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Last Updated: Sunday 27 December 2020 (NB: I update it in the Singapore time zone.)
So...hello there! The most basic stuff about me you need to know...
Where I come from: Singapore
Other miscellaneous stuff, and all preferences in no particular order...
Books: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, the Harry Potter series, Sense and Sensibility, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, the Malory Towers series, Les Miserables, The Great Gatsby
Music (aka my musical guilty pleasures): Spice Girls (NB: I know. Don't laugh!), S Club 7, The Corrs, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, ABBA (I know...but I like their songs even more after watching the musical based on their hits - Mamma Mia!)
Food: Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Korean
Hobbies: Reading, listening to music, eating, using the Internet (or maybe more of Netflix-binging and streaming movies)
The lesser known facts: Listening to classical tunes (or maybe because I used to take piano lessons in my teens) and retro songs, badminton, football (or soccer, and I am more of watching), watching tennis, golf and Formula One, used to play bowling for a period of time (but that was a long time ago), almost being born as a New Zealander (long story for that)
By the way, I am also on Twitter and Facebook as well. Updates may differ from time to time for both - https://twitter.com/dy158 (Twitter account), https://www.facebook.com/dianayeow158 (Facebook account)
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (Last line in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, as narrated by the narrator in the novel Nick Carraway)
Past signatures - Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living. Above all pity those who live without love. - The late Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter, from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' (also in the film version, but in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II'.)
The first signature - 'Treat each day as if it's your last'
P.S.: I was almost at death's door before (Yes, it's true. Long stories over there.) more than once, and so that makes it all the more important and true whenever I think about what my former school teacher used to say in class.
P.S.S.: This: http://littlemissdiana.blogspot.sg/ is a link to my blog. I tend to type a lot over there from time to time and at irregular times, but just bear with it.
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It is what I had watched, and going according to what has been categorised by the American Film Institute, the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and the British Film Institute.
What I had watched...and for consideration?
Other titles for consideration as well, from a born-and-bred Singaporean.
What I had watched which once marked a moment in time in the real world, whether always universally known or not.
Or is it just art imitating life?
Not a definitive list, even more so I have not read all the books to the films.
But as long as 'Best Adapted Screenplay' exists at the Oscars, there is always a reason to read the original source, if it was originally taken from the book. Fiction and non-fiction books come under this category. Biographies, memoirs, autobiography(-es) too.
So who says the printed press is dead then?
A gambling rivalry saga with consequences
A rivalry between two gamblers that included underhand methods which turned deadly over the development of a casino on an undeveloped island, leaving one blind and his wife committing suicide. That is until 18 years later, the young boy who became an orphan has grown into an adult with a happy-go-lucky attitude with no original intentions to follow in the footsteps of his father who was forced to go blind all those years ago.
At the other side, the only surviving child of the man who emerged victorious 18 years before had no idea of her original identity, where she has always been the eldest of three and a father who has a gambling habit. She is a policewoman herself, cracking down on illegal gambling dens around the island. But unbeknownst to her, it was due to the predictions of a fortune teller who said that she will never get to see her 30th birthday if she still remains with her family.
Time and again she will run into him, and things took a drastic turn when the woman he was originally engaged to be married with was abducted on the day of the wedding, and it led him to the casino which was run by his father's rival. The bet to take over the casino would have serious consequences not only for him, and the policeman who found him all drunk on the day of his wedding.
When the first season first aired in 1993, it was ground-breaking for the fact that this is still the only television drama series to date made in Singapore with gambling as a main theme, during a time when casinos were non-existent in the country. But it uses the plot of how the actions of two known gamblers would have serious consequences for their descendants over the never-ending grudge and bloodshed along the way. The popularity led to two more seasons, and while it is known that the second season also had scenes filmed on location in Las Vegas and San Francisco and the third and final season having scenes done in Australia especially in Sydney to make it have a more international feel to the drama series as it progresses, the third season started to move away from the original storyline when magic is also involved.
This reviewer was part of the last generation who recalled Singapore having no casino at all, or even two casinos for that matter, as casinos were only to be seen on television and in films. And the same generation (like this reviewer again) who used to want to imitate the gambling tricks like it used to be all the rage when this was first aired in 1993. It was actually very convincing, even with the added special effects especially seen in the later seasons.
There was a reason when I was to be of age when it was first aired, watching the drama series was what always made me look forward to after school. It was precisely the world I never thought would become a reality being taken into a world where casinos are a common sight. Since then, the entire three seasons has been re-released on Netflix's Singapore service (which I had watched in).
Come along in Miss Fisher's world
For an aristocrat, The Honourable Phryne Fisher does not conform to stereotype. In fact, her father Henry inherited the title when the other male heirs were killed during the First World War, with her father inheriting it from his cousin (where it would be later revealed in the series that her father's cousin was presumed dead until the latter showed up). She was originally born poor in Collingwood, Melbourne.
What Phryne came to do during World War One especially in France would come to be revealed itself at times during the series, but she originally returned home to Australia after her time abroad where she had been invited to a luncheon. Apart from also being reunited with her aunt Prudence, the luncheon was off due to a murder at the manor. Some of those she would come to know of throughout the series would appear in the first two seasons in the first season, like Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, Constable Hugh Collins, her future maid Dorothy 'Dot' Williams, her taxi drivers Cec and Bert (who are also known as 'red raggers', or communists in Australian slang at the time), being reunited with her close friend from the war in Dr. MacMillan, and the ever-reliable butler in Mr. Butler.
The real reason for Phryne's homecoming though, it has to do with the disappearance of her sister Jane, or Janey as she always called her. Murdoch Foyle, the person responsible for Janey's disappearance would also come to form the sub-plot for the first season. But it was not the first and last time one would see Phryne being in a vulnerable stage in the first season in terms of facing her past with fear, given she is not afraid of anything, and she even owns a gun.
As the season progresses, one would learn more than just about Phryne, as there are also the backgrounds of those she kept running into. Though it differs from the books on how it described Detective Inspector Robinson and his personal life, the second season would gradually come to have a sub-plot of him at times running into his ex-wife Rosie and former father-in-law Deputy Commissioner George Sanderson. The third and final season also subconsciously deals with Phryne's estranged relationship with her father, and it was put to the test when Henry's life was on the line in the finale of the third season.
Crime fiction has been all the rage for a while, but a female protagonist at the heart of it and in historical setting is rare on both accounts. Agatha Christie may be the benchmark, but her protagonist is a male. As much as the television series follow the books in how it is also set in late 1920s Melbourne and Australia in general, it also dealt on issues unique to that period no matter how tough or light-hearted it may be. For putting the spotlight on the Aboriginal community and Melbourne's migrant communities like it has been dispersed throughout the series, there is also the spotlight of cinema in that period. It also never shied away from heavy issues like human trafficking, at one time under the spotlight in third season, which was equally heart-wrenching watching.
There is also the underline social issue of the time, in terms of the role of the woman in post-World War One world, and the evolution of Dot throughout the series also gave a glimpse of how society would have view her and in her interactions with her employer in Miss Fisher, who is already not afraid to go against the rules and norms of what society dictates in the first place.
Sherlock Holmes might had set the benchmark for how a fictional detective is like, but for those who do not mind a female narrative and also shining a spotlight on real-world events taking place in and around the period the series was being set, this is one to enjoy. Come along for how Miss Fisher goes about doing it and stay for the costumes...and her sometimes-flirtatious relationship with the Detective Inspector Jack Robinson!
Line of Duty (2012)
And it's called nicking bent coppers!
The show which originally started out as a summer schedule filler as according to its creator Jed Mercurio, also already known for 'Bodyguard' (though not to be confused with the film of the same title), has since grown into a television phenomenon in 2019 where it culminated in the much talked about plot twist in the episode finale, where it has reached its fifth season.
