Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

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The premise is quite controversial, which probably accounts for the popularity of the book. Anna (full name Andromeda, thanks to her father’s astronomy hobby) was a ‘designer baby’ chosen by her parents because her genes are a perfect match for her sister Kate, whose rare form of leukaemia has meant Anna has had to donate blood and marrow from the time of her birth (cord blood) until now, 13 years later. In the present day, Kate’s condition has deteriorated and their mother wants Anna to donate her kidney to her sister in a last ditch effort to keep her alive. The story begins when Anna hires a lawyer to gain medical emancipation from her parents.

Each chapter switches back and forth between the various characters in the story – not just the members of the family, who are torn apart by these circumstances, but also the lawyer Anna hires and the guardian ad litum who is assigned to her case – who also just happens to be the lawyer’s long-lost-but-never-forgotten love. Corny? Yes it is.

The characters are a little unbelievable – ie, it’s hard to believe that any mother would be so single-minded in her pursuit to save one child even to the detriment of another and complete neglect of yet another, and it’s hard to believe that a 13-year old could write so eloquently about her own situation.

The book was reminiscent of the filtered-screen, B-grade midday movies that have plots that would put a soap opera to shame. Picoult intersperses the chapters with quotes and poetry that give the book a semblance of depth, but merely highlight the lack thereof by comparison and leave you rather baffled as to how they actually fit into the story. The ending was, I’m sorry to say, cheap theatrics that smack of ‘God how am I going to finish this’ and the appendix ties everything up in a too-neat bow.

Rating: 5.5/10
I’m not surprised that while Picoult is undoubtedly a popular author, her work is highly criticised by many literary circles.

The Belgariad (series), by David Eddings

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Review incorporating:
Book 2: Queen of Sorcery
Book 3: Magician's Gambit
Book 4: Castle of Wizardry
Book 5: Enchanter's End Game

The adventure continues (see below review for Book 1: Pawn of Prophecy) until Garion, now Belgarion (the Child of Light), meets the evil god Torak (Child of Dark) for the one-on-one showdown. Eddings adds to the list of characters and even manages to evolve each of them to an extent, which is very gratifying for the reader. Overall it was a satisfying read, although the second time round the major battle in the end is a little bit of a letdown. Call me a girl but I loved the romance and humour through the series, and although I mentioned it adversely in my review of Pawn of Prophecy, I must admit I love a happy ending - c'mon, did you really expect Garion to lose?

Rating: 8/10
Enjoyable and satisfying read

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pawn of Prophecy, Book 1 of the Belgariad by David Eddings

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I came across this childhood favourite of mine at a church jumble sale and bought it for $1. What a bargain for this fantastic fantasy fiction.

I enjoyed rereading it enormously – the characters are well-drawn and diverse, the action is vivid and in true fantasy fashion, the journey is epic. The best thing about Pawn of Prophecy is the handful of characters who are drawn together to undertake a journey and complete a task (on which the balance of the world hangs, of course). Each has different strengths and weaknesses, motivations, backgrounds and heartaches, and their interactions are priceless. The whole setup reminds me a lot of the fellowship in Lord of the Rings (as most post-Tolkien fantasies do) but I didn’t know that when I first read this book.

There are elements in the Pawn of Prophecy seen in many other fantasy novels – whole worlds, different races, wise magicians, jealous gods, underdog heroes who discover their destiny and a long journey to right a world gone wrong. So while a lot of it is not strictly original, the book is engrossing and, best of all, genuinely funny. Sometimes the humour is a little... young and somewhat repetitive, but it's still very enjoyable.

The main weakness in the series that I can see now as an adult is that things work out too perfectly – none of the main characters dies, almost everyone finds their match, the world is set aright and they go riding off into the sunset (so to speak). There’s a depth to sorrow and heartache in children's books that grab the juvenile heart and force a kid to grow up, and it is unfortunate that Eddings didn't capture that in this series. Who can forget bawling over Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia? Eddings gives the reader exactly what we want – which is satisfying for us, but cheats the series of being great.

Rating: 8/10
Highly enjoyable and satisfying read. And I adore Garion.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

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Seriously seriously funny.

This is adult literary humour at its sharpest and riotously funniest. The ‘hero’ is Ignatius J. Reilly, a hulking monster of a man-child who considers himself a genius, unappreciated by the world at large. He IS unappreciated by the world at large, but not because of his genius. He’s a slothful, bullying, gluttonous hypochondriac whose misadventures begin when his mother drives her car into a brick building. He is forced out of the cocoon of his room (where he fills endless Big Chief tablets with his monumental writings) to find work to help pay the bill. From destroying the working order of Levy Pants by depositing all their documents in the circular file (read: trash) to eating himself out of his wages at the Paradise Hot Dog stand, his journey is a comedy of errors that escalates with his relationship with his socially overly-conscientious female doppelganger, Myrna Minkoff.

I’m planning to update this review with some quotes from the book so come back to this page.

Rating: 9/10
Brilliant and almost flawless.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman

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This is a really good read, fast-paced and fantastical, taking the reader into a world where every human has a daemon (animal creature that almost equates to the person’s soul) and evil is afoot. Children begin to go missing from every city, and strong forces journey into the mysterious North to discover the secret of the Dust and the netherworld from which it comes.

Phillip Pullman paints a world of scholars, adventurers, witches, talking armoured bears, gyptians (like real world gypsies) and church-world politics. His heroine is Lyra, a girl whose personal journey is central to the story as she goes on a quest to find her playmate, Roger, who has been captured. Lyra is likeable, sympathetic and completely engaging.

Pullman’s narrative is well written and surges relentlessly forward, almost so fast that we don’t get as full a picture as we could of the incredible races, forces and motivations that he reveals along the way.

I was engrossed until the very end, where there is a wide opening left for the second part of the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife.

Rating: 8/10
A great fantasy adventure – a real page-turner.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (known in America as Live Free or Die Hard)

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Yippikaiyay for old school action heroes!

‘You’re a Timex watch in a digital age, ’ says arch-villain Thomas Gabriel to Detective John McLane, and I'd have to agree - but in a good way. Although the plot is based around post-9/11 security measures, the movie has a distinctively retro early-90s feel. Bruce Willis reprises his imperturbable balding working-class-hero character with ease, and manages to look surprisingly good while he’s doing it.

As with the last 3 movies in the Die Hard series, McClane is the reluctant hero thrust into the position of having to save the world (a.k.a. America). He’s bombed, shot, blasted, thrown out of things, onto things and off things, which make him look tougher and cooler than ever – especially compared to his sidekick, geeky hacker extraordinaire Matthew Farrell (played by Justin Long, who will forever be known to me as ‘Mac guy’ from the excellent Mac/PC ads). Their odd-couple chemistry is great and the one-liners fly almost faster than the bullets.

McLane's feisty daughter Lucy becomes the hostage of choice by the baddies (not a spoiler - it's pretty predictable), and the FBI are always one step behind. Good thing that Det. McLane is always on the ball - even if it means having to kick skinny Asian ass (very tough attractive ass at that).

It may be a little corny and obvious at times, but there’s genuine humour and great action throughout. Throw in the goodwill built up from the last Die Hard movies, and this is definitely one that’s worth watching.

Rating: 8/10
They don’t make them quite like this anymore. Yes it's a little formulaic, and the newer action thrillers may be smarter, wittier and quicker, but this is pure action with likeable heroes - can't ask for more in my books!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The One You Really Want, by Jill Mansell

Posted by lea at 1:33 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, who said Jill Mansell is one of the better writers in the chicklit genre. I would reluctantly agree, which doesn't say that much because I think the genre is littered with writing that mostly belongs at the bottom of a birdcage, in my humble opinion :)

Mansell falls into the trap of most other authors of her genre, which is the portrayal of too-perfect characters. Even the flawed characters, like rock star Rennie in this book, is perfect in his flaws. This makes them unrelatable and one-dimensional. There are endless unrealistic coincidences peppered throughout the book (Nancy's mother just happens to bump into Zac who just happens to hire both her and her daughter and just happens to be the former gay lover of their stiff-upper-lipped next door neighbour who's been trying to kick them out of the street). Like many other chicklits, The One You Really Want is a grown woman's fairy tale where everyone ends up with just the right person and things work out perfectly in the end. There's no real depth to the story - even the moment when Zac's father is confronted with his son's homosexuality, the scene is shallow, quick and unrealistic: 'I still love you son.' Hug. Close curtain.

