31. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues

Did I say that if you’re deciding between nanny-care and infant care for your baby you should try to opt for the former? Unless the infant care centre has a ridiculously low ratio of infants to teachers and a huge well-ventilated environment, you would have to take childcare leave frequently as any sick (meaning infectious) kid is not allowed to return to the infant care centre until he/she is reasonably well again.

Hannah was sent to infant care when she was 7 months old and boy, I had to take childcare leave every other week. Despite stringent measures taken at her infant care centre to prevent spread of diseases, it was inevitable that those nasty germs still get to her as, you know, infants like to touch EVERYTHING and pass on their germs via contact or air. My boss was understanding but I felt bad that my colleagues had to cover my duties whenever I went on leave.

So when we finally found a suitable nanny for Hannah, the incidences of falling ill was almost zilch. Imagine my relief. And Hannah’s immune system also got a much needed break from working over-time. I mean, it is normal for children to fall sick easily but to be continuously falling ill without a chance of full recovery is unacceptable.

Anyway, going back to the objective of this post *hee hee*. I just wanted to burst out with joy that we have found a good GP for Hannah! No more going back to her friendly but expensive pediatrician for medical consultation. Her PD’s asking rate is $50 for every consultation. And this is not inclusive of medication which often bring the total bill to nearly a hundred dollars. Hannah’s new found GP is asking for only $20!

And with the same kind of attentiveness, management toys and even takeaway stickers as well. I really appreciate doctors who take enough time to listen, ask questions and consider my suggestions before coming up with a diagnosis. Good bedside manner! I’d also give this doctor another star as he has young children himself and so he could better understands children’s illnesses and what parents go through. He would likely be our family doctor as both Yang and I also go to him for medical consultation. Finally, a caring and affordable doctor in the vicinity. :)

Of the whole range of micro four-thirds lenses in the enthusiast range, there’s one lens that keeps coming up as a must-have for any user of a m4/3s camera; and it’s the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. The lens is compact, very sharp even when shot wide-open, and great in low-light. I’ve been eyeing this lens since even before picking up the E-PL1, but the relatively high price of the lens was a real put off (it cost SGD600 odd back last year).

The lens has dipped a little in local pricing, so I finally decided to bite the bullet this weekend and picked it up at MSColor for SGD550. The vast majority of pictures I take of Hannah these days is in-doors, so this lens was going to help a lot.

blog-e-pl2-20mm

It’s been a while since I used a camera coupled at all times with a prime lens, so it sure does bring back those memories of shooting with my first SLR – a Nikon FG20 with a 50mm prime lens – 25 years ago now! Some early pictures of Hannah at home in the kitchen. =)

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP2163-evening-playblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2165-evening-playblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2168-evening-playblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2171-evening-play

29. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

love-drugs-01Love and Other Drugs (2010) – on rental. By coincidence, this was the second of two rented films I’ve watched in this month about relationships centered on casual sex.

Like the earlier film – No Strings AttachedLove and Other Drugs stars two well-known and attractive-looking leads engaged in physical relationships without long-term commitments. The two are Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Jamie, a smooth-talking ladies man employed as a salesperson for a mega pharmaceutical company; and Anne Hathaway, who plays Maggie, a waitress suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. The two start off in a relationship based off sex-on-demand, and not surprisingly so, as the film progresses, potentially turns into something more.

Funnily; it’s not this central theme of casual relationships that I found most engaging. In fact, if nothing else, I thought that the premise of Maggie having an incurable illness and thus wanting non-committal relationships had promise. However, the film doesn’t do anything much with that material, and only in the last act when Maggie attends a sharing between others having the same condition is there progression and a glimmer of what might had been. Rather, it’s the subplot of the machinations of large pharmaceutical companies that was given better treatment. It’s fun to see how cutthroat these companies can be against each other if the film’s representation of sales people is anything to go with.