But when it first started, it began with Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott, then an authorised firearms officer, refusing to cover up for a botched raid which led to the killing of an unarmed innocent man. He would receive a transfer to AC-12, a unit tasked for uncovering police corruption, or as his boss Superintendent Ted Hastings later memorably said as the series went on, "And it's called nicking bent coppers!" Arnott would be partnered with D.C. Kate Fleming, known for being an undercover officer and being actually exceptionally good at it.
As it was increasingly clear as the series went on, AC-12 would come to investigate seemingly different cases of seemingly corrupt police officers, with a different corrupt police officer under the spotlight for each season.
First season is on Detective Constable Inspector (or DCI) Tony Gates, who on the surface had just being awarded officer of the year, would come under investigation for his record of returning the best crime figures of any unit. If that was not enough, there was also complications to his personal life. Second season is on Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton, a commander who was originally organising a convoy to transport a protected witness which is ambushed, before it went horribly wrong and she was the only police survivor. The third season is on Sergeant Danny Waldron, an authorised firearms officer, and it came after a matter of routine after the shooting of a suspect from his armed response unit, and how it may be also uncovering something deeper than that when Arnott and Fleming further probed the matter. The fourth season falls the spotlight on Detective Chief Inspector Roseanne 'Roz' Huntley, the senior investigating officer of Operation Trapdoor, where the mission is to capture a suspected serial killer. The arrest of a man with learning difficulties may not be what immediately alerted to AC-12, it was the possibility of mishandling evidence which a forensics officer initially alerted to Arnott.
The fifth season which had ended last year, the focus was originally on an undercover officer Detective Sergeant John Corbett who had been uncontactable for several months, before it emerged that his undercover name is John Clayton, being part of an organised crime group. He had sought out contact with Arnott, and the potential revelation that Hastings, head of AC-12, may be also somehow involved, it turned the season on its head where the spotlight also fell on Arnott's boss who had been accused of being 'H', the codename of the supposedley head of the organised crime group.
What has made the series stand out from many police procedural dramas is the interrogation scenes. Regardless of the season, there is always added drama and tension in terms of how the person being interrogated and how at times, it can really produce surprise results that no one can initially saw it coming. It showed the interrogation scenes at its fullest, not just showing the highlights for the sake of the issue being under investigation. It also does not shy away from the issues it addressed, especially in the recent seasons. What it has also shown that people who are supposed to be upholding the law can have shades of grey in what they may be doing or being accused of, even more so when it is the police investigating their own.
The upcoming sixth season which has been slated to air in 2021 will see Kelly Macdonald as guest star, and if the series format so far is anything to go, expect more of the same of what makes the show stands out from the rest.
Las chicas del cable (2017)
Stay for the aesthetics, but remain for the storyline
Lidia Aguilar was originally Alba Romero, but the young woman who had dreams of emigrating to Argentina had her plans thwarted when she was wrongfully accused of a murder. A police officer made a deal with her in terms of her pulling off a heist at the telecommunications company before she was allowed to let go. It is Spain in the late 1920s, and opportunities for women entering the workforce was few and far between but being a telephone operator was one.
Alba then learned of an opening at the Spanish national telecommunications company, looking for telephone operators. She joined in with other aspiring young women, but nearly did not made it for the selection process. She was to be joined by two others who also initially nearly did not made it, Marga Suarez and Carlota Senillosa. Marga wanted to start a new chapter of her life, and Carlota just wanted a job to get away from her controlling military father and high society life. At the telecommunications company, they would be later met by amongst others in terms of senior operators Angeles Vidal, a working mother herself as well, and Sara Millan.
By now, Alba was becoming Lidia in order to hide her identity in terms of her original motive of working at the telecommunications company. Her cover was nearly blown over when senior executives came to meet the new arrivals, which to Lidia's surprise included her former childhood sweetheart Francisco Gomez. He recognised her at once but she pretended to not know him.
But by this time, even as Lidia, Marga, Carlota, and Angeles navigated through work and personal lives, intertwining with real-world events that also took place during their time at the telecommunications company (like the first transatlantic call that took place there between Spanish King Alfonso XIII and the then-American president Calvin Coolidge as dramatised in the first season, and the events leading to the subsequent Spanish Civil War as shown in the fifth season) with the series going from the late 1920s to the late 1930s, one thing does not change. And it is how the four of them, including Sara who was to be later as the series progressed revealed as a trans and becoming Oscar Ruiz, often a taboo subject in that period, they often had to fight hard against the societal expectations and norms of being a woman in those times.
Period dramas set in the 20s and 30s often has an Anglo perspective, and so it is refreshing to see a Spanish perspective of life in that period, even if it is through the lenses of working women making their way in the workforce. Thus also making it refreshing as well that the entire series was to be narrated through the perspective of Lidia and how she saw the lives of her friends, with each episode stemming from a single theme but still able to carry to the end of each season. Even as much in the real world in Spain that being a female telephone operator was to be phased out in the late 1980s, it is also a tribute of sorts to the women who made their way into the workforce.
In fact, this series is actually the first Spanish collaboration with Netflix, making it the first Spanish-language series from Spain coming out of the streaming service. The people behind the 'Cable Girls' are already known for in Spain for other known Spanish period dramas like 'Gran Hotel' and 'Velvet', so a great amount of historical accuracy is often needed and what one can see in 'Cable Girls' is also close to what people would wear in the 1920s and 1930s Spain.
Stay for the aesthetics but remain for the storyline. After all the entire series is interlinked with real-world events, except for when Carlota decided to run as mayor in one of the seasons.
The Queen's Gambit (2020)
An absolute checkmate of a show
Elizabeth 'Beth' Harmon actually does not exist in real life, but happened to be a formidable chess player, and a rarity due to her gender. But her origins was far from that. Being made an orphan when she was just nine after surviving a car crash with her mother at the wheel who died.
Beth would be sent to a girls' orphanage, where she soon became friends with her contemporary in Jolene, who had been at the orphanage longer than her and still waiting to be adopted. But before, she was also given green and white tranquilizing pills daily like the other girls there. It was when cleaning erasers in the basement, Beth would meet the janitor William Shaibel studying and playing chess all by himself. After initial reluctance, Shaibel would come to be known as Beth's first chess coach without knowing in terms of teaching her the game, and Beth would come to have chess lessons under him and eventually improving herself in the process. It became evident she had the potential and became obsessed in learning everything about it, but it is also due to her intelligence and the ability to visual out chess pieces in her head on the ceiling above her bed, which she realised came from the pills she had been taking.
Beth's chess skills would come to be noticed beyond the orphanage, and years later as a teenager when she was adopted by the Wheatleys with especially her adopted mother Alma also later becoming her manager when Beth started to win chess competitions, apart from learning to adjust living suburban life and trying to live a typical teenage life while attending a local high school, she was still being drawn back to chess in whatever way she could. It led her to attending local tournaments and being rather good at them, eventually attracting the attention of the state champion Harry Beltik and later at the national level, a former chess prodigy in Benny Watts who had already previously competed at international tournaments himself. In between, there was also one of her former competitors who simply went by the name of Townes who later became a journalist and started covering chess tournaments.
As Beth started to move her way up in the world of chess, she would come face to face with her most formidable opponent as yet in Vasily Borgov. Her matches with Borgov would come to form a later part of the narrative in the limited series, culminating in Russia.
For anyone with little or no prior knowledge of chess, the limited series can be seen as a form of escapism fare. Even if this is actually an adaptation of Walter Tevis's 1983 novel of the same title, the depictions of chess was made realistic and authentic by the fact that the former Russian grandmaster Garry Kasporov and chess coach Bruce Pandolfini also acted as consultants.
And as someone who fall under the category of having little prior knowledge of chess, it was originally the inclusion of Anya Taylor-Joy ('Peaky Blinders', 'Emma') as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling (memorably known as Dudley Dursley in the 'Harry Potter' series of films) as Harry Beltik that originally had me intrigued at the limited series. One can easily get swept away by the story and root for Beth as she went her way up in the world of chess dominated by men.
