21 December 2014

I survived The Hobbit marathon – and didn't even get a T-shirt

I have never run a marathon.

And as I approach my CPF drawdown age, it’s becoming more unlikely I will ever get to wear a 42.195km finisher T-shirt (unless I buy one on Ebay or Carousell).

So last week, I did the next best thing – I joined The Hobbit marathon.

And I don’t mean a marathon where very short people with pointy ears run in bare feet.

I mean an endurance test to watch director Peter Jackson’s entire The Hobbit movie trilogy in one evening to mark the release of the final movie of the series.

I know what you’re thinking - that sounds even tortuous than an actual marathon. Yes, but you don’t get popcorn at an actual marathon.

But you’re right. I remember watching the first Hobbit movie in the cinema two years ago. It was so long and gruelling that it could be a marathon by itself.

And I saw it twice. Not content with just watching it in Imax 3D, I thought I would enjoy it more in HFR 3D. I did, but even then, I dozed off during the goblin chase sequence.

While I’m a fan of Jackson’s earlier Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the first two Hobbit movies have been less than precious.

So the prospect of sitting through three bloated Hobbit movies back to back to back was about as attractive as catching rats in Bukit Batok.

The first movie, An Unexpected Journey, is 169 minutes long. That’s over two and a half hours.

The second, The Desolation Of Smaug (not Smong), is another 161 minutes.

The final movie, The Battle Of The Five Armies, is a comparatively fleeting 144 minutes.

That’s a total of 474 minutes, which is seven hours and 54 minutes. Almost eight hours!

That’s probably also how long it would take me to complete a actual marathon, that is if I could make it to finish line.

But eight hours is a sprint compared to the 25-hour eight-movie Harry Potter ultra-marathon in 2011.

No, I wasn’t crazy enough to take part in that butt-numbathon. I may be “strange and warped”, according to one The New Paper on Sunday reader last week, but I’m not a masochist.

Or am I?

Hey, I have an idea. Instead of seats, the cinema could provide treadmills for the audience to run on while watching the movies. Now that’s a real movie marathon.

But I suppose that’s too much to expect for $46, the sum I paid for The Hobbit marathon.

It’s cheaper than a ticket to watch the Dim Sum Dollies.

And less than half the registration fee for the Standard Chartered Marathon, which was $96 and didn't include even one movie, much less three. Sure, for $96, you got a goodie bag and a running singlet (plus a finisher tee if you crossed the finish line).

But for The Hobbit marathon, you also get a Hobbit pin badge, a bento dinner, popcorn and a bottle of Coke (but no dim sum).

I guess that’s the main difference between an actual marathon and a movie marathon – at the end of the latter, you get fatter.

No, I didn’t eat The Hobbit pin badge.

When I booked the tickets online for me and my 15-year-old daughter a week before The Hobbit marathon, the only seats left in the 602-seat GVmax hall (with Dolby Atmos) were in the first three rows.

I could already feel my neck cramping up just imagining looking up at the screen for eight hours.

My daughter wanted to see The Battle Of The Five Armies as early possible and we thought sitting through the movie marathon was the only way.

It was not only after booking the tickets when I discovered there were sneak previews a week before the movie’s Thursday opening. Aiyah!

So on Wednesday, like a fellowship of two, my daughter and I set out for Vivocity, prepared for a long and arduous evening.

The first movie was supposed to start at 5pm. It didn’t.

There was a live contest to give away some posters. After that, we still had to sit through three ads and a couple of movie trailers.

And then An Unexpected Journey began.

I was surprised people still guffawed at the jokes in the movie like it was the first time they heard them. Even my daughter laughed despite having seen the movie twice before.

Once again, I dozed off during the goblin chase sequence.

When the credits rolled, the audience applauded. I wasn’t sure if they were applauding the movie or themselves for making through it.

I heard someone behind me say: “One down, five more hours to go.”