But the film was killed for me with a bunch of other problems. Apart from the story that springs no surprises, neither of the two leads are likable in their roles. Jamie is a serial womanizer, and by the film’s end, has slept with five women, two of whom in a ménage à trois. Hathaway looks unattractive, what with her curls and heavy eye-liner and shock-red lips. The dialog has lots of profanity – not surprising for a show of this nature – but good parts of it coming out from the Hathaway sounds forced.

love-drugs-02

And the amount of skin… oh my. There is nudity in this film, and lots and lots of it. I’m not certain if Hathaway was willing to disrobe this much because she thought this was a way of demonstrating her progression to more adult fare, but a lot of the flesh paraded in this film was gratuitous.

So, watchable though still somewhat disappointing. The other film stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. I’ll blog about that soon too . =)

28. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment

green-lantern-01Green Lantern (2011) – AMK Hub. Of the whole bunch of super heroes from DC Comics’ repertoire, I’ve always felt that the Green Lanterns would had been the hardest to translate into a live motion picture adaptation. Unlike the Batman or even Superman characters, the Green Lanterns’ backdrop is of the galaxy, and their powers manifested as conjurations limited only by each individual corp members’ imagination and willpower. Computer generated wizardry thus needed to get up to the point where it can render those conjurations and aerial and space battles realistically, let alone finding some way to translate a very epic-scaled story that involves space, aliens, and magical constructs to the screen.

This film adaptation stars Ryan Reynolds as hell-raising test pilot Hal Jordan – the first of the Green Lanterns introduced in the comic book series – is bestowed the power ring by Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), a Green Lantern officer who is near death after a fight with a powerful but evil essence-like being called Parallax. The film starts up briskly with characters set up for Jordan and potential love-interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), then he gets the ring, and is zoomed to the planet Oa to begin his training under the almost hostile mentor he’s assigned, Sinestro (Mark Strong).

The film at least gets several things right. Mark Strong turns in a strong performance as Sinestro. His portrayal of Jordan’s one-time mentor establishes the kind of personality he really is, and lays the ground work for a potential sequel in which, hopefully, we’ll get to see him turn into the Corps’ most bitter and deadliest and enemy. I was glad to see one of the comics’ most loved and iconic characters – Kilowog – show up too as one of Jordan’s physical instructors. The representation of Parallax is passable, though in the books, he’s really even more scary than this. The conjurations are pretty well done too – I’m certainly glad that they were appropriately mechanical in nature, as opposed to the oft mocked green gigantic fists and flyswatters in the early years of the comics.

green-lantern-02

One look at Sinestro and you know he's really not a good guy.

green-lantern-03

There are guns in the film. All is right in the world.

But the film has an even larger number of duds. The film has a color palette and a sort of CG sheen that you’re reminded in every scene that it’s all computer generated. There’s very little chemistry between Ferris and Jordan. And the first film’s key human villain – Hector Hammond – is so unpleasantly grotesque to look that watching him on screen gave me a sort of unnerving creepy feeling that I didn’t enjoy, even for this sort of film.

And while the corps at large is introduced and shown onscreen at several junctures, little is ever done with them in the film. The comic books have received critical acclaim for its recent Darkest Night sagas which saw all-out very epic galactic wars between the corps and their foes. It was a lost opportunity to see a good part of the first film rooted back on Earth. Not quite as expansive as it could had been.

In all; mixed feelings then. Given the relatively average-only box office performance, I wonder if this film will see a sequel. It looks maybe unlikely now.

Since the time we incorporated oral hygiene into her bedtime routine, Hannah has gotten used to the idea of sticking her toothbrush (coated with a tiny amount of sweet toothpaste) into her mouth, to mimicking mommy in brushing her teeth (barely!), and rinsing her mouth.

