Am taking a breather from the 3rd week of confinement. (Confinement period seems to last forever here!)

The confinement food is driving me nuts. After a while, even the most nutritious food such as steamed fish is nauseating. Sigh. Although I’m looking forward to its end, I’m also going to enter the 2nd month of many unknowns and challenges – no more helper! The confinement nanny has been a great help but I want to run the house my way. Yang says that I’m a cleanliness freak. Many friends who have been through this journey told me in advance that it was a very tiring process for them after delivery and how a helper/care-giver really come in handy.

My well-meaning mother and aunts have been stressing me up initially. They were full of do’s and don’ts for the confinement period. And because I persisted in doing certain things the way which I think is proper and sane, there had been some tension in the air whenever they visit. Yang has been my moral support all this while – which I’m very thankful for. Guys outta there, I have this message for ya: Be prepared to be a pillar of support to your wives, a strong shoulder to cry on, during the confinement period.

After the tension has somewhat eased, I hit another road block. Hannah cannot get enough milk from breast-feeding alone. Then it was tug-of-war with the confinement nanny as to how much formula milk to supplement. I’m worried that too much bottle-feeding will cause Hannah to become lazy at sucking from my breasts. It took me sometime to break out of my fears to see that it is more important to ensure that Hannah has a full tummy than which type of milk fills the tummy. Both breast and formula milk have their pros and cons. Of course, breast milk is best where nutrition, convenience and cost (oh yes, it is very expensive) are concerned. But feeding formula milk reduces actual feeding time, gives the mother more time to rest in between feeds and the baby sleeps longer throughout the night.

I also went to see a lactation consultant about my milk supply problem. Basically, I have to down more fluids (e.g. soups, red dates drink and milk), rest more and take a prescribed herbal supplement. Hannah’s weight gain has not been ideal. Hence, the consultant recommended that we supplement about 6 times of formula milk per day.

Going back to my apprehensiveness about managing on my own once the confinement lady has left. The confinement nanny did good as she made an effort to pass me tips on managing a crying baby, taught me how to prepare nutritious meals and stocked up the refrigerator with items for me to use for cooking.

I hope that Hannah will get used to me soon. She likes the confinement nanny as she really has a way with babies. Hannah would smile at her whenever the confinement nanny play with her, tell her stories and sing to her. Talk about this mother being jealous! Ha ha.

28. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

My four picks: Sleepless in Seattle (1993), The American President (1995) and Enchanted (2007).

I don’t watch very many romance dramas on the big screen. I think it’s several things: when I’m watching something at the cinema, for the expense of the ticket, I need the film to be big, loud, noisy and filled with the kind of visuals I don’t see day-to-day. So, that’s why I’ll be willing to give the benefit of doubt for a mediocre fantasy or action-thriller movie and watch it at the theatre than for say a modern day romance film.

That said, there’s still been a couple of romantic dramas I’ve really like, though aside from Enchanted, all these I watched on DVD over the years.

Sleepless in Seattle is an unusual romantic flick, if nothing else for that the two persons destined to fall in love actually meet each other only in the last 5 minutes of the film. The first 100 minutes is all set-up in other words. In Seattle lives Sam, the father of a young boy, who is privately still grieving for his late wife. His son, Jonah, thinks he needs a woman, so clandestinely succeeds in getting his father to answer a lonely hearts radio-show.

On the other side of the country in Baltimore is a journalist, Annie, who’s engaged but secretly feels that something is missing in her coming marriage. How they eventually meet is a fun ride, with lots of help and input from their friends and Jonah.

blog-romance-02.jpg

There’re three scenes that are both tender and heartwarming. Early on when Annie listens from across the country to the radio broadcast where Sam remembers his wife will bring tears to ya (*sniff*). Then the short scene where the two almost meet across the road, but is cut short when Annie is nearly run down by a vehicle LOL. And finally, their meeting on the top of the Empire State Building, engineered by Jonah who’s determined that Annie’s the right woman for his dad.

Continued in the next post.:)

26. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-thriller-01 Now this is a very hard genre to pick from, as I watch more action and thriller movies than any other film genre. But if I had to select three favorites, I’d go with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Rock (1996) and Body of Lies (2008).