Perhaps that's what makes these books so successful (after all, chicklit is a huge market now) - women want escapism in their reading matter. And in those cases, this book may satisfy. Personally though, I found it a bit too glib and contrived. If it was funnier, even with all the same drama, it would've been better (along the lines of Marian Keyes). But it's not.

Rating: 5.5/10
Okay read but not great. Some clunky moments and a bit too contrived.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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It was alright, but in my opinion, it feels like J.K. Rowling lost interest from book 4 onwards, and you can tell from her writing. The books from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seem to somehow lose the fun and spontaneity of the the first 3 books, which were the only ones I genuinely enjoyed reading. Deathly Hallows is still a page-turner, but like my 13 year old nephew Christian, I read it mainly because I’ve invested too much time in the series to stop now, and of course there’s the pure interest to see what the major fuss is all about.

In Deathly Hallows, the plot gets ever thicker as dark forces overtake the Ministry of Magic and the entire magical (and muggle) kingdom is in danger of Voldemort’s regime. More people die and Harry becomes a bigger twat than ever with his whining and doubting. I know a couple of people who said they couldn't put the book down, but I found it very easy to do. Harder to do was picking it back up, because Harry was so bloody annoying. However things do improve and kudos to Rowling for meeting expectations of unprecedented proportions to round up the series.

Finally, there's a little epilogue at the back sketching out what happens to the crew 19 years in the future. Most fans will probably be interested to know what happened to the everyone, but I thought it was a bit sterile and jarring.

Rating: 7/10
Finally the series is over and Potter mania can rest... until the next movie, of course.

Monday, August 6, 2007


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Brilliantly acted.

The premise of the story is that Anthony Hopkins’ character discovers that his wife is having an affair, and engineers the perfect crime to kill her and get away with it. The detective investigating the murder, it turns out, is the guy his wife was having the affair with. But don’t worry – that’s not a spoiler. The movie goes way beyond that.

The plot is a dance between the characters played by Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. They’re both brilliant actors, but Ryan Gosling really does (sorry for the cliché) steal the show. He plays the young cocky prosecutor who finds himself stretched to the limit with this wily and deviously intelligent defendant. I found it really gripping and really enjoyed the twist at the end.

Rating: 8/10
Great acting, but the young up-and-coming lawyer angle is somewhat reminiscent of John Grisham.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

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I was laughing even before the movie began, when Ralph starts singing along to the 20th Century Fox intro: ‘da da da DA da da da DA!’

The first half, particularly, is a diverse bag of laughs as the characters do as they usually do – only magnified. In the movie, Flanders plays surrogate father to Bart, Lisa falls in love with the son of an Irish rock star (‘no, not Bono!’) and Bart shows what he’s made of in all his full frontal glory – and it would appear that no, they haven’t dropped yet. But it’s Homer’s show from there. The usually loveable and forgiveable Homer loses the advantage of the 30 minute timeslot, so his slovenly, selfish, stupid antics go to the point of near-unbearability. But fortunately, he (and Springfield) are rescued in the end.

Hang around during the credits to see Maggie speak her first word, and a few other little bits and pieces among the thousand Korean names (my name’s up there: Hyun Joo Park!).

Rating: 7/10
A good job but clearly the work of the current mob, therefore not as clever as the earlier episodes.

Amazing Grace

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Great cast, excellent historical character (William Wilberforce) and brilliant theme (abolition of slavery), but the movie, in itself, was a little boring. Its main problem was that it lacked major peaks and troughs, so it failed to engage that sense of imagination and inspiration that a movie of this sort really needs to grab hold of. Most of the film sailed by in a very join-the-dots type monotony, saved only by some of the witty repartees during parliament sessions and the more quote-worthy comments. I recognised that there were moments where I was supposed to be moved, but I just wasn’t. I felt like a spectator.

Rating: 6/10
While it’s a very respectful adaptation of his life, I don’t think the movie does justice to his story.

Twelve Sharp, by Janet Evanovich

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This is the twelfth (mis)adventure of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter heroine of Trenton. As usual, her personal life is a trainwreck caught between two stations – good-hearted hot cop Joe Morelli and mysterious man of danger, Ranger – and she somehow manages to catch the bad guys based purely on instinct, bravado and street sense.

In this instalment, Ranger’s daughter is kidnapped by ‘un-Ranger’, an elusive wannabe who tries to steal Ranger’s identity and life – including his complicated relationship with Stephanie. She’s landed (of course) plum in the middle of the whole explosive situation as live bait.

The Stephanie Plum series is a really great read thanks to Janet Evanovich’s first person narrative, which is funny, warm and witty. Stephanie Plum herself is a streetsmart, disarming and very endearing character who you just can’t help rooting for and laughing at. The plot is plumped up by a whole host of funny secondary characters (like the larger than life Lula and Stephanie’s unconventional trouble-prone grandmother) who make the read all the more worthwhile.

For me, the twelfth book is much of the same same, but I imagine many people keep reading Evanovich for that precise reason. I wouldn’t mind seeing some resolution on the whole Morelli-Plum-Ranger sexual tension, but this book simply ups the ante, which adds to my frustration. The laugh-out-loud moments are still there, but the laughter is a little muted because I’ve been there before so many times in the previous books. For those who are as yet uninitiated in the life of Stephanie Plum, Evanovich does a great job of setting the scene so you can start at any book without going from the beginnning. It's worth reading an excerpt if you're interested.

Rating: 6.5/10
Lots of action but not enough forward progress.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

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A lovely, gentle look at the friendship between Jesse, an artistic young boy from a poor family, and Leslie, a vibrant girl with a vivid imagination. Their friendship burgeons from bullying in the schoolyard (both on the receiving end) and a mutual love of running. It becomes cemented as they create together the imaginary world of Terabithia – an escape from poverty, loneliness, bullies and the real world.

I remember the book as the first traumatic realistic death in fiction encountered during my primary school years – not a frail elderly secondary character, but a main character so promisingly full of life and potential. A character I could relate to and really liked. The movie, like the book, was able to engage the viewer into the world of the two kids, and give an honest and realistic portrayal of kids dealing with real issues.

The actors did a fantastic job and the movie was beautifully filmed. It’s a real tearjerker of a story for its emotional depth and rawness, and a very good counterpoint to the usual unrealistic feelgood kids’ movies (eg Cheaper by the Dozen, Mean Girls, Agent Cody Banks etc)

Rating: 8/10
Simple, real, honest and sad.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Knocked Up

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What happens when a beautiful TV presenter (Alison) falls pregnant to an overweight slacker (Ben) from a drunken one night stand? That’s the subject of this movie – getting to know each other better, finding the right gynaecologist, being too scared to tell your boss you’re pregnant, worrying about money to support the baby… sounds really serious but the Knocked Up crew manage to make it all really funny without turning the situation into a farce.

And it’s not just all about Alison and Ben – the secondary characters really add to the story too. Ben’s friends are hilarious as a group of slackers trying to make a fortune from their web idea ‘Flesh of the Stars’. And it’s great to see Ursula from George of the Jungle and Josh from Clueless together as Alison’s sister and brother-in-law, who are trying to make their marriage work. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood movie that shows the unglamorous and adult side of marriage in a way that manages to find humour in the everyday.

Great scenes:
- Ben talking to his dad about having kids
- the bouncer talking to Alison’s sister outside the nightclub
- almost every inane conversation amongst Ben’s friends

Rating: 8/10
Very enjoyable movie – funny and easy to watch, but be prepared for a lot of profanity.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Posted by lea at 1:40 PM 1 comments Links to this post
How can something so Bay be so good?

Although director Michael Bay has copped a lot of flack for some of his previous movies, he won’t be paying for another drink for a long time after this effort. With this one film, he managed to please the hardcore Fanaticons who had any part of their (extended) childhood in the 80s, as well as the more newly initiated Transformers-fanbase – including my 10 and 12 year old nephews who went in expecting something ‘kinda lame’ and left the cinema begging for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee toys.

The effects were truly incredible and have to be seen to be believed. The Autobots and Decepticons literally transform before your eyes from cool-looking vehicles (lucky GM!) into giant alien robots and back again. You could practically feel the testosterone levels rise each time they transformed, and the scenes were invariably accompanied by a duly respectful rippling of woahs across the cinema.

