Movie : A Fantastic Ghost Wedding (DVD)

Supported by the Singapore Film Commission, this movie is like many local films in that the dialogues are mostly a mixture of Mandarin, English and the Cantonese dialect.

It is supposed to be a ghost story, but it is funny as well. It’s a story about grief – there’s grief, sorrow and sadness, yet it’s also humourous. The major theme of the story is about how the living deal with death. There is friction between the parents dealing with the reality of the death of their son; and there is also the relationship between the medium and his son, based on whether there are ghosts or not.

While the cast, including Sandra Ng (Hong Kong actress known for her comedic roles) and Mark Lee (one of Singapore’s top comedians) is well-chosen, the location(s) not so. Using the Asian Civilisations Museum for the wedding banquet for the dead? Juxtaposing it with the front of the Surrender Chambers at Sentosa? Pretending they are in the same location? The use of “special effects” to turn paper effigies into moving/running puppets may be an innovative idea but borders on the ridiculous. The Esplanade and the Marina Bay area have never looked more dull!

Is it any wonder that it was not a huge success when it was screened in the cinemas here in 2014?

Book : The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“… … I know now what matters, and it is not what I have lost. It is my memories. Wounds heal. Love lasts.                     We remain.”

These are the last words in the novel. These are some of the words in the book that brought tears to my eyes.

This book, the latest (published in 2015) of 22 novels by one of my favourite authors, is so wonderfully written, packed with action and full of emotions that it took me longer than expected (almost 2 weeks) to read because I had to pause often when tears blurred the words or when I replayed scenes in my head or when I just had to put it aside for a few days for my feelings to “settle”. It is a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

This novel is about two sisters who paid terrible, unimaginable prices for their heroism during World War II: One,  whose bravery and courage helped many downed airmen escape the Nazi-occupied France through treacherous conditions and her sister who saved Jewish children, putting herself in danger.

No doube there were differences between the two sisters as they were growing up, but the war put the strength of their relationship to test. With life changing, and confronted by unspeakable horrors, the sisters respond in unexpected ways, as bravery and reisistence take different forms for each of them.

There is atrocity during the war years, but the story also tells of humanity and courage. It is an unforgettable novel that will provoke a lot of thought and discussion.

Movie : The Bucket List (DVD)


What is the meaning of life? This, and the theme of death, has been the subject for discussion among a group of seniors that I meet on a regular basis. This movie, which I first watched in 2007, came up for mention more than a couple of times, so I decided to borrow the DVD to watch it again.

A billionaire (played by Jack Nicholson) and a mechanic (played by Morgan Freeman) are cancer-ward roommates. They decide that since they only live once, they want to go out in style. They compose a bucket list – things to do before kicking the bucket.

Freeman’s character remarks that  a thousand people were asked in a survey if they wanted to know the exact day of their death and 96% said no, but he was one of the other 4% as he thought it would be liberating knowing how much time he had left to work with, but as it turns out (now that his cancer means he has only 6 months left) it’s not. Since he is now pretty much “out of options”, he starts scribbling his bucket list which he subsequently crumples into a ball and discards but is picked up by his roommate  who wonders what it is, and then adds to it. They both leave the hospital to embark on this journey.

Some of the items in the list include                                                                                                                              *witnessing something majestic,                                                                                                                                         *going out with guns blazing,                                                                                                                                      *skydiving,                                                                                                                                                                                    *driving on a racetrack (where one of them says “We live and we die. And the wheels of the car goes round and round”),                                                                                                                                                                                    *getting a tattoo,                                                                                                                                                                    *laugh till I cry and                                                                                                                                                                    *kissing the most beautiful girl in the world (which turns out to be Nicholson’s estranged granddaughter).                 They visit places like France (and songs like Edith Piaf’s Milord and La Vie En Rose are heard),                                   the open safari in Afica (where we hear the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight),                                                                       the Pyramids in Egypt,                                                                                                                                                                 the Taj Mahal in India (where they both decide that they would be cremated and their ashes stored in simple coffee cans in the mountains),                                                                                                                                                                   the Great Wall of China on a motorbike (which I find puzzling : were motorbike allowed there then?),                             the mountains of Tibet and                                                                                                                                                       Hong Kong (where Freeman’s character suddenly decides he wants to go home to his wife and family).

