29. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-predators-01Predators (2010) – on rental. As far as films in the horror sci-fiction genre go, there are really just two iconic franchises – Alien and Predator – out there which while on the surface look very different, share otherwise a lot of similarities. Firstly; humans are fodder, and secondly, their most recent film incarnations were pretty dismal productions compared to the originals.

The newest Predators film is a bit of an odd ball. It’s already the fifth film involving those super-killer alien species from outerworld, but like Superman Returns, seems to disregard all the earlier films except for the first one from 1987 starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar.  Even more interesting is the very high degree of homage this new film pays to the original. The film soundtrack from the 1987, composed by Alan Silvestri, is adapted in significant parts by John Debney in the new production – as is also its theme: a bunch of humans are put together, go through the whole story arc of bewilderment to alien discovery to realization to combat and finally resolution, and again set in a tropical rainforest.

One thing that the original film did right was to create effective scenes where you learn about each character and feel at least some degree of empathy when they get offed one by one. The new film features a very varied cast of characters – there’s a deathrow inmate, an ex-American elite forces turned mercenary, a Japanese Yakuza member, an RUF soldier, an Israeli Defense Force sniper among others – but while they all look distinct enough from each other, the film pretty much fails on eliciting any kind of sympathy out from you about what they’re facing. That pretty much kills the efficacy of the film, because you’d be yawning when they take turns to get killed, shot through, ripped or blown apart by the alien predators.

blog-predators-03

Better believe it - Adrian Brody is the macho man between the two characters here.

Even worse still is that Arnold Schwarzenneggar’s ‘Dutch’ all beefy man character has been replaced by very mild looking fellow from The Pianist, i.e. Adrian Brody. No offence to the actor, but if there’s an example of horrible casting this year, it’s this one. That we are to believe that Brody – who plays a charater name Royce – is an ex-American elite forces turned mercenary is a capital Fail. He tries to pull a Christian Bale grunt and act like an expert and experienced career soldier, but is so already obviously uncomfortable with weapons (just look at the way he handles his automatic rifle in the film). There could had been a whole several dozen other male actors who would had better play the part of the leader of the band trying to survive the alien predators onslaught.

The other major failing, and not entirely through the film’s fault, is the humanization of the alien predator. Gone are the earlier films in which there was a sole antagonist who could easily wipe out the entire band of humans without breaking a sweat. Like the Alien vs Predator film, the plot device where humans and predator temporarily ally together shows up again (*groan*), and for a super-species whose entire existence lies around hunting and efficiently killing prey, these predators now aren’t very smart or even very good anymore in their trade. They allow themselves to be surprised by grenade-rigged bodies not once but twice, and even lose in a one-on-one sword fight.

blog-predators-02

Predators in the new film are all emo wusses.

And I’ve not even mentioned the plot failings. Our crew of man-fodder supposedly crash-parachutes into an alien world; but within an hour, they can identify by scientific name plant species of that alien world like back on Earth. Just LOL. Or how is it that Royce seems to know everything there is to know about the planet and the alien species – which might had been a legitimate story device if it’d actually been addressed or answered in the film.

The one saving grace of Predators lies with Lawrence Fishburne’s role in the film. Our dear old Morpheus here plays a half-crazed Ben Gunn-esque character. Too bad his role is pretty small, but at least he’s fun to watch. His involvement alone gets him a one-star.

26. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Baby Recipes

I chanced upon another breakfast item for Hannah at Hougang Festival Market’s NTUC supermarket. :D

While browsing at the frozen section, I came across a variety of brands for mantou in various flavours. Mantou is the Chinese equivalent of the Ang Mo’s bread. It is northern Chinese steamed bun. New Moon’s pumpkin wholemeal mini mantou caught my fancy. Doesn’t the description sound so healthy already? Besides the healthful pumpkin, wholemeal flour and sesame seeds weaved into the buns, there aren’t any trans fats, preservatives, artificial colouring and flavouring. And these come in mini sizes – just nice for the little tum tum!

The preparation is easy. Just thaw the desired number of buns and steam them for 8-10 minutes. Voila, you have little hot, steaming buns for breakfast!

The taste?

Mommy: *has a mild pumpkin flavour, sesame crunch … it could use a bit more moisture …* :P

Hannah: *as long as I could put it in my mouth and munch, mommy* :)


I blogged about this sauce earlier on here. Tomato sauce freezes and keeps well. Using this sauce to prepare meals for Hannah cuts down my cooking time by half! For example, 1 hour cooking time for porridge versus 1/2 hour cooking time for minced meat in tomato sauce drizzled over soft white rice.