The plot was brisk and full of action and humour that was carried brilliantly by the computerised robots and human characters alike. I’ve never seen Shia LaBeouf before, but he totally won me over as the fast-talking, smart-mouthed, hormone charged teenager Sam Witwicky: ‘It's a robot. You know, like a super advanced robot. It's probably Japanese.’

Somehow, the movie seems to have successfully bridged that gap between genders and ages, because everyone I know who's seen the movie - from my hard-nosed sister to my pre-teen nephews, arguably grown-up boyfriend and my 7-month pregnant flatmate (and the unborn baby in her stomach who was kicking up a storm during the movie) - genuinely enjoyed Transformers.

And by the way, you absolutely have to check out the Real Transformers. Seriously, the lengths some fans will go to...

Rating: 9.5/10
Did what a movie should do: absorbed you fully into another world, engaging your emotions and humour. So why the missing 0.5? Well it wasn't exactly... you know, like, 'deep'.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Decisions Through Confusion

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There have been a lot of thoughts crowding my head lately, and I've been trying to figure out the best thing to do regarding a particular current situation in my life. My head and heart seem to tell me one thing, but a few people whom I repsect and trust are leading me to do another. What to do what to do...

Then I remembered an article I read a little while ago from the Harvard Business Review. It says that when there's confusion about a matter where we need to make a decision, the more we think and brood on it with our conscious minds, the more we assemble irrelevant information and get further away from the right solution. The author of this article refers to Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Blink', which proposes that even before we verbalise a decision, it's already been made in our subconsciousness. The verbalisation process simply confirms what we've already decided and finds the rationalisation for our decision. This is the power of our intuition.

So, says the author, the implication is to use your conscious mind to collect data regarding the problem/confusion, but don't consciously think about it to find a solution. Allow your unconscious mind to digest the information and then follow your gut feeling.

So I guess for me, it means to sit on this problem. Assemble information that relates to the issue but don't make a decision. Sleep on it and allow the decision to come to me. Okay, I'm going to try that now.

Shrek the Third

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Monstrously fun, if not a little like the previous two. Okay, maybe not 'monstrously' fun, but it sounds so good considering Shrek's an ogre, right?

Generally, it was good, but I was tired. If it had been worse, I would've fallen asleep. But as it was, I ended up enjoying the movie and laughing along the way.

Rating: 7/10
As usual, there are laughs for kids and adults alike. Also as usual, there are good solid themes that shine through, like friendship, love, girl-power and anti-bullying.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Posted by lea at 12:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It's been weeks since I watched this movie so my review won't be very thorough. My main thoughts from this movie are:

- it was full of pretty good swashbuckling action but the plot got a little complicated sometimes;
- Johnny Depp was great as usual as the hilariously self-centred, self-serving and morally corrupt Captain Jack Sparrow;
- the relationship between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters didn't have the emotional pull the movie makers were aiming for - personally I just didn't care whether they made it or not. Oh, until the very end, then it was kind of sad and sweet;
- the absolutely eye-rollingly corny scene where Elizabeth Swan launches herself up on the side of the boat to give a 'they can take our lives but they can never take our freedom' type speech;
- the other extremely corny scene where they get married mid-fight;
- it was the first movie where I recognised Bill Nighy as Davy Jones;
- fantastic effects!

.... and that's it.

Rating: 6.5/10
It's a pretty good way to spend 2 lazy hours.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret is interesting for its combination of words and imagery to unfold its tale. It's not a conventionally written novel nor is it a graphic novel... in fact, it really defies conventional categories, and for that alone it's quite fascinating.

Selznick combines words and pictures to tell the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphaned 12 year old in Paris who believes that his life is somehow intricately tied with an automaton of a mechanical man sitting at a desk poised with pen in hand. Hugo believes that if he is able to fix it, the message of the automaton will somehow change his life forever. Passages of text are followed by pages of black and white drawings, each one moving the story forward. They're not conventional illustrations to support the written sections, but rather add a whole dimension to the book by continuing the story in its own right. For example, chase scenes through the busy Paris train station are beautifully drawn, and not one word is needed to explain what's happening.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a weighty book - a hefty 355 pages on quality paper in a hardback cover. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into its development, as it is beautifully presented and the pictures are very rich and detailed. The potential for magic is evident in every page, however I felt that the written sections let the book down. The writing was clunky and somewhat amateurish, unable to convey the sort of emotional depth the book was trying to achieve. Otherwise, I thought it was a great innovative job.

The overall feel of the book comes across like a silent movie from the 30s, which is very suited to its content, as the mystery of the automaton leads to Georges Melies, one of the earliest and most innovative French film-makers. Selznick has based this book on a fictional account of one part of Melies' life, asking the question, 'what if...'

Rating: 7.5/10
Beautifully presented and an innovative new way of storytelling.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dead Famous, by Ben Elton

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Big Brother meets Agatha Christie in this novel by one of Britain’s most famous comedian/social commentators. 10 young people are thrown together for a reality TV show, each of them desperate to become famous and win the half million pound prize up for grabs to the last remaining contestant in the show House Arrest. Throw a murder into the mix and it leads to compelling reality television, terror and suspicion among the remaining contestants and killer ratings for the show’s producer.

The story is well-paced, offering insight into the motives of the producers (aptly named ‘Peeping Tom’) as well as the housemates, and the tactics they employ in order to gain the public ratings/vote. Elton skilfully manages to satirise the strangeness of human fascination with this fabricated situation (there’s a hilariously inane bit about the housemates’ argument over a piece of cheese) while at the same time weaving a story that’s interesting enough to keep the pages turning. I’m personally not a fan of reality TV at all and really hate the Big Brother series, but just when I thought I was above it all, I found that I wasn’t really. I became very absorbed into the story and continued to tune it, chapter after chapter, to find out what happens. Just like a Big Brother sucker-devotee. Very clever, Ben Elton.

What makes the book more than just a voyage into voyeurism is the differing perspectives Elton brings to give the plot a fullness that it would have lacked from the rather pathetic and desperate housemates alone. From the producers of the show to the police team who aim to solve the murder case (particularly the old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy lead detective), layer upon layer is carefully constructed to give a page-turning performance that is interesting, humorously observed and ultimately quite ironic.

Rating: 8/10
An all round good read.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spiderman 3

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Some movies can go longer than 2 hours and you’re so engaged that you can barely feel it. Spiderman 3 is not one of those movies.

Spiderman/Peter Parker faces a horde of villains in part 3, including the serious-faced Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church, whom I love), Venom (Topher Grace, who plays the role ok), the New Goblin (Harry Osborn, the cute but crooked-eyed James Franco) and even the evil-within-version of Spiderman himself, who dons a cool black costume and acts with uncharacteristic aggression. The action scenes are good but the background plot drags on. There’s a lot of tears and heartache during the scenes where Uncle Ben is mentioned (with nostalgic flashbacks) and in the scenes between Peter and MJ, whose relationship is true of the Shakespeare quote, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’.

Some of the best scenes (eyebrow-raising humorous but at times painful to watch) are when Tobey Maguire plays the changed Peter Parker – the hip-wriggling, girl-chasing, emo-haired, egotistical flirt. The worst are when Kirsten Dunst sings – you can see why, in the plot, she gets kicked off Broadway.

It’s never explained where the black parasitic symbiote (?) that turns Spidey bad comes from (except from out of space) or why it’s targeted Peter Parker. This and other holes in the plot don’t make it wholly satisfying, but it’s a decent movie with great CG and will probably be a great babysitter for the kids.

Rating: 7/10
A superhero with a villainous side is always interesting.

Curse of the Golden Flower

Posted by lea at 1:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Directed by Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame, this is a Chinese movie about palace intrigue, treachery, incest and betrayal amongst the most dysfunctional royal family in history – real or fictional.

State secrets are whispered through flimsy rice-paper walls, ninjas fall silently from the sky and, as with most Asian action movies, there’s a lot of stylish but unrealistic violence full of poses, 360 degree kicks, flying through the air… no one does it like the Chinese. Half the population is decimated in the main battle scene as the royal family descend into madness and cruelty, but when the bloodshed is over, endless resources of fresh soldiers (and chrysanthemums) seem to appear from nowhere.