Doc Martin (2004)
The Doc is in!
Why would a renowned surgeon, the youngest to qualify as one, be wounding up in of all places in the village of Portwenn in Cornwall? Martin Ellingham might had known the place as a child as where he spent his summers with his aunt Joan, but it is not out of sudden sentimentality to uproot from London to there.
He practically got on the wrong foot from almost the start, with one of the locals in schoolteacher (and eventual headmistress) Louisa Glasson. If one think that is a one-off, it turned out to be not. He can be considered as having a lack of bedside manner, being very straight and direct and taking no fools and not wanting to engage in small talk with his patients, which is also the locals at Portwenn. It also turns out how he is at the surgery is also reflected outside of work, and also sometimes saying wrong names even when told the first time round. And he hates stray dogs.
But one thing does not change, and it was increasingly becoming a running theme as the series progresses, how Martin reacts and behaves around Louisa. Until it emerged later in the series that he previously had a girlfriend at medical school, his interactions around Louisa can be considered being having an on-off relationship, until it really happened.
The real reason for Martin being in Portwenn was only truly revealed at the first season finale. He might not think of his phobia of being funny, even if some of the locals thought so for a while.
There are also various running themes throughout the series as yet, which also included in the interactions with Martin in and outside of the surgery. The local police in Mark Mylow and later Joseph Penhale, the father and son duo of Bert and Al Large, and the pharmacist Sally Tishell.
Make an appointment, but only if you have a genuine medical complaint. Or else, the Doc will not attend to your problems. Otherwise, it is always a form of escapism to also admire the picturesque Cornish surroundings where Martin works, where the other constant is also how he is actually good at what he is doing in his line of profession.
What many may not know is that the series originally started out from the 2000 film 'Saving Grace' and two subsequent TV movie spin-offs, where the doctor in all of that formed the basis for this, but not the background.
The early days of the Minions
When do the minions really began their place in history? Definitely longer than the human species. Ever since the beginning of time, minions have always wanted to serve the baddest, meanest villain around. Over centuries through history, they have come to find serving humans is what they find most enjoyable.
But it was during the time of Napoleon, things did not go quite as planned, and the minions were driven into isolation and started a new life in the Antarctica. The minions would come to grow restless over the years with no purpose in life, but it was to be one minion Kevin who decided to do something. He would be joined by the musically-inclined Minion Stuart who had no idea what he was joining in for, and the young and inexperienced Bob, and the trio would come to find their journey take them to 1968's New York City.
After trying to blend into their new surroundings, the trio came to find themselves at a departmental store and spent the night there. They would come across a television advertisement advertising Villain- Con, a convention for villains and supervillains in Orlando. That got them eventually hitchhiking a ride with a family of villains called the Nelsons who were also heading there, and the Nelsons were to be impressed at their skills. At the Villain-Con, the Minions would come to meet the first female supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and they did enough to impress her, leading Scarlett to send them over to England with her, where the Minions would also come to meet her husband Herb (Jon Hamm).
It was in England where the Minions came to know what they needed to do. Scarlett came to tell the Minions of the plan to steal the Queen's crown jewels, and gave them the tools needed to be successful in their heist. But what the Minions came to attempt to do would soon be heavily publicised, and the whole of Britain would come to be heavily destabilised for a few days.
While much like the two Despicable Me films, the comedic elements were there with the Minions around, but at the same time, the Minions could not quite hold it in their very own film of how they would come to find their eventual owner. Still, what made this enjoyable like the human characters in Scarlett and Herb. But it definitely takes the viewers on a journey of how the Minions came to settle for the owner we would see in the two Despicable Me films.
A racially-divided Singapore, before independence
There are three prominent moments in the history of Singapore which are being explored in this film: The aftermath of the racial riots on 21 July 1964, the undeclared war on terror in Singapore in what is called 'Konfrontasi', and Singapore's eventual separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. In fact, it is the final moment which formed the basis for the film title. And that was what opened the film, revisiting the first part of when Singapore's first prime minister in the late Lee Kuan Yew (with his younger self being played by Singapore's veteran theatre actor Lim Kay Tong) trying to explain the separation to local and foreign journalists which was also broadcasted on television throughout Singapore, when he broke down on television.
The film takes on a narrative format, with retired policeman Adil recalling and reflecting his time serving in the police force which also coincided some of Singapore's pre-independence turmoil, and his working relationship with his superior Seng during those times. When the story really began, it came during a time when Singapore was still living from the after-effects of the July 21 racial riots of 1964 when the Malays and Chinese had clashed during a procession. Everything had looked peaceful on the surface, but racial tensions still linger.
The film audience is also being introduced by this time to Adil's mother and youngest brother Rafi, Seng's family which included his younger idealistic Chinese-educated brother and charming daughter Xiao Yun, and the girlfriend of Seng's younger brother who helps out in her father's coffeeshop. Everyone leading their own lives despite the racial tensions, before how an argument which had started between a group of Malays and Chinese over the death of a Malay man broke the fragile peace on the streets of Singapore once again. The severity of the riot also brought out the curfew onto the streets.
But away from the casualties at the riot, came the start of a misunderstanding which would have consequences. Seng being accused of not helping a young Malay boy to safety during the riot by his mother, and the boy had died as a result. The boy is Adil's youngest brother. The misunderstandings which came as a result of that nearly led to Seng losing his cool when trying to find out what might had caused the disappearance of his daughter on the Chinese New Year of 1965.
While most of the characters are fictional, it is all based on what were happening in Singapore in the lead-up to the separation between Singapore and Malaysia. Only one person in the film is based on someone real, and it is the late Lee Kuan Yew. How his push for a Malaysia for all Malaysians did not work out, even if there were people as shown in the film who had worked hard to make life in Singapore not working along racial lines.
There is a sense of poignancy in terms of how the film came to end, coming to an end like how it began. It is a moment in time the older generation of Singaporeans remember, and the turmoil which preceded it. But that also what makes this film worthwhile, even if it may possibly look out of order at times especially for anyone who may not have much inkling of what took place before Singapore's eventual independence. And how those times still serve as a reminder of working towards a society not bounded by racial lines.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Believing in things they are to be
The Valley of Peace could soon see the escape from prison of the snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), as being visioned by Grand Master Oogway, an old tortoise. Tai Lung is also used to be the adopted son and former student of Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), an elderly red panda. He wants revenge for being denied the Dragon Scroll, which is said to hold secrets to limitless power. That alarmed Shifu, who sent the goose Zeng (Dan Fogler) to prevent the escape of Tai Lung.
Meanwhile, giant panda Po (Jack Black) who has always being a kung fu fanatic and a fan of the Furious Five in Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross), somehow managed to arrive in the arena which was to select the next Dragon Warrior to defeat Tai Lung. It was suppose to choose from one of the Furious Five who had all being trained by Shifu himself, but Po ended up becoming the Dragon Warrior instead, much to the dismay and shock to the Furious Five where they questioned Po's abilities to be one. Po is originally the son of a noodle restaurant owner in his goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong), and that originally stood against him.
But what was originally thought of an accident from Oogway's part in his way of selecting the next Dragon Warrior, would lead to Po train hard under the guidance of Shifu. That is even if the Furious Five themselves tried to deal with Tai Lung himself, before realising how powerful he has become.
What happens when it comes to the crunch, when Po and Tai Lung comes face to face with each other is definitely worth thinking about. In terms of how Po thinks about his kung fu abilities, and how Tai Lung sees his own as well. It is also what the film is trying to drive home as well.
It is a film which moves away from the traditional stereotypes about kung fu, and brings home a simple universal message. It does have its comedic moments, but it is all done without resorting to clichés and stereotypes. It is actually enjoyable to watch to begin with.
