Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

The movie is about how Hiccup, the young son of a Viking tribal chief, becomes a dragon rider after realizing he has an affinity to dragons, rather than a self-induced thirst to kill one to prove his place in the tribe and subsequently saves his tribe from a powerful dragon.

Hiccup lives in a Viking village where it is perpetually being harassed by pests, not rats, snakes or wolves, but dragons - many different types of dragons which grabs their livestock and set fire to their houses.

"More than three generations of Vikings have lived since the village started and all the houses are new."

During one of the dragons' raids on the village, Hiccup managed to spot the most elusive and seemingly deadly dragons they have encountered - The Night Fury, and fired off a shot which successfully captured the lightning ball-breathing dragon. Although Hiccup was tempted to kill the dragon to put an end to the laughing he had endured as the most incompetent dragon-killing Viking in the village, he was won over by his own compassion and started befriending the injured and fish-eating Night Fury whom he named "Toothless".

As their unusual friendship grew and he began to try and modify the dragon's injured tail wing and fly with the dragon, Hiccup had to pretend he was interested in the dragon-killing training approved by his Father and trained by the village blacksmith. For a while, Hiccup found his double life as a dragon trainer and a dragon killer useful as he studied Night Fury's behavior and learned how to control other types of dragons without resorting to bashing their brains out with a Viking war hammer. His long time love interest began to suspect something was amiss when Hiccup became an expert against dragons over a short space of time and found out about his friendship with Night Fury.

An unexpected flight in the mist led the three of them to the Dragons' Lair which they found to be a resting place of a gigantic dragon and all the raids were actually conducted to feed the enormous appetite of this might dragon, contrary to what the villagers thought all along. When Hiccup's father finally discovered Night Fury and the location of the Dragons' Lair, he led the entire tribe's warriors to the lair, hoping to expel the dragons and stop the raids but without realizing the presence of the much more powerful six-eyed ancient dragon, Hiccup's father's army was defeated and routed before Hiccup arrived with the other young Vikings-in-training on the backs of lesser dragons.

A dragon fight ensued and I am not going to tell you what happened in the end because it would be such a spoiler to do so if you haven't watched the movie. Haha.

I particularly loved the part where how Hiccup and his father were trying to communicate about their diverse interests in dragons and how the awkward scene was portrayed so accurately with all the nuances in expressions and body languages. The graphics were great but unlike some of the proponents of the movie, I thought the flying scenes were not that impressive. It's probably because I have already seen Avatar The Movie and thus thought lesser of another protagonist flying on the back of a dragon-like creature. The thematic concerns of the movie were good though, showing how people may struggle with expectations of others and realizing that things do not have to happen in the ways in order to come up with a better solution to the seemingly impossible situation.

I would give the movie a 3.5 star out of 5 and it would be considered an entertaining and humorous movie to spend your movie money on.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Green Zone (2010)

When Master Warrant Officer, Miller (Matt Daemon), realized that his special WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Search unit had hit yet another empty site after being given "reliable" intelligence from the US Army in Iraq, he began to suspect that he was being led into a wild-goose chase. An out-of-the-blue tip-off by a seemingly ordinary Iraqi citizen brought Miller and his team to intervene in a meeting by the top generals in the then-defeated Iraqi Army and when Miller finally captured a suspect in the meeting and got hold of a encrypted notebook, Special Forces members suddenly arrived in helicopters and took away the suspect while Miller hid the notebook away. The bizarre and unexpected arrival of these mysterious Special Forces operatives further fueled Miller's suspicions that something was amiss.

I thought the movie was pretty well-made around MWO Miller, a one-legged Iraqi citizen, an imposing and elusive Iraqi general, a CIA chief, a top US official in the Iraqi Interim Authority, interspersed with realistic gun battles on the streets of Iraq, moments of tension within the various operating units of the US Army, teething moments of political cunning and outbursts of frustration by Iraqis who wanted peace and stability but faced such real threats of surviving the harsh post-war conditions.

It was a movie that I enjoyed watching and following the action, which was evenly and cleverly-spaced out between the acting and the unraveling of the storyline of what might truly have happened during the fateful Iraq War - it could have been just an excuse for war - there was no weapons of mass destruction and many have died in vain. I encourage those who wanted to learn more about the field conditions of the post-war Iraq then to watch this absorbing movie. A 3.5 out of 5, worthy of the movie ticket price.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Impresario Grand Finals 2010 at NTU Nanyang Auditorium (Updated)

(Personal: Shocked to find out - I just realized my post linking to this blog post on the wall of Impresario on Facebook has been deleted. I wondered if NTU Cultural Activities Club deliberately chose to cover their eyes about genuine and objective feedback by deleting wall posts. If it is so, I am very disappointed by their act of trying to cocoon themselves from constructive criticisms. One of their committee is now trying to find out why my wall post is deleted without an explanation. Let's find out what happened when this person gets back to me about it.)

