Archive for April, 2007

Great weekend

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Had a great weekend. Plenty of gin and tonics, a birthday on Friday, took it easy, got lots of loose strings tied up, watched a movie, read the Sin City comics, chilled out, went to the park twice with Zen and Naoko, ate out, had some beer, had some satay, went swimming.

Found out that my old high school buddy David Hayter has his own Wikipedia entry!
Keep having these strange conversations with cashiers in Singapore. Like when I am in a shop, and I’m only buying one or two items, and I have a backpack or other kind of bag with me, I usually don’t want a plastic bag, so I’ll say so. And the conversation will go something like this:

Peter: Oh, actually… I don’t need a bag.

Cashier: You don’t need a bag? (looks at me incredulously – uncertain of herself, she reaches for a platic bag)

Peter: No, I don’t need a bag.

Cashier: You don’t need a bag? (still not sure what to do)

Peter: That’s right, I don’t need a bag.

Cashier: You really don’t need a bag? (she’s starting to get the picture)

Peter: Yes, I really don’t need a bag. I really don’t need a bag.

Cashier: Oh, you don’t need a bag. (we carry on with the transaction, but I’m willing to bet she’ll probably go home and tell someone about the strange encounter she had with a foreigner that day)

Happy birthday to Mii

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Today was my birthday. I took a day off work and chilled out at home. It was quite nice. I try to do this every year if possible. Normally, I try to be social at work, but this is a day I’ll be antisocial, even if some people have the tradition of chipping in for a birthday cake for the birthday boy/girl (at least we used to). But I didn’t just chill out and nap all day, I kept busy.

In the morning, I’d arranged to go to Zen’s school to do a demonstration. It’s my bit to encourage the teachers to be more active in inviting interesting people (not that I’m one necessarily, but…) to the class to give a show to the kids. I brought in my acoustic guitar, my stratocaster, and my amp, and I demoed how the guitars work. It was interesting to see how clever some of the kids were in their perception abilities. I held up the guitars and asked the kids to tell me how the two were different, and I got interesting answers. I showed how it is possible to make single notes, and then how to make cords. I sang three songs – “I’m a little dinosaur” by Jonathan Richman (a favourite of Zen’s), “(Take me home) country roads” by John Denver, and “Kumbaya” and had a good time. Then they brought in another class, so I sang “Kumbaya” again, then they brought in another class, and I played “Kumbaya,” “I’m a little Dinosaur,” “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Apeman” by the Kinks, and a bit of “Lola” by the Kinks. I usually play without a pick at home since it’s quieter when people are asleep, and I wasn’t really used to my electric either, but it went over all right. My most surprising moment came when I was playing “Redemption Song” to the three-year-olds. They seemed to be really getting into it!

I spent the afternoon lazing around, doing a few errands, a bit of work, finished re-reading the manuscript of my novel, taking notes. I have to tie it together soon, somehow. It’s 68,000 words long, just 12,000 shy of the minimum length of a novel. Have to think how I will resolve it in a clever and agreeable way. Hmmm…

In the evening, I picked up Zen from school, we watched our new DVD of video filmed over Christmas and New Year in Singapore and Japan, lots of family. Nice. Zen’s friend Lucas came over and we had strawberry cheesecake. It was fun.

Nothing new to report otherwise. Last weekend was a bit of a write-off since I only got home at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning after spending 20 hours at work. Saturday I spent some time with Zen in the morning, took a nap, then got down to completing errands. Sunday I spent a lot of time cleaning the house, our first thorough cleaning in about a month since we had been to Thailand and all that stuff.

Went to a few events last week. In one case, a local bank was typing up with a local supermarket to launch supermarket banking in Singapore, which was interesting. The press event was held in a public area of a mall, there was a tour of the supermarket, a demonstration of new ATMs, and as a thank you gift we all got a goody bag full of… groceries!