My daughter and I collected the bento dinner, which was rice with vegetables, a springroll and some meat resembling chicken, outside the movie hall and ate it at the 7-Eleven next door, where we bought a strawberry-kiwi Slurpee to help wash down the food.

Many others ate their dinner sitting on the floor in the Golden Village lobby.

The second movie was supposed to start at 8:40pm. It didn’t.

More posters were given away plus the three winners of the best costume contest were announced.

Then the audience were made to shout “Golden Village” twice for some video somebody was shooting.

After that, it was the same three ads and a different movie trailer.

And then The Desolation Of Smaug began.

I didn’t fall asleep at all, but now my daughter was yawning.

The credits rolled. More applause.

During the break, we walked around the darkened mall, which was a little eerie since all the shops were closed as it was past 11pm.

The third movie was supposed to start at midnight. You guessed it – it didn’t, even though there were no more posters giveaways or costume contest winners

We watched the same three ads for the third time and another movie trailer.

And then The Battle Of The Five Armies began.

This time, the audience cheered at the start the movie.

Finally! What we were all here for!

It was a good thing I had just watched the first two movies because otherwise I would’ve forgotten about a few plot points and minor characters, and be confused by the new movie.

But even though the audience cheered the loudest when the credits rolled for the last time that night, I think The Battle Of The Five Armies is the most frustrating of the three Hobbit movies.

Let’s just say it’s no Return Of The King.

At least when the first two Hobbit movies disappointed, you could tell yourself it would all pay off in the end. But when the last one is a letdown, you realise this is it. You may have just wasted eight hours of your life.

But I didn’t.

Even though the final movie may have literally been an epic fail, The Hobbit marathon was the most enjoyable time I’ve had in the cinema in a long while.

Partly because the fans in the audience made it so much fun, but mostly because I got to spend eight hours with one of my favourite people in the world, my daughter.

We’re already planning to watch The Hunger Games marathon next year.

If only they gave out finisher T-shirts for movie marathons.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 December 2014

CORRECTION: The Harry Potter movie marathoners got a T-shirt.

14 December 2014

Hello, Dim Sum Dollies: MDA & the Streisand Effect

I have never been to a Dim Sum Dollies show.

The closest I’ve come is eating dim sum on a doily, which is really not very close, I know.

The second closest was when I was forced to listen to the Dim Sum Dollies singing “Train is coming, train is coming” on the MRT platform four years ago every time a train was coming.

It was so annoying that someone created a Facebook community page called “Dim Sum Dollies — Love Your Ride (SMRT Campaign) Please SHUT the F*CK UP”.

It wasn’t me.

The page is still there. It has 39 likes.

But despite all that, I’m actually considering going to see the Dim Sum Dollies’ The History Of Singapore Part 2, which opened at the Esplanade Theatre on Thursday and will run until Dec 23.


Is it because it stars Selena Tan, Pam Oei and Denise Tan as the Dollies with their Chopstick, Hossan Leong, plus six “sizzling Loh Mai Guys”?

Or is it because the show’s music is by Elaine Chan, who with Selena, wrote last year’s official National Day song, One Singapore, which was so viciously ripped apart that no one dared to introduce a new official National Day song this year?

Or is it because since they’re called Dim Sum Dollies, I think there’ll be food?


It’s because of the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Thanks to MDA, the Dollies got some free publicity last week.

The Straits Times reported that MDA gave the show an Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content) rating three days before the show’s opening.

MDA said that the rating is for the show’s “satirical socio-political references, which would be more suited for a mature audience”.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be 16 or older to watch the Dollies make fun of “Ribena kids”, “Talentime scores” and the “Anson Bye-Bye election” in the show, although you probably have to over 36 to get those references.

MDA explained: “The Advisory 16 rating is not age-restrictive and serves to allow consumers to make an informed viewing choice.”

Which means my 15-year-old daughter can watch the Dim Sum Dollies show, not that she would want to since Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t in it.

And that’s her informed viewing choice.

It could’ve been worse for the Dollies.

