After the Wedding

After the Wedding is about a millionaire (Theresa Carson, played by Julianne Moore) who promises a large donation to the co-founder (Isabel, played by Michelle Williams) of an orphanage in India, but there are strings attached. Theresa insists Isabel attends her daughter’s (Grace, played by Abby Quinn, who also sings the theme song, I Knew You for a Moment) wedding.

From this point, the plot thickens and things take a dramatic turn. The twists are engrossing. The details, the secrets and the inscrutability of Theresa is especially compelling. The acting and cinematography are top-notch. The story is intelligent and thought provoking.

What does Theresa want? Why is she doing what she is doing? Is she hiding something from her husband (Oscar, played by Billy Crudup)? Where will she go next? She had been very deliberate in all her choices, but she is facing the one thing that she cannot control. Her character is very hard to read and is someone very difficult to get inside of until very late in the movie.

Contributing effectively to the tone and mood of the movie is the music, with a lot of cello, piano and violin solos. It is simply brilliant. The motif reminds me greatly of the delicate beauty, subtle nuances and restrained despair of Chopin’s Prelude Op 28 No 4.

A movie worth watching!

Pavarotti

This biography of Luciano Pavarotti begins with an archival footage of him going to a theatre built in the middle of the Amazon jungle in 1990. The son of a baker and a factory worker, Pavarotti was born in northern Italy with a tremendous gift from God but was also burdened by this gift: a phenomenal talent in his ability to hit a full-voiced high C. He has an extraordinary talent but technique and language (breathing, feeling, expression, temperament, joy) meant the most to him.

Besides the performances (most notable of which is Nessum Dorma), there are a few engrossing facts:

* Pavarotti paints as a hobby;

* He doesn’t plan things (“things just happen”);

* He is happy and full of joy;

* He is a Catholic;

* He trusts people (“I would not exist if I don’t trust people”);

* He suffers from stage fright: before he went on stage, he would say, “I go to die”;

* His first marriage to Adua Veroni gave him three daughters (Lorenza, Cristina and Guiliana) in four years;

* Scandals include his affair with soprano Madelyn Renee whom he met conducting a masterclass at Juilliard;

* His second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani (34 years his junior and younger than his three daughters) was pregnant with twins but only the girl survived (she was only 5yo when Pavarotti died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 71 in 2007).

The affair with Renee, divorce from Adua and remarriage to Nicoletta are not surprising because living the life of a touring international celebrity means Pavarotti was constantly under pressure and had to be away from home. This documentary shows as much of Pavarotti’s talent as his humanity.

Classical (and even non-classical) music fans would likely enjoy this film. Besides the aforementioned ladies, there are interviews with colleagues and internationally acclaimed musicians like pianist Lang Lang.

This is an engaging film about a voice that’s rapturous, soaring, lifting and beautiful. The music (including a catalogue of Pavarotti’s greatest hits) is gorgeous (and I estimated from the end credits that there are at least 94 of them)!

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim (nicknamed “healing mentor” in Korea and whose name means “spontaneous wisdom”) is a renowned Buddhist mediation teacher born in Korea and educated in the United States.

This book, translated by the author with Chi-Young Kim and published in 2012, precedes Love for Imperfect Things and shows the patterns of thought in mindfulness practice, the value of slowing down in our busy modern lives and the art of maintaining good relationships and cultivating self-compassion.

The eight chapters (on Rest, Mindfulness, Passion, Relationships, Love, Life, The Future and Spirituality) are illustrated by Youngcheol Lee which provide lovely, colourful and calming interludes to the essays and series of prompts for meditation and words of advice and wisdom:

The book contains simple yet powerful truth which we all know deep down inside but which are so easy to lose when we are too wound up in our busy life. For example:

* Rest: “To get food unstuck from a frying pan, just pour water in the pan and wait. After a while the food loosens on its own.” This shows how the world is experienced according to the state of one’s mind.

* Mindfulness: being mindful is to befriend your emotion. Advice: Much like a mirror reflects what is before it without judgement or identification with the image, simply reflect the negative emotion (eg anger) and watch it dispassionately.

*Passion: Being right isn’t important; being happy together is. Maturity comes with experience.