A mother recently shared with me her unsuccessful attempt at cooking tomato sauce for her baby and how dismayed she was after spending much time in the kitchen. Here’s my recipe (modified from another mother’s blog) for the tomato sauce with photos. This is dedicated to busy mothers who could use recipes that work the first round, hopefully. :)

Ingredients

  • cherry tomatoes – 10-12, diced / medium tomatoes – 2, diced
  • yellow capsicum – 1 medium, diced
  • onion – 1 medium, diced
  • garlic – 3 cloves, minced
  • olive oil – 2 tbsps
  • tap water – 300-400 ml
  • tomato paste – 2 heaped tbsps

Note: In the photo above, I compensated the low capsicum volume with more tomatoes.

Seasonings

  • balsamic vinegar – 2 tbsps
  • white sugar – 1 tbsp
  • salt – dash for taste
  • ground black pepper – dash

Method

1)         In a small, deep saucepan, heat up olive oil and add garlic and onion to stir fry till fragrant and the onions look opaque (about 3-4 mins).

2)         Add tomato and capsicum and continue to stir fry until soft. It takes about 10 mins.

Note: The juices of tomato and capsicum help to simmer and soften the veggies. Stir and press the veggies down and let them simmer in their juices for 1-2 mins every now and then. Do this for 10 mins. If your veggies did not have sufficient juices, just add a little hot water to make up for it.

At the beginning...

Half time...juices oozing out...nice :)

After 10 mins of softening veggies...

3)         Add tomato paste and stir well.

4)         Add tap water and bring it to boil.

This is an important step. To avoid over-diluting the sauce, DO NOT add all of the 300-400ml of tap water at one go. Rather, add water in small portions and stir in between to get a feel of the texture. (This is because the final volume of onion, capsicum and tomatoes vary every time the sauce is made and hence this affects the volume of tap water used to obtain the desired thickness of the sauce.) The sauce should be almost watery but with a certain viscosity.

If you are unsure when to stop adding water, my advice is to err on adding less than more. You could always dilute it later (with fresh milk, it tastes better) when you use it for preparing your child’s meal. After the tap water is added, bring the sauce to boil.

Add tap water in small portions and stir in between.

5)         Once boiling starts, add all the seasoning and stir after adding each seasoning. Allow sauce to simmer (light boiling) for about 5 minutes in medium heat.

Simmer in medium heat for 5 mins.

6)          Remove the sauce pan from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Divide it into mini containers (I divide it into 100 ml portions) and place them to cool further in the refrigerator before freezing them. This recipe makes about 500 ml of tomato sauce.

Suggestions for using this sauce: either minced beef or minced threadfin (or any white fish) goes well with this sauce. See my previous blog.

23. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues

I’m not sure if this is just a temporary thing. But of late, I’ve been watching Hannah, taking in her little habits and personality traits, and wondering if they are early signs of the kind of person she’s growing to be. It’s amazing to see our little girl picking up all sorts of things from adults and situations around her.

For instance:

- She’s social and cannot be alone, like her Mommy LOL. Hannah responds badly when one of us isn’t near her.

- She’s learned to associate books to parental company. Whenever she wants us to be with her, she’ll rummage through her box of toys and books, fish out only books, and bring them over for one of us to read to her.

- She’s also picked up the sense that there are two parents in the family. It’s a very cute thing that she does whenever we go out. She’ll extend out both her hands for us to hold her, and if one of us isn’t – even if it’s just temporary – she’ll squawk to get our attention that she wants to be held by the other parent.

- To Mommy’s continued chagrin, Hannah will readily call out ‘dah dee’ whenever she wants me, but she’s still a long way off to repeating the same for Ling.