Killing Kennedy (2013)
The Kennedy assassination, retold
It is a story where we know what would happen in the end, as the title speaks for itself. Much had been said and written what happened on that day in Dallas, Texas and what could have motivated Lee Harvey Oswald and whether he acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But this television film deals with none of that, and only what the world actually knows took place on that day and the backstories of the two people at the heart of it in Oswald and the US President John F. Kennedy.
Before their respective lives crossed with each other, Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothaar) has been a former US Marine who has grown disillusioned with his own country in the United States and John F. Kennedy (Rob Lowe) is a senator and a politician on the rise and his own political career took a dramatic turn after the assassination of his senator brother Robert (Jack Noseworthy) on the presidential campaign trail for the Democrat ticket for the 1960 presidential election. While Oswald would head for the Soviet Union and seek asylum there and becoming a defector in the process, Kennedy would eventually come to come up against the Republican candidate Richard Nixon and would win the election along with his vice-presidential candidate choice in Lyndon Johnson (Francis Guinan).
After initially settling down in Russia, Oswald would move to Belarus where at a dance, he met his future wife Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg). The Oswalds would be on the move again after the birth of their child, and this time it is back to the United States after Oswald realised the Soviet Union was not what he had imagined to be. The young family would eventually end up in Dallas, Texas.
Meanwhile, Kennedy would come to make a visit to Dallas, Texas as part of campaigning for a second term in the 1964 presidential election. This will be when the lives of both Kennedy and Oswald would come to cross with each other, and things will never be the same again for them and for the United States in the aftermath of what would come to take place.
It is more than just what happened on that fateful day in Dallas, it is also what led up to it. It is also the story of how two people who are not related to each other would come to find their lives cross with each other in one day, and their respective spouses in Marina Oswald and Jacqueline Kennedy (Gennifer Goodwin). It is as poignant, as chilling, and as haunting it could be for a story to be told to a new generation.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
When love is next to you
Charles (Hugh Grant) has always been afraid of marriage commitments. But he and his group of fellow friends who are also single including his female flatmate Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) have always been able to find themselves being invited to weddings, while searching for the true meaning of love at these events.
Charles would become the best man in the first, where his friend Angus (Timothy Walker) is marrying Laura (Sara Crowe). But he was almost late. Still, he manages to arrive at the church in time. It was at this wedding where he first met Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American who had been invited to the ceremony. It became love at first sight for Charles, and the two would spend the night together.
The second is the wedding of Bernard (David Haig) and Lydia (Sophie Thompson), where Charles would come to find himself face-to-face with several of his ex-girlfriends relating embarrassing stories about him, including one his friends has always called 'Duckface' in Henrietta (Anna Chancellor). He would meet Carrie again, but this time her Scottish fiancé is also at the ceremony in politician Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave).
He would find himself being invited to Carrie's wedding, which becomes the third in the film. Though in the lead-up, he had actually accidentally came across Carrie in a shop while shopping for presents himself. Charles would find himself having the unenviable task of helping Carrie select her wedding dress, though it was what Carrie would later tell him about her past which surprised him. While he did attend Carrie's wedding which took place in Scotland after all, it would eventually be marred by one of his friends Gareth (Simon Callow) who died suddenly of a heart attack, leading to the funeral which Charles would attend and meeting Carrie being of Gareth's.
The fourth and final wedding in the film would be of Charles's, though the appearance of Carrie without her husband Hamish until Charles learned the full story between Carrie and her husband before the ceremony starts made him think twice of whom he really wants to spend the rest of his life with, with his deaf brother David (David Bower) and friend Matthew (John Hannah) helping him out to decide.
What makes this film appealing and charming is how the group of friends in the film, with Hugh Grant's Charles being among them who are proud to be single themselves, are constantly searching for the meaning of 'one true love' and whether it exists at the weddings they go to and unexpectedly at the funeral of one of their friends who had died. But there is also Grant's character and whether his 'one true love' was right there all along.
It is the film which gives one the feel-good factor about love and romance, making us still want to believe in love again. It is also the film which makes one want to believe in the 'happily-ever-afters'.
Captain Phillips (2013)
Survival on pirate-infested waters
Popular culture meant that piracy has always been romanticised. But in the real world, piracy is a real and serious issue and is happening. One such example took place in 2009 when container ship Marsek Alabama found itself to be a victim of hijacking off the Somali coast, a known hotspot for maritime piracy.
Experienced ship captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) had been tasked to take command of MV Marsek Alabama, which is an unarmed container ship docked in Oman with the orders to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa, round the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile in Somalia, a team had been selected for preparing to head out to sea with the mission of hijacking a ship.
With the route MV Marsek Alabama was taking, a warning system was issued to the ship on the possibility of piracy activity. Wary of what could happen when the vessel is off the coast of Somalia, Phillips decided to ramp up on security around the vessel and having practice drills with the crew. It would be during a drill where the vessel would be chased by Somali pirates in two skiffs. One of the two would be fended off after Phillips had outrun them and when he had called for support.
But the day after, one of the two skiffs would be returned with four heavily armed pirates led by its own leader Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Adi) but with the ladder hastily welded the night before. Despite the best efforts from Phillips and his crew, the Somali pirates managed to board and capture the Marsek Alabama. By this time, the crew were hiding in the engine room as Phillips had told them apart from cutting the ship's engine power to while he had been captured by the pirates themselves. Even if Phillips had tried to negotiate with the pirates, they were insistent on wanting to head for the engine room.
What happened in the film is actually based on the real-life events of the MV Marsek Alabama hijacking in 2009, the first time an American cargo ship had been hijacked in two hundred years. But it is also based on the experiences of experienced ship captain Richard Phillips who captained MV Marsek Alabama when it was hijacked from his book 'A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea'.
What took place in the film may look dry at times to the viewer who may not be familiar with the workings of the maritime industry, but it helps to shed light to the challenge which has always plague the industry when it comes to piracy on the seas especially off the Somali coast. But what happened in the film is a reminder of how it can turn into a matter of between life and death, where it was exemplified by Tom Hanks's character. For how he did in the film is something recommended and worth the watch, alongside with the man who played the leader of the pirates in Barkhad Adi.
The King's Speech (2010)
Speaking with a voice
Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) was tasked to represent his father King George V (Michael Gambon) to give a speech closing the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at the Wembley Stadium. He stammered throughout, and that was being broadcast by radio worldwide and those present at the stadium. Even if the Duke had given up finding a cure to his stammer, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) has not and sought help with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist living in London.
The Duke of York would be persuaded by his wife to see Logue and during the first session, he calls him 'Dr. Logue' while Logue calls the Duke 'Bertie'. The Duke of York was surprised, given that is the name only his family uses to call him. Even if he felt that Logue's methods and his manners are unsuitable, Logue would wager a schilling with him that he would be able to recite Hamlet's 'To be not to be' soliloquy while listening to 'The Marriage of Figaro' on headphones at the same time without trouble. Logue would put the Duke's performance on record, and the Duke was convinced he had stammered throughout after the end and out of frustration, declared how he did as 'hopeless'. Logue would give the Duke the record as a keepsake.
It would be after King George V had delivered his 1934 Christmas radio address, he explained to his younger son Prince Albert of the importance of broadcasting. The King was worried of how Albert's older brother David (Guy Pearce) would bring ruin to the family and country when he ascends to the throne, an indirect reference to David seeing the soon- to-be twice-divorcée in the American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). The King would let Albert recite the radio address he gave earlier as a form of practice, but to no avail.
The Duke of York would later listen to the record of him reciting Hamlet, and he realised he had actually did it unhesitatingly. He and his wife would return to seeing Logue again, where the Duke would do physical exercises, even if Logue would gently probe along the way on the root causes of the Duke's stammer. That was when the Duke began to open up, and the two men became friends.