* Relationships: The art of maintaining a good relationship is to avoid conflicts. “Do not expect others to follow your way. When things always go your way, it is easy to become arrogant.” (Buddhist scripture); “Whether we like it or not, we are all connected, and it is unthinkable to be happy all by oneself.” (Dalai Lama)

* Love: “Demonstrations of love are small, compared with the great thing that is hidden behind them.” (Khalil Gibran, “The Prophet”)

* Life: Life is like jazz. Much of it is improvised; we cannot control all the variables. We must love it with panache and flair, regardless of what it throws at us.

* The Future: one word of encouragement can change the future. “Those who have not realised their True Self live like the blind, unintentionally scratching someone else’s leg. If you would like to scratch your own leg, first awaken to your True Self.” (Kyeongbong, Korean Zen Master)

* Spirituality: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your stand of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) This is essentially the same as the Law of Karma in Buddhist tradition. “He who knows only one religion knows none.” (Max Muller, German scholar) and “it is a sign of spiritual strength to keep someone else’s secret”.

This is a nice, soothing book, full of good advice and common sense which could be reflected upon and provide respite from hectic lives, stresses and other problems.

Looking Up

One of the most under-publicised excellent films is Looking Up, a China production that engaged multiple Grammy and Oscar award winner Hans Zimmer as its music supervisor. There is nary a mention in the media, not even in Chinese.

The credits say this film is dedicated to fathers and sons, but I think all parents and their (adult) children, the schools’ teaching and administrative staff and all educators should watch this film for its authenticity. There are morals aplenty.

A touching story about a simple boy and his father and how their journey in life is influenced by society and the people around them is well told in flashbacks from thirty years ago. Kudos to the scriptwriting team for coming up with such a wonderful screenplay.

Not only is the relationship between father and son movingly told, the cast is also convincing in their roles. The lead is of course the father, a brilliant actor who is also co-director of this film, turning many scenes into touching ones.

The cinematography, visual and special effects (such as CGI), stunts and choreography, and film editing all add to the effectiveness of the songs and music used. More than half a dozen Cantonese and Mandarin songs by notable singers such as Leslie Cheung, Eason Chan, Han Lei (the stirring Walking Around) and Liu Huan (the uplifting Crescent Moon) are aptly weaved into the plot. All these on top of the beautiful original theme music from a team of largely non-Chinese musicians.

There is also a lot of symbolism in this heartening and inspirational film: such as a globe made from a football, a toy/model aeroplane, a wuxia novel, a torch, a pillow, a watch, paper (in strips and sheets) and more, making the film even more interesting, absorbing and thought-provoking.

This is one of the best China-made productions I have seen; and the 147 minutes just flew by in laughter and tears!

Blinded by the Light

I had never been a fan of Bruce Springsteen, but after watching Blinded by the Light, I think I’m a convert.

Based on Saufraz Manzoor’s book Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock’N’Roll, the story is set in Luton, England in 1987. Times were economically and politically hard, and unemployment and neo-fascism were on the rise.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 16yo who wants to be a writer. He is from a Muslim Pakistani family where patriarchal control means Javed is oppressed by his father’s rigid rules. Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh classmate, gives him two Bruce Springsteen cassettes (Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town) which transform his outlooks. Springsteen’s music speak to him as they are about the struggles he and his family face.

Springsteen’s songs are expertly woven into the themes of xenophobia, racism, hostility, insults, friendship, love, ambition, economic, political and cultural struggles, traditions, rules, conflict, oppression and family. His lyrics speak like a philosopher’s words, which I’ve not realised before. They are powerful, impactful and emotional.

Everyone who loves words or have a passion for writing would find this movie deeply moving. There is humor and it is heartwarming and these come across as authentic. Particularly poignant is a scene towards the end when Javed delivers a speech on stage at the school’s prize giving ceremony. By the time his speech ends, my cheeks are as wet as his.

Next to the music (there must be more than three dozen songs altogether, and more than half of them by Springsteen), the best thing is the acting. The characters are so superbly played that they all come to life. I would definitely watch another movie that has some of the cast and directed by Gurinder Chadha.

