Movie : Office

This is a really delightful musical drama. Co-produced by Johnnie To (who also directed) and Sylvia Chang (one of my favourite actresses), this film also stars well-known singer Eason Chan and Tang Wei (another of my favourite actresses). Superstar Chow Yun Fat makes a special appearance as the chairman of a big company, Jones & Sunn. The music and the many songs are written by veteran singer-songwriter Lo Ta-yu and lyricist Lin Xi. The script is adapted from a stage play that Chang co-wrote.

The film is also visually appealing : from both the exterior and inside of the majestic office building (called Jones & Sunn Tower) to the train station and its platform.

The office is a place of conflicting interests and complicated relationships. The main characters are the two interns (Lee Xiang and Kat Ho), the chairman (Chow), the CEO (Chang), the smooth-talking executive (Chan) and the dedicated worker (Tang). A large part of the story is told through music and songs, although there are also some clever lines that stick to my mind:

“People smoke when they are happy; people smoke when they are unhappy. Why?”

“Everything is the same everywhere – there’s adversity everywhere.”

“Some things I don’t know, some things I don’t want to know; if I want to know, won’t I know?”

“Mutual love means keeping promises which are mutual.”

And my favourite: “Carpe diem!”

I thoroughly enjoyed all the songs by all the actors (and there are so many I lost count), especially the solos of Eason Chan and Sylvia Chang and the duets between Chan and Tang Wei. What a treat! I imagine a stage production with the same cast would cost at least fifty times more than the price of a cinema ticket. What’s more, the accompanying musicians (notably the pianist, violinist, cellist, harpist and the entire orchestra) are featured in one scene!

I look forward to watching more good musical dramas at the cinema!

Book : Life Beyond the Big Top by Adele Wong

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This photo book is supported by the Singapore Memory Project as part of the SG50 Celebrations and captures the history of the Tai Thean Kew Circus, a once-great Chinese Circus established in Singapore in 1929. The collection of photographs and surviving props and costumes that make up this visual documentation belong to Mdm Sze Ling Fen and Mr Wong Fu Qi, lead performers of the circus. It is written by their granddaughter, Adele Wong. At the launch of the book (which was attended by both grandparents), Adele gave an insight of how she came to write this book. Her grandparents also explained (and gave a little demonstration) of some of the props they brought to the event.

The book is divided into six sections : Beginnings (A Chinese Circus), Post War Pinnacle (A Malayan Circus), Man Versus Beast (Four Footed Circus Family), Offstage (The Personal Lives of Circus Folks), After The Circus ( A Husband and Wife Team) and Retirement (A Full Time Affair).

In each section, there are many photographs and documents, with clear and crisp write-ups and footnotes to explain them. These give a glimpse of the perfoeming legacy of the circus, a big part of entertainment culture in Singapore and Malaysia between the 1930s and the 1980s. They also make for an intimate and exclusive presentation.

Being of a certain age, I enjoy the section on Retirement best, especially as it is hailed as “a full time affair”. Besides the many colourful photographs of props and costumes, there are also adorable pictures of the author as a toddler. These photographs show her being the favourite “toy” of her grandparents as they display their acrobatic skills. There are four full pages of photographs of her grandparents from the days of their youth to the present. The grandparents met as teenagers in the Tai Thean Kew Circus in 1948 and have enjoyed a stable relationship. (Yes, they revealed snippets of their courtship days during the launch, much to the delight of the audience!) They are now in their 80s and enjoying their retirement : finding joy in the mundane, staying active and occupied with community centre activiteis and socialising in their neighbourhood. They enjoy taking strolls together, visiting the hawker centres for delicious food, going to the wet market for fresh produce and travelling occasionally. One of his favourite hobbies is playing Chinese chess with other elderly enthusiasts (not the Digital chess games on flate screen tablets): hers include dance lessons, soft tennis lessons, mahjong lessons and cooking. They now lead well-deserved peaceful, calm and satisfying lives away from the limelight. Ahh! The joys of retirement!

Movie : The Trouble With Harry (DVD)

This is a 1955 movie based on a novel by Jack Trevor Story, directed by Afred Hitchcock and introduces the young and pretty Shirley MacLaine who is the 1983 Oscar winner of the Best Actress award.

The opening scene is beautiful – it’s autumn in the countryside, and the open field is a riot of colours : green, yellow, orange, red and gold.

