Hemingway and Gellhorn



Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman and Academy Award nominee Clive Owen star in this 2010 movie that also includes a strong supporting cast of David Strathaim (Oscar nominee), Tony Shalhoub (Emmy Award winner), Parker Posey, Molly Parker and even Joan Chen.

This movie recounts one of the greatest romances of the last century. It was pure chance that Martha Gellhorn (Kidman), the beautiful, trailblazing war correspondant met Ernest Hemmingway (Owen), great literary master of works such as Farewell To Arms, met at a pub called Sloppy Joe’s. Her first impression was that he was a large, dirty man in disgustingly soiled clothes and he thought she was the epitome of elegance and sophistication. This chance meeting developed into a passionate love affair. Their marriage was tumultuous  through the Spanish Civil War, Dachau, Auschwitz, conflicts in Burma, Singapore, the Middle East, Central America, Vietnam, Bosnia, Africa and so on. They covered all the horrors and horrendous experiences but they couldn’t survive the war between themselves. They divorced (partly because he cheated on her), and Hemmingway eventually put a rifle to his chin and pulled the trigger. He tortured no one so much as he tortured himself. His last letter to Gellhorn began: I know you must know: love is infinitely more desirable than hate…

One of the things I liked most about the movie was how actual footage of war (such as the horror the Fascists inflict on the people, the demonstrations of Russian forces, the Abrahan Lincoln Brigade, scenes of Japanese bombing, Dachau and Auschwitz and so on) are juxtaposed into the story. I would think the visual effects would have been even more impressive if I had watched this at a cinema.

I also liked that despite its serious subject, there were more than a dozen lovely traditional songs, many in Spanish. One of these was performed a capella by Kidman and Owen, and another (Red River Valley) by a young man on the train (also at a war scene, at the moment when Gellhorn realised she had fallen in love with the then-married Hemmingway). I also enjoyed the Tropicana dancers and the flamenco guitar performances. My only curiosity was whether body doubles were used for Kidman and Owen in those passionate love scenes. I was also quite shocked that such scenes were not censored in a DVD available at a public library.





The Friends We Keep

friends we keep

I was attracted to this book not only because of the author (I’ve always enjoyed Susan Mallery’s books), but also because of the title. I expected this to be another insightful and compelling story about the bonds of friendship and I’m not disappointed.

This novel has three interesting story lines about three close friends – one each for Gabby Schaefer, Hayley Batchelor and Nicole Lord. Gabby is a stay-at-home mum (with twins and a stepdaughter) who can’t wait to return to work; Hayley is obsessed with haviing a baby and the expensive fertility treatments are threatening her health and marriage; and Nicole is a single mum still shell-shocked by her divorce.

Many events in the story change Gabby, Hayley and Nicole and they learn many lessons, such as

  • Friends tell each other what they really think. Things they say can be blunt and too much but honest and exactly right. It stings but has their best interest at heart.
  • The best things in life aren’t safe. What moves us, what we wnat the most, always mean taking a risk. Isn’t that what makes things worthwhile?
  • Friends can help just by listening.
  • Listening is perspective.
  • One of the hallmarks of a successful marriage is the ability to fight fairly. It is true and important that both parties stay respectful. People are able to speak most as they are listened to. When both sides remain calm and facts and opinions are shared, concensus would be reached.
  • Love and joy aren’t dependent on DNA. They are a gift.

The three friends bond over good food and rely on each other to navigate life’s toughest challenges. It is such a warm-hearted book that I’m eager to dive into the first book in the Mischief Bay series straightaway!



stick to it

This is an attractive and colourful book by Addie Johnson that contains at least one quote on every page. Some pages contain inspirational anecdotes too. The first quote  (which is also on the back cover and the inside cover) is Winston Churchill’s “Never, never, never give up.” The second is by Thomas Edison: “The three essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-it-iveness; third, common sense.” Some other quotations I like are:

  • Without discipline, there’s no life at all. (Katharine Hepburn)
  • To love someone deeply gives us strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives us courage. (Lao Tzu)
  • Most of us have more courage than we ever dreamed we possessed. (Dale Carneige)
  • There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (William Shakespeare)
  • It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. (Edmund Hillary)
  • Perserverence, secret of all triumphs. (Victor Hugo)

The Song


This 2014 movie has a cast of unknowns (at least, to me): Alan Powell, Ali Faulkner and Caitlin-Nicol Thomas. Aspiring singer-songwriter Jed King (Powell) is struggling to catch a break and escape the long shadow of his famous rocker father when he reluctantly agrees to a gig at a local vineyard festival (Louisville, 2006). Jed meets the owner’s daughter, Rose (Faulkner), and an instant connection between them quickly turns to love. Soon after their wedding, Jed writes Rose “The Song”, which becomes a breakout hit and he is suddenly thrust into the spotlight (including a gig in Chicago for three months, gigs in New York, Cleveland, Cincinatti, Indianapolis and Nashville for weeks on end) and a world of temptation. Jed’s life and marriage begin to fall apart…

I like the locations and the beautiful scenes of autumn leaves and the vineyard. What I like even more are the songs (there are more than a dozen), especially the one called “To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn” written and performed by Alan Powell. I also like that Caitlin-Nicol Thomas (as Jed’s biggest temptation) plays a mean violin!









