September, 2009

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The Young Victoria

blog-victoria-01 The Young Victoria (2009) – on rental. There are three English Queens that I have a reading interest in: Queen Elizabeth I, the current Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria.

One of the most remarkable events in the latter’s reign and life was her life-long love for her husband, Prince Albert whom she was married to for 21 years before the prince consort’s untimely death from typhoid fever at the age of 42.

The Young Victoria is a new production by Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée whose body of work is unfamiliar to me. The film has a striking resemblance in tone to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998) which like the new film chronicles the ascension of a young queen to the throne, the initial years, and the love of her life: and in the new film, Albert for Victoria.

The film also enjoys the same visual treatment as the other most recent English period drama on royalty I watched, namely The Duchess (blogged here). But while the latter falls roughly into the same genre bracket – that both are films of intrigue, drama, and love and relationships in the English aristocracy – The Young Victoria was a far more enjoyable experience than The Duchess… on account of the spot-on casting of Emily Blunt in the title role of Victoria.

Blunt has been in a few other roles before this new film, e.g. Mike Nichols’ near-satirical Charlie Wilson’s War which I really like, but she’s better known for her role as the acidic Senior Assistant Emily in The Devil Wears Prada. I pointed out to Ling that it’s the same actress midway through the Victoria, and it took her a while to see the resemblance! Blunt is roughly in the same group of UK actresses as Keira Knightley, but hasn’t experienced the same megawatt exposure as Knightley has.

blog-victoria-02But not withstanding that, I couldn’t help but compare between the two actress within their two recent films, and come out wondering how much better The Duchess would had been if Blunt had taken Knightley’s role as Georgiana Cavendish. Her Victoria portrays the entire breadth and range of intelligence, wit, beauty and vulnerability – and she doesn’t have Knightley’s protruding jaw nor her distracting 20th century mannerisms misplaced into a period drama.

Blunt is also supported by what is a who’s who list of very good actors from the isles: and they include Jim Broadbent who plays the slightly demented old King William IV, Mark Strong who’s almost unrecognizable with a receding hairline, Paul Bettany who turns in a slightly slippery Lord Melbourne and advisor to Victoria, and Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent. The last is Rupert Friend who was Mr. Wickam in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, and this time stars in the role of Albert.

The visuals are amazing, as are the costumes. But while The Duchess was equally as sumptuous looking onscreen, The Young Victoria has warmer tones due I’m guessing to the use of more natural lighting, unlike the somewhat over-processed and almost HDR look in The Duchess.  The coronation scene was splendid in both sight and sound, and post-card like with an explosion of colors and shine. I wonder if any part of it was CGed. The skeptical part of me says it is because the scene was just too grand. But if it was, it certainly was hidden very well.

The film seems to have been mostly faithful to factual history (with a few exceptions, especially a dramatic assassination scene at the film’s end which got ‘embellished’), even though the semi-short running length at 100 minutes meant that only selected events was included in this retelling. The film though wisely puts the focus squarely on the love relationship between Victoria and Albert, so the film’s subplots rarely stray too far from that central theme.

The Young Victoria

There are two failings though: one severe enough for me to have docked a star, and the other minor. Firstly, for a film in which Victoria and Albert’s relationship is cornerstone to, I don’t think Friend was playing off Blunt very well. Blunt impresses in every scene, but Friend felt a little wooden and barely able to reciprocate in conviction. Sort of like Matthew Macfadyen’s equally wooden portrayal of Darcy in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and that’s not merely on account of how Darcy’s character was written in Austen’s novel.

Secondly, the minor failing lies in the somewhat inaccessibility of the film if you’re unfamiliar with early 19th century English politics. Lots of situations are referenced, especially the perpetually messy state of pan-European politics and party loyalties within England then. I think the film could had done a better job explaining its background and context.

Still, I enjoy The Young Victoria from front to end, as did I think Ling who loved the overtly romantic segments of the film. The winning line for me? Albert saying to Victoria in courtship:

“Of the modern composers, I suppose Vincenzo Bellini is my favorite.”

A composer who lived 200 years ago from our time: but a modern composer in Victoria’s day. That gave me the chuckles! :)

Sleeping Postures

Hannah has been adopting new sleeping postures from the 3 months 2 weeks onwards, e.g. being able to turn over and sleep on her side overnight, and of late too, getting her feet stuck in between the guard railings of her cot.