(Personal: The NTU CAC Committee replied: "We apologise, of course we will not object to negative feedbacks but hope you understand we would like to portray our best side to those who're following impresario throughout these period."

Well, I have organized far bigger events before and I thought there could have been a better remedy action than to merely "portray our best side". Sponsors, who caught my link before they deleted them, are probably their main concern, but those elite business development and public communications managers from those sponsors would know better than to hood things over and stick heads into the sand to pretend nothing has happened. Bad move, NTU CAC. You guys have a long way to go.)

(Personal: I am actually grateful that Impresario continues to be a staging ground for local music talents and enthusiasts. What I am displeased about was some of the hiccups they are still being able to make after having so much experience in hosting Impresario competitions in the years before. Do they learn from their predecessors? For example:

1) the waiting time and the admission time before the competition was delayed without any reason given to all the people waiting at the lobby from 6pm to 6.40pm. Organizers should have honored the timings stated on the tickets. The people came from all the corners of Singapore just to be given more waiting time is poorly thought out. (An announcer would be important here to keep the audience informed so they would not be kept waiting in the dark. Chairs for any disabled or elderly members of the audience to sit while waiting for admission would be a nice touch.)

2) the continual waiting time with an empty stage when the audience were finally seated. There was no assurance as to when the competition can start. Where are the emcees? Why isn't there any schedule adjustments announced to let people know when the event is expected to end? (In the "command centre" of the event manager, there should be a person who is able to project an updated event schedule on the white screen so that the audience will be kept informed. Don't forget not everyone is able to stay back later than as promised on the tickets.)

3) the VIP seating areas were not clearly marked out, which resulted in ushers having to repeat the phrases for the umpteenth time "I am sorry. This area is reserved. Can you please find seats elsewhere?". A waste of precious manpower resources here. (Grab some removable adhesive hooks and plastic chains to box up the reserved seats area and have ushers to remove the chains whenever the reserved seats' audience is able to take up their seats.)

4) the EP booth for Kewei and Ein Ein was but a table with the EP albums fanned out. There was little effort made to help the guest performers' booth look even attractive. Considering Kewei and Ein Ein are providing guest performances to boost the entertainment allure of the competition, that overly-skeletal booth was not gracious. (You need a stand to prop up a poster which shows guest performers' album cover and the name of the booth - this is a minimum for a booth, not a piece of A4-sized paper blue-tagged at the front of the booth)

5) the ushers do not greet the audience who walked past. This is basic courtesy. People came to attend the competition and thus expected to be treated with the barest respect. The ushers whom I walked past barely even gave a smile or a nod. (Greet the audience not because they are paying the tickets but because you want to send out a reputation that NTU CAC is not just a student club but a club learning what professional service is all about.)

6) the sound system caused tremendous delays in quite a number of sets of performances, resulting in cumulative delays that costs the whole competition to drag further on into the night. I wonder who is in charge of the sound system and how come there isn't any backup system? If those equipment have not been tested to the fullest, it would reflect badly on the smooth running of the entire event. (Field-test the sound system - roll it up full blast for one hour at least to make sure it can withstand that kind of pressure and have a good sound engineer/technician standing by. If the performers had to go down on their knees to help the stage crew, it would look bad.)

7) the guest judges had to write in the dark on their scoresheets. I could not see clearly but I don't seem to see any torchlights, table lamps or ceiling lights to help the judges to write their comments. That was really unthoughtful. (Torchlights would have helped)

8) the lighting system - the spotlight was poorly-timed. There were at least a dozen instances where the emcees were trying to engage some of the performers in conversation and the spotlight simply stayed with the emcees where the performers had to talk in the darkened stage. What is the use of a spotlight if it is not spot-on on the right people at the right time? (The spotlight incharge must always have his eyeball on the stage and a clear channel to what the emcees are saying so he/she can shine the spotlight timely.)

I may look like a complainer here but if my readers had been there with me, they would have agreed - there was much room for improvement before Impresario can say it is a great event successfully held.)

(Update on 08 March 2010: The Chairman of Impresario contacted me and explained their perspective and because he was finally polite enough to understand my point of view. I will include what I know (in green font color above) so they can improve the future Impresario events.
I think they misconstrued my wall post as an advertisement to earn adsense money even though this blog is a non-profit, non-aligned commentary platform for performances, singing and events.