Of the four Indiana Jones movies, I think most people would regard the first – Raiders of the Lost Ark – to be the best of the lot. The film had a strong female lead, a villain who didn’t simply reek of evil without purpose, interesting henchmen, and most of all, introduced to us an everyman’s hero who took his punches and gave them back equally as well. The second film, Temple of Doom, was a lot more adult than the first film, getting into the dark and murky themes of human sacrifice, child slavery, and demonic cults.

The most recent and fourth film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, saw Jones return after a nearly 20 year hiatus. It was supposed to had been a welcomed return, but the film was deeply marred by a awful story that took us into the extraterrestrial realm of possibilities.

blog-thriller-02I liked the third film the best for several reasons: there was Sean Connery as Jones’ estranged father, and the The Last Crusade benefited greatly from the chemistry enjoyed between the two, great conversational dialog, and meaningful father-son moments of exposition.

The story also had a better plot progression: there were changing loyalties among characters, and third parties with invested interests getting involved in the quest for the Holy Grail.

The humor quotient was also taken to even higher levels than the first two movies: there was the very memorable bicycle chase and the priceless look Henry Jones gives his son after the latter disposes of the last German motorcycle, the father and son scene with the castle burning around them, and Indiana Jones way of traveling without tickets.

And who can forget Hitler’s autographing of the Grail Diary? That’s a scene I could watch over and over again LOL.

There was also The Rock, one of director Michael Bay’s earlier and better efforts in directing big budget action movies (his earlier movie Bad Boys wasn’t nearly as good). I caught The Rock at Bugis Junction with Salmon Run back 12 years ago, and I still remember the memory of that cinematic experience.:)

The story centers about a well-decorated, skillful but disgruntled army general who puts together a band of mercenaries, and threatens the use of force on San Francisco unless the families of men who’ve died in combat are adequately compensated, and their loved ones who’ve died in the line of duty honored. What was very special about the film was that General Hummel here wasn’t a bad guy – he just had his own means to achieve an end, and it’s something we empathize with him.

blog-thriller-03

Opposing him is Nicholas Cage as an FBI expert in biological warfare but is a fish-out-of-the-water when he’s ordered to follow the highly trained SEAL operatives to take down Hummel’s mercenaries. Joining him is Sean Connery who plays an aged British ex-secret service operative imprisoned but released just for this operation.

Like in The Last Crusade, Cage and Connery have great chemistry, especially the early moments when Connery learns that Cage is no counter-terrorism expert, snarls to him “Don’t get us all f***ing killed!” LOL.

I recently watched The Rock again with Ling on blu-ray and was telling her “Oh there there – I saw this location in San Francisco!” :)

I’ve blogged about Body of Lies here already. Suffice it to say it’s a really thought-provoking spy thriller with great acting from the two leads Crowe and Di Caprio, and supporting by Mark Strong who does a mesmerizing number as the Jordanian Head of Intelligence.

Special mention: Titanic (1997), Spy Game (2001) and Crimson Tide (1995).

26. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-reservationroad Reservation Road (2007) – on rental. I added this film into my rental queue a couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of the tragic Air France Flight AF447 as it was a show about dealing with grief.

What’s the story about? A family of four suffers a tragic loss in a hit-and-run car accident; Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace (Jennifer Connelly)’s 10 year old son Josh is killed by a vehicle driven by Dwight (Mark Ruffalo), a divorcee who is racing his son home to his estranged wife. Perhaps both shocked and also not wanting to lose his visitation rights to his son if imprisoned, he doesn’t stop when he knocks down Josh.

Ethan, Grace and their (“Very cute!!” said Ling) daughter Emma played by Elle Fanning, the younger of the two famous Fanning sisters each deal with their grief in different ways. Emma turns to the performing arts, and Grace after an initial period where she’s inconsolable tries to move on.

Ethan however becomes obsessed with finding who the driver is when the police solve the crime, which in turns threatens to tear his family apart. In a twist, Ethan hires a lawyer who turns out to be Dwight in order to find then prosecute the person he calls a murderer. Ethan eventually discovers who drove the vehicle that night in a gigantic leap of story logic – the film’s weakest point – and in the dramatic climax, the huge emotions and anguish in each person is brought to the surface in the show-down.

The early scenes of grief are painful to watch – the tears feel very real, and it was hard not to reach for tissue paper during the moving church scene honoring Josh. Dwight himself is guilt-ridden, and wants to do the right thing by turning in but just can’t bring himself to do it.