Here’s a cool pic of a deformed carrot from the Fujino vegetable garden. Weird…
Super Carrot

Me playing my stratocaster for Zen’s class.
electric Learning Ladder

Me playing my acoustic guitar for Zen’s class.
acoustic Learning Ladder

Naoko and Zen wishing me a happy birthday at dinner.
Peter birthday Naoko Zen

I’m so touched to have such a wonderful family wishing me a happy birthday.
Peter Zen birthday

CD Review:

The Dio Years
Black Sabbath: The Dio Years – After buying the stunning 8-CD, 1-DVD Black Sabbath “Black Box” set, the followup edition for the Ronnie James Dio era of Black Sabbath, with a single CD, may seem a bit uninspiring.  But it does have some of the best nuggets of the first two Black Sabbath albums with Dio, such as “Heaven and Hell,” “Neon Knights,” “Turn Up The Night,” and of course the ultra-heavy “Mob Rules” that I’m still a bit weary of from overplay in my teen years.  But the album also has a few nuggest from Dehumanizer, a mid-era Black Sabbath album that had Ronnie James Dio singing on it, a reunion album of sorts that I was only aware of recently (I’d seen the cheezy album cover in the stores, but didn’t know that Dio was back singing with the band for just that one release).  Two of the songs from Dehumanizer that make it to this album, “After All (the Dead)” and “I” are actually quite good. At least they’re better than any of the new songs that Black Sabbath has recorded with Dio for this release, “The Devil Cried,” “Shadow Of The Wind”, and “Ear In The Wall,” which are simply decent. But I suppose that Tony Iommi’s battered fingers are getting a bit weary after all these years, and “slow and plodding” seems to be the theme for new output.  At least for now.

DVD Review:

James Ellroy’s Feast of Death – Interviews with Ellroy about the unsolved case of his mother’s murder, the centrepiece of which is a gathering of Ellroy with a large group of LA detectives who had worked on his mother’s case or other homicides in LA over the years.  Discussed at the table, as Nick Nolte (for some reason) wanders into the room, is the Black Dahlia case that had fascinated Ellroy as much as his mother’s had for decades.  One person at the table had used his own money to investigate the case and come up with what Ellroy calls the most plausible theory about the murderer’s identity that he had ever come across.  Who, in other words, would have had both the extreme dementia and the medical knowledge required to do what was done to Elizabeth Short on that day in January 1947.  The film is a glimpse into the noir world of Ellroy, and it is fascinating seeing firsthand what an intense fellow he is, as well as his wife.  I wonder why he hates Bill Clinton so much?

Naoko’s reviews

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Hello, my name is Naoko… here are some interesting CD and DVD reviews

CD review:

UxFx 01
“King of Scum”: Ultra Fuckers -This wonderful concert CD of Ultra Fuckers in their prime was recorded in the rather intimate setting of a Bangladesh charity concert in Osaka with a bunch of drunk gaijin heckling the Ultra Fuckers, who probably don’t feel right if the audience isn’t reacting to their absurd noise terrorism. Loud drum fills between songs, Kawai’s bizarre ramblings, and plenty of shrort, fuzzy songs. And the toy guitar. I had recorded this on video at the time and sent the concert film to Kawai, who decided to release it as an audio CD. On the insert it says “Dedicated to Peter Holfich, Thanx to Matt EXILE and KTO.” Mispelled my name, but who cares when you’ve just had your 1.5 seconds of fame!!!

DVD reviews:

UxFx 02
“Bone Crush Memory”: Ultra Fuckers – This is a concert filmed at Bears in 2002, a memorable show where Kawai jumped off the ladder at the end of the show as he often does. Except this time he didn’t just bounce up from his roll and walk offstage. I shot this on video, burned it to DVD, and titled it “A Dozen Ultra Fucker Fans Can’t Be Wrong” and sent it to friends like Kawai, now he’s released it as-is (but a bit crooked in the frame so that it looks kind of cheap – nice touch) as “Bone Crush Memory.” Thanks Kawai! The show is brilliant, of course, the usual UxFx madness, and that night the band was in fine form. Also with pics of the show, and an interview with Kawai sitting in with Jeff Bell, and Nana of TEEM from before the show. On the case it says “Recorded and Directed by Peter Brian Holfich.” No sense spelling my name right here either, of course, ha ha ha… Matt gets his name misspelled too as “Matt Caufman.” There’s also a line that says “Fuck to hospital.”
UxFx 03
“Nagoya”: Ultra Fuckers – Strange video of the Ultra Fuckers onstage making very subdued music with guest act “Droppen G,” who is someone called Murakami Gonzo. At this point Ultra Fuckers were without a guitarist, so it is just Kawai and Tom Nagata, the drummer, and “Tamon Sin,” who performs on the ladder. Whatever that means. The camera is in a fixed position for the whole show.