To all the media friends and sponsors who are reading this blog post, I suppose so many of us have made a hundred mistakes, big and small ones, to come so far to where we are, or what we are doing now, so it will be a gracious act to leave some more room for students to rectify what their earlier inexperience could not reveal to them. I hope to see a better Impresario in 2011 then! All the best! )

I bought myself a ticket to watch the Impresario Grand Finals because two of my familiar friends in music - Miaoru and Kewei are performing in the competition. I took the liberty to take one of the shuttle services to NTU Nanyang Auditorium because I was not very familiar with the place and I did not want to be late. The shuttle bus left on time but I was kept waiting outside till 6.35pm even though the admission and seating time was 6pm. Wasn't very happy about that so minus 1 point for the organizing committee, which I heard from NTU Cultural Activities Club.
There was even more waiting when I went inside and I took a snapshot of the stage before the competition began. There was a goodie bag for everyone and I found things like magazines, two cans of coffee drink, two packets of soya bean drink powder, one small squeeze bottle of honey, a packet of sweets, some discount vouchers, a bottle of mineral water, a pen and some notepads. I thought it was an abundant goodie pack so plus one point to organizing committee.

According to the website by Impresario, the following categories would be competing:

Grand Finals: Vocal Solo
  1. G063 Ainul Suhaidah
  2. C005 Kan Mun Hoe
  3. C006 Kong Min Qi (April)
  4. E023 Kueo Miao Ru
  5. A050 Mohaddmad Faliq Rais
  6. F033 Teo Yi Poi

Grand Finals: Vocal Duet/Group
  1. A070 Chocolatier
  2. E021 Maveric & Christy
  3. D039 REIS
  4. E051 Rubberband
  5. G066 VOTE4us
  6. F029 无名氏

Grand Finals: Street Dance
  1. H001 Ditch B
  2. H009 Flickerholic
  3. H005 HoWUse
  4. H012 Jaders
  5. H006 O.K. (Ordinary Kids)

Grand Finals: Original Composition
  1. NDB0383 Aldrich Tjahjadi 愛的魔力
  2. NDB0271 Lim Ming Swin 讓他走
  3. NDB0247 Liu Yuning 三人舞
  4. NDA0027 Lynn Koh 一句話也沒說
  5. NDB0246 Tan Pok Loon Eric 冰心
I could not remember every single performance in the same level of detail because the audience seating area was in the dark for most of the event so there was little light to write anything down. Even the judges seemed to have to use their handphones to illuminate their scoresheets, which I thought was quite inconvenient. Let me try and recall what I could and comment on their performances here.

Grand Finals: Vocal Solo

Ainul Suhaidah ("Listen" by Beyonce) - She was THE powerhouse of the night, with incredible volume and projection and energy that none of the others could really contend with. She was also very popular with a number of the audience and it was heard later that she won the vocal solo competition. I thought although Ainul delivered the power in the song, she neglected the softer portions of the song, as if she was only waiting to showcase her strengths but did little to impress with the more delicate verses of the song. I could not really hear her enunciate the lyrics that well during her powerful portions either.

Kan Mun Hoe (第几个100天 by JJ Lin Junjie) - If I had said he did not sing well, it would have been telling a blatant lie because he was focused and he did not make that kind of mistakes obvious enough in some of the other contestants' performances. However, his performance lacked that kind of champion's luster which makes it look comparatively dull and he did not really want to interact with the audience, choosing to focus on his song and that took away quite a lot of points as he kept too safe and secure to be memorable enough for the audience.

Kong Min Qi, April (I will always love you by Whitney Houston) - This is one song that one either does very well in it or fails utterly. I thought April did a very respectable job getting the song's feel. Her showmanship was generally weaker than the rest of the vocal soloists because she looked nervous and could not really know where to stand at which juncture of the song. I loved the way she reached her high notes but she spoiled it a little but modifying certain portions of the song when she could have paid more attention to her stagework.

E023 Kueo Miao Ru (掉了 by Amei) - Miaoru picked a very difficult song and it was a pretty dangerous choice because it was that kind of signature songs that is very hard to emulate or emote properly. Miaoru looked more worried than confident onstage and her voice sounded strained and unstable at certain points. She faulted by missing to project certain lyrics properly and although she eventually picked up the song during the first chorus onwards, I believe the damage done to the verses were too high to secure a good placing in the judges' minds. I still gave her credit, not because I knew her before the competition, for she was the only one who did Amei's songs justice that night, being the only one who could come close to that kind of free-range feeling that none of the other contestants who sang Amei songs that night could reach.

A050 Mohaddmad Faliq Rais (Medley: Superstitious by Stevie Wonder and I Believe I Can Fly by R Kelly) - Easily the most charimatic of all the category's contenders, I felt that he was playing it a little too safe, picking the second song as it was already over-sung and he did not really tried anything new with that song to make it genuinely his own rendition. Personally, I disliked medleys because it seemed to hide one's ability to perform the song in its entirety and Rais avoided showing the audience how he would have managed each song on their own, choosing not to show how he would handle the duller portions of the two songs. Still, he was a crowd-pleaser with a megawatt smile, fantastic audience interaction with lots of eye contact and confident stagework.