It’s a mostly talky show too with no violence (until the end), and is quite different from say Jodie Foster’s The Brave One which was of somewhat similar premise. The substantial middle act thus could be a little slow for some.

Sob-filled drama and just plain said. Not for every one.

blog-transformers2 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) – at Cathay Cineleisure. I’ll say just this: if you want to get through a Michael Bay movie, you have to accept some things – that the film is going to be packed with seamlessly computer generated imagery, there’s going to be lots of explosions, camera quick-cuts, and too many indulgent moments that the director is just plain showing off.

To be honest, I didn’t think Transformers 2 was that bad, especially if you consider that the review of the film in The Straits’ Times Life section today rated it half a star out of 5 stars. There’s stuff that jaded sci-fi and fantasy film fans won’t have seen too often before, or at least not as well done as it’s here.

Like the Island of an aircraft carrier exploding and then nearly splitting in two right in the middle. There was a similar scene in The Sum of All Fears from a few years ago, but Bay’s version is far more stunning visually. Or a Decepticon with huge wheels rolling down a highway.

The action scenes are kinetic too. Human weaponery and equipment are largely sidestepped in this sequel except for the last major battle involving a navy cruiser with a railgun. For much of the movie’s action sequences, it’s Autobots and Decepticons going mano-a-mano, two-on-one, three-on-one – just about every combination of a robot gang bang you can think of.

blog-transformers2b

The cast of human characters are really supplements in the Transformers films. Most of the leading cast return. Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam and is as fun to watch as he did before, though the whole subplot of him being imbued with alien powers is just silly. Megan Fox still plays Mikaela and has even less to do in this film but still gets a lot of screen time. Outside wearing low-cuts and displaying her bod, she contributes nothing to the film. It’s fun though to see Sam and her running, jumping, avoiding, explosions to the point she’s covered in dirt and grime – but her lipstick coverage is still flawless. John Turturro rounds up the trio returning as ex-Agent Simmons, and he gets the film’s best lines.

Unfortunately, a couple of actors who were merely annoying in the first film are just outright gyrating in the second film now. I’m referring specifically to Sam’s parents played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White. Just awful. Their inane dialog about the irrelevant – I’m guessing in a vain  attempt to add context and character development – will feel like hot pokers stabbed through your ear holes.

This time round too there’s another irritating human fly in the form of Sam’s roommate Leo, played by Ramón Rodríguez. The guy over acts, is given stupid lines, and has no significant role in the story but he shows up a lot in the film.

There’re a lot more Transformers bots in the sequel too: all the ‘bots who survived the first film return, and are joined by a huge cast of new bots. However, it’s crazily difficult to tell at any point during a fight scene what is going on – when all the Decepticons and several of the Autobots all look alike, and that the camera seems to be controlled by crazed chimpanzees on steroids. Only Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the two new twins Mudflap and Skids are distinguishable and only by virtue of the colors of their armor.

On the overall, one just has to accept Bay for what he can do, and what he just can’t. Given a huge budget, he can make visually stunning stuff. You just have to accept that it’s not deep, and just not especially memorable.

It could be an Asian thing, but from the man’s point of view at least, confinement for Chinese mummies in Singapore sure isn’t easy. The engagement of confinement nannies and helpers is a cottage industry here, with fees of 28 days help going upwards of $1800 to $2000.

To be honest, the price of help was never quite the issue with me (and Ling). Rather, it’s the tussle between traditional confinement ‘practices’ versus good old common sense.

I’m sure several of these practices are familiar to Singapore women, but for the benefit of Matt – whom I’m certain will be ROFLMAOing by the end of this post – here are some of them. According to these practices, for the one month after childbirth, women…

Are not allowed to bathe using normal water.

Are not allowed to wash their hair.

Are not allowed to be in air-conditioned environments.

Can only drink red date tea.

Cannot walk barefooted on marble floor.

Heard enough yet…?

blog-confinement-blues The common rejoinder / nag when asked why such prohibitions is that you’d get rheumatism, back pains etc. when you’re old age.

I’ve always thought it’s so easy for these confinement practices apologists to say “You don’t LISTEN, FINE!! You just wait… you’d only feel effects when you’re old!!!”

