Woman On Top

woman-on-top

Dr Loretta Chen is a creative director (Victor/Victoria), arts entrepreneur ( What The Butler Saw, Zebra Crossings) and corporate trainer. Her 2014 biography is a daring account of her personal victories, devastating heartbreak, financial setback and valuable leadership management and life lessons.

Right from the outset, in her Preface, she writes of her hopes that this book will inspire readers. Among the more interesting accounts in the book are those aboout growing up with her Da Ge (eldest brother) Edmund Chen, who is her early inspiration and mentor and how he (the TV star who had a bit role in a Hollywood movie opposite Dakota Fanning)  taught her about the massive power of popular media. Sshe also writes about her partner’s suicide and her fall into depression, the diagnosis of oesteoarthritis at age 24, a failed buisness venture (Zebra Crossing) and having both parents stricken with life-threatening diseases.

Dr K. K. Seet was her university professor who has since become friend, confidante and mentor. As he says in his Foreword, the tone throughout is unflinchingly honest and she comes across as instinctive and spontaneous. She also has a morbid sense of humour, and her reproduction of Dorothy Parker’s poem, Resume, sums ups her uniqueness and zest for life:

Razors pain you,

Rivers are damp,

Acids stain you,

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful,

Nooses give,

Gas smells awful,

You might as well live.

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Compliance

conpliance

Inspired by true events, this 2013 film tells the chilling story of just how far one might go to obey a figure of authority.

On a particularly busy day at a suburban Ohio fast-food restaurant, high-strung manager Sandra Fromme (Ann Dawd) gets a phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer saying that an employee, a pretty young blond named Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer. Convinced she’s only doing what’s right, Sandra cooperates with the investigtion, following step-by-step instructions.

Unknown to Sandra, this was actually a prank phone call that led to a sexual assault that turned into a rape. After a report was made, the Police Department revealed that a  similar incident also happened in Massachussettes two weeks earlier, and that more than 70 similar incidents were reported in 30 US states. Sandra maintained that she was also a victim. She was very very stressed and very busy as her restaurant had just suffered a loss of $1,500 in supplies.  Had she been brainwashed? It never occured to her to doubt the caller though she found everything was very strange.

This film reminds me of the scams, online or otherwise, that have been happening in recent times. Despite the many newspaper reports and periodic advice and warnings from the authorities, many people (and not just the older folks) still fall prey. So we cannot say that the authorities are not doing enough. Are people really so gullible or is there really such a thing as brainwashing a potential victim?

Puncture

puncture

This 2011 movie, based on a true story, is about one man with the courage to stand up for a just cause. Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) is a talented young Houston lawyer and a functioning drug addict. Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen), his longtime friend and partner, is straight-laced and responsible. Their law firm is getting by, but things get really interesting when they decide to take on a case involving Vicky Rogers (Vinessa Shaw), a local ER nurse and single mother of two, who is pricked by a contaminated needle on the job.

Except for the piano music (Brandenburg Concerto in G Minor and Capriccio in B Major, both  by J. S. Bach) before, during and after the court scenes, I did not quite enjoy the movie, what with multiple scenes with monitor lizards (as pets) and the debauchery behaviour of the drug addicts.

Perfect Mothers

perfect

When I found this DVD on the library shelf, I was puzzled why such a “great film” (The Guardian) that is “fascinating and provoking” (Vanity Fair) was not screened at a local cinema. It is based on a best-selling novel, “The Grandmothers”  by Doris Lessing, and stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright.

Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright) have been inseparable from a young age, and live in perfect harmonywith their children, two graceful young boys Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom ( James Frencheville). The husbands/fathers are absent from the picture. Inexplicably and yet inevitably, both women grow closer to each other’s sons, forming passionate relationships with them.

As a young adult, Tom works in a musical where he meets his wife, and Ian meets his wife at Tom’s wedding. They both have daughters and Lil and Roz are the perfect mothers-in-law and grandmothers. When the wives discover the truth about the relationships between their husbands and their mothers-in-law, they are flabbergasted and take leave with their toddlers. The strange, bizarre, illicit and almost  incestuous, relationships continue.

The cinematography is great – a beautiful and idyllic countryside with a quaint little cottage, pristine beach and crystalline waters, the invigorating waves of the sea and the exhilaration of the surfs are well-captured. The music chosen are lovely too, especially the jazzy number Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries, which is featured in two different scenes. However, these do not compensate for the weird story.Yet, weird as it may seem to me because I cannot imagine such relationships exist, perhaps it would not be too far-fetched in a different society, one that is not so steeped in traditions and conventions.

Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers

artists

 

This is a collection of portraits of 50 great minds and famous figures. Each of James Gulliver Hancock’d hand-drawn portraits is distinctive, and the trivia surrounding them reveal strange and fascinating things. The 50 include Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Billie Holiday, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, John Lennon, Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, Louis Armstrong, Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, Vincent van Gogh, Winston Churchill and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

This book is like a visual encyclopaedia, with glimpses into iconic figures’ personalities. It’s fascinating to see some of their habits and rituals are ordinary:

  • Einstein always forgot his umbrella and never wore socks; he played the violin but hated Scrabble.
  • John Lennon loved cats and drank lots of tea, phones his aunt every week, first learned to play the harmonica and played the banjo as a kid.
  • Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by skeletons but not very interested in women, wrote with his left hand and ate only vegetables.
  • Leo Tolstoy hated Shakespeare but idolised Victor Hugo, was influenced by Gandhi and was a vegetarian. He had 13 children and learned to ride a bicycle at 67.
  • Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice, discovered the trumpet when he went to reform school and was married four times.
  • W. A. Mozart was very good at maths but bad with money.

Florence Foster Jenkins

florence

I’ve been wanting to watch this movie, starring my favourite actress Meryl Streep, from the time I first set my eyes on the trailer about six months ago. It’s finally here, so I made it a point to watch the first screening this morning. One of two other reasons for wanting to watch it at the first opportunity are that Simon Helberg (who plays Florence’s accompanist in the movie) said of his piano skills in an interview quoted in The Straits Times (many months ago) that he landed the role because “I can play anything you throw at me. Lang Lang needs to watch his back.” (Lang Lang is my idol, an internationally acclaimed pianist.) The third reason I couldn’t wait to watch the movie is to find out why a Bechstein piano is featured so prominently in a story that involves Carneige Hall, and not a Steinway. (Both were founded within one year of each other, with the latter first.)

The opening credits already portends an enjoyable two hours ahead, what with jazzy background music. And the opening scene with Hugh Grant performing an excerpt from Hamlet on the stage of The Verdi Club sets the tone. The biopic covers onlyMdm Florence’s life in 1944. She was a New York society lady whose wealth and status shielded her from discovering how terrible she was doing the thing she loved – singing. Streep’s performance is  without doubt spectacular, stunning and exquisite. She sings in Russian, German and French, besides English. There are opera tunes by Delibes, Mozart and Johann Strauss II besides endearing songs by Stephen Foster and Johannes Brahms (the famous Lullaby). Streep is able to marry the horrendous with the comic as well as the beautiful. You really have to hear her sing to believe it.

From his audition piece (The Swan from Carnival of Animals by C. Sant- Saens, to pieces that he plays for Mdm Florence when she’s doing something else (eg. Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt) to jazzy pieces, blues and ragtime music, I was mesmerised and awed by his pianistic skills. One scene that I enjoyed very much was when he played Frederick Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor as a duet with Mdm Florence. Besides, Helberg is also a good actor. He has a highly expressive face that can convey shock, horror, comedy, resignation and much more.

Another pleasant surprise was seeing Hugh Grant dancing. He might have had a stand-in or body double for this lengthy number, but it was convincing and effective. His role as Florence’s adoring and doting younger husband is not an uncomplicated one, and he delivers it with pomp. I had almost forgotten what a fine actor he is and I used to enjoy his movies. One phrase he uses here I found particularly delightful (“in a demisemiquaver”), especially the way he delivers it.

With the  legendary Toscanini and Cole Porter among the characters in the movie, and plenty more music including those by Richard Wagner and Johannes Sebestian Bach, and of course with one crucial scene taking place at the famed Carnegie Concert Hall (with a Steinway grand piano), this is definitely one movie that I willl watch again and again!

Dead To Me

dead

With over 10 million copies of 23 novels sold (all of which I’ve read), this latest novel by Lesley Pearse promises to be another intriguing and compelling story.

Set in Spring 1935, in wartime Britain, it is about the friendship of two friends who vow “Never forgive. Never forget.”

The girls met by chance near a swimming pond. Verity Wood was then 13 and Ruby Taylor 14; they were from differents parts of the town (Verity – a posh girl & Ruby a ragamuffin), yet both took an instant liking for each other. Ruby’s completely different way of life was fascinating to Verity, who was lonely. It wasn’t by chance that had brought the two girls together. Fate intervened for a reason. Complete opposites at the time they met, they became friends against all odds. Verity gave Ruby the idea of improving her lot in life and Ruby showed Verity how the poor lived.

When their fortunes were shockingly reversed, both aproached a crossroads in their lives. Verity’s father was on the run for embezzelment and her mother committed suicide. When Ruby decided to get an abortion, she thought that Verity betrayed her and wrote a short note that declared “You are dead to me”, causing Verity to feel a burden of guilt, anger and a terrible loneliness.

But their freindship did not end there. Love doesn’t die, it just gets buried sometimes. War being declared changed people’s feelings about many things. Ruby had changed in many ways since her abortion. She was quieter, no longer impulsive. She became a staunch and reliable friend in Verity’s time of need, promising that “For you, I can do anything”.

The sub-plot involving Verity’s father/step-father/abuser is no less intriguing and cleverly weaved into the main story. Another good read from one of my favourite authors. I can’t wait for her next one to be published!