- To Daddy’s continued chagrin, Hannah still readily prefers Ling’s company than mine.:(

But I do get another minor victory though: each evening before putting Hannah to bed, I’ve got her to not only ‘bump’ heads with me (see video here), she’ll follow up – absolutely lovely again – with her planting a kiss on my cheeks. Hooray! :)

Pictures from the last weekend! We’ve been getting pretty good hit rates when asking Hannah to point to something. Here’s proof; from top left and moving clockwise: pointing to her nose, her ear, herself (belly button rather LOL), and finally her mouth:

blog-2010-hannah-DSC_3095-sunday-playblog-2010-hannah-DSC_3099-sunday-playblog-2010-hannah-DSC_3100-sunday-playblog-2010-hannah-DSC_3102-sunday-play

The last two pictures I thought are more possible representations on what she might look like when she’s an adult.:)

blog-2010-hannah-DSC_3086-sunday-playblog-2010-hannah-DSC_3090-sunday-play

22. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment

blog-deathly-hallows-01Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – Cathay @ AMK Hub. It doesn’t seem very long ago when I wrote a short review of the sixth Harry Potter film, but when I check that blog entry’s date, it’s been already 16 months and when Hannah was just 6 weeks old! How time flies. The Deathly Hallows is the seventh and second last film based on the last book. And with the eighth and last film to be released in theatres next year’s June, we’ll finally have to say goodbye then to a cast of film characters that’s been with us for more than a decade.

If memory serves rightly, when the series first started in 2001, the intention from the series’ producers was to have different directors make each film in the series. So, while the books themselves significantly changed in tenor from the fourth book onwards when Rowling killed off a non-minor character – and boy has she been on a roll since then in body count – the earlier films themselves already routinely looked different in terms of visual style each time. I’m glad that the last four films in the series though are directed by the same person – David Yates – as there’s more obvious visual consistency than ever before now.

As we were driving to the theatre over the weekend, I remarked to Ling that the only reason I could think of having two films based off the last book was because of it would bring about double ticket sales. After all, if Peter Jackson could get away with a 3.5 hour butt-tiring long film for The Return of the King, why can’t Yates do the same?

But to think of it now that I’ve seen the first of the two films on the weekend morning, it does make a little more sense. There’s a lot of material crammed into each of Rowling’s books, with the Deathly Hallows weighing in at a wrist-hurting 784 pages. Each of the earlier films have felt rushed, with barely adequate time devoted to the main characters, much less the numerous minor characters. The Deathly Hallows film, if nothing else, feels somewhat more methodical. Ideas are allowed a little more time to develop, personality dispositions to grow, and subplots to make sense.

blog-deathly-hallows-03

For those of us unfamiliar with the book, here’s a capsule summary. Our intrepid trio of characters: Harry, Hermione and Ron (above), have left Hogwarts and are on a road trip to find and destroy the Horcruxes belonging to the evil dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and in so doing, hopefully render him mortal and vulnerable for them to bury him for good. Their quest essentially takes them on a road trip to what looks like the United Kingdom that is going through the first stages of a magical war armageddon.

[Minor Spoilers]

It’s also interesting again to observe how different the films are now compared to the very first one in 2001. While John Williams’ Harry Potter theme still graces the first minute of this Deathly Hallows film, it’s almost only in the background before the much more ominous sounding film track accompanies the very dark visual palette comes up on the theatre screen. It’s no longer fun and games. In the opening scene, one of Hogwarts’ teachers is killed by Voldemort and turned into chow. And it’s not just the level of violence. There’re even implied male-female nudity scenes now, never mind that it was obviously computer-generated enhanced.

Also, while the film clocks in at 2.5 hours and – compared to the earlier films – takes things a little more slowly, lots of subplots and story developments still take place off screen. For instance, a couple of story developments specific to characters take place off screen and are delivered through one or two lines of dialog only. Lots of characters from the earlier films show up, and unless you’ve been kept to speed with what’s happened before, you’d be hard pressed to recognize all of them.

To be fair, the film rightly places its attention on the three main characters, so I guess it was inevitable that story portions not directly involving those three would have to be snipped from the film or never actually shot. I was also surprised to see the amount of time put towards the retelling of the Tale of the Three Brothers from the book; but it’s so beautifully animated that the scene deserves an award by itself.

blog-deathly-hallows-02

Actions scenes were a bit of a surprise. There’s a adrenaline-rush vehicular-chase, an aerial battle, and wizard duels involving wands and even knives towards the end. Unfortunately, the first two battles were filmed using migraine-inducing shaky cam and quick cuts and what you’d expect from Paul Greengrass or Michael Bay. Yuck.

The film’s three young adult actors – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – have also grown up yet a little more, and their abilities to harness from a wider range of performances show too. The physical and emotional stress of their quest puts them for interesting confrontations between themselves, and those scenes don’t disappoint. The last scene in the Deathly Hallows’ book takes place 19 years after the main story’s events, and from what we know, Yates isn’t using older actors to play the three characters. It’ll be interesting to see then in June next year the three actors computer-aged by that much!