Surprisingly, there are more cleavages than kicks (who knew Asian women could have such an abundant excess of bulbous white protuberances?) and the scenes are heavily plot-driven rather than going from one beautifully choreographed fighting scene to another, as we’ve come to expect from Yimou. Filmed on a grand scale with rich imagery (the costumes, palace and courtyard are incredibly impressive), the movie fails to engage because, as William Thackeray says of his book Vanity Fair, it’s a story without heroes. The only character worth liking (Prince Jai) is used as a pawn in the machinations of the only the two left standing at the end of the movie – the Emperor and Empress (played by Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li) who are the cause of the excessive bloodshed and heartache.

Rating: 6.5/10
It’s madness... literally!

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Defrosting of Charlotte Small, by Annabel Giles

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This is an example of the sort of crap that the chick lit genre has spawned. It’s one of those manuscripts that should’ve stayed in someone’s drawer gathering dust but somehow got published by a mysterious and terrible mistake. I could see what the author was trying to do: show how a strong but egocentric single mother breaks down only to find her salvation on the other side: resolving her feelings about her ex-husband, finding new friends and learning to love her daughter unselfishly. But by God it was painful to read!!

One of the first rules of writing that I’ve learned is ‘show not tell’ – ie. instead of saying ‘she was a sexy woman who liked to seduce men’ you’d write, ‘her heaving cleavage spilled over the top of her siren-red dress, matching the pouting lips she pointed towards her current victim of choice’. And this is exactly what Annabel Giles failed to do. She TOLD us everything that was going through the protagonist’s head and going on in her life without showing us enough to actually connect with the story.

I hope for her sake that it was her first attempt at a novel and that she has since taken classes to improve her writing. But I, for one, would never pick up another book by her again. I only paid $8.95 for it, but that was good money down the drain as far as I’m concerned.

Rating: 1.5/10
The 1.5 is just for actually completing a full novel, which is a mean feat.

The Number 23

Posted by lea at 2:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This movie takes itself too seriously throughout and then ends too neatly. Starring Jim Carrey, it falls into the psycho-thriller category and while it’s not actually extremely scary, it manages to keep suspense levels fairly high as the story unfolds.

The plot is based around the parellel lives of Walter Sparrow, an ordinary family man, and the story of Fingerling, the hard-bitten detective character in a book Sparrow’s wife purchases for him. The book spookily resembles Sparrow’s life, leading him to the uncovering of a murder and an obsession with the number 23 (Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times; Charles Manson was born Nov. 12 (11 + 12 = 23); The Mayans believed the world would end on Dec. 23, 2012 (20 + 1 + 2 = 23) etc).

The parallel sections of the movie where the narrative (book story) unfolds is filmed in a grainy, overexposed E6-style wash that lent it a stylistic and dreamy feel. However, the mystery of the number 23 ultimately failed to intrigue me to high fervour, which meant that the movie had to rely on the plot and characters rather than the mystifying numerology. What I found was less than inspiring but more than insipid. It’s a decent DVD movie for a night in, but not great.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, April 23, 2007


Posted by lea at 2:15 PM 2 comments Links to this post
In Shooter, Mark Wahlberg plays a military sniper for the U.S. army who gets played for a fool, is scapegoated for an attempted presidential assassination and ends up wanted for annihilation by the FBI. On the run, he wants revenge, justice, honour and all the other good words that get your blood going. He’s a skilful military man thrown in the hot seat and now on the run from the government he tried to protect. Throw in a buxom love interest, some powerful bad guys (senators and other Washington heavies), one good guy who believes his story and guns - lots of guns - and what you get is a pretty decent 2 hours of cinematic escapism that doesn’t strain the brain and occupies you with a lot of eye candy.

But don’t expect anything too clever – like a plot with any sort of depth. In this movie, what you see is what you get. There is no subtlety. From the moment that his best buddy shows us a pic of his wife/girlfriend back home in Kentucky (or some other Southern state), you just KNOW he’s gonna be blown apart. And it happens maybe 30 seconds later. The FBI agent that Wahlberg disarms while running away is shown in lingering detail afterwards so you just KNOW he’s going to be important to the plot later. And of course, he is. There are clunky plot reveals and foreshadowing dropped like a granny’s loose drawers throughout the movie, but on the plus-side, it’s never boring. you just have to get through the camera’s Mark Wahlberg-worship without groaning too much. He takes bullets, fights hordes of bad guys single-handedly and undertakes every single clichéd hero-shot ever created since the invention of celluloid: the mountain top conqueror, walking out of explosions with a halo of smoke and fire, tending to bullet wounds while wincing in understated masculine pain… you get my drift.

Ironically, the movie propagates a big-bad-America political view while simultaneously putting the U.S. on its usual Hollywood pedestal. Greedy senators: bad. Patriotic underdog: good. The plot never delves deeply enough to feel for the victims of the government’s tyranny (the good victimised people of Africa, who have provided so much fodder for Hollywood moviemakers of late), and vigilante justice is seen as the only way to stop the baddies, as the government’s hands are always bound by the powerful.

The good thing about Shooter is that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a good action flick, and on that front it delivers. It’s not particularly clever, not complicated in any way and there are a lot of explosions. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it to any but the most hard-core Mark Wahlberg fans who want a bit of a perve.

Rating: 7/10
Bourne Identity does it better.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Latest Grievance, by Elinor Lipman

Posted by lea at 2:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Written in first person from the point of view a highly intelligent and cynical 16 year old with two psychologists for parents, this book is so sharp it could cut through ice, while at times being warm enough to melt it. Frederica Hatch has had it up to the eyeballs with her straight-laced, psych-soc PhD parents whose unconventional hippy ways include always treating her as an equal even while she’s screaming for parental normality.

The book is set in a college, where her parents are lecturers, dorm parents and grievance officers who are constantly barracking one cause or another. Feeling somewhat neglected, Frederica majors in dining in the communal hall, learns all the intricate ways of the college and occasionally claims her parent’s attention with semantic psychology with which she’s able to outwit her academic parents.

Enter Laura Lee French, her father’s ditzy, glamorous, wannabe-Rockette ex-wife. Upset at her parents’ omission to inform her of Laura-Lee’s existence and intrigued by the ‘maternal road not taken’ (in which she imagines a life of block parties, exchanged recipes and baking cookies), Frederica attaches herself to Laura Lee, using her parents’ own psychological defences in her favour to insinuate Laura Lee into their lives. The tables turn on Frederica when she discovers that Laura Lee is a self-centred cow who ends up shaking the foundations of Frederica and her parents’ lives (and in fact, the entire college) with her selfish and immature antics.

You can expect a change of heart towards her parents in the end, but this book offers far more than the usual offerings in the coming-of-age genre. It’s sharp, witty (almost painfully so) and often funny.

Rating: 8/10
Excellently written and very intelligent, but sometimes so sharp and so clever that it borders on obnoxiousness.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Becoming Jane

Posted by lea at 11:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It's ironic that for a woman who wrote stories with such sparkling wit and humour, her own was delivered so flat and devoid of charm. The relationship development between the Jane Austen and Thomas Lefroy was unconvincing, the climax abrupt and the ending dissatisfying. My friend Patricia, who watched it with me, poked me at one point thinking that I was asleep. But I wasn't... exactly. A bit bored but not comatose.

Perhaps I expected more because I am an unabashed and avid Austen fan, and had hoped that her story would be told with her characteristic humour and insightful social commentary. Instead I found it a bit stifling. The characters were one-dimensional, and the sometimes witty conversations weren't carried out throughout the script. The pacing of the story was a bit choppy. There was no actual turning point when you realise the two protagonists, who were continually butting heads, are finally in love. It comes as a rude shock... 'when did that happen?'

The plot was very limited because I understand that they can't change history (no happy ending for our Jane), but the way they interpreted this particular (assumed) event in her life made both her and Lefroy appear weak. As such, it was very difficult to become emotionally involved in their lives. And although I have no objection to Anne Hathaway (who could?), I didn't think she suited the role. Her natural impetuous charm was muted and it seemed that she was trying too hard to play a repressed English woman trying to get free. LeFroy, who apparently was the basis for the Darcy character, was great in the first part, but towards the end you don't know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him.

Overall, I wouldn't recomend the movie to anyone but the most hardcore Austenites, who might, like the woman next to me who (to my amazement) was sniffling and crying throughout the movie, find some point of connection and look more kindly on it than I.

Rating: 5.5/10
Doesn't accomplish what it set out to do, which was to give Jane Austen's life a touch of her own treatment. I guess noone can do it like her.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran-Foer

Posted by lea at 1:32 PM 2 comments Links to this post
It's very easy to get lost in this very unique book. It’s incredibly written with a psuedo (or so I’m guessing) Ukrainian guide character who authors half the book with his garbled English, and outrageous lies.

