung sat facing each other was superb acting), but almost callously unconcerned about the aesthetic of pace and plot. Zhang Zhen’s cameo – a ridiculously engaging bit of comedy – was sadly wasted.

Sometimes a careful curation of scenes work, especially with the appropriate captions; this time, the curator lacked care and the collection was far from whole.

Musings & brilliant Starbucks customer service

1. For the second time in just over two years, I was in Melbourne on work. I was slightly more used to the place this time, and didn’t mind wandering around by myself as much. I had good pho at Mekong, visited Nobu a couple of times and realised the truth behind the advice to enjoy the best in life in moderation and remembered, while walking around one of the mini-marts near the hotel (or was this in Narita or Los Angeles? Darn – now I think it was in Narita, just passing through, when I was being nasty to an acquaintance-colleague) and coming across a display of Dove chocolates, that I used to adore those two-square packages of melt-in-your-mouth roof-of-the-mouth-laving luxury. Now I don’t.

2. Increasingly, I don’t know where to get good caffe latte in Singapore. In general, Starbucks’s has weak foam and no espresso kick. I now have almost all my lattes at Bakerzin – at least the foam there is consistently thick and the taste of espresso occasionally surfaces.

3. Starbucks has BRILLIANT customer service though. I have an egg-white wrap (double-toasted) and a venti iced coffee with a dash of milk nearly everyday at its branch at The Central, and the folks behind the counter there are unfailingly smiley even when they are really busy. (They remember my “usual”, heh.) When absent-minded me lost two Starbucks cards (basically stored-value cards which can be registered at the Starbucks web site and topped up), Starbucks allowed for the cards to be de-registered (i.e. made unusable, preserving the value in the cards), sent an email to say they were sorry I lost my cards, replaced the cards and allowed me to transfer my unused $$ over to the new cards. I didn’t expect all that! This reminds me: I need to put something on its Facebook page.

4. I wanted to write about this before it won all those Oscars, but I really enjoyed The Artist. I thought it was a vision sumptuously, painstakingly, lovingly and comprehensively realised :) (Though, to be very honest, I still think it’s gimmicky :p)

pieces of media

I realise I haven’t been blogging a lot, and while work and a general malaise of tiredness and lack of inspiration has been the main reasons, the following engrossing pieces of media have also contributed :) 

This one looks like a video game-inspired musing on the importance of open communication.  Loved the ending :)

This one is just GORGeous… and pushes a lot of my long-dormant “visual literacy” buttons.  (I used to, long ago now, study communication, and visual literacy was a concept we learnt early.)  I also enjoyed the sense of camaraderie among the three friends :)

stuff I bought or got and haven’t read or watched

It’s the season of gifts and excess, so I thought I’d count my blessings a little bit, just to see if it helps me ease off spending money on and otherwise collecting stuff I don’t use.  So I bought/got and haven’t read/watched

  • Lost in Translation – from what I heard, starring a brilliant Bill Murray.
  • Norwegian Wood – translated from Haruki Murakami’s Japanese original.  I’d read a Chinese translation halfway through, and I found it occasionally evocative but generally bland.  A colleague mentioned that a lousy Chinese translation was floating around, and another passed me the English one to try.
  • The Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge) – always wanted to read it.  Now it looks intimidating.  See this interesting review.
  • The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) – I read “Fooled by Randomness” and I found Nassim Taleb full of himself, too much so for me.  And then I came across his home page.  And my opinion of him remained, but at least now he seems a genuinely full-of-himself person.  And somehow that makes me more eager – just slightly so, but still – to read “The Black Swan”.
  • Think! (Edward de Bono) – also, according to my long-legged friend, who lent me the book, full of himself, is Mr de Bono.
  • Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) – First heard of the man with his first name in his last name while I was studying communication in university, some of the best times of my life.  I suspect my getting the book was at least partly an attempt to retrieve those times.
  • Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) – I guess if I liked poetry I’d like Walt Whitman.  Or Pablo Neruda.  Or Ted Hughes.  *Sigh*
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski) – I do want to read this book.  But I got the hard-cover version.  And it’s thicker than my thigh.  Ok I lie.  I’ll read it soon.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers) – I like McSweeney’s, which Dave Eggers founded.  I think his talk on winning the TED prize was amazing.  I think his “What is the What” would be a good read too.  But I shall try to finish that heartbreaking work of staggering genius first.

Yes, I have too much stuff.  Time to get down to some reading.

BlackAdder

One can watch the entire Blackadder series (all four seasons) on YouTube here.  If you like British humour and convoluted similes that reward deciphering like a drink of iced tea rewards a parched throat, you’ll like this.  I especially enjoyed the fourth season :)

P/S.  Oh, I should probably mention that the series features early Rowan Atkinson (who’s unquestionably better in Blackadder than he is in Mr Bean; I do think Mr Bean’s sort of humour is appreciated by a larger audience though) and Hugh Laurie (I am one of many many many who enjoy him in House) and Stephen Fry (whose name used to be as inseparable from Laurie’s as sugar, coffee powder and milk powder that have been thoroughly blended in warm water), though I tend to think the writing, rather than the acting, is the part that makes Blackadder most worth straining your eyeballs.

Ally

Well, so a colleague very kindly introduced me to Aimee Mann just this evening.  When I mentioned that I liked Sarah McLachlan, she said that I might like Rachael Yamagata’s “I Wish You Love”.  So I searched for “Rachael Yamagata” on YouTube, and I saw that she sang “River”.

At first I was entranced by the singing, but then I got the sense that she was yawning while she was singing, or otherwise trying to sound a little different, and while the effect wasn’t half-bad I thought it too pretentious.  So I decided to search for another “River” that I remembered sounding a little different too, which led me to Robert Downey Jr’s.  The cello’s deadly sad.

Then I saw a link I had to click, given that I’d just realised how talented Mr Downey is.

And then I saw another one.  And I cried a bit watching it.

P/S.  I so totally enjoyed watching Ally McBeal and listening to Vonda Shepard and the Christmas songs – especially the Christmas songs :)