Smile For No Good Reason

smile for no good reason

In this book, Dr Lee Jampolsky shares the 12 principles of Attitudinal Healing (which is: Nothing needs to change in your life situation of the world in order for you to have peace of mind.) Attitudinal Healing was founded by his father, Dr Gerald Jampolsky, 30 years ago. It is a way of having happiness without having to change our social status, religion or spouse. It is about the simple things we can do to get happiness now:

  1. The essence of our being is love.
  2. Health is inner peace. Healing is letting go of fear.
  3. Giving and receiving are the same.
  4. We can let go of the past and the future.
  5. Now is the only time there is, and each instant is for giving.
  6. We can learn to love ourselves and others by forgiving rather than judging.
  7. We can become love finders rather than fault finders.
  8. We can choose and direct ourselves to be peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside.
  9. We are students and teachers to each other.
  10. We can focus on the whole of life rather than the fragments.
  11. Since love is eternal, death need not be viewed as fearful.
  12. We can always perceive ourselves and others as either extending love or giving a call for help.

There are motivational lessons and uplifting stories recounted here that help us realise that lasting happiness can be attained and that fear can be exchanged for love, selfishness for service and anger for clarity, to respond to life’s challenges with peace, confidence and laughter.

If I Stay

if i stay


I decided to borrow this 2014 DVD because it stars Chloe Grace Moretz and because it is based on Gayle Forman’s best-selling novel about a 17-year-old gifted cellist.

Mia (Moretz) has a bright future and an adoring boyfriend (Jamis Blackley), but when unexpected tragedy hits, everything changes for Mia in the blink of an eye and she finds herself caught between life and death. But one fateful day, Mia must make a final heart-wrenching decision that will determine her future: let go and move on to whatever comes next, or stay with the love of her life. It is an emotionally powerful journey as she makes the ultimate choice.

My attention was captured from the very first scene in  the movie : Mia narrated that “At the age of 26, Ludwig van Beethoven went deaf, ending his career as a successful concert pianist, but he was determined not to let a little thing like his hearing end his music career. He became a composer, which turned out to suit him. It’s like the other saying: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

I also like all the other scenes involving music: Mia practising the cello, the mention of Yo-Yo Ma, a Juilliard audition, a Beethoven sonata, the favourite Austrian music-maker Franz Schubert, the C-G-D-A strings of the cello and terms like glissando, pizzicato and forte, and a recital by a solo cellist. Mia was bred to be a rocker, but she chose Beethoven and the cello. (Her father quit his band to buy a cello for her because of her talent.)

The many songs and pieces in the movie are a big bonus – everything from rock, punk and ballads to classical works. Some examples are songs by Alice Cooper, Issy Pop, Williamette Stone and Beyonce. There is even the traditional Auld Lang Syne. Classical pieces include Allegro Ma Non Tanto by Beethoven, Suite No 1 in G Major  for Solo Cello BMV 1007 (Prelude) by J. S. Bach, Sonata in B Minor for Solo Cello Op 8 by Zoltan Kodaly, Brandenburg Concerto by J. S. Bach, The Swan from ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ by Camille Saint-Saens and Cello Concerto in A Minor Op 33 by Saint-Saens. My favourite is of course The Swan. There is even an original song called ‘Today Is The Greatest’ that started off with solo cello, then guitar, in a passage with the same chord progression as Pachelbel’s Canon in D!

The Calling


What attracted me to this DVD was the tagline, “Pray for the Prey”. It sounds like an exciting thriller. I was also drawn to the cast that includes Academy Award winners Susan Sarandon and Ellen Burstyn. This 2013 movie, based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, also stars Gil Bellows, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland.

Sarandon’s character, Hazel, is a Detective Inspector who leads a quiet life in a small town (where the most exciting things that happen are drunken disorderlies and a little vandalism)  with her mother (played by Burstyn), her painkillers and an occasional drink. One day she’s asked to check on an ill neighbour and stumbles upon a gruesome murder that shatters her peaceful existence. With the help of a fellow detective (played by Bellows) and a transfer cop (played gy Grace), she unearths a series of similar killings across the country. When a local priest (played by Sutherland) suggests a link to an ancient ritual, Hazel focuses her search on a religious madman with a deadly higher calling.

The special and visual effects add to the three climaxes in the movie – emotional, action and religious. The special make-up effects and the prosthetics, for example the ripped cheeks, gruesome bodies and throat slit from ear to ear with the head gaping in the back and exposed – look real. The movie deals with a lot of different tones that are dark but not dour. They are moody and specific to the scenes.