King George V would pass away on January 1936, meaning that David would succeed his father on the throne and becoming Edward VIII. But it further complicated matters when the new king insisted on wanting marry Wallis Simpson even with his position as the head of the Church of England when the two brothers was at Balmoral Castle where the Duke of York and his wife were invited to a party hosted by Edward VIII. Edward VIII's insistence sparked a constitutional crisis, and he would return to his younger brother's stammer and accusing him of wanting his place.
But before Edward VIII would eventually abdicate and thus thrusting his younger brother into the spotlight, the Duke of York would meet Logue again and spoke of the progress he has make. But the condition never improved whenever he is speaking to his older brother. Logue's suggestion that the Duke would make a better king than his older brother got the Duke accusing his speech therapist of treason and dismissed him on the spot.
There were times watching Colin Firth first as the Duke of York before becoming King George VI, it was painful trying to imagine how it was like for the real Bertie trying to speak in public with his stammer. But it is only after the belief of Elizabeth and Lionel Logue, the future King George VI was able to believe in himself where all that training would prepare for his biggest challenge yet as a monarch. It is the story of a future king who had never believed in himself when speaking in public, and the wife and speech therapist who do.
It is a film which gives hope to anyone, anywhere that if a king is able to overcome his stammer, they are able to do it as well. It became poignant when Firth as King George VI would say 'Because I have a voice!'. It does make one want to root for the king in the film, as what makes it compelling that it is actually based on real events and the personal notebooks of the real Lionel Logue. It even has the royal seal of approval from the reigning Queen Elizabeth II, the daughter of the king depicted in the film.
Art of America (2011)
Looking at America, through art
There are various ways in trying to understand the American psyche, and while popular culture is one medium which often springs to mind, there is also art as well. As in how since the days of the Puritan settlers to America in the post-9/11 world are being interpreted through art.
The three-part series is as much as looking at the evolvement of a country and its place in the world as it is American artists looking at their own country through whatever artistic medium they use to express their view of the country as each era come and go. It is also having a crash course on the history of the United States as each episode deals with certain periods in the history of the country and how it is also being reflected in art as well. It has always being acknowledged that the Puritan settlers were the first group of Europeans who arrive into the country in search of their own paradise, away from religious persecution in Europe. And when the lives of these people were immortalised in paintings, what does it tell about the sense of idealism these people wanted to build in the New World?
The idealism as evoked from the days of the Puritan settlers would be challenged time and again, in the various flashpoints in American history. Paintings which would have been familiar to Americans when it comes to tell the history of their country, what do they actually trying to tell the viewer who is looking at it? The second episode will come to look at how American artists have to battle between European influences and creating their own brand of art for the American public to strike a chord with. It is revealing where an example raised in this episode was how ordinary Americans reacted to an exhibition on European art as the country reaches the 20th century. But it is also an episode which looked into the various art movements which come about in the 20th century which would come to define American art, by American artists themselves.
The third and final episode takes the viewer to modern-day America from post-WW2 to a country looking for its place in the world in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. Much of how the world looks at America is actually sprung from how the age of consumerism in post-WW2 America help to redefine the American ideals, the ordinary American family living in the suburbs. This period would also see how American artists interpret consumerism through pop art, where Andy Warhol and his famous series of Campbell soup cans comes to mind. It also reminded the viewer that there was a time until the election of Ronald Regan, a former actor, as president, the country went from being confident about itself to how the Soviet Union threatened its hegemony, and thus making a country unsure of its place in the world.
It is striking that the third and final episode began with an overview of Las Vegas, the symbol of how something can be created out of nothing, much like how it mused about the election of Regan who was a former actor who became president. It is like telling the American narrative itself through a city which was created out of a desert. But the September 11 attacks in 2001 would come to change how a country is being interpreted through art. One piece which comes to mind is the memorials which are placed at the exact spot where the twin towers were hit on that fateful day.
Time and again the documentary series would come to challenge the America the world has come to know, as compared to how American artists look at their own country depending on the era they live in. Regardless what is one's view of the country in general and the knowledge of American art, the series does make one look at the country in a different light through the means of art, the American way.
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
More minion action
Something is amiss in the Arctic Circle and is worrying the Anti-Villain League, or the AVL. The AVL, headed by Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), had tried to recruit Gru (Steve Carrel), a former villain-turned-businessman and busying being father to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). Gru would change his mind after his friend and assistant Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) decided to leave for new employment, and he would reluctantly work alongside AVL agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig).
The bakery shop 'Bake My Day' at the Paradise Shopping Mall would be Gru and Lucy's headquarters while they go undercover to investigate who might have been behind what happened at the Arctic Circle. Gru would come to suspect it could be the owner of the Mexican restaurant Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt), whom Gru felt reminded him of the villain 'El Macho' and believed to be dead.
In between Gru and Lucy investigating if it was Eduardo or somebody else, Gru also has to deal with the realities of fatherhood and fending off claims from Agnes that he will fall in love with his new co-colleague Lucy. But just like in the first film, it was the minions which stole the show yet again. Whenever the minions get their space in the film like in the first, they never fail to provide the laughs.
Watch it for minions who are as adorable as ever, but also for the transformation of Gru as compared to how he was like in the first film.
Killing Lincoln (2013)
Re-examining an American political assassination
The assassination of the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln might had been one of the most-documented moments in the history of the United States, but there are also conspiracies on what led to what would be remembered in history as the first successful assassination on an American president.
It began with the person who had successfully did so in actor John Wilkes Booth along with his co-conspirators hatching the plan to not only assassinate Lincoln, but also key members of his administration in Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Booth, who was already a prominent theatre actor in his day, had a genuine dislike for Lincoln. But assassinating the president who freed the slaves, something which Booth detested, was not originally in his plan. His original plan was to just kidnap Lincoln in order to demand release of captured Confederate soldiers.
As for Lincoln, along with the story of Booth's, it concurrently charted the key moments leading up to the end of the American Civil War. It was 10 days before the day of the assassination happened, Lincoln had a dream of a body lying in a coffin in the middle of the White House and people were mourning the death of the person. When he asked who had died, he got the reply that it was the president.
While that was the biggest indicator of what was to come at Ford's Theater, the docu-drama had also mentioned that there had been assassination plots on Lincoln throughout his presidency, but they were always being discovered. It was suggested that it came as a result of the level of dislike and hatred towards him, which was not seen on such a scale during the Civil War. Before the dream Lincoln had took place, the most prominent attempt came when Lincoln, all alone, was riding his horse to the War Department where his horse was being shot.
History has always has a knack of pinpointing people into various labels, but despite Booth's hatred of Lincoln is well-documented; he was actually born in the state of Maryland which did not ceded from the Union. But it was also fascinating watching how those who witnessed the assassination had actually varying accounts from each other, such that there is no official account of what happened.
Whatever one's views of the assassination is, the docu-drama is definitely worth your time.
The Leap Years (2008)
Waiting to love in a leap year
When she was 12, Li-Ann used to have requirements on what she wants in her future husband. At her friends' encouragement, she went to a fortune teller at a temple to ask about her future love life. What the fortune teller said would come to stay with her till her adult years.
It will be fast-forward to the much-older Li-Ann (Joan Chen as the older version), now an accomplished author but living with her step-daughter Dyllan (Tracy Tan). At the same time, her partner Jeremy is fighting for his life at the hospital. The film will be narrated from her perspective, of her recalling how since 24 years ago when she turned 24 on 29 February of how she is waiting for the man who is like the wind, just like what the fortune teller told her when she was a teenager. Li- Ann's (Wong Lilin as the younger version) birthday actually falls on a leap year, and she would come to tell her students in class of an obscure custom practised in Ireland where it is on 29 February where a man cannot refuse a proposal or a date from a woman if she asked so.