In a nutshell, the first Deathly Hallows film is pretty good. Ling liked the film a lot, though I thought it wasn’t quite perfect yet. I would have felt that the film could had been a little longer and story developments involving the supporting characters given a bit more screen time – but still. Time to go back and rewatch on HD the first six films again to get back up to speed.:)

17. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-swingvote-01Swing Vote (2008) – on rental. I’ve caught a lot of great films this year, many of which slipped under my radar during their theatrical run, but fortunately not on DVD rental. With the end of the year fast approaching, if I had to name a single film that is the current runner for the most moving, thought-provoking yet funny film I’ve seen this year, it’s this one – Swing Vote, a not very well-known film made just two years ago.

The setting of the film is something that incidentally is very familiar to us Singaporeans right this point in time. It’s Election Year in the United States with a hotly contested fight between the incumbent President, Republican Andy Boone (Kelsey Grammer from Frasier), and the Democrat challenger and presidential candidate, Donald Greenleaf (the late Dennis Hooper).

Somewhere in a small town in New Mexico is the politically apathetic Bud Johnson – played by Kevin Costner – who works as an egg packer during the day, and is drunk at most other times. He’s also a marginal and single parent to his daughter Molly – played by the very young Madeline Carroll – who’s everything her slacker father isn’t. Molly is smart, witty, has the great civic consciousness and is frequently disappointed by Bud in this score, but loves her Dad dearly anyway. Molly wants Bud to vote in the presidential election, and when he doesn’t in yet another demonstration of his parental failings, she ties to vote in his stead. A computer glitch nullifies that vote attempt, and according to rules of the county they live in, he’s to recast his vote.

Here’s the spanner: when all the votes in the rest of the country has been counted, it’s discovered that the most unusual situation has arisen: with both candidates split right down the middle, Bud’s recast vote in 10 days will decide who will be the next President of the United States! The entire country’s media circus, and both the President and opposing candidate and their Secret Services, campaign entourages all descend on the small town to wage an election campaign to convince one man that they each deserve his vote.

blog-swingvote-03

With memories of The West Wing that are still reasonably fresh in my mind, it’s thus delightful to watch a compact 2 hour film that gives viewers one perspective of the kind of things that election campaigns can become. It’s win at all costs. Both presidential candidates are wise, morally grounded men worthy of the office. But their campaign managers – played with different personalities but yet similar final attentions of winning at all costs, and by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane – both lay down ultimatums to their candidates: that if they don’t do what they must to win, then all their plans for improving the state of affairs will never get past the theory stage. With the crazy political wrangling that comes about as both Boone and Greenleaf try to gain favor from the one man who’ll decide between them, Bud loses sight of what it’s all about… but not Molly – and it falls to her to do her bit to save her country by getting Bud to exercise elevated levels of intelligence and vote responsibly. Molly recognizes her Dad’s failings, but tries to keep believing in him.

Once you get past the very unlikely scenario – statistically at least – that one man can decide an entire presidency, the film will suck you right in with its amazing performances all round, the witty script, and the moving theme of how a politically apathetic and near total loser of a man can indeed change for his daughter. While you get a touch-and-go introduction to many of the electoral issues that get campaigned on, including homosexuality, immigration, the environment, pro-life/pro-choice, that’s not what the film is really about at heart. It’s the father-daughter relationship between Bud and Molly that comes through the most and will leave you with the biggest impression by the film’s end.

The cast is uniformly excellent, and in a smart piece of writing and acting, neither presidential candidates are portrayed to be better than the other. Even the two campaign managers – both of whom badly want to win – are not portrayed as unethical sleazebags either. You can see where they’re coming from. I was also surprised to see Nana Visitor – whom I remember from Star Trek: DS9 from nearly a decade ago – in the film too. She has a single but tremendously important scene when she as Greenleaf’s wife reminds him what he stands for.

blog-swingvote-02

But stealing the show out from the veteran adult cast is Madeline Carroll, who possess a passing resemblance to Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films). She was 11 years old when the film was made, but is fully capable of harnessing and displaying the full emotional range of an adult actor. She has two scenes where you’d be moved to tears: when she defends her father in front of her class, and when she looks for her mother to fulfill the parental role when she believes Bud can no longer.