There was a time when she would stubbornly refuse to let go of her toothbrush to let mommy do a thorough ‘brush-through’. Once again, distraction worked for us (most of the time). I’d let her bring along a toy or an object of some sort for her brushing session and suggest that she ‘play’ with her toy while letting me brush her teeth. Our usual standard procedure: both Hannah and mommy brush our own teeth before the big bathroom mirror -> mommy takes over H’s toothbrush to do a thorough brushing -> H rinses her mouth and washes her cup and hands (and feet – she likes this)

Hannah was taught how to rinse her mouth when she was about 2 years old as I was really bothered by her consuming the toothpaste even though the latter was supposed to be safe when swallowed. I demonstrated to her by taking a mouthful of tap water from a cup, made noises in my mouth during rinsing (and she would laugh at me), and spitting it out into the sink when done. It took her a few attempts to get the idea of spitting the water out instead of swallowing it. And she has been enjoying it since (with much wetting of her clothes until the problem was solved by offering her a bowl to spit into). The downside of learning this new skill is that she would occasionally spit out other fluids meant for drinking! We had to teach her how to differentiate between the two.

Below is a video capture of Hannah doing her oral hygiene routine recently.

27. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

battleship-yamato-01Space Battleship Yamato (2010) – on rental. While Michael Bay’s film versions of Transformers have gone from so-so to awful, my basis for comparison laid in watching those films as they were. I didn’t grow up on the Transformers cartoons. So, as far as whether the films’ were faithful or not to the cartoon series, I really didn’t know better.

It’s quite a different story though compared to this other recent 1980s cartoon to film adaptation. Back 30 years ago, I was glued to the TV every Monday evening over a series called Star Blazers. This weekly 22 minute cartoon series itself was an English dub of a 1970s Japanese sci-fi series called Space Battleship Yamato. The sci-fiction series told of how the old Yamato super-battleship – sunk ingloriously in a suicide run in the closing days of World War II – gets resurrected as a space battlewagon in Earth’s last resort to seek a cure for its dying planet nuclear bombarded by an Alien invasion force.

The series was a huge hit among those of my age for its larger than life characters, wonderful characterization, and its long tale of love, honor and sacrifice. The series was so successful that over the last 30 years spawned several more TV series , anime films, several comic books, and even a set of greatly treasured (and expensive back then) graphic novels that I still own to this day.

I’ve been looking forward to the series’ film adaptation ever since news of it was announced. Never mind that it was going to be the Japanese who was going to make it so (no I’m not impressed with Japanese films as a rule – more on that later). But hey, it’s Star Blazers! If they stay true to the spirit of the source, how bad can it be?

Then the first Internet reviews started streaming in late last year, and that long-wait was given the rude shock. The first negative reviews all said the same thing; all glitz but no soul, and the source had been turned on its head if not outright abandoned to large measure. And a just over two hours viewing later, I’m of two minds. If you’ve never watched the TV series before, this standalone film is still watchable and mildly entertaining. If you’ve watched the series and remember its general plot arcs, the film is a travesty.

battleship-yamato-02

Yamato resurfaces from the mud. This scene was pretty similar to the 30 year old cartoon.

For those of us who didn’t follow the SB Yamato/Star Blazers series; the TV show’s key characters include Susumu (Derek Wildstar in the English version), the ship’s radar specialist and nurse and also his love interest Yuri (Nova), Captain Okita (Captain Avatar), and the ship’s navigator Daisuke (Mark Venture). Together and others, they form the Star Force, a band that makes their year long voyage from Earth to the planet Iskandar to retrieve the planet-saving device from Princess Starsha. And throughout their journey is beset by Gamilon alien forces, led by their leader Desslok.

The central problem with this new film adaptation is that while the story in the most general sense remains the same – that it’s about that old crusty battleship sailing to Iskander to find a cure – too much else has been changed, unnecessarily, and for worse. Granted; the first season of the TV show had about 10 hours of run length and it would had been a real challenge to squeeze that much material into a two hour film. But there is a crazy number of other things whose change defy reason.

For instance; like how the Gamilons who were humanoids in the several series are now some kind of mechanical-insectoid creatures. Or that the charismatic and unflappable Desslok (who later becomes the Star Force’s ally in a later series) is now some weird crystalline Alien who’s bereft of any real personality apart from that of a one-note Evil doofus. Or why Yuri – who was in the series a gentle Nightingale to the ship’s wounded and also soul of the voyage – is a grunting, temperamentally violent pilot who punches men first and talk later.

battleship-yamato-03

Yep they retained that corny looking military salute too.