I mean, let’s just be honest. It’s going to be 30+ more years, and are people going to be able to draw direct correlations between your rheumatism and the fact that you bathed and wash your hair 30 years ago…?

To be fair, our confinement nanny is very nice and is at least sympathetic when Ling is obviously most distressed whenever she learns she cannot do something again. Ling did get a bit of grief initially from her own mum though early on, but things are OK again. And it’s also fortunate that my own mum is a bit more liberal and agreeable that some of these customs don’t really have to be followed strictly.

And medical experts also question the sensibility of some of these practices. E.g. link here.

I don’t think it’s simply a want to be disobedient. It’s just me maybe too, but I think it’s absurd to ask Ling not to wash her hair for 28 days. It’s a question of hygiene and not smelling unwashed.

And most importantly… she’s sleeping in the same bed as I am LOL.

23. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags:

It could be a guy thing, but several male colleagues at work when commenting about having babies all get straight to the point: “Wait till you get to all the sleepless nights!”

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve been sleeping pretty soundly since Hannah was born. Maybe it’s because I’m doggone tired every night when I’m back from work – that the house could be on fire, and I’ll still be muttering half-asleep “Five more minutes!”

Or that when Hannah needs a feed, Ling has mastered the art of slipping out of bed like a ninja without waking me up. Or that we were mentally expecting Hannah to be bawling all night long every night.

But Hannah has been anything but such. She typically will give advance notice before bawling. She’ll fidget in her cot first for a couple of minutes. Then she’ll squeak a little – and Ling and our confinement nanny will be instantly up haha. Maybe Hannah’s very mild cries for attention are simultaneously sending brain waves to the two.

It’s Ling though who looks a little zombified. Hannah wants to be fed every 2-3 hours, and occasionally will ask for ‘snacks’ in-between. And that’s not counting the times every day Hannah will ask for ‘comfort sucking’ too LOL.

Ling says she’s lost all track of time and can’t tell which day it is anymore. So one mission I’ve got right now is to try getting her to do things outside her job of being a cow. Like taking an hour or two every night for couple time i.e. vegetating in front of the TV with Everybody Loves Raymond.

blog-hannah-smiling

But it’s all worth it. Though mum says at this age she’s still ‘meng meng cha cha’ and very ‘gong’ – i.e. blur like a sotong, Hannah has began to smile and seemingly become just a little more cognizant of the surroundings.:)

23. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-lycans-01 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) – on rental. This really is the third of a trilogy of movies, of which the first installment was in 2003 and turned into a cult hit. What’s the trilogy about? Well – vampires and lycanthropes, or werewolves for those of us who’re not fans of fantasy fiction or Dungeons & Dragons, are engaged in a several century old war.

The first two installments starred Kate Beckinsale as a mean black leather-clad dual pistols wielding vampiric assassin caught in the middle of a tussle of power between vampires and lycanthropes. The third movie though is a prequel and relates events that were briefly remarked on in the first two movies. Basically, how the vampires were lords and masters over their lycan slaves before the latter had enough and rebelled.

That said, while the general plot outlay of Rise of the Lycans is easy enough to follow for newcomers to the series, the subtleties won’t be fully accessible unless one has been following the series. There’re bits of information revealed in the film that references character motivations and dialog in the subsequent two films.

Rhona Mitra – ex Tomb Raider model LOL – replaces Beckinsale, and pulls a harder, leaner version of the leather-clad dominatrix than Beckinsale. Mitra was previously in small film parts and TV series, so it’s nice to see her finally get a leading role on the big screen. Bill Nighy and Martin Sheen – stalwarts of the other two films in the trilogy – return though.

blog-lycans-02

As with horror-action films and the mythological thing about sunlight being fatal to vampires and werewolves thriving at night, the show is plastered in blue and dark tones throughout. Not a terrifically colorful picture by any means. There’s also quite a bit of blood and gore, but nothing especially unusual for a film of this type either.

Story wise though and possibly because of my familiarity with events in the sequel movies, the film didn’t really generate much excitement for me though. It’s competently made and the two returning actors and Mitra seem comfortable enough in their respective roles, but for a horror-esque film, I sure didn’t wince.

starstarblank-starblank-starblank-star

23. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-robinhood-04 The third Hood film was released not only in the wake of Prince of Thieves: it was a parody of Costner’s film. I’m speaking of Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

There’s no shortage of film parodies this year, what with all the bargain bin productions like Epic Movie, Date Movie, Super-Hero Movie, Disaster Movie and its likeness.

