31. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Baby Videos

I often repeat words when I talk to Hannah. E.g. “leg leg”, “sit sit”, “nap nap”, “come come”, “hug hug” and “walk walk”.

Hannah is rapidly gaining confidence in walking since the last time I videoed her in her play yard. Here’s a video capturing her walking about the house. Just yesterday evening, she started opening my drawers in our workroom! Ahhh, our girl is getting busy with her hands and legs. :)

27. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-percy-01 Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) – on rental. The story theme of an ordinary boy who finds his destiny among the powerful and fantastic is one that book authors have been mining for years. Several of these book series have been turned into film franchises even. There’s been the Harry Potter books, Eragon (absolutely awful film adaption a couple years ago of the first novel though), and now Percy Jackson.

The title character’s name, ‘Percy Jackson’, is actually a play on the name of one of Greek mythology’s most well-known heroes, Perseus. In the first book that this new film is based on, two of Olympus’ most powerful Gods – Zeus (Sean ‘Boromir’ Bean LOL) and Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) – are arguing over who has stolen Zeus’ prized master bolt. Zeus threatens war in Olympus, and by extension Earth – since there’s no chance for computer-generated visual carnage and destruction if it’s just war in the clouds – if the bolt isn’t returned to him, like real soon.

Percy (Logan Lerman) is the offspring of Poseidon and his earthly mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), and possesses a good measure of Daddy’s god powers over water. He’s accused of stealing the bolt, and with the assistance of his satyr guardian – Grover played by Brandon T. Jackson (recognized him as Alpa Cino from Tropic Thunder!) – and Annabeth, daughter of the Goddess Athena, and played by Alexandra Daddario – the three set off on a quest to find the real thief and return the bolt to Zeus before all hell breaks loose.

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Jackson, Lerman and Daddario

Interestingly, Percy Jackson is the second film already this year that’s based off Greek mythology in what seems to be a revived interest in the retelling of stories from the legendary Greek heroes. We’ve already seen this year’s remake of the 1981 Clash of the Titans (reviewed here on our blog), but that film suffered from a horrifically miscast Sam Worthington as a really wooden Perseus and also a too-casual grounding to the mythological source.

Percy Jackson fares a little better. For starters, there’s better representation of Greek myth in this new film. There’s Medusa (Uma Thurman LOL), the Minotaur and Hydra (both CGed), Chiron the centaur mentor (Pierce Brosnan looking all hairy), Persephone (Rosario Dawson driving up the sexua’o’meter rating and for young boys to gawk at), and their abilities and dispositions are about consistent with lore if only still in the most general sense. Joe Pantoliano even shows up as Percy’s foster father, though his role is pretty inconsequential and his talent largely wasted.

And yep, the cast in this film is like a roster of well-known adult actors doing their bit roles in the production, though in a few persons’ case they are playing roles that are already familiar. Thurman’s Medusa (below) is quite the vamp, but after Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin, she’ll easily sleep walk through roles like this.  Steve Coogan has a hoot playing the third person in the trio of Godly brothers, Hades. The actor turns in a Mick Jagger version of the God and his performance seems a nod towards Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

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This is what owning an iPhone will do to you.

The Hollywood veterans taking their turns to trot out their God parts are all clearly having fun with the lore and legends, but they’re also just supporting players. The three young leads on the other hand – Lerman as Percy, Daddario as Annabeth, and Jackson as Grover – are painful to watch. Lerman’s Percy is outright irritating, poor Daddario seems overwhelmed (doesn’t help that she can’t act), and the normally funny Jackson is given stupid dialog and even dumber subplots, including one about acquiring his satyr horns. It’s unfortunate that the three young leads get the lion’s share of screen time and things really are despondent when they are running around and trying to act demi-Godly, but things invariably cheer up in the film when the veterans reappear.

The irreverence and humor though does at some level work against the film, if for nothing else it creates oscillation between half-seriousness when the adult veteran actors are in the scene, and that the tomfoolery immediately ceases when the scenes re-center on the three young leads trying to act all serious on their quest to save the world. It’s inconsistent and pretty jarring whenever the tone switches.