The Dolphins return to Singapore

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Well… it’s been only a few weeks since my last posting, but this time there’s plenty to write about.

From March 18th to March 31st, I don’t think that there’s much to write about except that I was incredibly busy at work. The highlights of that are that on March 25th I worked until 4:00 in the morning on some stuff, then took Zen to see TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for those not in the know), then flew off in the evening for our event in Jakarta, worked in the Shangri-la there from morning till night on very little sleep, saved on the last night by gin and tonics, then back to Singapore on the 28th for two more brutal days in the office, and on April 30th I took Zen to see Mr. Bean’s Vacation. More on that below.

Sunday April 1st: We woke up at 3:30 AM so that we could get ready, woke Zen at 4:00 AM, took at taxi at 4:30 AM so that we could be at the airport at 5:00 AM and check into our flight, which took off at 6:10 for Bangkok. It was a Tiger Airways flight, which uses the new budget terminal at Changi, our first experience there. What we found is a departure lounge that is a bit like a warehouse, but otherwise very comfortable and pleasant. The shopping is budget (Giordano, not Versace), and the terminal itself is small, so there is very little walking!

Slept on the flight over, got to the new airport in Bangkok, had a driver there to pick us up, and off we went to Dolphin Bay Resort in Hua Hin. We drove for three hours over rough city highways moving out into the outskirts of Bangkok until it melted away into real rural areas with farm fields, people hacking away at the brush with shovels, real farmers huts, cows in the fields, and trucks full of chickens. Aaaa… relaxation. An hour into the trip, Zen was whining about how long we had to go, but eventually he slept. Finally, we saw a sign that said “Dolphin Bay, 21 kilometers,” so I said “Zen, 21 more minutes!!” And sure enough, 21 minutes later we were there! It was 12:30, just around the time that I had predicted we’d be there, not bad at all!! We checked in, put our stuff in the room, and had a look around the place. Had a lunch with some beers – the beer sure tasted good after that long trip! Too bad the food wasn’t so great.

Since it was our first day there and we were tired, we rested a bit. I had some beer, and read the first 100 pages of my new book “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” by Murakami Haruki (a.k.a. “Haruki Murakami” in countries where people can’t deal with cultures that put family names like Murakami before given names like Haruki – this is done in Japan, China, Korea, and Hungary as far as I know). I had wanted to read this book for some time – I’ve read most of Murakami Haruki’s books, including some of his lesser works, but have never read this one, which is considered one of his best. I had intended to buy it for this trip, but at the last minute got a copy from Naoko’s colleague. Nice. So there was nothing nicer than to settle in to a long stay at a resort with a book I’d been wanting to read for quite a while. The book was divided into three parts and started off well – it only got boring by around the last third. After all the stress of work, it was so wonderful to be someplace where I had not commitments. I could take a nap or drink a beer, none of it was dependent upon anybody else and the simle enjoyment was mine alone. And I could look over my shoulder, and there were Zen and Naoko sleeping nearby me in the same room. Quiet, serene, beautiful.

In the afternoon we got up and went swimming. The saltwater swimming pools looked nice, and lots of people were having fun, but the experience was marred a bit by the piss-warm salty water. No worry, though, Zen took to it right away and had a great time with some of the kids there, although he was still as reserved as always. The shallow pool had a slide that went down on a steep 30 degree angle, quite a bit more than the 10 degree angle slide that used to scare Zen in Signature Park. But with in 30 minutes he was going down it feet first, on his tummy, and enjoying it (by the third day, the brave boy was going down in a seated position).

The character of the place is interesting – it is about 50 percent European (mainly Scandinavian, but some from the UK), 30 percent Thai, and 20 percent mixed couples (Thai/European, Japanese/Canadian, British/Nepalese, etc.). Plenty of shockingly fat tattooed smoking blonde couples in bikinis with kids in tow. Zen wanted to play with some of the kids, but many of them didn’t speak English. I met a guy who was from the UK, although of Indian heritage, who had played in bands in Toronto like Con Can, Punjabi By Nature, and others I can’t remember. Nice guy, now teaching in Bangkok!

Naoko went off to enjoy a massage from 6:00 to 7:00, then we went off to dinner. We found a nice place, the Anchara, which is a local resort. The restaurant was nice, and we had green curry, barbecued squid, and all sorts of other yummy treats. I think that we probably went back relatively early that night and went to sleep.