The first sentence had me wondering, ‘What the heck…?’, the first page had me thinking, ‘This is great,’ and the first chapter had me laughing out loud. The story is about the journey of Jonathan Safran-Foer (the author) as he travels to his motherland to discover the secrets of his ancestry. His narrative chapters are interspersed with commentary from his Ukrainian guide, Sasha, and a fable-like re-telling of the stories of Jonathan’s Jewish predecessors.

Like a swim in the ocean, the book gains increasing depth as the story unfolds, from funny and entertaining to tragic and moving, all the while keeping you captive with its slowly intertwining threads. What I loved about the book was its sense of humour (which softens the tragedy inherent in the story) and its utter honesty. It strips bare the most basic and raw emotions of the characters, revealing their flaws and vulnerability with sharp precision.

Rating: 9/10
Thoroughly involving and enjoyable read.


Posted by lea at 1:31 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Kings and warriors, heroes and villains, demi-gods, hunchbacks, monsters, valour… this movie had the lot. Beautifully filmed in a sepia wash, this movie manages to tell a simple story on a grand scale, engaging viewers with constant action and some emotional depth.

Ordinarily, I hate violence in movies and a reliance on slow motion. 300 utilises both to an abnormally high degree, yet I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The battle scenes were almost poetic, particularly the individual fight scenes within the greater action. It was choreographed so beautifully that you can’t (and don’t want to) avert your eyes from the screen.

The only things more relentless than the action are the six-packs on the Spartan men, who fight in leather-looking underwear and red capes. They look amazing, but I don’t know how practical it is. However, practicality is not the point of this movie – hence pitting 300 warriors against an army of millions.

Finally, I make dishonourable mention of the totally gratuitous sex scene in the beginning and the horribly painted eyebrows of the multiple-facial-pierced demi-god. I thought they made him look like a vain Asian woman.

Rating: 8.5/10
I think I enjoyed this movie mainly because I chose to take it for what it is: a mythical story of battle-heroics that doesn't promise to be a cinematic masterpiece.

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Posted by lea at 1:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Argh! How can you pack so much tragedy, injustice and human misery in one book?

A Fine Balance tells the story of two tailors, a widow and a university student in India in the 1970s, battling to overcome their circumstances to find some sort of peace in the world. There’s torture, death, violence, corruption… the list could go on. But I couldn’t. I stopped halfway, traumatised by a torture scene, and simply couldn’t pick up the book again.

This was our book club book for March, and those members who finished reading it said they really enjoyed it, despite its relentless tragedy.

Rating: unrated, because I didn’t finish it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Undiscovered, James Morrison (CD)

Posted by lea at 12:27 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I don’t usually do music reviews because music is such a personal thing and I’d hate to be judged on my musical taste, however I have to make mention of this awesome CD cos I’ve been loving it for a number of months now and I’m STILL loving it.

I heard somewhere that James Morrison got discovered while busking on some English street, presumably in London, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that was the case. Imagine hearing that smooth husky voice singing passionately on a busy London street. You’d just stop and close your eyes and the sounds of traffic and people and noisy cars would melt away as you heard him sing: ‘You give me something/ that makes me scared alright/ this could be nothing/ but I’m willing to give it a try…’

Even now, after weeks of semi-continuous listening, I still love singing along – especially to You Give Me Something and Wonderful World – while driving. If the people in the vehicles in front of me were to glance in their rearview mirror, I’m sure they’d think I was nuts - singing at the top of my lungs, squinching my eyes (wanting to close them but can’t cos I have to see the traffic), tapping the steering wheel and smiling like a lunatic. Trust me, it’s the perfect solution to road rage. You just can’t get angry listening to this music.

It’s passionate, it’s heart-moving, it’s real and above all, it sounds awesome. While he’s only 21, he’s a great songwriter and manages to convey a lot of emotion through his voice. I can’t remember the last CD that gave me this reaction, and no other playlist on my ipod is getting this kind of airtime.

Rating 9.5/10

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby

Posted by lea at 1:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Nat got this book for me from a second-hand bookstore. It’s still got the original English bookstore sticker on it and I really liked the fact that it obviously came from the country of the author’s birth (perhaps the left-behind item of a British backpacker). Either that, or the fact that I love Hornby’s other books, particularly High Fidelity and About A Boy, raised my expectations beyond the reach of this book.

It’s the story of Katie Carr, a doctor (her career is a very important fact, repeated throughout the novel until you sigh whenever you read: ‘I’m a good person, a doctor’) whose marriage is in jeopardy. She has an affair, which turns out not to be a deal-breaker as her husband, a cynical and sarcastic man who's made a career out of being angry, suddenly finds spirituality (not of the religious sort) with his spiritual guru, GoodNews, who so became via a club experience with ecstasy. Sound weird? It is. And never quite fully explained.

Overall it's a fairly bleak narrative of daily life in an unhappy marriage, punctuated with moments of clarity and revelation, followed immediately by the tedium of her ‘I’m a good person, a doctor’ outburst, always a justification for some perceived wrong she’s committed. I think Hornby is attempting to highlight the guilt we sometimes feel living in our three-bedroom homes with double incomes while being increasingly aware, through the media or other means, of the injustices and plights faced by people less well-off than we are. It’s about trying to ‘be good’ in a world where commercialism and selfishness is almost a necessary evil just to get through the day without going mad.

For me, he never quite struck the right note, and toward the end it seems as if Katie’s almost ready to accept (with some reluctance) her lot in life, with her new-improved husband and two growing children... then the last sentence of the book just kills it. You’re left wondering whether she’s going to commit suicide or something, because it ends on such a bleak note, with a stark realisation that no matter how she tries to improve things, it most likely will never change. Very abrupt and unnerving, the book ends like a greasy chinese meal with no tea to wash it down.

Sorry, bad analogy, but you know what I mean.
Rating: 6/10

Books I’ve been reading for ages and haven’t yet finished:

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Quite a thick book, our next book club book in fact, but I stopped halfway through having been traumatised by a torture scene. Very bleak but well written read.
Down Under by Bill Bryson
No reflection on the book or its author – it’s a fantastic read, but I have a real problem picking up non-fiction after putting it down once.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm re-reading this because I forgot the plot, but now I have no idea why I'm bothering because I lost interest in this series from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – it's pretty obvious by her writing that JK Rowling has lost interest too!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Posted by lea at 2:01 PM 1 comments Links to this post
This movie was hilarious! It would be particularly appreciated by those who enjoyed the film-makers’ previous offering, Shaun of the Dead. This is seriously a laugh-out-loud movie that simultaneously mocks and mimics other action films while maintaining a touch all its own.

Sandford, a beautiful sleepy town and multiple winner of the annual ‘Best Village’ award, has no recorded homicides for over 20 years. However they have a suspiciously high ‘fatal accident’ record. Which turns out to be no accident at all.

Enter Nicholas Angel. A highly decorated officer who gets ‘promoted’ to Sandford because his top-notch arrest record was making everyone else on the London force (sorry, ‘service’) look bad. The gags are funny, the action scenes are great and the spoofs of Point Break and Bad Boys II are absolutely hilarious. The cast is perfect and I really really really enjoyed this movie. No more to be said. It’s great!

Prete-moi ta main (I Do)

Posted by lea at 1:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Synopsis: ‘immensely satisfying romantic comedy about a softhearted bachelor who pays a free-spirited young woman to pose as his fiancee.’ (

Luis, the main character, tries to deflect the attempts of his domineering mother and five sisters to find him a wife by asking the sister of a friend to pose as his fiancée. The plan is for her to dump him on the wedding day, leading to him falling into a great depression, so the grand dames of his family feel sufficiently sympathetic enough to hold off further plans for matrimony. Of course things keep going wrong and everyone has their own agenda, leading to many comical moments.

The charm of this movie is mostly in the fact that it is so very French, starting with Luis’s career as the ‘nose’ for a perfumerie. The characters are wonderfully passionate, the women are strong and dominating, and the mis-en-scene is filled with cafes and art and all things European. The humour was universal, however, and the opening scene is particularly hilarious, a black-and-white flashback that shows how Luis has turned into the player that he has become.

The cinema (in Paddington) was filled with Francophiles who laughed a little too heartily at each joke. Nat thought they were pretentious, and tried to make a point by laughing his version of a ‘cultured’ laugh (o-ho-ho-ho-he) during a quiet moment. Embarrassing, but I could totally see his point.