Ling noticed the other day too that Hannah has adopted a new sleeping posture that takes after me: she sleeps with her forearm covering her eyes like me! This was her mid morning nap after her breakfast feed:


I wonder what other mannerisms will she take after her dad.:)

Teaching Mathematics

An interesting video was circulated around today. But I didn’t quite understand what it was about initially, but since everyone else around me was laughing at the video, I gave it a second look. There’s sound only in the right channel BTW too.


Got a chuckle.:)

Thinking Aloud (follow-up)

There’s an episode in Everybody Loves Raymond, a comedy series that we rewatch over dinner regularly where Raymond gets into hot soup after he tells a lie to his wife Debra, and when quizzed, he has to tell more lies, and more and more family members get involved with each concocting more stories to cover for a previous fib.

I usually avoid doing follow-up or subsequent posts on News & Letters posts too soon, if at all. Usually, the issues already receive a lot of press attention both in print, online and in coffee-shop talk.

Still, it’s hard not to comment again on more news revelations on the beleagued Miss Singapore – World 2009, especially when she’s giving media so much verbal fodder by continuing to respond to questions on her actions in the fiasco.

Miss Singapore World 2009 Ris LowThe sum of it is this: while there might had been some justifiable sympathy for Ms. Low’s poor diction and inability to speak proper English, the last round of news and her ‘confessions’ is making it (basically) very hard if at all possible to feel sorry for her anymore. And I’m not referring to the revelations that she had been convicted of credit fraud – which is bad enough as it is.

Consider firstly her constant shifting and backpedaling. It started off with Ms. Low denying that she had been involved in legal troubles:

When The New Paper learnt of Ris’ legal troubles about a month ago and confronted her, she denied it.”

Then when the news broke in Mypaper’s expose, Ms. Low ‘fessed up but insisted that she did inform pageant organizer ERM:

“They said then that as long as the news did not get out, they would give me the opportunity to continue with the competition. Who would’ve thought this would leak out. Now that the whole thing is all blown up, I’m not so sure,’ said Ms Low.”

And when ERM finally issued a terse statement pointing out that they were never told, she now says:

When asked by The Straits Times and other papers last week whether the organisers knew about her conviction, she insisted that they did. But yesterday, Miss Low made an abrupt U-turn and confirmed ERM’s version of the events. She said she told the company about her brush with the law only after the My Paper story appeared last Friday.”

Secondly, there’s also the trivalizing on the seriousness of her conviction when she said:

She added that she let on only after she was asked about it: ‘They ask then I tell lah, because actually I don’t find the point of telling…’ Asked why she did not come clean about her conviction from the start, she replied: ‘It’s still a record, but it’s not as though it’s that big… I was given a second chance to change.'”

There are a couple of arguments flying around in her defense: and here’s my (very) short take on each one of them:

That she was privately sponsored, and since no public money was spent, there is no need to publicly audit her winning the local segment of the contest. – Agree.

Hence, she cannot be denied her chance at the finals in December as Miss Singapore – World. – Disagree. To have won the local segment is one thing. To participate in an international tournament as Miss Singapore – World is another: her representation is now squarely under public scrutiny since she’s now flying the flag of the country (so as to speak).

That the credit card fraud was committed in a moment of folly. – Disagree. Stealing a credit card once and impersonating as its owner once is a moment of folly. Repeatedly doing this using multiple cards on multiple occasions, and chalking up 60 other charges before a probation sentencing is not.

That Singaporeans are very harsh on her. – Agree. But she’s invited a lot of these criticisms through sheer and repeated carelessness on her part.

That everyone deserves a second chance. – Agree. But in Ms. Low’s case, she’s firstly asking for chances well beyond the first; and secondly, a second chance should not mean she must represent the country in an international event here and now when there is currently so much attention heaped on her failings. There will be other events where she can “fulfill her dreams” once she’s let the furore subsided.

I still feel a little sorry for her, but only on account that whatever she’s going through is a lot for a 19 year old. While the decision to crown her Miss Singapore – World could be argued as questionable in view of her language ability but was not of her doing, whatever that’s happened after that has largely been the result of her own actions, words and denials then backpedaling.