And like Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, the film drops the ball in properly presenting the time pressure the voyage faced – a key element of the series’ story. The ship and crew took a full year to go and return, suffering through many difficult trials, and barely making it back to Earth in time. In this film, it feels somewhere akin to a weekend traipse to Sentosa and back. There is no tension. And the theme of Samaritans and sacrifice – e.g. how Starsha sent her beloved sister as messenger bearing hope to Earth in a one way trip – is *poof* and gone.

With such large failures of the story telling, the other niggling things in the production don’t really matter any more for me. Like the over-acting typical of Japanese productions (everyone seems to scream, yell, or do line proclamations). Or like in Japanese epics, most characters have to die, even if really unnecessary for story progression. Or the cheapo live production sets. Or that the space action scenes – where all the money had gone to at the expense of better production sets – while great in visual design still look pretty CGed. But at least the full orchestra soundtrack’s pretty good albeit a little too bombardistic, with the main themes from the cartoon series front and center.

In all; just disappointing. Watch if you’re not a fan, or better still just go for the similar yet far better Battlestar Galactica TV film. Skip if you’re a fan.

Green tea & red bean agar agar

Next to soy beans, red bean (aka azuki bean) is probably the second most popular legume in Japan. Just look at the amount of delicacies involving red beans and how exquisitely tasty the Japanese has made them.

Yang likes BreadTalk’s green tea cake that has cooked red beans embedded in it. Just the other day, I tried making agar-agar with the same flavours just for fun. It’s not bad. But Yang wasn’t fond of it. Oh well. :)

26. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

adjustment-bureau-01The Adjustment Bureau (2010) – on rental. The late American author Philip K. Dick has churned out a large number of short sci-fi stories, many of which are invariably about the juxtapositions of time, space and destiny. Several of these stories have been adapted into films that have included critically acclaimed ones (like Blade Runner and Minority Report), to cult hits (Total Recall), and lackluster jobs (e.g. Paycheck).

One thing’s a given though; if his book is the source for the film, you’re at least assured of a reasonably intelligent and thought-provoking piece. The Adjustment Bureau is one such. The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris, a talented politician destined for greatness but finds himself running against a bunch of mysterious G-man like agents from a Bureau who watches over each individual’s destiny and ensures it remains on track. And the trigger for that confrontation? His falling in love with a dancer, Elise played by the lovely Brit actress Emily Blunt, whom if he remains together, will cause him never to reach greatness.

The themes of the film lie squarely in the question of fate and destiny vs choices. How do we really know what we go through each day is part of a larger plan, and what is the role of free will in it. Yep; there’s no mistaking the religious undertones of the film’s story, and while the film provides some its take of an answer at its conclusion, for the most part, viewers are left to decide whether to buy into its premise or not.

As with many of such mild-fantasy films involving these story themes, you don’t have to think hard to find story loopholes and paradoxes. So, the trick is to take them as a given and try not to let it affect one’s suspension of disbelief too much. What counts as the film’s strongest points is the chemisty enjoyed between Damon and Blunt and their individual performances. They’re an attractive couple, and their banter lively and engaging. Though the (significant) basis in which Norris falls for Elsie is a little weak, his drive to get to her – against the Bureau’s machinations – is relentless, and I found myself cheering him on.

adjustment-bureau-02

Will the boy get the girl?

The two are supported by other excellent actors who play varied roles. Anthony Mackie plays a sympathetic agent who tries to help the two, John Slattery an opposing agent who enforces the company’s will with ruthlessness, and the stone-faced Terence Stamp who plays an indomitable higher-up.

There’s also an extended dance scene in the film that one might argue is unnecessary, but it’s marvelously done and performed by Blunt. The DVD supplements has a little featurette that shows the amount of work she did to prepare herself for this dance role, and it was hard not to admire the kind of perseverance and hardwork needed for this one scene.