Overall it was a good movie with a reasonable number of laughs, but the downfall was that I could totally picture it as a Hollywood film. And what’s the bet a Hollywood version will soon come out? If it does, I’d recommend to wait until the DVD is released. In its present carnation however, it’s a worthwhile distraction for 2 hours that allows you to come out of the cinema feeling just that little bit more cultured. Unless, like Nat, you find that sort of thing pretentious!

Pan’s Labyrinth

Posted by lea at 1:55 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I watched this at Govinda’s in their upstairs lie-down cinema. Fantastically comfortable, but I was tense the whole time because the movie was so dark and gruesome. A fairy-tale in the original and oldest sense of the word, the audience is given a glimpse into the world of a girl whose spirit is the incarnation of a princess from another realm. In order to find her way back to that realm, she is required to complete three tasks that take her outside the world of her heavily pregnant mother, cold-hearted stepfather and the army base that he commands. Her stepfather is the villain of this movie – a strict military man with no human conscience who tortures and kills without blinking. His character gave the movie a menacing presence that had me flinching constantly at his brutality.

A darker but similar storyline to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the movie is visually incredible as the real world and the secret realm weave in and out of the story. The secret world is not softened or toned down in a nod to the childish presence in the film, but there’s real death, real terror and real pain. The dichotomy between the use of a young child as the female lead and the graphic brutality portrayed throughout the movie made it very unnerving. Although it was a bit too dark for my taste, it was still an interesting portrayal of a mythical, fantastical story.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ghost Rider

Posted by lea at 4:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Despite its M rating, the demographic in the cinema was pretty much exactly the age group of the 5 kids I was chaperoning to this movie – mostly pre-teen boys aged between 9-12.

Ghost Rider is based on a Marvel Comic character about the legends of certain guys who make deals with the devil for something they really want. In exchange they transform into strange immortal characters by night and are bounty hunters for the devil. The loose plot in this movie is that the son of Mephistopholes (the fancy Faustian name they give the devil) is getting too big for his britches and wants to overtake his dad. So the devil gives Nicolas Cage, the Ghost Rider of his generation, the arduous task of taking him and his cronies down.

The greatest flaw in this movie would be the fact that it just didn’t make much sense. No, let me re-phrase that. The plot makes sense, but it’s just stupid. I won’t go into any great lengths to explain it because frankly it just doesn’t deserve it. At least that’s what it felt like the movie-makers thought: Forget about plot, just use loads of CG, a skeleton hero whose skull bursts into flame, a cool looking bike and a walking cleavage for a heroine. Cool!

The best thing about it is that because it’s not a realistic movie, Nicolas Cage’s acting really suits the part. He goes from mild-mannered to manic in 3 seconds flat: arms-stretched heavenward-gazing evil laugh and all. Overall, the characters didn’t really sit well with me: he seems a little old to be a dare-devil (his character’s chosen profession), and the exceedingly well-defined 6 pack he displays in the mirror (which literally caused the boys in the row in front of me to go, ‘woah!’) looked over-tanned, over-oiled and over-Photoshopped... or maybe over-steroided. And in every scene, his female counterpart (Eva Something) wore clothes one size too small with one button too many left undone.

However, the move-makers judged their audience quite well. The action and cleavage suits their pre-teen audience and the dialogue was corny but simple to follow (Nicolas Cage’s scariest line to terrify his victims is ‘Look into my eyes…’). Let's just say, not a movie for the grown-ups.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When villains are not really villains

Posted by lea at 4:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
i had a conversation yesterday with a friend that really shook my world. without going into detail, let's just say that there was a certain situation that led to a lot of confusion within a group of girlfriends - and yes, it involved a guy. there were lots of misunderstandings and communication breakdowns and basically, my own experience was that i THOUGHT i knew exactly what was going on. not being personally involved in the situation myself, i even prided myself on being fairly objective about it.

but the conclusion of our conversation was that those whom i assumed to be villains were not completely villainous, and those whom i thought were innocent parties were not entirely innocent. the victims were not the ones i thought they were, and in the end i felt rather enlightened, and these realisations (not new but fresh again) came to mind:

1. people will always self-protect. they will tell you (and themselves) only what they want to believe. often they will actually convince themselves in such a way that is less painful to deal with their own flaws. and so the rest of us will only hear half the story, and will be convinced because when they tell us the story, they will themselves be convinced that they're telling us the truth, even though it's only a portion of it.

2. i need to give my friends more benefit of the doubt - even beyond what seems reasonable. i have to say that all the conclusions i am came to from this situation were very reasonable and just - i was an eye-witness to a lot of these events, so i thought i had the whole thing right. however, there were missing bits and pieces that i hadn't considered, which when discovered, changed the WHOLE STORY. so even when i think i know everything, i should still believe the best in my friends and realise that there's a reason for almost everything.

3. sometimes things don't just go away. i think after the whole stinking episode happened, we all thought 'just give it time and it'll disappear' but it didn't and still hasn't. and i really don't think that the adage 'time heals all wounds' is necessarily true. i think truth begins the healing process and time continues it. until truth is brough to light in all of this, i think we'll continue to feel the ramifications of this issue in our slowly waning friendships.

hmmm, i'm sure there's more to it than this, but i'll stop here for now. lots of food for thought.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Music and Lyrics

Posted by lea at 10:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Despite its title, not all was in harmony in this movie. In particular, there was no sense of romantic chemistry between the characters played by Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, so the crossover from feuding-sibling-type friends to lovers would’ve been really hard to believe if it wasn’t coming from a mile away.

Even just the idea of Hugh Grant as an ageing pop star is quite funny, but to see him in the whole 80's get-up singing and dancing is quite hilarious. His character is not quite as comical, hedonistic, old and unique as Bill Nighy in Love Actually, but still very good. However, Drew Barrymore’s eccentric hypochondriacal character with hidden depth just didn’t work for me. She may as well have been on auto-pilot with a character derived from a dozen previous movies.

Towards the end they try to tear away from the shallow simple plotline and bring some depth to the movie, which only turned it from mildly amusing to clichéd and contrived. The whole grand-gesture-stadium-declaration thing was a ho-hum expected climax, with Drew Barrymore wearing the exact same expression as in Never Been Kissed (now that's a painful movie).

There’s a light poke at the music industry and the rising young divas whose main talents are gyrating and panting into the microphone, but it clearly was not meant to offend the industry or make any real statement.

To expect anything more than close to two brainless hours of standard romantic comedy would be like trying to extract meaning from A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ – you know it’ll never be a meaningful ballad so you have to just enjoy it for what it is. Oh, and it's definitely a DVD movie - forget paying more than ten bucks for it!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Just Do It

Posted by lea at 11:14 AM 2 comments Links to this post
I feel incredibly good right now because I’ve instigated a few changes that have taken AGES to implement.

It all started yesterday when I went to the gym (yes, the GYM! ME!!) after work. I managed to ignore the intimidating serious workout men (who ended up being very nice and polite really, despite their muscles) and did 6min on the bike and 17min on the treadmill - of which 4min was spent jogging! Not much to most exercise freaks I know, but please keep in mind that I have not exercised since 1991. Boy, was I feeling good!

Then I got home did the laundry, organised a menu and shopping list for next week (to minimise my usual ad hoc shopping which is dependent on what I feel like eating, ending up with loads of ingredients only partially eaten that get thrown away) PLUS I organised my budget, which had been ignored for ages due to the scary imbalance of expenditures to income.

Early days, I know, but already I feel like my life is changing for the better. There’s a very pleasant ache in my legs this morning (does this mean I’ll be able to wear shorts next summer??) and a sense of incredible satisfaction that things are getting sorted.

It really all started during my reading of ‘Failing Forward’ by John Maxwell:
The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.
And I realised I’ve been waiting for the motivation to do all these things – getting fit, being more mindful of what I eat and budgeting – and hoping that this mythical desire would one day grip me and empower me to do the things I know I should want to do.

Hang on, I just had a thought. I was motivated by a quote saying to forget about motivation cos it doesn’t work. Hmm, that’s pretty ironic…

Monday, February 5, 2007


Posted by lea at 12:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is a really good and very faithful adaptation of the book by Patrick Suskind. The only unfortunate thing is that while the book draws you right into the story, watching it on the big screen creates a sense of detachment, so when the story becomes more and more fable-like, on the big screen it verges on the ridiculous and unbelievable.