The best thing for her to do now is to fade away and disappear off Singapore’s radar. There will be other opportunities for her. But while Ms. Low has insisted that she’s not ready to give up her crown despite all that’s happened, like Ling has remarked – I don’t think it’s her choice anymore. My hunch is that this fiasco will be resolved very soon – when she is politely ‘told’ to step down by event organizer ERM.

Afternoon appendum: Looks like Ms. Low has surrendered her title.

Photographing Hannah

I’ve blogged about the difficulty faced when taking pictures of Hannah. When she’s interacting with us and isn’t in one of her grumbling moods, she’d coo delightfully, giggle and generally be cute. It’s easy to take pictures of her being happy when the both of us are around, but if I’m trying to capture her happy moods on my own, it’s a lot tougher.

I figured that Hannah seems extra alert when when there’s a large DSLR pointing in her general direction. Her reaction will then run the gamut of either fidgeting (which she normally does when she’s alone) to starring curiously directly into the front lens element.

So one trick I’ve learned when shooting alone is to hold the camera off-eye i.e. frame the shot with the viewfinder, hold the camera steady with one hand, set to continuous focusing, then look away and interact with Hannah and hope she doesn’t move too much out of the frame. Obviously this sort of thing would work best with a tripod since I was precariously balancing a 2.7 kg DSLR + lens + flash unit on one hand, but both the two ‘pods at home can take too long to deploy.

Still, the results have turned out satisfactorily, e.g. like the selection from several pictures taken quickly yesterday afternoon. They were taken with the D300 with myself off the viewfinder:




(Taken using the Sigma 18-250mm.)

17 Again

blog-17-a 17 Again (2009) – on rental. The length of my DVD home rental queue fluctuates quite a bit over any given period of time. At times I could have as many as a several dozen films and TV series queued up. At other times, I could be scouring the rental service’s catalog looking for films I’d normally skip but am relooking again only to fill the queue.

That’s basically how 17 Again ended up sent for my viewing. It arrived together with Angelina Jolie’s critically acclaimed Changeling (to be blogged here as well), and we settled in to give 17 Again a go over a dinner of Baby Kailan vegetables with sliced fish fried in oyster sauce.

The show begins in 1989 with a 17 year old High School student Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) playing at an important basketball game, but at a critical moment forsakes the game to be with his girlfriend Scarlet. 20 years later, the older O’Donnell (played now by Matthew Perry) is washed out, pissed over his job progression, distant from his children, and undergoing divorce proceedings with his wife, the same Scarlet. When asked by a mysterious school janitor, he resolutely says he’d want to go back to change his life – and he gets exactly that opportunity to when he wakes up to find that he’s now in a 17 year old body.

To say that the film’s premise is like worn underwear is an understatement. The whole theme of body switcheroos and going back-in-time (though 17 Again keeps it in the present) has been done countless times already. The film liberally ‘borrows’ from Back to the Future, and parts of Mike’s experience of disembodiment reminded me of 13 Going on 30 which was even sillier but I enjoyed it a lot more than 17 Again.


If film plagiarism was not already a problem, the film next smacks from front to end of lazy writing – the story subplots are based entirely on coincidences the film expects you to accept, and when not those subplots are never satisfactorily resolved. Like the romantic subplot between Principal Jane Masterson and Mike’s best friend the nerdy Ned is entirely based on the fat coincidence that Masteron is also a fantasy geek – which is never explained how that comes about when the two have nothing in common at all. Or that how Mike’s diatribe about premarital sex could somehow sway his entire class who knows nothing of him into moralistic rapture. And even if you could buy that, that this newfound standing is never carried through the rest of the film and just forgotten in the film’s rush to get to the next scene.

Moreover, for a film that is entirely based on the premise that Mike is in a body 20 years younger, you’d expect Efron and Perry to at least look semi-alike- but they are anything but. Not only do the two look physically nothing like the other – 20 years of age separation not withstanding – they display little consistent mannerisms apart from a reference to his wife Scarlet as ‘Scar’. It felt as though the film’s writers were banking solely on Zac Efron’s starpower from the successful High School Musical series of movies, and made no effort to better write dialog or scenes to make the audience believe that this was indeed an 37 year old man in a 17 year old body.


Which is all the pity because there are some good individual performances. I’m neutral towards Efron as his pretty boy good looks do nothing for me. But he can act at least, even if the much talked-about basketball tomfoolery scene in the school cafeteria when he’s facing down resident bully Stan is gratuitous and seemingly constructed only to get teenage girls in the audience swooning after Efron.