Still, I enjoyed Percy Jackson marginally more than Clash of the Titans. Even if the story’s dumb and the three leads awful, it’s still a bit of a guilty pleasure watching great actors having fun in supporting roles like these. Watch, enjoy then forget.:)

blog-inception-01 Inception (2010) – AMK Hub. If Inception is what director Christopher Nolan can come up with during his spare time in between his second and third Batman films, one wonders just what he’d be able to come up with if he had more time. My colleagues caught the film earlier last week, and what they saw onscreen carried over into office banter the following days. Inception‘s movie trailer was simply mind-blowing. It’s hard to imagine how movie lovers upon seeing a scene of a busy street bending skywards would not immediately be intrigued by the film’s premise.

But 2.5 hours later on a packed Saturday late morning screen at the Hub, I left the theater with mixed feelings. At the risk of offending a lot of the film’s fans – the film has scored an astonishing 9.3 rating on IMDB already – I thought Inception was visually stunning, served by great performances and creative enough to feel like a huge gush of fresh air… but also ultimately plagued by story and thematic problems that stop my giving it an unreserved recommendation.

A quick introduction to the film’s creative premise: Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobbs, a professional dream ‘extractor’ whose specialization is in infiltrating other persons’ dreams and stealing what would normally be inaccessible information. A new job comes through Saito (Ken Watanabe), a powerful businessman who wants Cobbs not to steal information but to plant into his business rival Fischer (Cilian Murphy) an idea that would help Saito maintain his own business’ competitive edge. In order to effect this, Cobbs assembles a team of other specialists, including his right-hand man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the dream level designer Ariadne (Ellen Page), and a master disguiser Earmes (Tom Hardy).

There is one very strong thing going for Inception, and it’s the solid actor performances all round. DiCaprio has gone from strength to strength over the last 15 years since his first major role in The Quick and the Dead, though the good actor possesses a sort of distinguishable look that it’s hard to see a film of his without immediately recognizing the actor. Interestingly, several of Nolan’s Batman alumnus shows up for this film too: and they include Watanabe, Murphy, Michael Caine in a small role as Cobbs’ mentor father, and Hans Zimmer who returns to write another big, noisy and bombastic but ultimately non-descript soundtrack for Inception. Ellen Page, whom I last saw in the delightful Juno, is in the film too and plays a role that is more representative of the actress’ actual age.

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The actor though that I thought gave the best performance of this crew is Gordon-Levitt. The young actor is certainly showing quite the range: as a psychotic villain in Killshot to a luckless boyfriend in 500 Days of Summer, and now that of a loyal companion and point-man to Cobbs. While Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) expresses misgivings of taking on Saito’s job, he discharges his role with a deft hand once the mission gets going. There’s a long amazing zero-gravity-like action sequence with him in it, and while the actor’s somewhat slender frame doesn’t naturally put him in a physical form one associates with action films, it’ll be interesting to see whether his action-heavy role in Inception will continue into other similar roles in the future.

[Spoilers]

So, what didn’t work for me in the film? Many aspects, several of which are drawn off the same problem. Inception has been favorably compared online to The Matrix. Thematically, the two films draw upon semi-related material: essentially, the existence of alternative realities that blur the difference between what is real and what is a dream. However, for a film that is entirely based upon persons trawling dream worlds, the dream scenes themselves don’t especially feel very dream-like. Apart from the single standout zero-gravity fight scene that takes place in a hotel corridor, you never get a persistent sense that the heist team and their target are operating in dream worlds.

Let me explain what I mean: just think for a moment the dreams you’ve had. They never make sense. Your environments change constantly, and you’re often doing things that are reminiscent of activities you do in the real world, or you are doing really fantastic things. For instance, one thing that keeps recurring in my dreams is super-human flight. Those are the sort of things we’ve come to expect in dreams, but there’s little of this in Inception. The dream levels are reliant too much on the real world and with the exception of the zero-gravity scene are compliant to real-world physics and artifacts.

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The film does try to insert story elements that remind you of its setting. For example, that the subject’s ‘human’ projections might know what you are up to and attempt to fight back. And there’s also the idea that time gets multiplied exponentially between levels, and the aforementioned mind-blowing scene of the street bending upwards. But the latter was the game ‘tutorial’ Cobbs shows to Ariadne to prove his point, and the highlight of the film’s trailer. You never actually see much of that kind of fantastic and constantly changing environments in the film’s long mission, and its absence significantly destroyed much of any sense of immersion I might have had otherwise. The Matrix did a much better job at representing an alternative reality where your powers are limited only by what your willpower and extent of imagination.