It’s a pretty foreboding tale of Jean Baptiste, a boy with an incredibly heightened olfactory sense that enables him to re-create the most intricate of perfumes perfectly after just one sniff. Smell becomes his beauty and his obsession, and he begins murdering beautiful young women in order to preserve their scent and create the world’s best perfume (don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away here as the movie is titled Perfume: the story of a murderer or something like that).

You quickly understand that Jean Baptiste is not quite human, so it’s impossible to feel empathy for him. Death follows him around, leaving a trail of tragedy behind him that he is not even aware of, let alone responsible for, so you begin to wonder whether murder is a choice or his destiny. The film doesn’t dramatise the content or try to exploit the story, as it could have done. Instead, the story is treated quite respectfully so it doesn’t feel like a cheap Hollywood thriller.

The fable-like quality of the story comes from the narration and the unbelievable events that unfold, like a massive town orgy (yes, of the sexual kind) and cannibalistic suicide, both induced by the perfume he created from the dead girls. There was a good deal of snickering from the people sitting next to us during the orgy scene, but for the informed (those who have read the book or can see beyond the fact that masses of people are fornicating in public, which is admittedly a little hard to see beyond), there’s a sense of wonder and sadness and beauty all mingled together in this tale.

The redheads are gorgeous and while it was a surprise to see Alan Rickman in the movie (a bit jarring to tell the truth), it was an intriguing two and a bit hours.

Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by lea at 12:53 PM 2 comments Links to this post

The premise of this movie is really interesting and a little far-out (reminded me a tad of Charlie Kaufman, only not on drugs). Harold Crick (Will Ferrell as the unlikely straight man) is a fictional character being written about by an author played by Emma Thompson (who does a really great job). He begins to hear her narration in his head and thinks he’s going crazy, but discovers that he’s actually the character of a novel. His life changes dramatically as he seeks help from Dustin Hoffman’s character, a professor in literature or something, and metamorphoses from a boring routine IRS auditor to being forced to act outside his comfort zone as he attempts to change the story, and discovers that he really wants to LIVE.

It brought to mind the idea in creative writing that characters can come alive and practically write themselves, so authors are the instruments who tell the story, rather than the driving force of the story. However, in this movie the author forces the story and the character, even against his will.

The only downfall in this movie is after the point when you discover that the author and the character live on the same plane/dimension (in fact the same city), so he can actually track her down. There’s only one direction the movie can go after that, and it becomes pretty predictable from that point.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a standout performance as a conscientiously objecting baker who becomes his love interest (very strange couple, but the dynamic really works well). The visual additions to the movie (computer generated effects measuring things in the scene) give an insight to the character of Harold Crick and make the movie really enjoyable and unique, and the script was really good too. I also loved seeing Buster in something outside of Arrested Development.

A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards

Posted by lea at 12:51 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I read this book because it’s written expressly to bring about healing for those who have been injured from leadership in the church context, and for me this was a timely read. It’s a sad but true fact that these sorts of injuries occur, and perhaps are felt more deeply precisely because it’s within the church, and we learn to expect more from church leaders than anyone else.

The lesson is taught in narrative form, going through the three quintessential examples of church leadership in succession: Saul, David and Absalom. Each of the leaders is very different, but the overall lesson is that God is in charge. Gene Edwards boils it all down so you recognise that it’s not about the style of leadership of the type of injury suffered – it’s really a matter of the condition of the human heart. Both yours and the leader at whose hand you may have suffered.

It’s a pretty easy read, especially because of its narrative format, but my only reservation is the very American-drama of the narration. It can feel a little corny at times, but I must admit that it builds the scene perfectly so the lessons really hit home. I learnt that I need to examine my own heart and to truly trust God because He really is in charge, despite how things may look at times.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Miss Potter

Posted by lea at 9:54 AM 1 comments Links to this post

The tagline of this movie is ‘Beatrix Potter’s life was the most enchanted story of all’ but I left the cinema scratching my head, wondering what on earth that meant. What made them think her life was even movie-worthy let alone enchanted? If by ‘enchanted’ they mean ‘odd’ then I concede, yes, she was odd. She talked to her drawings and had no other friends. Miss Potter indeed – Miss Potty, more like!

They seemed to be saying that her life was enchanted simply because, against the custom of her day, she was quite happy never to be married and only wanted to write and draw for the rest of her life. Of course she DOES fall in love, then there’s tragedy but because of her literary success she’s able to buy a farm in the country and move there to continue writing for the rest of her life.

Overall, it was quite an unspectacular movie…. to be honest, very dull. The events of her life (her success, making a friend, falling in love) could have been dramatised, but they weren’t. The movie flatlined early on and never picked up. Emotions were never engaged, curiosity never aroused, and the plot never actually climaxed.

We all know that Renee Zellweger can carry a British accent (Bridget Jones’s Diary), and we know that she and Ewan McGregor can create on-screen chemistry (Down With Love), but neither of those factors were able to lift this movie off the ground. Becoming Jane, about the life of Jane Austen, is soon to be released, and I really, really, really hope that’s not botched up like this one.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Deja Vu

Posted by lea at 3:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post

(I watched this around 2-3 week ago but forgot to write about it, so it’s not quite fresh in my mind.)

Denzel Washington plays the usual hero-cop in a time-twisting thriller that’s only as full of as many plot holes as most other time-travel movies. One of America’s many secret services has a machine that enables them to fold time back on itself to witness events three (?) days past in a continuous, parallel thread to solve criminal cases etc. Denzel Washington risks his life to travel back and save a beautiful black woman (who can blame him?) whose death is the key to a major explosion killing a boat full of innocent people. The ending is a bit too convenient (the disposal of his second, time-travelling self) and a bit abrupt. When the girl is saved and meets the original Denzel (the one who hasn’t travelled back in time and has no idea that he’s done that), she doesn’t seem all that surprised even though I don’t recall the second Denzel telling her that he’s come from the future.

Jim Caviezel (who shall forever be known as Jesus) playing a dangerous psychopath – he’s such a great, intense actor.
Val Kilmer, who’s great as always, if a little bloated and aged.
The very pretty heroine who plays (of course) Denzel Washington’s love interest.

The pace was a bit off – it took too long to get to the important bits and was a bit predictable at times.

Overall, it was a decent movie and while I wouldn’t pay to watch it again, it’s worth watching when you have a spare 2 hours and nothing important to do.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Happiness

Posted by lea at 3:08 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I recently read that a study on human happiness discovered that the level of our happiness is not determined by our actual wealth or possessions, but rather by the comparative wealth and possessions of those around us. So, according to this study, my joy at buying a new car would last only as long as it took for my neighbour to buy a better car.

Added to this is the idea of perfectionism, perpetrated by the media, which says that the only way to be happy is to have this or buy that, or look like this.

The solution, apparently, was found in a study of nuns that discovered that optimistic nuns live an average of 10 years longer than pessimistic nuns (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?). So what made those nuns happy?

1. Gratitude for the things they had, rather than focusing on what they didn’t have.
2. Tolerance for imperfection – not just accepting it, but embracing it.

Okay, I added that bit about embracing imperfection. But it makes sense right? One of my favourite movies is Beautiful People, which is a gorgeous little film that intertwines the lives of lots of different people in London. The idea is simple: life is not perfect, but it can be beautiful. It just depends on what you’re looking at.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Anastasia series by Lois Lowry

Posted by lea at 1:01 PM 2 comments Links to this post
Anastasia Krupnik is the central character in a series of children's books by Lois Lowry. Over the last two days I re-read Anastasia Again!, Anastasia On Her Own and Anastasia at this Address (that's the good thing about kids' books) and I just LOVE this series! I always have, and spent $17 in delivery alone on ebay to buy as many of them as possible already (admittedly, the books actually only cost me 99c!).

The characters are fantastic, funny and flawed. Anastasia's adventures as she grows up are hilarious and true to life, and the interactions of her family - father Myron, English professor at Harvard, mother Katherine, artist and stay at home mum, and little brother Sam - are some of the best I've ever read. Especially her brother Sam, who is a child prodigy and absolutely adorable. She loves Frank (her fish), her wallpaper, her turret-bedroom and writing.