Monday: Had the regular buffet, not so great but plenty of funky bacon. Hung out, booked a boat to nearby Monkey Island. Nice trip over there, but once we got there the monkeys were not so nice. One of them came up to me and pulled at my pants when I wasn’t looking, and then later did the same to Zen.  Zen was scared of the monkeys after that and wanted to leave, so we walked along the beach and stayed there for another 20 minutes and headed back. Went for a walk along the beach, then for a light lunch at the bungalow and another nap.  In the afternoon Naoko had her massage and we went for dinner after that on the beach-side.

Tuesday: Another boat ride, this time we went along the coast for about 30 minutes and got to a national park.  The ride was pleasant with a light wind and lots of sun.  The national park has a gorgeous beach, some fir trees, and a beach hut to take tickets, as well as a restaurant.  We hiked up and up and up.  At first Zen said that he was tired, but then I got him interested in counting steps and he walked up and up and up.  Part of the way up there was a lookout point, but we didn’t stay there too long since it was so hot.  We got to the crest of the hill and started to hike down, but took a water break first.  Turns out we were right near the entrance of the cave, and with more steps we were heading down into a cold, damp, shady natural rock construction.  Not too spooky, with lots of holes in the cave letting in sunlight.  Discovered a narrow tunnel that went into another big cave area and there was this gorgeous little temple.  We stayed there for a little while, then headed back.  The route back was more difficult in a way, because the rocks were slippery.  Passed by a group of Scandinavian tourists, all of them wearing skimpy swimming gear, all of them incredibly obese.  The women with the watermelon breasts had her shoulder straps down, probably to get a better tan.  Ouch!  We took a break at the restaurant and Zen had a cola.  I wanted to have a beer, but I saved that for when we got back to Dolphin Bay.  Ran along the beach with Zen, since it was such a gorgeous flat place, we pretended we were airplanes.  The boat ride back was faster since we had a tailwind, but unfortunately that also meant that the engine fumes were blown over us.  Yuck – so much clean air all around, why do we need to breathe foul air?  Spent the afternoon swimming and hanging out, reading.  Went along the beach in the evening to see the moonrise, we saw it probably about ten minutes after it had come up out of the sea, it was bright red!  Went to eat in a small restaurant, very quiet, the food was nothing special.  The place had lots of dogs and cats, also a huge lizard on the wall.  One of the staff rescued a cat from a tree.

Wednesday: Our last full day at Dolphin Bay, we rented bicycles for a while and went along towards the main road past mango orchards and cow pastures under the palm trees, lots of sleepy resorts.  It’s the off-season, so lots of places are closed.  Went to see a temple, the complex was quite big and there were chickens wandering around.  We spotted a long long lizard, watched it as it ran for cover in a hole in the ground.  Headed back to the shore and went up and down the beach road.  Found a nice beach with lots of fishing boats, bought some beer and lunch and went back to Dolphin Bay to eat, swim, read, get massages, and sleep.  In the evening we went to see the moonrise at 7:46, but it was a cloudy night so we could only see it come out of the clouds at around 7:56.  Ate dinner at Dolphin Bay, it was quite good.

Thursday: Woke up to see the sunrise at 6:11, a lovely thing to do on Naoko and my 10th wedding anniversary.  Unfortunately, it was also a bit cloudy, so we didn’t see the sun until 6:20 or so.  Also, Monkey Island was blocking the way, we tried to walk to a point where we would be able to see the sun come up out of the water.  Saw lots of fishing boats, walked in the water along the surf.  Nice, nice, nice.  Went back, had breakfast, went swimming, packed our bags, and got our minibus off to Elephant Village in Hua Hin town.  We got there at 10:30 and rode along on the back of an elephant, very nice and fun trekking.  We left at the same time as two other elephant riding groups.  At one point the elephant wandered along  a narrow trail on a steep hill, I worried that if the elephant tipped over we’d be crushed underneath it, but sure enough his footing was steady.  The trek itself wasn’t so beautiful, though, and we found ourself wandering through brush and shrub and piles of garbage.  The seat was quite wobbly.  The kings and princes of old who were carried around on elephants probably got quite dizzy in fact!  At the end of the trek, the elephant wandered through a watery swamp.  Zen enjoyed it a lot, so did we, although it was hot!!  After the trek we sat in the hut eating pineapple and drinking coconut water.  Then we wandered around the compound, checking out the naughty white gibbon (who lunged at a French tourist, then grabbed a dog’s tail), adult elephants, and a baby elephant that did tricks.  He used his trunk to blow through a harmonica, he played a xylophone, he stood on his hands, he peeled bananas before eating them.  An elephant’s trunk is an amazing thing.