First to appear is Captain Albert Wiles who, while hunting, thought he shot Harry. How did a harmless potshot at a rabbit become a murder?

Who is Harry? What is the truth about Harry? And what is the Trouble?

Then Mrs Ivy Gravely appears, and she thinks she killed Harry because she hit him very hard with her shoes as she is annoyed with his pestering.

Other characters are Mrs Jennifer Rogers (Harry’s wife), Arnie (Jennifer’s 4-year-old son), Mrs Wiggs (who owns the Wiggs Emporium), Sam Marlow (the artist whose paintings Mrs Wiggs try to sell), Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Mrs Wiggs’ son) and Dr Greenbow (who certifires the true cause of Harry’s death at the end).

These characters bring with them romance, humour and suspense. This movie was made a decade before I was born, but I find it to be a charming comedy mystery which is lacking in today’s movies.

Book : Deep Freeze by Lisa Jackson

Having enjoyed a number of books by Jackson in the last few years, I decided to read Deep Freeze, a “terrifying story of spellbinding suspense”.

The story is about a killer who only kills in the winter. The tone is already set at the beginning: “It seems that things always get worse when the temperature drops”.

Jenna Hughes is the most famous resident of Falls Crossings, where the ex-movie actress went after her divorce to escape the paparazzi of Hollywood. She needs some time and space for herself and her two daughters and for a chance to be a regular mom. Yet she cannot shake off the sensation that soomething is about to happen: something that she wouldn’t like, something intimately evil. The first clues are when the items she donates to the local theatre – a ring, earrings, two bracelets, scarf, a pair of sunglasses, three pairs of shoes and a black dress – disappear mysteriously. She always feels that she is being followed, even before she receives a creepy note that says:

You are every woman.

Sensual. strong. Erotic.

You are one woman.

Searching. Wanting. Waiting.

You are my woman.

Today. Tomorrow. Endlessly.

I will come for you.

This is from an obsessive fan, who is an unbalanced person, psychotic, an abductor of women, a madman and a pervert. Frozen bodies of his victims (all women shaved bald and given a smile like Jenna’s) are found before this culprit is hunted down. Who is he? He “prided himself upon being a near-perfect specimen, a man any woman would want, a man who only wanted one woman, a man who intends to have that one, unique woman, a man who intends to have that woman soon”. He could be any of the good-looking men in town, even the helpful neighbour.

This book is gripping enough, but I think other books that I’ve read by Jackson (eg Mystery Man, The Night Before, Twice Kissed, If She Only Knew, His Bride to Be, Born To Die, Absolute Fear, Almost Dead, Zachary’s Law and How She Dies) are comparable, if not better. After this, I shall take a break from this genre and read something entirely different.

 

Movie : Everest

Usually a movie that is based on a true story (or true events) will entice me to watch it, whatever the subject. This movie is about an affluent group of adventure seekers who are left fighting for their lives on a climb to the world’s highest mountain in 1996. Publicity materials also mention co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’s Oscar-nominated 127 Hours (2010), based on the real-life story of a hiker who cut off his arm to free himself from a boulder after falling into a canyon. (And, yes, I watched that movie too.)

I am mesmerised by the wide-screen visuals of the mountains. The spectacular views alone are worth the price of the ticket for admission!

In the 40 years since 1953, one in four persons died on their trek to the peak. So, after 1992, amateur teams got together to guide the mountaineers in small groups.

Many reviewers comment that the most interesting part of the movie is the survival portion in the second half. Well, I disagree. I think the first half is even more interesting. To me, the survival portion of the story is mostly harrowing, edge-of-the-seat stuff.

We get to see the Kathmandu train station and what the Indian town was like in 1996. I got an insight into the science and technical stuff behind such an adventure : Acclimatisation (eg “Human beings are just not made to function at an altitude for 727 planes,”) and how much planning and training are needed for such mountaineering feats.

The aerial view of the Kathmandu town, the vast expanse of the Himalayan mountains, the suspension bridges, the Monastry (with Tibetian monks performing rituals), the Climbers’ Memorials, the tons of glaciers with “crevices so deep you can’t see the bottom”, the avalanches, the Camp Balcony and the Hillary Steps all make my eyes go wide and my mouth agape. I would never otherwise experience such beautiful and fantastic sights. Kudos to the entire production team, especially the Visual Effects and Aerial Units!