In all; I enjoyed this romantic thriller. I imagine Ling will definitely like it too. =)

We haven’t been posting many pictures of Hannah, so we better get back to it! Here’s a bunch of pictures taken this evening; just after her evening bath and before her last feed for the night.

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP2075-kitchen-poses-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2081-kitchen-poses-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2084-kitchen-poses-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP2088-kitchen-poses-flickr

Before anyone gets the wrong idea again; Hannah been giving us a really hard time several occasions these few days already! She’s been more ready to switch easily to tantrum mode when she doesn’t get her way, and less willing to listen to the both of us when that happens. And last night, she woke up crying a grand total of five times! Daddy slept right through the first four times (and tended to the fifth), but poor Mommy woke up for the first four.

Speaking of pictures taking too; that Lumix 20mm f1.7 for my E-PL2 is looking better and better. It costs a royal bomb though. I’ll have to decide soon whether to bite the bullet and just go for it. =(

25. July 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment

transformers-3aTransformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) – AMK Hub. The Internet Critics haven’t been kind on Michael Bay’s Transformers 3. It’s been almost universally panned to be an incoherent mess. The funniest thing though is that my 11 year old nephew told me out loud the weekend before last not to believe all those reviews, and that it was, instead, an “amazingly good film”.

One viewing later; I’m going to have to agree with all those critics. Dark of the Moon is loud, chaotic, incomprehensible, and the work from a director who cares only to make the films he wants and who couldn’t care less about what in reality works in films. Aside from the high visual production values and that that you again get to see big robots plummeting each other, the story has no logic, the film warps your sense of time and distance, the human characters still can’t act, and you still can’t make head or tail of the action scenes. And for the first time ever even, watching a Transformers film  gave me a migraine.

The basic plot outlay in the latest turd of a film is exactly the same as the second that was itself a retread of the first. Again, a doomsday Transformers device which long has been buried has been discovered, and again, it’s a race between the Autobots and the Decepticons to get to it first! When I saw the outlay revealed in early previews of this film, I groaned and wondered how many times this tired plot device of having some secret and buried and just discovered weapon that can kill everyone/everything can be used.

Even the plot points are recycled. The Autobots are gonna get smacked down midway that all seems lost, and it will all follow into an disorganized and overly long battle in some desert or city, culminating again in a final big fight where Optimus Prime goes mano-a-mano with Megatron.

Like before, the humans are sidelined onscreen by the computer-generated robots. Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky still screams and yells a lot, and despite having been given presidential medals can’t hold a job. He’s got Carly, a hot new girl friend who’s ex-Victoria’s Secret, after his last one, Megan Fox, got tossed from the cast line-up after apparently calling the director a Hitler or something. The new female hotness acts even more poorly than Fox, but Bay compensates us with the usual gratuitous shots of her cleavage and even a couple of fleeting and almost naughty shots of her undies.

transformers-3b

Lovingly rendered big robot ship cruising through Chicago.

And in the third outing, Bay’s roped in new human actors for the farce. There’s Leonard Nimoy, John Malkovich, Patrick ‘McDreamy’ Dempsey, and Frances McDormand. And these are proven actors but are given caricature-like roles. At least Malkovich looks like he’s having lots of fun. Maybe he knows he’s in a ridiculous story so is determined to at least enjoy himself. But the latter two look like they were taking their one-note roles seriously!

The most awesomely stupid moment in the film goes to that scene where Carly is shot in slo-mo staring into the distance experiencing an epiphany while surrounded by battle chaos. And that epiphany involves her going on to tell Megatron that he shouldn’t be someone else’s bitch [sic]. Yep; the Leader of all that’s Evil listening to this bimbo instead of squashing her like he’s done with every other human. Believe it!

Apparently this is going to be Michael Bay’s last outing in the Transformers’ franchise, and thankfully if that’s true. But as for this one, Dark of the Moon rates a solid…