Teo Yi Poi
(泪的方向 by 施文斌) - This was one of the most stunning performances I had seen because when this Yi Poi went onstage, I could hear how some of the girls in the audience were whispering how insignificant his appearance was compared to the more charismatic ones earlier on. However, when he started singing, he slowly magnetized the audience with a consistency and sincerity that was way beyond what the other contestants could offer. He was NOT charismatic, with poor stagework or audience interaction, but his feel for the song was superb. He was totally into the song and applause was given again and again for his crystal clear high notes and stability of his techniques. It is not flawless though, as he really needed work on choosing a better attire and working on his rock-hard facial expressions, but he was one of the performers who made the event memorable - someone who picked a simple-sounding song and devoted an epic feeling to it.

Grand Finals: Vocal Duet/Group

- I thought their instruments were really interesting and their group seems really friendly and enjoying their performance onstage. However, their ability to harmonize is not as good as I have hoped and both the male and female singers are not coordinated properly and their voice projection is unclear at times, dragging down the performance. It could be due to the lack of practice as they said, but I think they should be well-prepared if they are to be Grand Finalists.

Maveric & Christy
- Considered to be the most sensual and provocative duet/group compared to the rest, this group focused a lot more on stagework and entertainment value. I see much effort in their choreography of those scream-inducing moves and their acting skills and courage onstage were above par. However, the more they divert attention to their stage moves, the less attention is given to their singing, which was a drawback as I could not hear how their singing is considered as a duet since more acting is done than singing.

D039 REIS - REIS was a really unfortunate group. Due to the technical delays, their stage momentum was broken and they finally got their electric guitars to be properly plugged in after 20minutes of delay (-2 points for stage crew of organizers). I must admit they sang well and had a lot of practice but they reminded me too much of Jack and Rai, which makes it harder for them to differentiate themselves as a group with an identity they can call their own.

- Rubberband seemed to be the most experienced with harmonizing vocals compared to the other duets/groups. There were attempts to add entertainment value to their performance but I thought given their already established technical skills, they could have been more playful onstage instead of being rooted to their chairs and delivered a rather formal and strait-jacketed performance similar to that of an acapella group.

- No offense but I felt that VOTE4us was the most uncoordinated duet amongst this category. The reason - the two of them were busy showcasing their own range of notes and volume projection and did not seem interested in delivering a duet, which calls for consideration and harmony. The male sounded weaker than the female singer but the female singer was so eager to show her ability to drag the notes that they either start on the wrong beat or end at the wrong timing. If there were any emotions supposedly to be delivered within the song, it was lost within this internal competition.

无名氏 - A rocker-wannabe group who was trying to sell stage charisma with relatively decent vocals. However, their stagework actually prevented them from acting as a group - with one on either far side of the stage, my attention was split and could not really see how they could have cooperated with each other on the same song. It was as if they were singing their own parts and ignoring the other most of the time. There is only one way to do rock - give it all you've got but I saw restraint and control that hindered their intended purpose.

Grand Finals: Street Dance

I am not expert in streetdance so my performance commentaries for this category is probably superficial. I'll try my best anyway.

Ditch B
- Lots of youthful energy. I can see a lot of effort done in showing that kind of vitality and it really boosted the solemn atmosphere from the earlier category competitions. What I didn't see was a central theme which the group rallied around so I only saw dance sequences after dance sequences but there were not tied up together in a more coherent way.

- The group with the most entertainment value because there was some playful acting coupled with dance. I like their well-sequenced and choreographed moves which tallied with their storytelling. Frankly, it's hard to fault them on anything I could remember about.

- I don't recall this group ever performing. Did they pull out of the competition?

- I don't recall this group ever performing. Did they pull out of the competition at the last minute too or I am too ancient to have a good memory of the groups' lineup?

O.K. (Ordinary Kids)- A lot of guys showcasing some excellent dance moves. I particularly enjoyed how they mixed the slow and sleazy moves with lightning quick ones to simulate the visual sense. They pale slightly in comparison because they did not have a clearer and more engaging characterization behind the dance and I thought it was a bit of a waste when they could have mixed some more solo portions to excite the audience even more.

Grand Finals: Original Composition

I am skipping performance commentaries for this one because I am really too uneducated on this category to be making commentaries. All I could say is good efforts by all the groups. Jia you!

Aldrich Tjahjadi 愛的魔力

Lim Ming Swin 讓他走

Liu Yuning 三人舞

Lynn Koh 一句話也沒說

Tan Pok Loon Eric 冰心

This is a snapshot taken during the sand art performance. It was beautiful and amazing to see it live onstage and it looked so life-like even on the white screen. I like such performances to be inserted to entertain the audience from too much singing and dancing in a 4 hour event and plus one point to the organizing committee for this.

End of blog post.