At least they didn’t get the dreaded Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR) classification, the fate that befell director Tan Pin Pin’s documentary To Singapore, With Love and director Ken Kwek’s 2012 movie Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.

Singaporeans had to brave a trip to Johor to watch Tan’s doc and Kwek re-edited his movie to get an R21 rating for it to be eventually shown in a Singapore cinema.

So the Dollies got off relatively easy.

Yet MDA was harshly criticised on Facebook by Cultural Medallion-laden theatre wild man, Channel 5 year-end countdown show critic and former Buckingham Palace banquet guest Ivan Heng.

He posted:
“Frankly, it is shockingly inept, cruel and irresponsible of the MDA to have kept the Dim Sum Dollies waiting until three days before their opening to award them a licence... To add insult to injury, the show has been slapped with an ‘Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content) - on account of sociopolitical references in the work’ recommendation.”
This was before MDA clarified that the rating isn’t age-restrictive.

To add more insult to the “shockingly inept, cruel and irresponsible” insult, Heng wrote:
“Please. Let’s just rename the MDA the Media REGULATION Authority?”
Ooh, harsh.

But near the end of his post, Heng wrote these encouraging words for the Dollies:
“I trust this debacle hasn’t dampened your spirits. If anything, take comfort in knowing it will help you sell more tickets.”
He’s right. If not for the “debacle”, I wouldn’t even be aware of the Dim Sum Dollies show.

So it would seem the MDA’s attempt to “regulate” the show has backfired as it has created more publicity and interest in the show. Heck, even I’m writing about those damn Dollies!

The same thing happened to To Singapore, With Love and Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.

This phenomenon is called the Streisand Effect, named after US entertainer Barbra Streisand.

For those of you too young to know who Streisand is, she’s like the Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie of her time but with a nose bigger than both of theirs combined.

She had numerous No. 1 albums and singles, starred in and directed hit movies, and won Grammys and Oscars in her half-century career.

Now 72, she’s still got it. Her latest album, Partners, debuted at the top of the Billboard chart just three months ago.

In 2003, to protect her privacy, Babs sued to have a photo of her California seaside home removed from a website.

As a result of her unsuccessful attempt to suppress the photo, more people knew about and saw the photo.

And hello, Dollies, the Streisand Effect was born.

You would think that after all this time, MDA would’ve learnt about the Streisand Effect of its actions. Surely, somebody there must know.

How could anyone be so...

Wait a minute.

Is it possible that MDA isn’t as “shockingly inept” as Heng thinks it is?

After all, this is an organisation smart enough not to hire me even though I’ve applied for a job there a couple of times.

Could it be that MDA has been slyly living up to what the D stands for by developing local talent like Tan Pin Pin and Ken Kwek in its own unexpected way? (Wink, wink.)

I mean, even after the MDA rating controversy, Tan is one of the seven film-makers collaborating on the SG50 project, 7 Letters, funded by the Singapore Film Commission, which is part of MDA.

And Kwek received a $20,000 script development grant from MDA for his new M18-rated movie, Unlucky Plaza, which opened the Singapore International Film Festival earlier this month.

So no, Ivan Heng, I don’t think we should rename MDA the “Media REGULATION Authority”.

In fact, Dim Sum Dollies should be grateful to MDA for regulating them.

If not for the MDA advisory, I would’ve never gone to the Sistic website to find out that a ticket to The History Of Singapore Part 2 costs... what?!

$58 each for the cheapest seats?

I think I’ll go watch The Hobbit instead.

It’s rated PG13. I can take my daughter. Cumberbatch plays the dragon.

We could just have some dim sum after the movie.

Maybe even on a doily.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 December 2014

7 December 2014

How to tell the difference between an A*Star scholar & an R21 actress

Like peas in a pod.

Sometimes two things happen around the same time and are so similar that you can get them mixed up.

For example, last week was the one-year death anniversary of two famous people, Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker. Mandela died on Dec 5 and Walker on Nov 30.

Mandela was portrayed by different actors like Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman and Terrence Howard in a number of movies.