On the other hand, I like Perry and he’s a natural comic – but he only shows up in the first 10 and last 5 minutes of the film. Thomas Lennon’s Ned was panned by a lot of film critics, but I enjoyed his low-key performance as the wealthy techno-geek-entrepreneur. And while he has zero chemistry with actress Melora Hardin (Principal Masterson), at least the many references to Lord of the Rings in their scenes were cute.

If you’re fine that this film is nothing more than a vehicle for Zac Efron to play pretty boy or you believe a film can be carried on an actor’s good looks, this film will work for you. But forget it if you’re expecting 17 Again to be refreshing or even coherent. It was ordinary, formulaic and not very interesting.

In short, the Kailan was way better.

Sunday Afternoon

The weather here has been awfully warm and humid, made even the more unpleasant by the light haze caused by the seasonal land burning in Indonesia this last few weeks. Things are very slightly better where we’re at in the North-Eastern side of Singapore though, at least according to the daily PSI readings taken by NEA.

Either way, when the combination of both weather and haze gets a little too much for us in the last week, we’d lock ourselves with Hannah in the work room, and condition the air. Hannah gets situated in her Maclaren Baby Rocker, and of late has also become a lot more interactive and interested in objects around her. Like how she’s playing with her nappy cloth while blowing raspberries in the series of pictures below:




There’s a little visible mark on her forehead too from having scratched herself. Her finger nails grow real quick and needs to be filed every other day.

(Taken on the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8 with the Lambency diffuser).

Brunch with Baby

Hannah’s has just passed her 3 months 3 weeks now, and we figured the time should be right to bring her out of the house during weekends to malls, shopping centers and the like for meals.

It’s weird how your criteria for consideration when it comes to places for brunches and dinners now change when you’ve got a infant in tow. Say a year ago, Ling could make a face if we’re gonna have brunch at some crappy restaurant – and it’d usually be because the food’s unhealthy or just no good.

Today, the criteria has transformed to…

1. Is the restaurant child-friendly?

2. Are aisles wide enough for the pram to go through?

3. Is there space at the table for the pram to get situated?

Yep – the quality of food and ambience no longer gets considered LOL.

Anyhows, we’ve also become a lot more alert about other families with kids now too, especially watching how they manage their little ones at public places, and we’re learning from observation. More notes and posts to come based on our watching Hannah at such public outings. In the mean time, here’s a few pictures of our first such weekend brunch outing to Compass Point with Hannah.:)



That thing you do

Babies have a way of stealing one’s heart away. Even the way they cry can be so adorable. :)

Hannah and I had some sweet, endearing moments and I wanted to pen some down in case I forget someday.

1) On one cold evening, I walked gingerly into Hannah’s room to check whether she was sleeping well. I touched her hands and legs and they felt quite cool. Hence, I used a nappy cloth as a thin blanket to cover her little body. At that very instance, while her eyes were still closed, her lips parted and she gave a wide, toothless smile :) She really warmed my heart even though the smile could be due to her dreaming.

2) There have been many mornings that Hannah showed her delight at seeing my face. She would normally swing her little arms and kick her little legs energetically in the air while grinning or giggling away. One of these mornings, she eagerly tried to establish some sort of contact point with me by saying ‘helloo’ and ‘okay’ with much effort. It felt like she was afraid that I didn’t recognise her. My dearest girl, I know who you are of course! :D

3) Sometimes we would put Hannah on her rocker chair in our work room in order to keep her company while we use our PCs. Just the other day, I was sitting beside her to help her settle down in her rocker chair and she kept gazing at me with such sweetness that made it hard for me to tear away from the spot. :)

4) There were 2 occasions that Hannah spontaneously repeated something I said to her and mimicked my tone as well. One of them was when I told her that her milk was “hot hot” and not ready for drinking. She took a glance at the milk bottle and said “hot” too. The other one was when I praised her for doing something right by saying “Yeah!” with much gusto and she immediately exclaimed “Yeah!” shooting out her left fist. Ha ha. So cute la. :P

Pedal Power

Does your notebook run out of power too quickly? 3 hours of battery life not enough for you? Well, YoGen Max has a solution… use foot pedaling to charge your notebook battery!


Easily the most interesting device I’ve seen this year – and it gave me a few chuckles too.:)