The second issue I had was that the story felt unnecessarily complex. One of the key story points is the existence of different dream levels, and that you might be dreaming within a dream. But the story delivery resulted in a terrifically convoluted mess that made it very hard to follow the fine details of what was going on, especially the mentor deception that Cobb’s team was trying to pull on Fischer. Moreover, while I like the idea of time getting slowed between levels, I thought the film’s climatic juxtaposition of scenes from each of the dream levels where the team tries to get kicked back to reality was stretched well past a reasonable limit to keep the audience in suspense.

Thirdly; as imaginative as the film’s theme is, I never quite got the sense that Inception is epic. There are obligatory fight scenes of course, but they don’t feel as though they are an integral part of the story. The faceless and numerous ‘enemies’ in dream world are the apparent human projections in Fischer’s mind, but the story glosses over this as though it wants you to just accept the fact and not to ask any more questions as to why if Fischer was supposedly trained to react defensively in dream world attacks that he didn’t just simply imagine up thousands of enemy agents and overwhelm Cobb’s team. You know, sort of like what Agent Smith did in The Matrix: Reloaded.

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Lastly is the absence of any real antagonist, even thinly drawn ones. It’s not a big good-vs-evil battle. It’s not even a localized battle. It’s merely a story about a bunch of dream invaders infiltrating someone else’s mind to implant an idea with some barely-related action scenes thrown in to qualify the film as a science fiction-action movie. The story essentially ends when they all wake up, and when it does, it’s all a bit underwhelming because everything that’s happened isn’t really real in the physical sense. So, all those bad guys who shoot you, or when your team members start getting shot – not to worry. All they need do is wake up in the right way, and all will be fine. No one can really die (though you might end up in ‘limbo’ – watch the film to understand what I mean), which pretty much kills the film’s stakes.

And the much-discussed last scene that will have you asking your movie partner if the entire film was really itself a dream. Ling certainly doesn’t think so, and it’s because she noticed something about to happen when the film cuts to the end-credits. Which begs the question then: why bother with a hanging question if the answer is already semi-obvious on the screen if you pay close attention to the last seconds?

Mixed feelings again. I think there’s a lot going for Nolan’s Inception, and the film is going to make megabucks at the box office. Even a week after the film’s release in Singapore, the theater on Saturday late morning was 70% packed – a pretty uncommon sight nowadays. Watch this film if you’d like a thought-provoking story and great actor performances. Just be prepared to be asking lots of questions at the end of it when you try to unravel the almost convoluted mess. So, don’t flame me, but I really thought it was a…

25. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Recipes

It’s the weekend again! That means I have more time to do cooking at home :D I decided to give tom yum soup a shot after getting inspired by another local blogger.

So it was to NTUC to shop for all the necessary ingredients this morning. I enjoy buying fresh produce… :D The sight of fresh vegetables and fruits makes me happy. :)

I bought the Dancing Chef’s Tom Yum paste. I supposed any brand will do as long as you have chili and lime on hand to adjust the spiciness and sourness according to personal preference. :) It’s quite a simple dish to prepare and cook. Just follow the instructions on the package, especially the ratio of paste to water. Always add seafood last as they cook quickly. I added coconut milk for a change. :)

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Ingredients

  • Tom Yum paste (Dancing Chef: 100g)
  • Water (according to the paste package, it was 400 ml)
  • Coconut milk (200 ml)
  • Prawns (8 big ones, shelled and deveined)
  • Fish fillet (any white fish will do, about 200 g, sliced)
  • Button Mushrooms (1 box ~25og, cut in quarters)
  • French beans (5 stalks, sliced into 1-inch pieces)
  • Lemon grass (1 stalk, remove outer 2 leaves, wash, chop off the 2 ends, slice only the bulb section, the green portion reserved to be thrown into the soup with the slices)’
  • Chili padi (1 – cut into slices with a pair of scissors)
  • Lime (1 – cut into halves)
  • Mint leaves (garnishing – optional)

Additional ingredient: Carrots (2 medium sticks, peeled and sliced) – I added this root veggie as we have a big ‘bunny’ at home “P

Method

1) Boil a pot containing the paste + 400 ml water + lemon grass + carrots (optional).

2) Once the water has boiled, simmer in medium heat for the carrots to soften partially – about 10 minutes.

3) Add French beans and mushrooms and simmer for another 10 minutes.

4) Taste the soup. Add chili padi and / or lime juice if desired. A bit of lime juice gives a refreshing taste to the soup. :)

5) Add coconut milk, stir well and bring the soup to a boil.