It will be fast-forward to the much-older Li-Ann (Joan Chen as the older version), now an accomplished author but living with her step-daughter Dyllan (Tracy Tan). At the same time, her partner Jeremy is fighting for his life at the hospital. The film will be narrated from her perspective, of her recalling how since 24 years ago when she turned 24 on 29 February of how she is waiting for the man who is like the wind, just like what the fortune teller told her when she was a teenager. Li- Ann's (Wong Lilin as the younger version) birthday actually falls on a leap year, and she would come to tell her students in class of an obscure custom practised in Ireland where it is on 29 February where a man cannot refuse a proposal or a date from a woman if she asked so.
In between intertwining between the past and present, the younger Li-Ann would be bugged by her mother and friends on her lack of love life. But things began to change when she was at the Windows Café. The wind blew in a different direction on that day, and she would come to notice a man who catches her attention. Her life and Jeremy's (Ananda Everingham as the younger version) will never be the same again.
As it has been clear from the start in the film, it is all being viewed from the viewpoint of Li-Ann. But it is the intertwining between the past and the present day which can a little confusing at times, unless it specify the number of leap years has passed when it becomes the time when Li-Ann strives to uphold the tradition in her life. Still, it does make one want to root for the younger version of her and not be swayed by her mother and her friends.
It is a love story as a whole, but it is being told differently from conventional love stories, in terms of honouring an obscure custom and finding relevance in the present day, even with modern realities. It is overall a beautiful love story, in terms of how it will play out towards the end.
The Tourist (2010)
Hunting for a man in disguise
In the beginning, it did not make sense why Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) is being followed. The French Police along with the Scotland Yard led by Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) are on the trail of Elise on a regular basis, where Elise would receive instructions from her lover Alexander Pearce in a letter at a Parisian café before she burned the letter after reading it.
By the time Elise had boarded the train to Venice, the police had managed to piece together the burned letter in terms of what it contained. They would come to board the same train Elise would be on. Elise would come to meet a mathematics teacher from the United States in Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) on the train and the two along the route to Venice seemingly starting a romance. When they arrived in Venice, Elise invited Frank to stay with her at her room at the Royal Hotel Danieli where she would further receive written instructions from Pearce.
Even if Elise is revealed to be an undercover agent with Scotland Yard but being under suspension for suspected sympathies with Pearce but is together with Frank whom she is using as a ruse to distract her employer, they have been led to initially believe that Frank is actually Pearce. It did not stop Acheson from trying to hunt Pearce down in Venice, regardless whether he is actually there or not. But the mobster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) whom Pearce had stolen $2.3 billion from is also in Venice as well.
On the surface, the film does have the usual elements of a thriller. But instead of the car-chasing, it is through the boats as the hunt for Pearce takes place in Venice. But there is also the elements of the romance as well, before it is what happened towards the climax where there is a twist over the real identity of Frank.
The backdrop which formed the basis of the film does make a pleasing spectacle, in terms of taking place from Paris to Venice as the chase for Pearce takes place. It does also have its tense moments apart from the romance elements. It is best not to view it as just simply a thriller, given of what is the overall plot.
Nazi Titanic (2012)
The Titanic, as the Nazis (originally) intended
It became a project which Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister Josef Goebbels would become obsessed with to the extent that it would cost the life of the man he had hired to make it happen. It is the film based on the sinking of the ill-fated cruise liner the Titanic, but not as how history remembered what had happened.
But before making any judgments, it is worthwhile remembering the circumstances which led to Goebbels giving the seal of approval to the making of the film which was supposed to act as a propaganda film to stir up the anti-British sentiment among ordinary Germans, at a time after Hitler had invaded Britain in 1941. According to the documentary, it is one of the untold stories from Nazi Germany which has only come to light in recent times. German state archives have only uncovered in recent times of the extent Goebbels wanted the Nazi version of the film to rival Hollywood in terms of spectacle, and what goes into the mind of the original director who was tasked to film it in Herbert Selpin, already a well-known film director in his time who had already especially produced two propaganda films before and also a Nazi party member, as according to the personal diaries of the film's art director Fritz Maurischat.
The documentary showed the other side of Goebbels history did not often talk about, as a man who was truly a fan of film and actually appreciate it as an aesthetic form of art. It also pointed out how Goebbels has always being remembered in history as the control freak, a megalomaniac, but he is one man history has found it hard to pin down. Goebbels's personal diaries revealed the man who has a deep hatred of the Jews and the hatred was sealed after watching various Hollywood films which he was actually a big fan of even if he could not speak English, and prior to his seal of approval for the Titanic film as propaganda minister, he had already made two pictures himself - a documentary and a film. It was to be the film which did well at the box office, which convinced Goebbels and his boss and a fellow film buff Hitler that the way to transmit the messages to the public was through films, as entertainment but with hidden messages of Nazi propaganda. It came at a time when Germany used to have a thriving film industry before Hollywood took over as the leader, with the rise of Hollywood coming at a time where Hitler and the Nazis came to power, with many of the talent heading to the United States.
It would be a screenwriter who brought forward the idea to the propaganda ministry. The entire dialogue would be in German, as footages from the film in the documentary itself showed what language the cast were speaking, which also included the German actor who played the actual chairman of the White Star Line which owned the Titanic, J. Bruce Ismay. It was precisely the actual story of the Titanic and how it met its end on its maiden voyage which saw Goebbels wanted the film to be a portrayal of everything that is wrong about Nazi Germany's enemy at that time in Britain – capitalism. Selpin would be roped in to direct the film, but the famed film director wanted a re-write of the film and brought on board his long-time collaborator and screenwriter friend Walter Zerlett-Olfenius. Unbeknownst to Selpin, his friend would play a part in the director's personal downfall which almost mirrored how the film production went when it climaxed to the shooting of the sinking scene.
But as time went by in the filming which Selpin was given huge amounts of budget which would look incredible in the modern context even by Hollywood standards, the outside world was beginning to turn against Nazi Germany in World War II. Unfortunately for Hitler, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also knew a thing or two on using propaganda to drum up support among Britons. Then the Americans got involved in the war in 1942, with the might of Hollywood behind it. The documentary cited how the now-classic film 'Casablanca' was actually a propaganda film in its day to stir up anti-German sentiments.
It is quite a fascinating documentary, as it charted how Goebbels was so obsessed with the making of the film that he was willing to risk everything even if it meant draining the resources in Nazi-occupied Europe, just so the film could rival Hollywood. But it also showed how he would meet his match in the film director Herbert Selpin, the man he had originally thought would toe the party line. But the documentary also compliments with real people who would come to survive the war, where the Nazi Titanic connection came with how the ship which had doubled up as the real McCoy in the film would eventually come to have Jews marching from concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe to on board the SS Cap Arcona where it was docked at Neustadt in order to eliminate any traces of evidence of the Nazi atrocities from the bombardment of the British's Royal Air Force at a time when the Allies was closing in on Germany, along with German troops who shot anyone who tried to escape the ship.
But the documentary also pondered whether director Herbert Selpin, originally came on board to make a propaganda film based on the ill- fated cruise liner on everything that was wrong about Britain, might had already turned against the system in the filming process and based J. Bruce Ismay as a metaphor for Hitler. No matter what, the documentary does challenge the conventional image history has to tend to remember Goebbels and Hitler, through of the Nazi version of the Titanic the Nazis had originally wanted Germans to see. And it also looked into the unlikely legacy of the film as well.
Frontline: Top Secret America (2011)
The world of American surveillance
The September 11 attacks in 2001 has always been a defining moment in modern American history. The day when Osama bin Laden, the mastermind for the attacks, was killed a decade on was also another defining moment in American history as well. But in between the decade, what had actually happened in what would become known as 'America's war on terror'?
