Mama White Snake

I have never watched doyennes Glen Gooi or Ivan Heng on stage, despite having read rave reviews about their performances over the decades (Glen Gooi’s last stage appearance was in 1987!), so I am grateful for the invitation to the Charity Performance of Mama White Snake, now playing at the Drama Centre.

Mama White Snake is based on the clasic folk tale, Madam White Snake, of which there have been many adaptations. I watched one such movie as a child, and was part-fascinated and part-frightened. (And this was before a terrifying close encounter with a snake that affected me so much that I do not even dare look at an image of a snake to this day.)

Thankfully, the only snake-props in this musical are soft toys (two small green snakes on a stick and a huge white snake behind a counter), even though I still had to avert my eyes (and shutting them on one occasion).

Glen Gooi is Mama White Snake and Ivan Heng is Green Snake. Of the other four main actors, I’ve only watched Siti Khalijah Zainal (as martial arts master Fahai) in a few past prodections. I thought Zelda Tatiana Ng (as his wife, Mdm Ngeow) was Pam Oei (the director) at first, as her acting, singing styles and inflection are very similar to Oei’s (whom I’ve watched in many productions). It is the first time I’ve heard of Cheryl Tan (as Mimi, daughter of Fahai and Meng’s love interest) and I love her voice. I’ve read that Andrew Marko (as Meng, son of Mama White) won the Straits Times Life! Best Award  earlier this year, and I’m suitable impressed. Children make up the rest of the cast; they are all very cute and adorable, singing and dancing with gusto. I’m most impressed by a tiny tot whom I hope will continue to pursue his passion in the performing arts when he grows up.

There is only disappointment in this playful (and sometimes hilarious) retelling of a classic tale (of a young man who suffers an identity crisis when he discovers that his mother and her best friend are not who he  has always believed them to be) – the extended displays of martial arts, wushu stunts and sword-fights are too drawn-out; there could have been more rife, cheeky humour and stitch-inducing jokes instead.

Still, it is a heartwarming story about growing pains and home truths and what makes a family; and I enjoyed the many delightful original songs by Elaine Chan (who is almost always the musical director in all the performances that I’ve attended). The stunning costumes are clearly inspired by gorgeous Chinese opera.


My interest in this 2017 was pique because the synopsis says it’s about a pair of 18-year-old twins, but the faces on the DVD cover do not look anything like 18-year-olds.

Playing the leads are Troian Bellisario (as Liv) and Tom Felton (Matt). Except for the opening scene, where these two can pass for young adults (thanks to the make-up department), they appear way off for the rest of the movie – Troian looking like she’s in her mid-30’s , and Tom at least 30.

The twins are inseparable, in life and in death. Torn apart by a tragic accident, the surviving one has to cope with living without the other. Olivia is so affected that she hallucinates and hardly eats (squirrelling away her food and hiding/burying them behind a tree for her twin); which is the only reason I can think off that a 35-year-old can pass for a 18-year-old because anorexia will do that. (Of course, that Troian is the producer and writer may also explain why she has the lead role.)

What I gather from this movie is that an eating disorder is a mental illness, and even with timely medical intervention, it never really goes away. Recovery from a mental illness is a long journey and is unique to the individual; it also involves not one choice, but choices. Setbacks and relapse are all part of gaining control and recovery.



This 2017 movie is a science fiction horror film. I normally would not go for such genres but I borrowed the DVD out of curiosity, since the Library has a double loan quota and I vaguely recall this movie was quite a hit at the box office. Also, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, among others.

A team of scientists are on a mission aboard the International Space Station to find out about life forms on Mars. What they find is an alien that is mutating and terrifying. That the creature looks so scary that I had to avert my eyes several times is credit to the animatronics team.

Other  than making me wonder if there really is life beyond earth, I find in equal measure a horror and fascination of one of the most important traits of a human being – that of being curious. What would the repercussions of curiosity be?


When I read in the newspapers that this animated movie would open in cinemas today, I immediately told myself I had to watch it. I had enjoyed a number of Pixar-hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and, more recently, Inside Out. Furthermore, I had been to a cinema only three times in the last four months, and this is a story about a young boy who dreams of becoming a musician despite his family’s generations-old ban on music.

12-year-old Miguel Rivera lives in a small Mexican village with his extended family. He is a shoe-shine boy but dreams of becoming a musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, whom he comes to believe is his great-great-grandfather. However, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his family to pursue his musical dreams and never returned and for this, the family has banned music for generations.

Then Miguel unexpectedly finds himself crossing over to the Land of the Dead during the Day of the Dead festival. He has to leave before sunrise or he will stay there forever as he begins to become a skeleton.  He meets a troubled and forgotten Hector while looking for de la Cruz, whom he befriends and tries to convince of their relatioship.

It is revealed that de la Cruz and Hector used to be partners in the music business, and that de la Cruz had poisoned Hector and stolen his songs when Hector decided to return to his family. Miguel also discovers that Hector is his true great-great-grandfather who wants to be united with his daughter Coco, Miguel’s great-grandmother and the only person he is close to in the family.