The House Across the Street

Lesley Pearse is one of my favourite authors and I borrow her books without looking at the blurb. I’ve read all her previous books; I think The House Across the Street is her 26th.

Set in 1964, a time of social change, this is a story about relationships, domestic violence, abuse, abduction, rape, freedom, choice and rights. Katy lives in the house across Gloria, a fashionable businesswoman, and is fascinated by the comings and goings of another woman in a black car with other women and sometimes children to the house when Gloria is at her dress shop. One night, Gloria’s house burns down, killing her and her daughter, and Katy’s father is arrested for murder.. .. ..

There is mystery, there is suspense, and there is romance. However, compared to all her other books, I was slightly disappointed this time because I felt the writing style had changed, and the storyline not as gripping as the others. Still, it was a good read, and I would definitely borrow the next book that comes out.

Hossan-AH 50!

I’ve always enjoyed the Singapore Boy’s stand-up comedy shows and purchased a ticket for today’s show three months ago. What an amazing show it was!

I was thoroughly entertained for a straight 100 minutes, finding myself in stitches and tears from the beginning to the end on a whole range of topics including aches on turning older, GRAB car, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), CrossFit, spin cycle, the Merlion, local slogans, foreign influencers, steamboat, Apps, mobile phones and so on.

I was really impressed with Hossan’s singing, especially the French number by Charles Aznavour and a(n) original ‘medley’ of Mandarin songs, complete with a rap section. I loved the oldies such as Burt Bacharach’s What the World Needs Now and I Say a Little Prayer and Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen, during which Hossan accompanied himself on the piano (and he plays a mean piano too)!

The highlight of the show was when Hossan played seven princesses (involving eight sets of complete costume changes including hair pieces and accessories), singing their signature songs – all in less than 24 minutes!

The sublimest songs were delivered at the closing: I Wish You Love (in English and French) and My Favourite Things (with unique lyrics).

Simply SANS PAREIL (French)!

Bully

Bully is a 2011 documentary about five different families whose children encounter bullying in different ways in schools across America (Oklahoma, Mississippi, Iowa, Georgia).

Two boys, aged 11 and 17, resorted to suicide, a 14-year-old girl was in youth behavioral detention for having brought a gun onto a school bus, a 15-year old girl was ostracised (even by her teacher) for being gay and a 12-year-old boy was both physically and verbally tortured by his peers; all were subject to harsh and uncalled for treatment.

Bullying is a very serious problem and this will continue as not enough is being done. Until one is in their shoes, one can never truly understand what the parents whose children are bullied go through.

One Upon A Time in Hollywood

A lot of publicity has been given to Once Upon A Time in Hollywood but I’m not entirely won over by this lacquered megabudget movie, despite a large cast (numbering perhaps a hundred and including big names like Al Pacino) and plenty of songs.

The main story is about a faded TV actor (Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton) and his stunt double/longtime companion (Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth) striving to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

There are multiple storylines and I find the structure rather uneven. There is also a fair bit of violence and coarse language.

At 2 hours and 42 minutes, I was not surprised at the number of tunes and reference to other movies from the period. There must be more than three dozen songs, including Mrs Robinson, Hey Little Girl, In My Life, Summertime, Mac Arthur Park, California Dreamin’ and the Batman Theme. These aptly reflect the taste of the time.

Dying to Meet You

I chanced upon Dying to Meet You: Confessions of a Funeral Director at the library yesterday, borrowed it and finished reading it in a day. I had heard about this book when it first came out two years ago, so I had a rough idea of what to expect. What I did not expect was to be so moved as to tear up many times as I read the fascinating accounts and insider views of this little-known profession.

Angjolie Mei is one of Singapore’s few women funeral directors, an industry dominated by men. Ms Ang is the second daughter of the late Ang Yew Seng, a pioneer in Singapore’s funeral industry. In her book, Ms Ang reflects on her growing up years, her decision to join this industry and the changes she wants to make. She also reveals what exactly happens during embalming, what kind of post-death restoration is needed for death victims and little-known facts surrounding suicide in Singapore, among many other observations.

One message that comes across loud and clear is that people take life for granted. It’s very common for people to bear grudges, be angry and worry about petty stuff; but at the end of the day, all these don’t matter.