Nicholson’s character is at a board meeting when he gets an urgent phone call informing him that his friend collapsed at home and is in hospital. In his eulogy, he tells the congregation that “we saw the world together, which is amazing because only three months ago we were complete strangers. The last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life. I knew it even before he did. I’m deeply proud that this man found it worth his while to know me. In the end we brought some joy to each other’s lives.”

My conclusion?                                                                                                                                                                               The best time of all is right now.

Movie : Tuesdays With Morrie (DVD)



During a book club meet recently, someone remarked that movies usually do not do justice to the book on which it is based. I thought otherwise, but didn’t voice my opinion. However, I decided to re-watch one such movie to see what ‘fault’ I can find with Tuesdays with Morrie.

This 1999 movie is based on the best-selling book of the same title by Mitch Albom. Executive producer, Oprah Winfry said at the opening of the film that Tuesday With Morrie “resonates with everybody. I think we all can relate to Mitch. His life is just going by too quickly. and then he was blessed to stop and find his old teacher Morrie. And even though Morrie was dying, he taught us about living. All of life is about teaching and learning. When you learn, teach. When you get, give. Life is filled with Morries. We all just need to look around.”

Morrie Schwartz  is a retired sociology professor and his former student Mitch is an accomplished journalist who is so driven by his job he has little time or energy left for anything else. One night, Mitch happens to catch Morrie’s appearance on a nationl news programme and learns that his old professor is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease.  To Mitch, Morrie “was more than a teacher. He was a force. He made a real difference in my life.” (Such as teaching Mitch to appreciate that one does not have to be first all the time, as “what’s wrong with being number two?”)

One visit turns into weekly visits (on Tuesdays, because it was the day when they used to have tutorials and they would talk.) Mitch learns many lessons about aging, fear, fantasy, death, love, marriage, regrets and relationships. Some lines that are stuck to my mind are:                                                                                                                          “Aging isn’t just about decay. It’s growth.”;                                                                                                                            “The fear of aging reflects those whose lives haven’t found meaning.”;                                                                       “Fantasy is useful; we can learn from it.”;                                                                                                                          “Where is fairness?”;                                                                                                                                                    “Everybody’s got to die. But most people don’t believe in it. If we accept the fact that we can die at any time we’d lead our lives differently.”;                                                                                                                                                                “The tension of opposites – life pulling you back and forth like a rubber band.”;                                                         “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I also enjoy how W. H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, is worked into the dialogue between Morrie and Mitch:                                                                                                                                                                                               All I have is a voice,                                                                                                                                                                           To undo the folded lie:                                                                                                                                                                        The lie of authority,                                                                                                                                                                            Where buildings grope the sky.                                                                                                                                                   No one exists alone;                                                                                                                                                                    Hunger allows no choice to the citizen or police.                                                                                                                       We must love one another or die.                                                                                                                                                We must love one another or die.

At this point, strains of the song Another Day plays in the background. So appropriate. Which brings me to the music used here. I particularly like the tango music played whenever Morrie is seen (whether in the storyline or in flashbacks a couple of times) performing his favourite dance, especially Blue Tango composed by Leroy Anderson in 1951. There are a few lovely songs used at the appropriate places, but I cannot recall their titles, except for two that really stand out : The Very Thought Of You and the well-known aria O mio babbino caro from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Glacomo Puccini (1858-1924). Both songs are played at touching scenes that bring tears to my eyes. Again, very good choice of music used.

To sum up, I do not think that movies based on books do not do justice to them. A movie cannot possible be exactly like the book. Just like the book alone would not provide the dramatisation and music. It is of course ideal if one can do both (read the book and watch the movie, like I did for My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult), but there simply cannot be a comparison.


Movie : Walk The Line (DVD)

Unlike Beyond the Sea (see earlier post), I did enjoy as much when re-watching this 2006 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon although it is about the legendary “Man In Black”, Johnny Cash, who revolutionised music and features more than 40 songs, including those written by him (9) and other songs by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Boudleaux Bryant, Bob Dylan and Hank Cochran.

Based on “Man In Black” and “Cash the Autobiography” written by Johnny Cash and executive-produced by his son John Carter Cash, it is about one man’s unwavering devotion to his sounds, his message and the greatest love of his life, June Carter.