Just before sunrise, Miguel rushes home and tries to make an unresponsive Coco remember Hector by singing Remember Me, a song that Hector had lovingly dedicated to his daughter and which became a hit song for de la Cruz. The song brings tears not only to Miguel and Coco and the rest of the family who witness the scene, but also to me.

That an animated film can bring tears to my eyes say a lot about the effectiveness and attention to details of the entire production team.  the depiction of the characters are so wonderful and realistic. The backdrop is exotic and rings of authenticity (at least to me). I marvel at the amount of research that goes into the cultural traditions and the design, decoration and construction of the sets. There is also the use of paper cut-outs that effectively convey a brief background to the story.

In addition to culture and tradition, music and family dynamics, many wise words are weaved seamlessly into the film: Seize the moment; Never underestimate the power of music; When you see a moment, you must not let it pass by – grab it tight, and make it come true; Music is the only thing that makes me happy – one can’t deny what it’s meant to be; Success doesn’t come free – you have to be prepared to do all that is needed; You don’t have to forgive, but you should forget; Family comes first.

I hope this film wins at least an Oscar. Everyone involved in the film deserves an applause and a pat on his/her back – too many to mention, but including the director, writer/screenwriter, composers, musicians, film editor, production designer, technical director, animators, photography (camera and lighting), sets, effects, technology, software, art, sound, grahpics, research and their crews.

This is a film that both adults and children will enjoy. I wouldn’t mind watching it again and again. And I must somehow find the music scores of some of the three dozen or so songs/pieces, especially Remember Me.




The Runaway Woman

There was a time when I used to enjoy Josephine Cox’s novels. Somehow, I stopped reading her books, and I can’t remember why. So when I saw this interesting title on the library shelf that says on the cover that it is her 50th book, I decided to borrow it.

It is supposed to be a family drama, the story of Lucy Lovejoy, a hardworking woman, loyal and true to her family who is betrayed in the worst possible way by her husband and her younger sister. It is suppposed to be about Lucy’s incredible strength through this turmoil and making difficult decisions.

The book is divided into 5 parts, all with promising headings like No One To Turn To, Revelations, Lucy’s Brave New World, Painful Decisions and Sometimes Dreams Do Come True. However, I felt a great let down. I’m sure all the Cox books that I’ve read were more interesting, and less repetitive and draggy, and less riduculous (especially the ending). I can think of only one person who likes the endings of stories to be ‘happy’ and ‘nice’ and very neatly ‘wrapped up with a big shiny bow’. Even then, I do not think she would think much of the writing – not much of character devlopment (for all that it promised, the protagonist is weak and unrealistic), too much unnecessary (long-winded and repetitive) passages (that serve no purpose) and generally something that would put off any reader who reads Cox for the first time.

I know I would not be picking up another Josephine Cox novel any time soon.


This 1989 movie is so heart-warming and unforgettable that I decided to watch it again recently. That the cast boasts of names like Steve Martin (as Gil Buckman, a funny and loving husband), Mary Steenburgen (as Gil’s wife Karen), Dianne Wiest (as Gil’s sister Helen) and a host of others including a young Keanu Reeves (as Tod Higgins, son-in-law of Helen) and a child actor called Leaf Phoenix, who would grow up to be Joaquin Phoenix (as Garry, son of Helen).

The Buckman family is a wacky one, a dysfunctional American extended family. Many of the situations depict what really happens to everybody, though there’s a lot of comedy and funny moments, some probably exaggerated.

Like a character says, “Once you have a kid, you join another whole club of human race”. It happens so fast that there needs to be a rethink into an entire netework of feelings and emotions and people and social structure. It is like a roller-coaster ride that another character says could be “so interesting, so scary, so sick, so exciting and so thrilling, all together”. It sneaks up on people, and things aren’t really quite so funny in real life.

Something else to ponder over: Is the pleasure of raising children greater than the pain? This movie reminds us that it is asking too much to ask for it to be easy.

I also like the music specially written for this movie. For example, when there’s a lot of dialogue, the music is not just subordinate to what’s going on but it subtly helps to add to the mood and atmosphere, like when it’s supposed to be funny, it helps to make it funnier and when it’s emotional, it is also slightly manipulative dealing with the actual and realistic things.


Barney’s Version


What attracted me to this 2011 movie is the cast : Paul Giamatti (as Barney Panotsky), Minnie Driver (as Mrs P), Rosamund Pike (as Miriam) and Dustin Hoffman (as Izzy, Barney’s father).

Barney is an ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life. In his life, he makes countless mistakes but he has his heart at the right place. He is complicated, but he is not blunt; he’s nasty, but he is sweet. He is romantic and impulsive; and has a lot of charisma, charm and wit. Whether it is women (he marries three times), friendship or business, he is really clever; by cutting corners, he outmanoeuvre others by outsmarting others. His is a full life, and the movie is about the house of being alive, and it’s about compassion.