Dana Priest, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, would come to team up with her fellow colleague William Arkin where they would come to uncover that the government had been waging a secret war on surveillance. It is far from prying eyes, hidden in plain sight in what looked like seemingly ordinary-looking office buildings in the surrounding area near the capital Washington D.C. and around the country. In between Priest and Arkin's investigations, they would come to encounter people who were willing to recount what happened in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the George W. Bush's administration in terms of how they reacted.
Based on those who used to work for the Bush administration in the aftermath of the attacks, there was a sense of panic over what happened, but it was not long the reaction came in when it comes to how the United States would do so as to not have another 9/11. What would come to surface in recent times in terms of the methods used to catch potential terrorists in terms of the surveillance and interrogation methods used, Priest and Arkin would come to find out in the course of their investigation that there has been a very different America in operation after the September 11 attacks and it continued into the presidency of Barack Obama. But even on the inauguration day for Obama, security was not let up for the man who had made history by being the first African- American president.
What has been discussed in recent times on the role of surveillance on ordinary American lives, the documentary had already showed at the time of the first airing that it was already in operation in terms of how much was spent and the effort spent doing so. The documentary did also the highlight the high-profile security scares the United States had experienced post-September 11 in the shoe bomber case on 22 December 2001, the arrest of the Christmas Day bomber of 2009, and the Times Square attack of 2010. But a common pattern has emerged in these cases where it is the ordinary citizens who alerted the authorities, and not through government contractors tasked to do the surveillance.
At the end of it, it is the level of government surveillance which is something Priest is trying to grapple with in a post-September 11 America, in terms of how big it can get. What she and her colleague Arkin had experienced in covering and reporting along with another of their photographer colleague from the Washington Post does make one ponder how big is the other America, where its purpose is on protecting American citizens.
The Revolution (2006)
When 13 colonies become an independent nation
With the role the United States plays in the world, sometimes it is hard to imagine that there was a time when it did not held sway. But what makes it eventually the country it is to be? The 13-episode series delves into the events leading up to the eventual eight-year American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, the major moments which took place in the war itself and the people at the heart of it, the chaos the newly-created country found itself in before George Washington took his oath of office.
At the beginning, there were actually 13 different colonies but they were administered from London and a monarch in King George III. It was in one of the major cities in the colonies in Boston where there were disagreements over how people living in the colonies were subjected to taxes. For Bostonians who were fed up with the taxes levied from across the Atlantic in London where the straw which broke the camel's back came how the British would come to tax something they have come to like in tea, there was already a group of intellectuals who had came together to form the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The people who would come to be part of the Continental Congress would be names long remembered in history like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin (who came in much later), John Hancock, and a certain George Washington. But before how history would come to remember these men, such a gathering was already considered illegal.
Still, it was at the Continental Congress where the very notion that everyone who were there were all Americans and not defined by where they came from before being in Philadelphia. There were the differences from the representatives from the 13 colonies on how they view the control the British has over their lands, but they all had a common goal in wanting London to grant them more autonomy. Independence from the United Kingdom was far from their minds. It only started to come to a head when what was happening in the 13 colonies reached London and troops were sent in to restore order and quash the rebellion. It would be the state of Massachusetts which took centre stage in the first episode. While Boston was where the revolt over the taxation of tea happened with the Boston Tea Party movement, it was in another town in Massachusetts in Lexington where the famous phrase of the 'shot heard around the world' happened. While nobody knew who fired the first shot which would come to launch the American Revolutionary War, there was no turning back in what began as skirmishes over taxes and the famous concept of 'no taxation without representation'.
But even as the war started, someone was needed to command the rag-tag group of volunteer soldiers. That was when the Continental Congress decided that the Virginian farm owner George Washington do the job. It would not be just Washington whose background story would be featured in the 13-episode series, the personal stories of Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were also featured at one point or another. Then there were also those who would come to be remembered for various reasons on the battlefield like Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. Not only that, there is also the story of someone who despite never being involved on the battlefield, would come to inspire those fighting for the very cause of independence, Thomas Paine and his book 'Common Sense'.
Then there is the role of France in the United States's fight for independence from the British. France was still a monarchy when Benjamin Franklin sought the support of King Louis XVI in military and naval support as the Continental Army was short on supplies. From what was only between the Americans and the British, the French involvement with the arrival of Marquis de Lafayette on the same side as the Continental Army made it a world war. The series would come to explore in one of the later episodes of how the French would come to get involved, and how it felt after the war ended after the battle at Yorktown.
While there is no doubt of how people like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson would come to be remembered, it is the case of Benedict Arnold which can be a contentious one as how contemporary history remembered his role in selling out West Point to the British army. The series explore when it comes to his motivation for doing so. Regardless what, what Arnold did would come to set the precedent of how the country sees those it consider selling out to its enemies. It is up to the viewer to decide whether deep down, Arnold was either a patriot or a traitor, or both at the same time.
There were times watching the series, it does make one wonder if not for the various steps George Washington had taken on the battle front and how Benjamin Franklin would play his part even if he had never donned a military uniform, what would have happened to the 13 colonies. Even after Yorktown, there was also the arduous process of how the country should be run given of the various needs and demands from the 13 different states from up north in New York to down south in Florida.
Despite how one views the country we all know as the United States of America and even getting past the nationalistic and patriotic undertones of the analysts who provided commentary to the events of the time which the series also looked into the roles of the African-Americans and the American Indians in the American Revolutionary War, it is a reminder of how the story of the United States of America was actually also a story of David defeating Goliath, where the latter was referring to the United Kingdom which was the undisputed superpower in its time.
An epic history of the world
When the history of the world did really begin? Or to be precise, how did our own story really began? It is actually an epic 70,000-year worth of the history of the human race and the world itself. But before one think they know everything there is to make up the composition of the history of the world itself, the eight-part epic series is divided into eight different themes.
First, it is the earliest of human history in Africa and how humans came to find themselves living in various parts and survive against the odds to do so. Second, it is the rise and fall of the empires as the world know it, and the empires whose legacy are actually still with us today. Third, the ways how humans think and behave and the means they use to execute it. Fourth, when the human race began to explore beyond where they live and what they have always know. Fifth, re-examining the beginning of the age of capitalism and colonisation and how the stock market as we knew it came about. Sixth, the age of revolutions when it began to happen around the world where people found the courage to stand up against the hierarchical order of the church and monarchy from the Americas to Europe and back but also the revolutions taking place in the scientific and medical world. Seventh, how the Industrial Revolution in Britain would come to be felt around the world when it made its presence felt even in China. And last but not least, exploring with the major world events which took place in the 20th century of the two world wars, where democracy was being challenged by other ideologies especially communism where Russia and China comes under the microscope, and where science and technology continue to make our lives better in ways we would not have imagined centuries ago and also backfire at the same time.
Depending on how much one know about the various eras in history, it can still be eye-opening and what we thought we knew being re-examined. The letters of the alphabet might have been something we take for granted, but it was the Phoenicians whom are no longer in existence who had created the modern alphabetical system. Christopher Columbus has always been acknowledged as the man who founded America, but there was also someone else in the exploration who had spotted the New World as well. If economic bubbles look like a recent phenomenon, it had already happened with the tulip bubble in the Netherlands in the 1600s and has come and go ever since. Not only that, it was the Dutch which gave the world the stock exchange as we knew it.
But it is also a documentary series which does force one to re-examine what we have always being told. History has always has a knack of being written by the viewpoint of the winners, but for the conquered, it never got the chance to tell its side of the story. It is the fifth episode on the age of capitalism and colonisation where the uncomfortable truths of how the major European powers expanded their empires was being brought to the fore, and the origins of the Opium War which led to Hong Kong becoming a British colony, where the Chinese viewpoint is being told as well apart from the British perspective.
But history has always told us, there are always people who dared to go against the system and won. There are also those who lost, but their vision would be felt in the years and centuries to come. And even the well-known world religions had been challenged before they became established themselves - Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Not only that, it is being taken for granted and still being fought for these days comes under the spotlight - the origins of democracy as we know it. But even in ancient Greece, it had been challenged in terms of how it would be executed, something which would look familiar to the modern viewer.