Two scenes that left as deep an impression on me as the first time I watched it are the opening and next-to-last scenes. The movie opens with Johnny Cash and his band performing his hits at the Folsom Prison and the next-to-last scene shows Johnny Cash proposing to June Carter in the middle of a song as she was adamant that he could speak to her only on stage.

In 1968 ‘At Folsom Prison‘ became one of the most popular recordings of all time, outselling even The Beatles. That same year, Johnny and June married and had a son (John Carter Cash) two years later. For the next 35 years they raised their chilldren, recorded music, toured and played the world together. June passed in May 2003 and John followed four months lateer.

In this movie, Johnny Cash vocals was performed by Joaquin Phoenix and June Carter vocals was performed by Reese Witherspoon.

Book : It Changed My Life

This book, by Wong Kim Hoh, senior writer with The Straits Times, is a compilation of his interviews with inspiring Singaporeans for two of his best-known series for  The Sunday Times : ‘Wong Kim Hoh Meets’ and ‘It Changed My Life’.

The 39 inspiring stories selected here truly captures the humanity of the people he interviewed. Through them, we get to know about the setbacks and triumphs on a personal and human level.

Some of the interviewees were once school dropouts, gangsters, gamblers, glue sniffers, drug addicts, loan sharks, prisoners or came from disadvantaged backgrounds such as poverty, victims of accidents or tragedy, or born with handicaps/disabilities such as ADHD, Asperger’s, OCD, dyslexia and physical deformities.

I had read all these stories over the years (those selected here were published from March 2012 to August 2015), but I was still awed to the point where some of the stories brought tears to my eyes. All of them are touching, but two stood out for me:

The founder of Singapore’s largest independent ad group succeeded because (“not despite”) his handicap – he is dyslexic, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Asperger’s syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism).

The photography student with physical deformities overcame challenges who won a Dare To Dream scholarship (set up for deserving students with special needs) and had her works featured in exhibitions. She was born with Nager Syndrome, a rare (fewer than 200 documented cases worldwide) genetic disorder characterised by facial and limb deformities, including downward slanting eyelids, underdeveloped cheeks and jaws, the absence of lower eyelashes, fused elbows, dangling thumbs).

Copies of the book are available at all public libraries.

Book : How To be Alone

This book in actually a poem (only one) by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman on every page.

Some of the places where one can be alone are : the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library and the gym. And some of the things previously avoided can also be where one can be alone, such as : resisting the urge to hang out with the cellphone, going to the movies (alone in the seat amid a fleeting community), dancing at a club where no one knows you, going to the woods (or parks) alone, going to an unfamiliar city (or place) where there are statues to talk to and benches for sitting and roaming the streets.

All these activities may feel strange when one is alone. We rarely treasure these moments, even though there are ample opportunities and abundant possibilities and delights waiting to be discovered when we have the time to just be ourselves.

This poem and the illustrations soothe the disquiet and accompanies this fear of aloneness, and celebrate the power of solitude to change our views of ourselves and the world. It reveals how, removed from the noise and distractions of other lives, we can find acceptance and grace within.

For those who have never been by themselves, or for people like myself who relish being on our own, this is a moving work that encourages us to recognise and embrace the possibilities of being alone and reminds us of joy, peace and discovery waiting to unfold.

This book resonates with me and I enjoy it tremendously and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes words and pictures.

Book : Goodnight Nanny-Cam

This is a delightful Parody For Modern Parents written by Jess Nesell & Lizzy Roctner and illustrated by Sara Pinto.

Well-illustrated on every page, it features a household all too recognisable of today’s parents : In the great green-certified room, there are things like a smart phone and organic diaper cream, BPA-free bottle, Baby Mozart CDs, Baby Einstein DVDs, a baby monitor and the nanny-cam, brain development games, speech coach, test coach, chess coach and star charts.

An interesting and pleasurable read.

Concert : Crazy Christmas

I have attended every Crazy Christmas concert since it started many years ago. It has always been enjoyable and hilarious! This year, Dream Academy also celebrates it’s 15th anniversary, so I was a tad disappointed that it was not even better than all previous installments.