This Is Where I Leave You

This 2014 movie is based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper who also wrote the screenplay. It is about how the four grown-up children of the Altman family (played by Jason Bateman as Judd, Tina Fey as Wendy, Adam Driver as Philip and Kathryn Hahn as Annie) are forced to return to their childhood home because their father has passed away and his last words to his wife Hillary (played by Jane Fonda) was that they have to sit shiva for him.

At the core of this dramatic comedy is family; it’s letting go of old love, finding new love, and finding the warmness of family again. The most watchable actor here is Jane Fonda. There are moments that are hysterically funny and others that are emotionally significant.

Jazz at ACM

This afternoon’s jazz concert at the Asian Civilizations Museum is the last collaboration with Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) for this year. As is often in the case of Singapore’s jazz legend Dr Tony Makarome’s classes, the students had no idea that they have to play in public and that it is part of the course requirements. There are two sections of classes on different days and some of today’s performers are playing together for the first time. One more difference in today’s line-ups is that, for the first time, two of them (a pianist and a bass guitarist) are not students from YSTCM but a freelancer and a chemical engineering student who signed up for this elective.

The one-hour concert began with Things Ain’t What They Used To Be by Mercer Ellington & Ted Persons (Americans, 1919-1996; 1909-1988), the song that I’m least familiar with in today’s playlist.

Next comes L-O-V-E by Bert Kaempfert & Milt Gabler (German, 1923-1980; American, 1911-2001), a song made famous by Nat King Cole and one of my favourites. I was a tad disappointed by the vocalist who I felt lacked the vigour for such a dynamic and lusty song. However, the solo passages by the Bassoon and Viola made up for it.

For me, the concert became more enjoyable and animated from the third song. I was as pleased to see Gabriel Hoe taking his place at the piano as I was to see that Dr Makarome would be playing the double bass. I have been impressed by their performances before. It was only the second time I heard the song, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue by Lillian Hardin Armstron& Don Raye (Americans, 1878-1971; 1909-1985) but the first time I heard a Ruan (an instrument from the Chinese orchestra that looks like a banjo) playing it. Two violinists and a violist also took turns to showcase their prowess.

Another vocalist took the mic for the next song, Samba de Verao (Summer Samba) by Marcus Valle, Paulo Sergio Valle & Norman Gimbel (Brazilians, b. 1943; b. 1940; American, b. 1927). I could almost sense her nervousness as she started off in an almost hushed tone. Although I was seated right in front of her, I could barely make out what she was singing. Instead, I was more enthralled by the Ruan which is such a peaceful and meditative instrument.

A different piano major took over the ivories for Moanin’, a jazz standard by Bobby Timmons (American, 1935-1974). The flautist was almost as impressive as the pianist whose deft right hand reminds me of Lang Lang with an injured left arm.

Besides pianist Gabriel, who impressed me with his versatility (his music score had only three lines! & he could improvise while taking whispered instructions from Dr Makarome), I was most impressed with the Ruan player’s dexterity: his fingers just seemed to fly across the ‘frets’ and the clusters of double (&/ triple notes) were exemplary.

A surprise item (because it’s not in the programme) is the song Candy by Alex Kramer, Mack David & Joan Whitney (Canadian,  Americans;  1903-1998, 1912-1993, 1914-1990), a song I’ve loved since I first heard it sung by The Manhanttan Transfer decades ago. The vocalist seemed less nervous but was still hardly audible, as though I was not wearing my hearing aids.

The Spiderman Theme by Paul Francis Webster & Robert Harris (Americans, 1907-1984; 1925-2000) must have appealed to the very young ones in the audience because the male vocalist appeared in a Spiderman sweater. The get-up was definitely more catchy than his karaoke singing! There was no help from the first vocalist who sang today as she was inaudible, her voice mostly drowned by the violin, viola, vibraphone, piano, guitar and drums.

My favourite pianist of the day, Gabriel Hoe, returned to play Moon River by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer (Americans, 1924-1994; 1909-1976) with Dr Makarome and the drummer. The vocalist, singing her third song today, is clearly more confident and her delivery was smooth, though it was the pianist who won me over with his utterly relaxed demeanor. His pristine notes and crystal clear running passages made me want to play my piano the moment I get home!

The finale was The Chicken by Pee Wee Ellis (American, b. 1949), a song I’m totally unfamiliar with. What was interesting for me was that this performance is supposedly unrehearsed, as Dr Makarome just called out the students to the stage impromptu and told them there and then what he expected (eg who was to play solo), and they had to decided on-the-spot who was to take which section. Again, I was awed by Gabriel Hoe, who played with absolute ease (and apprently enjoying himself).

It had been an enjoying concert. As Beethoven once said: Music soothes the savage beast; I was in a much lighter mood than when I first arrived, because of a slightly unpleasant incident earlier.


Like torn, fallen leaves,

The men and women on the path,

Go in the same direction

As the whirlwind blows.

As though nonchalant,

I’m leaving and not looking back;

I think you’ll be truly shocked

By my strategy.

Sunlight all over

Separates the noise from the cold;

The endless crowd streaming past

Hears not the heartache.

What is important

Is that our hearts keep on beating

And that we’re strong and determined

And purposeful.