History might have been filled with wars, revolutions, tragedies, but it has also being filled with triumphs, innovations and inventions which backfire. The medical and scientific triumphs also has their time in the series, like Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press which will forever come to change the way how the human race receives information, Thomas Edison and the light bulb, the accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and Edward Jenner with his work in smallpox vaccine and vaccination. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might had ended Second World War in the Asia-Pacific, but one of those behind the Manhattan Project would never get over what he did. He is J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Human beings always has the ability to invent and reinvent themselves, coming up with various ways to think and behave and never like it when others want to challenge the status quo, but also having the ingenuity to think of ways to make lives better for many. Ultimately, it is the human race which is us who is writing the history of the world and a story that we are still writing, and the world is in the early years of the 21st century. Sometimes history does have the ability to surprise us and challenge what we thought we know as well.
The only downside is that the various stories told can look brief at times. But still, that is what make this documentary series constantly fascinating with each episode jam-packing as many as it can into the theme for the episode in question, something to make one think twice of what we know even if we think we know.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
The subtle reminders to the wider society
It is a film which has gone down a path no other Singapore film has gone down before, by winning an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It is an achievement of the highest order when the Prime Minister of Singapore had publicly commented on the win at Cannes. It is just a story of an ordinary Singaporean family and their Pilipino domestic helper in the midst of Singapore being hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, but it is the film which has make big in its own way.
Jia Le has always manage to find himself in trouble at school, leading to his pregnant mother Swee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) needing to go to school to pick up the pieces for him. There is also the stoic head of the household Teck (Chen Tian Wen) who is a salesman but would find himself out of a job as the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit Singapore. He would try to become a trader, but would lose heavily on the stock market.
But before the Lims' financial problems reared its ugly head, the family would hire a domestic helper from the Philippines, Teresa (Angeli Bayani) to help out with the household chores. Aunty Terry as she would like to be known, would come to find her hands full with her employers' son. As the unlikely bond between Terry and Jia Le develop in the subtle of ways, both Teck and Swee Leng find that they also have to deal with the effects of the financial crisis in their own ways.
For any Singaporean who had lived through the 90s, one cannot help but notice the imagery from the era. The computers which was used at where Swee Leng work, the rows of HDB flats (public housing for the international audience), the presidential portraits being hung at the school hall at where Jia Le went to school, and the Tamagotchi which Jia Le is always fond of playing. While images like these are obvious on the surface, there are also the subtle ones as anyone living through 90s Singapore will be able to resonate with. This film does not use special effects to tell its story across an audience; it is as truthful as it is of a portrayal of the Singapore society of the 90s where the domestic helper is being relegated to the background.
In this film, it is as much as the story of the Lim family and Terry's, who has come to Singapore in search of a better life. Bayani's role as Terry really does make one feel at times that it is actually not an actress playing the role of a domestic helper at all, but a real domestic helper. There is also Yann Yann as the pregnant mother Swee Leng who is caught between dealing with Terry and her own family members including her husband.
Anyone expecting something fanciful in the film will be disappointed, where it is a reminder that it can be as enjoyable and heart-warming with its occasional dash of humour without the special effects. As much as it is a very Singapore story with its Singapore setting, it is a story which is able to pull the heartstrings.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Reversal of fortune, not a kidding manner
It is two weeks before the New Year of 1959. Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) has arrived in New York City looking for a job after his graduation from college in Muncie, Indiana. With no working experience, he found himself working at the mailroom of the Hudsucker Industries. On the same day, the company's founder and president Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) unexpectedly committed suicide by jumping off from the top-floor window despite the company had been doing well financially.
Back at the mailroom, there is the arrival of the 'Blue Letter' which Barnes had been assigned to hand it personally to Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), a member of the board of directors. When Barnes did eventually meet Mussburger, he would forget about the letter he was supposed to deliver and began talking about the new invention he had for the company. Mussburger would eventually decide to let Barnes become the replacement for Hudsucker, acting as the proxy where the company's stock would deflate at the appointment of an inexperienced and incompetent president.
Across town, Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist for the Manhattan Argus had successfully gone undercover working as a personal secretary for Barnes, pretending to be another desperate graduate from Muncie. In actual fact, she was assigned to do a profile of Barnes. Along the way, she would come to see how Barnes had been transformed as a person after his idea of the hula hoop take off across the country, going against what Mussburger and the board had thought the invention would depress the company stock.
This can be seen as a film of about reversal of fortunes, of how Barnes went from the mailroom clerk to the company president and how he nearly went back to how it all started for him before being saved by an unlikely source. It is what would happen towards the ending which brings one full circle of what happened at the beginning of the film.
Overall, it is a fairly enjoyable film, if one likes to root for the underdog which in this case is Barnes with the exception of what happened when the hula hoop invention changed his fortune.
Re-looking the history of the American presidency
The President of the United States has always embodied the hopes and dreams and ambitions of the American public, due to the power it has been vested with. Time and again the American public have viewed the presidency in varying light, depending on the era the country is living in. While there are presidents who had risen to the occasion, there are also presidents who had faltered. There are also those who have come to define the presidency as well.
The eight-part series looks at the modern history of the United States through the 44 men who has occupied the position from the first president in George Washington to the incumbent in Barack Obama who became the 44th President of the United States since he began his term in 2009 and being re-elected for another four more years in the presidential election last year. The world and the United States which George Washington would come to inherit and live in after the War of Independence ended in 1783 was in an age of monarchy. Democracy was a very new concept to the world in 1789. But even before Washington would take his oath in New York City in 1789, there was the debate of how the democratic experiment is to be carried out, given it is much open to interpretation. In the end what would come into being is the three branches of government which many has come to take for granted in the American brand of democracy would take shape in the executive with the presidency, legislative in the form of the Congress and the judiciary in the form of the Supreme Court, with each branch acting as a check and balance on the other.
But even how to elect a president before George Washington took his oath was equally contentious. It is being taken for granted these days that ordinary citizens are the ones who decide who occupy the White House but prior to Washington taking his oath, but the voting rights was limited in his day. But as the history of the presidential elections would eventually come to tell us with how George W. Bush would be elected in the contentious 2000 presidential election, the person who would come to occupy the White House does not always come from the Electoral College but via the popular vote.
For the outsider, one cannot help but look back in the recent history of the American presidential elections and realised that some things remain the same as they are when it comes to presidential campaigns even with the varying eras the United States is living in, depending on the world the country is living in and how the role of the president has evolved over time. When it comes to the 44 men, it is a reminder that despite whatever qualities are needed to be the President of the United States, they are often being trapped by the era they are living in. Presidents are also defined by the legacy they left behind after they left office and some made a bigger impact than the others on whatever they do. There is also how throughout the course of the modern history of the United States, how each president handles the economy and social issues with various results.
When it comes to the modern presidential history, presidents are also judged by their second term that is if they get elected to it. Recent history told us foreign policy often shape a president's second term, and it certainly did to an extent especially in the case of Richard Nixon who might had been remembered for the Watergate scandal, his China policy has now come to be viewed in a different light especially in the documentary series itself given of how China has come to be viewed economically especially in the world now and how Nixon paved the way for the United States in its dealings with its former enemies on the world stage.
But it is the working style of the presidents which always shape how the American public come to view the person they have elected to be in the White House. Regardless the style, it can either working for or against the president. There is also the evolving power of the media and how it could work for or against the president as well. Only one thing is constant, and that is the unpredictability the president of the United States can find himself in when he occupies the White House.
It is a documentary series which does make one look at the history of the American presidency in a different light, with facts and little-known anecdotes which make it possible. It is definitely enriching and informative for anyone watching it, regardless their knowledge of the American presidency prior to watching the series.