The series goes through Anastasia's life as she moves suburbs, makes friends, has a girl-crush on her gym teacher, semi-falls in love with Steve Harvey, tries to find a career... a lot happens to her as she grows up, but this is unlike other growing-up-in-the-burbs books. Through it all you see her excellent sense of humour, intelligence dotted with moments of far-flung scatterbraininess, and overall it leaves you with a sense that the world is really a good place.

And we could really do with more of that, couldn't we?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Secret Life of Yokels

Posted by lea at 9:04 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Driving along Liverpool Road this morning, I was rudely cut off by a car entering onto the main road from a side street. In order to miss the car, I not only had to slam on the brakes, but also swerve into the next lane (fortunately it was empty).

'Watch it, you-' I started, and glancing over I registered the messy-haired, topless white guy who looked like he'd gotten into his ancient dusty brown Ford after chasing a chicken around his trailer. I finished my sentence, '-yokel!'

Yokel? I thought, where did that come from? Then immediately the song started playing in my head, 'Some folk'll never lose a toe, but then again some folk'll, like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel' [insert banjo flourish]

I met a real life yokel! In Sydney - Strathfield, in fact, of all places! I drove beside him for a while, curious as to where he was going, under-attired as he was. What had got him in such a hurry?

Sure enough, there it stood before us. The golden arches. With the same urgency with which he'd nearly crashed into me, he turned into the McDonalds driveway and left me with this new insight, so THAT'S where yokels go when everyone else goes to work...

yo·kel /ˈyoʊkəl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[yoh-kuhl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
a rustic; a country bumpkin.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The things that nerds get up to

Posted by lea at 2:29 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I just loving hearing about stuff that nerds do! They take curiosity to another level. Take this example of experiments using just Diet Coke and Mentos mints by these two guys Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe (are they nerds? just check out the goggles). Might be a little old to some of you cos they've already gotten a lot of media coverage, but I sure got a blast out of it - pun unintended!

I’ve heard the video takes too long to load for some, so I’ve replaced it with the link. Check it out – definitely worth the wait!

Coke & Mentos experiment

Monday, January 15, 2007


Posted by lea at 2:43 PM 1 comments Links to this post

If you can stomach a lot of violence, then you may enjoy this movie. If, however, you prefer your movies with minimal decapitation and disembowelling, you may end up watching most of this movie with your head buried in the shoulder of the person next to you. Need I explain which of these two camps I fell into?

Even just remembering scenes from the movie to write this entry is causing my stomach to churn with the memory of lunch. There’s so much sadism in this film, from the pillaging of a peaceful Mayan tribe to the human sacrifices that abound later in the movie, that you simply either turn away or switch off the feeling part of your brain so you can follow the rest of the film.

Jaguar Paw, the hero of Apocalypto, receives a premonition, a prophecy and becomes prey as he runs for his life from his captors (who wish to catch him, skin him and make him watch as they wear it) to save his pregnant wife and child. He’s a compelling hero who rises to the challenge and in the meantime, gives the audience one of the most incredible foot chases ever seen on celluloid.

The cinematography is awesome, but I felt that the sudden close ups and slo-mos gave the film a bit of a B-grade feel at times, which was rescued by the Yucatan dialogue (think of the horrific accents in Memoirs of a Geisha and you’ll understand what I mean).

I felt that the movie was very primitive, not only in content, but also in approach. If you’re planning to set a movie in a specific and mysterious culture, shouldn’t you incorporate something about that culture (apart from the grisly side)? I wanted to know more about the Mayans than their relish in gore, and felt that the film failed to show what distinguished them from any other similar culture.

The b/f, however, enjoyed the movie immensely – blood and guts and all – and was nice enough to lend me his shoulder throughout (although he did try to hold my lips together whenever I cried out, ‘Why are they DOING that? That’s so DISGUSTING!’).

He believes the movie is about civilisation and pecking order and the bloody bits just show realistically what it was like for people in those times. He maintains that it was not the aim of the film to provide a discourse on the Mayan culture, but I say, if it’s going to borrow from them for sensationalism, shouldn’t it do them some justice? I mean other than making them look like blood-hungry Neanderthals.

If I'd known more accurately what the film was about, I probably wouldn't have watched it. But now that I have, I'm busy trying to forget it, not because it's a bad film, but because it was so gory - much of which I felt wasn't justified in the plot.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Snack Thief, by Andrea Camilleri

Posted by lea at 12:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Book 3 of the Inspector Montalbano series, The Snack Thief is a mystery set in an Italian town where people ride an elevator with a dead body to save themselves from using the stairs, retired men hire a beautiful young Tunisian cleaning woman for her ‘extra services’ rather than her cleaning expertise, and a young boy steals food in order to survive after his mother (the aforementioned cleaning woman) mysteriously disappears.

The main protagonist, Inspector Montalbano, is great at his job. He loves solving crimes and isn’t averse to using tough (and sometimes unethical) means to find out what he wants. Professionally, he’s totally switched on - a man whose hunches always hit target and has a nose for digging out the truth. However, personally he’s stereotypically shut down and finds it difficult coming to terms with (or even just admitting) his own emotional needs.

Camilleri shows his weaknesses with as much transparency as his strengths, and as a result, Montalbano is a character you grudgingly respect rather than enthusiastically like.

It’s the first book of the series that I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it – especially the Inspector’s digressions into and obvious keen enjoyment of food. It was only towards the end that I felt it lost its zing.

Where did it go wrong? The pace was good, the plot kept me hooked and the writing was precise and brisk.

However, it takes a turn at the end after the mystery is solved. Montalbano takes a break to the seaside and gets in touch with his emotions. It’s ironic that this is the bit that turned me off, because I imagine that for avid followers of this series, this is the moment they’d been waiting for - when he’s finally able to commit to his long-term girlfriend, visit his sick father and show some emotional maturity.

Perhaps it’s partly because I haven’t read the previous novels, but I really think it’s because after the remarkable lack of character development throughout the book, his sudden emotional growth was not very believable. After the smooth ride of the rest of the book, this bit was jarring and seemed out of character.

Having said that, though, I would gladly go back and read the first two books. It was a surprisingly good find in my local library and I’m pleased to add another good author to my list.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marie Antoinette

Posted by lea at 1:33 PM 5 comments Links to this post

This entry could just as easily be called 'Why Sofia Coppola Shouldn't Make More Movies (at least until she figures out how to do it properly)'. Marie Antoinette was, to use a cliche, a visual feast: beautiful costumes, lush settings and long lingering cinematography. But in every other way it was starved - no plot, hardly a script and nothing new even in the 'wow look at me I'm different' factor of using modern dialogue and music. Been there, done that. If you're going to do that again, use it to some effect, woman!

Why bother with the medium of film if you're basically going to produce a nice-looking picture book? The movie rambled on interminably with little tidbits of excitement (like when she meets that dashing fellow whose name I've forgotten) that never actually go anywhere. Much like the rest of the movie. Only for hardcore Sofia Coppola or Kirsten Dunst fans.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Blood Diamond

Posted by lea at 4:15 PM 3 comments Links to this post

Either my expectations were too low, or this move is really quite a decent flick. Apologies for sounding surprised, but I was a little turned off by its intensity and didn't expect Leonardo Di Caprio to bring credibility to another 'rape of Africa' movie. It has a plot (somewhat of a bonus these days - can you tell I just watched Marie Antoinette?), character development (a little obvious and clunky at times but at least it tried), a decent script, just enough romance without being corny, good action and it actually has a message (once again a counterpoint to Marie Antoinette). Although it's been criticised for being too didactic, I didn't find the movie too preachy. Having said that, will I ever buy a diamond? No. But not just because of this movie, I just can't see the big deal. Bling bling. So what?

At the end of the day, laissez-faire means we can buy anything we want from anywhere we want, but Blood Diamond aims to screw with our social consciences by showing what a little sparkle on our rich Western selves means to someone in Africa. There's a very poignant scene (yes it was calculated but which poignant scenes aren't?) where Solomon Vandy, a victim of the diamond bloodbath, stands outside a jeweller's shop window in London looking at a diamond necklace with the certain knowledge that entire villages of his people died so that some rich woman could wear this around her neck.

A friend pointed out: what makes conflict diamonds any different to sweatshop Nikes or ipods? Almost everything we wear or buy that comes from any poor country is guaranteed to have the sweat of an underpaid, third-world child marking it somehow. I guess the main difference is that they weren't killed for their labour. Treated unfairly? Yes. Paid dismally? Yes. But enslaved and killed? No. At least I bloody well hope not.

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