But of all these film parodies I watched over the decades, Men in Tights takes it all – the funniest, the most memorable, and delightful. Only Hot Shots 1 and 2 come close. I mean, when you have a movie poster like the one I’ve included here, you know you’re in for a treat.:)

But if that wasn’t convincing, consider this. Men in Tights was produced and directed by the Godfather of comedies, Mel Brooks. It had Brit actor Carl Elwes as Robin, a role he’ll become very remembered for alongside his turn as Westley in The Princess Bride.

And rounding up the trio was countryman Roger Rees as the bad Sheriff. Rees was costumed and made-up to look like Rickman’s Sheriff, and it helped that there was some personal resemblance between the two actors too. And what a hoot Rees was. The Sheriff here is dyslexic, stuttering, and mangles up his words when he’s nervous LOL.

blog-robinhood-05 The film was a little uneven in spots though and the dance numbers I thought were unnecessary.

But when the film was in its jokes mode, there was no let-up. There’s a hilarious opening scene where Robin is inducted into a Middle-Eastern prison, or luxury hotel as the prison warden called it. And all the jokes about the Marian’s literally iron-clad chastity belt.

All this said, the film doesn’t seem to be universally enjoyable. Ling thought it was boring, but my dad loved it LOL. So, blank-star.

There was also a much older film adaptation of Robin Hood from the mid 70s, titled Robin and Marian and starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. I bought the old VHS tape of the movie but haven’t seen it since the 80s. Not much recollection of the film anymore.

I haven’t remarked on the various TV series of the legend either, but will do so if I ever get my hands to rewatching them again.

All this said, Ridley Scott (hooray!) is directing a new Robin Hood film, to be released next year and starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Mark Strong. The two male leads are stalwarts in Scott’s acting roster – I especially liked Strong’s performance in Body of Lies, blogged here recently – so this is one film I have high hopes for.:)

22. June 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-nixon Frost/Nixon (2008) – on rental. Director Ron Howard’s output seems to fluctuate quite a bit. On the one hand, I really liked Apollo 13 but on the other hand, his move adaptations of the two Dan Brown novels – Angels & Demons, and The Da Vinci Code – were far less exemplary work.

Frost/Nixon thankfully belongs to the same league as 1995’s Apollo 13 though. The film dramatizes a series of interviews the late President Nixon did with talk show host David Frost in the aftermath of the former’s fall from grace, precipitated by the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, had already given Nixon a presidential pardon, but that did not exonerate him from the public perspective that he should be convicted in the media circus if not in a court of law.

The film reminds me of the recent Nanking film, which saw actors portraying historical characters in the incident, and getting interviewed as though they were the real persons. Frost/Nixon uses the same cinematic style to provide context to the film, and transition between scenes.

The two leads, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, playing Frost and Nixon are clearly comfortable in their respective roles. Both persons are reprising their roles from the successful Broadway play of the same name.

The film runs along pretty briskly too from an opening montage presenting succinctly the ke event points of the Watergate scandal, followed by Nixon’s resignation, to Frost and his producer John Brit’s decision to interview him, then preparation work, and finally the interview sessions.

The interview sessions don’t begin well for Frost’s team though as they’re obviously and quickly outclassed by the world-class political operative, Nixon. But they gain ground later after a crucial turning point after an apparently intoxicated Nixon phones Frost in a late night call, an incident that Nixon biographers insist never happened.

The film is all dialog and low tension for the first two thirds. But the last 30 minutes – the last interview session – are absolutely riveting where the two persons face off like two boxers, with Nixon finally making that controversial admission that “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” When the last interview is done, Nixon emerges as a man seemingly broken in spirit and humbled.

The film was nominated for all the key Oscars – including Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director – but curiously won none of them (the awards went to Slumdog Millionaire).

One of the most telling signs at home of whether a film will appeal to those of us who like films that are more drama than noise & explosions is Ling’s reaction to it. Ling didn’t get to finish watching the film as Hannah wanted a feed.

Just as we were turning in, Ling asked “So what happened at the end? I want to know…!”

The film gets Ling’s approval: starstarstarstarblank-star.