The Mindful Writer

mindful writer

I was attracted to this postcard-size book because its back cover has simply one of my favourite quotes: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other prople.” (Thomas Mann)

Dinty W. Moore is the author of a memoir, “The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still”, that attempts to fit Buddhist practice ajd philosophy into a typically busy, indulgent modern lifestyle. However, one need not be a Buddhist to be mindful and alert.

This book is divided into four sections, each containing quotations and followed by the writer’s responses to these quotations. Some examples of the quotations are:

1. The Writer’s Mind

  • Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth you would, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. (C. S. Lewis)
  • To me the first pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. (Truman Capote)

2. The Writer’s Desk

  • If you don’t feel that you’re possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have the same doubt of your authority and tell this story, then you are not tryiing to to tell enough. (John Irving)
  • Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. (Anton Chekhov)

3. The Writer’s Vision

  • We do not write to be understood, we write in order to understand. (C. Day Lewis)
  • How do I know what I think until I see what I say? (E. M. Forster)

4. The Writer’s Life

  • For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. (T. S. Eliot)
  • That’s about as exciting a life as it is for a writer: you write sentences, and you cross out sentences. (Paul Auster)

The message in this book is to be mindful and alert: don’t grasp too hard or you will choke off any creativity, and be open to the moment, the surprise of the gift or enlightenment.

Everybody’s Business

everybody's business

I picked this DVD out because I don’t recall it being shown in cinemas. I was curious to know why a local film would have such a large cast (of at least 20 Mediacorp artistes and many more cameos by other well-known entertainers).

The story is a simple one – 22 people came down with food poisoning and a hygiene inspector from the Ministry of National Environment is tasked with finding the answers and traces the source of the contaminated food to an old-school coffee shop run by a cantankerous couple. In the process, an even larger national issue is uncovered – dirty public toilets. To overcome this problem, a new ministry, the Ministry of Toilets, is formed. Eventually, they all realise a simple truth – nobody’s job is easy and that just indentifying a problem is just part of the solution.

I was greatly entertained by this film (in Mandarin, English, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil) because I find it comical. There are many humorous dialogues and caricatures, and I am most impressed with Kumar’s performance! (Kumar is the Drag Queen of Singapore and his live performances (with not inexpensive tickets) are always sold-out. I’ve attended a few of his acts at the Esplanade Theatre and the Esplanade Concert Hall. I’m so glad I didn’t have to pay a single cent this time!)

Far From the Madding Crowd


Based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy, this is a remake of the 1967 MGM version starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates. I watched it in the early ’70s when I was studying Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urberevilles for  English Literature because my teacher said it’s important that we acquaint ourselves with as many of Hardy’s works as possible (so I read quite a few of his novels and poems), and not just concentrate on the set text in order to better understand Hardy.

This 2015 Twentieth Century Fox version stars Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen. Mullligan plays Bathesheba Everdene, an independent woman who attracts three different suitors: a sheep farmer, a dashing soldier and a prosperous, older bachelor.

Watching this movie is almost like re-reading the book. The adaptation reminds me of the complexity in all of Hardy’s characters. It is dense and difficult at times, and thinking at others. There are lots of character study, besides the plot and the themes of fortune and fate.

Bathesheba is a passionate, exciting, liberated, strong woman ahead of her time. She steps into men’s world and takes order from no one. She is a very, very complex character: fiesty, independent, selfish and rude, and is incredibly fascinating. She is a woman who knows her mind and refuses to be tamed, and is honest about how she feels about the world and the people.

Her three suitors are:

Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts)- simple, humble, loyal, reliable and has qualities everybody wants to have;

Sgt Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge)- a smooth talker, like a ‘bad’ guy, a fascinating character who makes people laugh, is likeable yet extremely arrogant;

and William Boldwood (Martin Sheen)- middle-aged and wealthy, representing security, safety and tradition and who is quite separate from the rest of the community and willing to protect Bathesheba for the rest of his life.

These men are fantastic characters with great depths, and each brings something to the mind of Bathesheba.

The locations of this movie add to Hardy’s sense of place. They are rich and original, and matches language to mood. There is a kind of sensuality in all the stunning imagery that help carry out the essence of the story.

The  landscapes of the country  are completely authentic. The very, very rural nature of Dorset is irreplaceable. It is both dramatic and unique; for example the cliff which is epic and from which a beautiful view is captured. The quality of country life has somethiing like magic; for example the beautiful Jacobean house, a proper manor, the stately homes and farms. The amazing countryside in a sweep on the screen is very inspiring.

There is a sense of grandeur in this old-fashioned epic. Ultimately, this is a novel about fate, a recurring theme in Thomas Hardy. I have always loved Hardy because his stories are among the best in English Literature!