6) Add fish slices and prawns just before the soup starts boiling.

7) Once the soup starts boiling, turn off the flame, add mint leaves for garnishing and serve immediately with steamed, white rice.

If you’d prefer to omit the coconut milk, skip step 5. :)

I liked the unique taste of coconut milk in tom yum flavor but Yang found it strange. Anyway, as long as there are carrots in any dish, he can be satisfied. :)

25. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags:

Strangely, Hannah was a little more cranky over this weekend than the earlier ones. Not sure why. She had to be coaxed into her feeds and dinner, and on two occasions wailed a little more than normal when left alone too. Oh well; good and bad days, and this weekend counts about one of those slightly worse-off days we’ve had.

Pictures time; all from Sunday. Our baby girl is wearing clothes she got a month ago for her first birthday. She doesn’t quite know propriety yet of course (she was curiously pulling up her skirt trying to understand what to make of it!), but fortunately she hasn’t been doing too much of that.

Pictures from home, then at Cold Storage @ Compass Point.:)

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24. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Dining, Recipes

I felt like Linguini in Ratatouille when trying to cook Hannah’s and our dinner simultaneously tonight. The last thing I wanted was a messy kitchen with injuries and broken porcelain wares.

I was browsing through the Internet for easy recipes again and chanced upon this Japanese dish Nikujaga. It is said to be a comfort food for the Japanese. The dish is essentially a vegetable stew with some meat in it. It is a sweet, savoury kind of food which goes down well with many people. Here’s the recipe:

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Ingredients

  • 200g lean pork or beef, slice or cut into chunks (we used more meat as this is the only dish for dinner)
  • 1 white onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 large carrots, cut into large chunks (because Yang loves carrots)
  • 1 potato, cut into chunks (original recipe calls for more potatoes than carrots)
  • 1 Chinese bowl (250 ml) dashi stock / chicken stock / water
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp light soy sauce (adjust according to one’s preference. I used Kikkoman premium blend)
  • 1 tbsp ginger juice (squeezed from freshly grated ginger)

Method

1. Heat up some oil in a medium-sized metal pot. Brown the meat.

2. Add vegetables, and saute for 3-5 mins.

3. Add stock and the rest of the seasonings. Stir well.

4. Leave the pot uncovered and allow everything to simmer in medium heat for about 30-40 mins, or until the meat is tender and the hardy vegetables are softened sufficiently. The gravy should be reduced to a mere thin layer which is thick and full of flavour.

The verdict? Oishi! :P

Hannah’s supply of pumpkin comes from Cold Storage’s organic fresh food section. This is a regular item on the shelf. It is of a Japanese variety and hence its sweetness is guaranteed.

Pumpkin is one of the easiest veggy to puree. It can be easily mashed with a spoon after cooking. I like to puree it with garden peas and chicken breast meat. No water is needed. The preparation is really simple: chop the pumpkin into small cubes and steam them together with garden peas for 15 minutes. Boil chicken meat for 10 minutes. Mash the veggies and shred the chicken into tiny bits. Mix the veggies with the meat and stir well. Serve warm :)

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22. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues

There’s one thing about parenthood which makes life unpredictable – that you might buy baby or maternal products and end up not using them. For example, I bought an expensive breast-pump while I was pregnant as I saw myself breastfeeding Hannah big time. However, I was to discover later that I could not produce sufficient milk for Hannah let alone express my milk.

I found out that there was an online portal called Singapore Motherhood created just for local mothers and amongst other things, we could buy and sell stuff through it. I managed to sell off my preloved breast-pump successfully to another mother who needed it. There are also other portals which do the same thing but Singapore Motherhood has a higher number of users.

Recently, we needed another playpen and high chair to be left at Yang’s parents home as the previous set has been shifted to Hannah’s nanny’s place. I posted up a thread (see here) at the ‘Want to Buy’ forum in search for these items and the response was good. Some sellers were so keen in their offers that they threw in free delivery as well while other sellers prefer self-collection at their homes.

After comparing the attractive offers laid at my door, I sealed the deal with two mothers. Both were willing to deliver their goods to us. The mother who sold me her Ikea high chair even went to the extent of replacing the stained safety belt at no extra cost! She spent another $5 just doing so. Wow.

Hannah’s almost exactly 1 Year 6 Weeks old today. And I realized that of late while I’ve taken a whole bunch of pictures of her during weekends, I’ve hardly taken very many shots of her during the evenings.