Walker was an actor in a number of movies.

You see how easy it is to confuse the two?

Last month, Fandi Ahmad, a symbol of Singapore’s past football glory, was reported to have said in an interview that he wants to retire in Batam.

Soon after, Singapore lost 3-1 to Malaysia and was out of the Suzuki Cup after winning it the last time.

I have trouble telling the two events — Fandi’s interview and Singapore’s Suzuki Cup defeat — apart because they both resemble nails.

As in nails in the coffin holding the corpse that is Singapore football.

Hey, we may have finally found a use for the problematic field in the Sports Hub — burying that coffin.

To answer the mocking Malaysian video asking where the Singapore goalkeeper was during the Suzuki Cup match, he probably went to Batam to retire with Fandi.

Last week, two different Singapore women also made headlines for different reasons.

One is A*Star scholar and scientist Eng Kai Er, 30, who set up a mini arts grant to express her “pain of having a paid job that is not aligned with her interests”.

The other is actress and former Miss World Singapore finalist Angeline Yap, 27, who appears topless in the trailer for the R21-rated local movie Lang Tong, premiering this Saturday at the Singapore International Film Festival.

At least, I think it’s her. There are at least three different women in the trailer. The way the trailer was edited, it’s difficult to tell to whom the bare breasts belonged.

I rewatched the trailer online many times to be sure — and it’s the only reason I rewatched the trailer many times. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So it would seem that Dr Eng and Yap couldn’t be more unlike each other.

Yet, because I read about them around the same time, they sort of blend into one person.

For one thing, both have artistic aspirations.

Besides setting up the arts grant, Dr Eng directed and performed in some theatre thing called Fish at Lasalle College of the Arts’ Creative Cube three months ago.

As for Yap, she told The Straits Times that the nudity in Lang Tong “was used to tell a story and to convey a message more clearly”.

She said: “To me, it’s a form of art.”

Like peas in a pod.

You may argue that it’s easy to tell them apart since only Yap showed her breasts.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

In 2009, Dr Eng was in the news after she was caught on camera showing her breasts and much more as she walked around nude in Holland Village at night with a naked Swedish male companion.

For some reason, I suddenly feel like going to Ikea for some meatballs.

According to reports, the unclothed couple were cheered by the crowd. For once, paying for the overpriced food in Holland Village seemed worth it.

But despite entertaining the Village people, Dr Eng and her companion, Mr Jan Philip, then 21, were later arrested.

Court documents said that a 43-year-old man walking his dog had alerted the police. Although I was 43 at the time, I never owned a dog, so it wasn’t me. But I once walked the dog with my yo-yo.

After the arrest, Dr Eng and Mr Philip explained that they went streaking (albeit very slowly) through Holland Village because they wanted to “seek thrill”. Clearly, they hadn’t tried shopping at Sim Lim Square.

Defending her in court five years ago, Dr Eng’s lawyer said that being a scholar at a top medical university, Dr Eng had the opportunity to contribute substantially in the area of anti-viral vaccines.

In the end, Dr Eng and Mr Philip were only fined $2,000 each when they could’ve been also jailed up to three months for public nudity.

Fast forward to present day.

Dr Eng writes on Tumblr to explain why she set up the No Star Arts Grant:
“My PhD project resulted in a thesis that less than five people read, and that not more than these five people actually want to read, about a very obscure virus that no normal people even know the name of, and my findings related to this obscure virus are nowhere near useful (look, I found out that the spike protein of Semliki Forest virus is responsible for the accumulation of autophagosomes in infected cells — what use is this information to you or the world, dear reader?)...”

In short, what Dr Eng is saying is that her contribution in the area of anti-viral vaccines isn’t very substantial at all.

Now she tells us? After she got out of spending three months in jail?

Well, at least now there’s another way to tell the difference between Dr Eng and Angeline Yap.

One has been in trouble with the law for baring too much.

The other is an R21 actress.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 December 2014


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