It’s funny that after nearly a year watching, at my best guess, about 170 films this year, the best film I’ve watched so far is one that rates just 6.1 on IMDB, and I liked it even more than Inglorious Basterds and My Sister’s Keeper. You don’t need to have an interest in the American Presidential Election to enjoy Swing Vote. If you want a film which has equal dosages of comedic moments and non-contrived moments where you’d cry, and with great performances all round, this is it. If I could only award this film six stars…

Red

14. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment

blog-red-01Red (2010) – AMK Hub. If you saw the word ‘Red’ used as a title of a film, and the film’s about spies and assassins, one guess you might have is that it’s a film about spies running about in the Cold War.

In fact; Red in this film stands for Retired and Extremely Dangerous. It’s a loose adoption of a comic book series of the same name about a former CIA black ops super-agent, Frank Moss (Bruce Willis) leading a lonely life of a retiree and trying to get into a relationship with pension agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Unfortunately, an old clandestine operation he was once involved resurfaces, and he – and Sarah – become targets of hit squads hired by persons wanting to clean up their past. Coming along for the ride are his former team mates: his mentor Joe (Morgan Freeman!), MI6 agent Victoria (Helen Mirren!), paranoid psycho Marvin (John Malkovich), and former Russian enemy agent Ivan (Brian Cox!).

There’re two themes in the film, which, interestingly, at this time of the year aren’t really that fresh anymore. One is the appearance of very many high-profile actors in the same adrenaline-charged film. We saw that just recently in The Expendables. The other is the hapless bystander civilian caught up with a super assassin-spy with other assassins all trying to kill him; and we saw that in Knight and Day.

Like those two films, there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments; some that stem off the type of film genre Red falls into, and others from the fact that every one in the lead cast is an old veteran, and they all play retirees. The cast are clearly all having fun in their roles, though with the exception of Mirren and maybe Freeman, this new film they’re in isn’t really calling on them to do things they’re not already familiar with from other roles. Willis was one of the trio of action mega-stars in the 80s and 90s. Malkovich sees conspiracies at every corner, is continuously twitching, and has a hilarious whacked-out scene involving a plump woman assassin totting a rocket-propelled grenade. There’s a scene with Mirren going nuts with what looks like an M60 Machine Gun. As for Freeman who you’d think has done just about every kind of role – wait till you see him in the uniform of a Generalissimo from a banana republic!

blog-red-02

Of the lot though, it’s Parker’s performance that I enjoyed the most. She’s an observer to much of the proceedings we see on screen, and gets the funniest lines, much of which she delivers with her characteristic monotone even when she’s not drugged.

Funnily, as enjoyable as watching these A-list film actors is and that they’re clearly enjoying themselves, you can’t shake off the feeling that the film is calling them to do things they would never do. Part of it has to do with the fact that in Mirren and Freeman’s cases, we’re already so familiar with the kind of actor-defining roles they’ve been. Dame Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, and Freeman more recently as Nelson Mandela in Invictus. It’s quite a fetch to see them now here totting silencer guns, sniper rifles and machine guns.

blog-red-03

The story is not only not extraordinary, it also suffers from obvious story loopholes which I suspect is the result of poor film editing. The most glaring of this occurs right at the end of the film where a character gets shot and seemingly dies, only to reappear quite alive at the corner of the screen just a minute later. Maybe the actor thought he was out of the camera frame.

Also, apart from watching A-list veterans do uncharacteristic things involving guns, and a scene involving Ross smoothly exiting a car and firing his sidearm at pursuing vehicles (amazing scene, but blue-screened I imagine), there just aren’t a lot of action scenes that you haven’t seen elsewhere before. Perhaps it’s in view that you just can’t exert the kind of physical demands on main cast actors whose average age is in the 60s.

Still… Ling loved the film and found it a ball of fun. I enjoyed it a lot myself, though not as much as Knight and Day. Still worth a watch.:)

13. November 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues

Ann, a mother whom I got to know through the Singapore Motherhood forum, brought her 16-month-old son to our place for a playdate with Hannah. The tots had fun playing with water at our baby pool and then played with each other’s ‘toys’. Hannah was intrigued by Isaac’s portable fans while Isaac did a puzzle with Hannah’s mini cardboard books.

They also bathed and ate lunch together. It was definitely a special morning with a difference for both tots. And a meaningful one for the mothers too. :)

Here are some of the photos which didn’t blur out – they were sure active little ones!

A fun video we did last weekend just before we headed out for brunch.

We’re not quite sure where she picked this up from. Certainly not fashion shows since we don’t watch that stuff at home! :)