So here’s a couple that I took just now at 9 PM when we were setting her down to bed. You can see her two new teeth growing from her lower jaw in the first two pictures too:

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She’s normally pretty hyper chirpy most evenings, but this evening was strangely quiet and even docile. She was contended to quietly sit on my lap while I was answering emails on the computer.:)

21. July 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-eli-01 The Book of Eli (2010) – on rental. There are a couple of actors in Hollywood today that are able to switch with relative ease between roles of opposite alignments. Most can’t. For instance, the one time when Arnuld Schwarzennegar took on the role of a villain, it turned into one of the worst film disasters ever that was the last nail on the coffin for the Batman movie franchise before Christopher Nolan revived it with Batman Begins. But one of the few who can is Denzel Washington, who’s played extremes from both ends of the spectrum and right down the middle too.

One of his two films for 2010 was released at the start of this year, and is titled The Book of Eli. The film is led by a directorial team comprising two brothers, the Hughes, and off a story by Gary Whitta, a well-known person for those of us in the games industry.

Their output is a film set in a post-apocalyptic world about a man, Eli (Washington), who believes he has been given the divine charge of taking the last remaining bible on earth westwards and across the continent of a war- and environmental-ravaged United States. His mission is anything but easy: the landscape has been burned nearly to a crisp by the sun as a result of what I’m guessing is the partial destruction of the ozone layer, and it’s dog-eat-dog among humans and literally (and I mean cannibalism here). And while there are human settlements where the last remnants of humanity gather and try to eke out a living, the settlements are ruled by iron-fisted warlords, one of whom is Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who wants this last copy of the bible for himself.

The film reminds me of a couple of other films based on similar themes. The clearest one is The Postman, one of two Kevin Costner films (the other being Waterworld) that cost a crazy amount of money to make but was a relative bomb at the box office. Like that film, the protagonist here – Eli – is an enigma, and his motivations and what his quest involves is never made clear until near the film’s midpoint. Moreover, like those two Costner films, the Book of Eli has big story ideas but terrible delivery. The audience is let to do with small bits of back story, and while by the film’s third quarter they roughly give a general idea of where this is all going, there are big, like humongously big story holes that don’t make any sense – and some of them are serious enough to impede your ability to fully immerse yourself in the film once you go past the attractive visuals.

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America, post-nuclear war

[Spoilers]

Like for instance: that all the bibles in the world have been destroyed because the war that devastated the continent was a religious one allegedly caused by Christianity (and even this is never made very clear). Last I checked: there are a couple billion copies of the bible in circulation. For a film to claim that humans – being the routinely disunited and disagreeable bunch we are – could somehow all in unison band together to destroy all copies and somehow miss only one, is, honestly a fetch whichever side you choose to look.

Or how Eli, which at the end of the film is revealed to be blind, possesses those incredible fighting skills. You could get away with suggesting that a blind man could out-punch half a dozen other men if he was the Daredevil character possessing heightened use of his other senses but that kind of hypernatural ability is never really suggested in the film’s context. And there are even a couple of scenes involving precision archery that will leave you scratching your head why the film even gets into the realm of the superhero and fantastic when everywhere else it seems to ground itself in realism, post-apocalyptic world notwithstanding.

And the ending… just oh my. It takes place on The Rock, i.e. Alcatraz island, off a burnt-out San Francisco city. Even though this section has been marked ‘Spoiler’, I won’t say more besides this: your head will burst with pain along the lines of “WHAT THE…?!?!”

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The vultures are going to be feeding off dead carcasses soon.

But if you could somehow just get past the hokey story, there’s still – surprisingly – plenty to enjoy in The Book of Eli. Denzel Washington turns in a great performance as a tormented Eli who has only one purpose in life, and as advised by the voice in his head: to take his bible westwards. Gary Oldman is, as always, fun to watch as the cunning but still half-psychotic villain hell bent on getting that bible, no matter the human cost.

The fight scenes are incredible too, and are free of the monkey-cam operation typical of Michael Bay or any of his admirers. You can actually follow the action here, and it exudes style that reminds me of the old Hong Kong kung-fu films before they unfortunately transformed into the wire-fu you commonly see today.

So, it comes down to what’s important for you. As a brain-dead way of spending about 2 hours of your time watching great action and acting performances, The Book of Eli meets expectations. Just leave your brain at the door-step, and don’t ask yourself too many questions at the film’s end.