The main cast includes Selena Tan herself, the other two Dim Sum dollies Pam Oei and Denise Tan, George Chan, Robin Goh, Sebastian Tan (aka Broadway Beng), Caleb Tan, Michaela Therese, Patrina Kow, Karen Tan, Judee Tan and Kumar the comedian. This year, there’s a 40-strong choir from Nanyang Primary School and seniors from the Henderson Activity Centre who were featured in a touching scene.

I was most pleased with the appearance of my favourite local a capella group, Vocaluptuous. Not only were their vocal prowess excellent, there was also well-synchronised and slick choreography. They are the main reason I never miss Crazy Christmas, especially since they seldom perform in public and have not held a concert for ages. Another reason is to see the awesome musical director, Elaine Chan, at the piano.

Christmas is a time of happiness and joy, and there was laughter aplenty throughout the 90-minute show. Of course there were many well-known Christmas songs, but what I enjoyed most were those meshed up with Chinese New Year songs and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas sung in Hokkien! and I loved the a capella version of Twelve Days of Christmas and Chestnuts Roasting In An Open Fire sung by the entire cast. There was even a sing-along session at the end: Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Everybody, including the Seniors from Henderson Activity Centre and children from Nanyang Primary School, sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas before the curtains came down.

Movie : Beyond The Sea (DVD, 2004)

Eleven years after I first watched it at the cinema, I still went ‘Wow!’ from the start to the end of this movie when I decided to watch it again.

Directed, co-written and produced by Kevin Spacey, who plays the lead role of Bobby Darin, the story begins with him singing ‘Mack the Knife‘ at the show to commemorate his 10th anniversary in show business.

A very sickly child who was not expected to live beyond 15 years, Bobby had always been fascinated by the piano, and his mother was the most important person in his life. Both of them practised and practised until they perfected what she called “The Plan” (to sing at the Copacabana, like Frank Sinatra). To get a big start, and to be the best, talent is obviously needed, but so are being tenacious and charismatic.

Splish Spash’, which was written in 20 minutes, drove the audiences wild and Mum predicted that he was going to be the biggest star in show business. He became a teen idol, but he didn’t want to be just that. So he went to Hollywood to take up acting, hoping to work with Rock Hudson.

At this point, my favourite Bobby Darin song, ‘Beyond the Sea’ or ‘La Mer’ was featured. Bobby Darin met Sandra Dee on a Hollywood set, and he won her over through her mother. One ploy he used was to send 18 roses to her hotel suite every day with no card. (Bobby Darin was inspired to write a song called ‘Eighteen Yellow Roses’.) Another was to hatch up a publicity deal for the movie they were making when his real intention was to take her on a date.

Mum was so infatuated with Bobby that she was furious and stomped off when Sandra announced that she was marrying him because she loved him and that he’s smart and funny. They got married but little cracks appeared over the years, starting from simple rivalry like Sandra being on the Cosmopolitan cover and Bobby on in the Life centrefold. Things got more complicated with the arrival of a baby and Bobby insisted going on tour, especially after not winning the Oscar for which he was nominated.

There were also many touching scenes, like when it was revealed to Bobby that his sister Nina was really his mother and when Bobby insisted on going back to perform in Vegas though he was sick and had to have both valves replaced and when he gave his young son a luggage to be opened only when he was gone. At these scenes, there was always the full orchestra playing Bobby’s music.

Bobby sang his ‘Simple Song of Freedom’ to loud cheers and was given a standing ovation at the Flamingo at Vegas though he was suffering from blood poisoning and had erratic heartbeats. There was a doctor backstage and he had to be put on a neubuliser between songs. He even managed to tell his audience that he may not be performing for a while as he needed to take a little break and as a result he may not have the opportunity to introduce the woman who raised him. After this, and a song (for which he changed the lyrics for this special dedication to Nina), he was rushed to hospital where he succumbed.

But Bobby Darin doesn’t die. His music and his legacy lives on. His wife, Sandra Dee, never remarried and remained in love with him.

What I love most about this movie is of course the music. All the songs and music were performed by Kevin Spacey (very impressive, indeed) and The John Wilson Orchestra. I counted 23 songs performed, like Dream Lover (written by Bobby Darin), That’s All, Charade (written by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer), Hello, Young Lovers (written by Rodgers & Hammerstein), Let It Loose (by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards) and the very touching When The Curtain Falls.