The London Session Orchestra also did a commendable job in providing excellent musicians for the soundtrack, particularly the pianist, violinst, cellist and percussionist (especially the timpani) to convey, in turn, calm or chaos, the howling winds or storm, the stinging cold or freezing temperature. There are also songs by the likes of Sheryl Crowe when the movie pans to New Zealand (with one character’s expectant wife) or to Dallas, Texas (with another character’s wife and two children).

Movie : The Intern

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Robert De Niro is such an acting legend that I would not pass up any opportunity to watch a movie in which he appears — whether in serious roles like The Untouchables, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and Cape Fear or in comedies like The Wedding Party, Las Vegas, Silver Linings Playbook and Grudge Match.

In The Intern, De Niro plays the widower Ben who joins the senior intern (an outreach) programme at a hip fashion e-commerce website founded by tightly wound go-getter Anne Hathaway (Jules). He decides to come out of retirement because it is not something he understands: “There’s a hole in my life and I need to fill it” with more than “golf, books, yoga, Mandarin, funerals” and “travel to San Diego to visit my son and his family”. He needs a place to go every day as he has been “a company man all my life”. My favourite quote comes early in the movie when he speaks of how “Musicians don’t retire. They stop only when they have no more music in them. Well, I still have music in me.”

Ben is an intern with a lifetime of experience. He is Mr Congeniality, a big hit in the office, although his younger co-workers underestimate him at first because of his age. He feels “like everybody’s uncle here”. He believes in keeping busy because “there’s no point to living if you’re not going to do anything”.

Ben also believes “you’re never wrong to do the right thing,” quoting Mark Twain. He is an embodiment of the gentleman of yore, a dying breed. He is humble, kind and generous. As he says, “Look and learn, boys, because this is what cool is.” This is the old school value of learning from each other. He is also “a sensitive man though I don’t look like it”. He sorely misses his wife of 43 years, but ‘Such is life”.

As the focus of this movie is on the intern, I shall not elaborate on Anne Hathaway’s character, except to mention one business trip. The movie she watched on TV in her hotel room is Singing In The Rain! (See my last blog post.) The scene between Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds is the duet in which he sings encouraging words to her, telling her not to give up her dreams. It appropriately reflects the scene here in which Ben reminds her that “ATF (name of the company) needs you and you need it. It’s your dream. Are you going to give it up?” and she comments that he is such a comfort and that “it’s moments like this that you need someone you can count on” and this person is Ben.

Also appropriate is the selection of the songs and music used in the movie: I, Closer, Deed I Do, These Foolish Things, It’s Real, Girl from Ipanema, Ain’t Misbehavin’, theme from Ocean’s 11, Boogie Shore and so on, to represent the past and present days.

Movie : Singing In The Rain (DVD)

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Having missed the opportunity to watch the live performance of this musical at the Marina Bay Sands theatre recently, I grabbed the DVD when I spotted it on the library shelves. I am so glad I did!

This 1951 movie, starring Gene Kelly (who was also co-director), Donald O’Connor (whose performance here won him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1952) , Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance here), is a hilarious comedy that contains a romantic story as well as many wonderful  songs and dances, even a ballet and a full orchestra. Debbie Reynold’s singing (and dancing) and the nifty footwork in the dance routines of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor are truly outstanding.

The story takes place at a time when Hollywood movies are turning into talkies. Some interesting elocution lessons involve lines like, “Around the rocks are rugged rascal men”, “Sinful Caesar snipped his sifter, seized his knees and sneezed”, and “Chester chooses chestnuts, cheddar cheese with chewy chives. He chews them and he chooses them. He chooses them and he chews them, those chestnuts, cheddar cheese and chives in cheery, chestnuts drinks”.

There are many lovely songs and I resolve to get hold of the music scores soon as I now know only one – the famous title song. I would also be on the lookout for other musicals mentioned, like ‘The Jazz Singer’ and ‘Ziegfield Follies”.

Though this movie was made more than half a century ago, it is absolutely charming, enjoyable and entertaining. It was entered into the US National Film Registry in 1989, and on the American Film Institute’s Movie lists – 10th Greatest in 1998, 16th Funniest in 2000 and 16th Passionate in 2002. I wonder if there would be a remake of this gem anytime soon. I hope so.