After that we went off to the bus station, taking a brief stop at the train station along the way.  That was exciting for Zen, although we didn’t see any trains.  Got a bus almost right away and found ourselves seated behind a Japanese punk couple.  The guy was tall, surely of mixed parentage, vigorously tattooed.  Overall he looked very cool, although some of the hand-made tattoos didn’t look great.  Zen slept the whole way, and three hours later we were in Bangkok.  Tried to get a cab – as I was grabbing my luggage some guy came up and said “where are you going?”  I told him our hotel.  “Oh, that’s very far away, 600 baht.”  I laughed at him – with whisky on his breath it was unlikely that he was going to be driving anybody anyway – and stepped into a real taxi.  The guy used the meter and got us there in 45 minutes for 130 baht.  It would have been much faster, but there were several 5-minute stops at red lights.  Ouch!  Checked into the Swissotel Nai Lert Park, which is a funky old five-storey hotel with funky lighting and big open spaces.  Great lobby, fantastic garden with all sorts of green things hanging and growing everywhere.  The room was clean, wide, spacious, fun.  Nice view of treetops and some buildings in the distance.  No time for a swim, we went out to dinner at a place called Vientiane Kitchen that Naoko had read about.  Got there by taking the Sky Train, 75 baht for the three of us.  Lively place in a big big room with lots of pretty waitresses and tons of young people and groups visiting for food, some traditional dance performances and interesting musical displays.  We ordered good food and lots of Beer Lao, which was fun.  Unfortunately, Zen was pooped and complaining about how sleepy he was, so we took a cab back (57 baht, much less than what we’d paid for the train on the way over).

Friday: Woke up, had breakfast.  Unfortunately, the breakfast buffet was really nothing special, but the room was nice and the coffee tasty.  We were ready by 10:30, jumped in a cab and went to Wat Traimit, the temple of the golden Buddha in Bangkok’s Chinatown.  Got there, some guys took our picture so that they could put them on a badge and sell them to us on the way out.  Saw the lovely golden Buddha, then went off to the train station.  Spent quite a lot of time there on the platform watching trains come and go, then went by tuk tuk to the Wat Pho complex, the temple of the reclining Buddha, on the riverside.  It was Zen’s first tuk tuk ride, so it was fun for him.  Got to the complex, paid the admission, and hung out there a bit.  Went inside, and admired the long long figure of the Buddha on his deathbed, saw the soles of his feet with the toes and fingers of equal proportions.  Zen was frisky and jumping around a lot, so we had to scold him.  Went out, saw our punk rock friends wandering about, and then looked around the complex some more.  Sat in front of the temple and munched on some nice barbecued chicken and pork, then went to the riverside to wait for a river taxi.  Grabbed a bit at the river taxi stop, pad thai, then went up the river to the Shangri-la pier.  Great weather, great scenery, river traffic going up and down.  Took the Sky Train to our stop, then relaxed in the room for a while.  After that we went to the pool for a swim, had a glass of wine, read a bit, then up to the room and off to the night market.  Should have taken a taxi or tuk tuk there, but we were counting on the walk being interesting – it was not.  But we found a nice local place to eat, best food of the trip and best value too!  Got to the night market, wandered around the stalls, bought a few things, rode the ferris wheel, tired, went home by tuk tuk.

Saturday: Spent a long time sleeping in, eating breakfast, swimming, packing.  SPent the afternoon at “the New ZEN” department store, and Central World shopping centre.  Bought Zen a Masked Rider doll, some souvenirs, some food, and at 4:30 were back in the hotel, ready to go to the airport.  Took a cab, checked in the long queue, got on the flight, drank a beer, nice.  Fun.  Got back to Singapore at 23:30, nice budget terminal, bought our duty free, took a cab home, slept.  I stayed up late reading, doing computer, downloading photos, checking emails, tidying up.

Sunday: Spent the morning with Zen as Naoko slept, went swimming, finished my book, ate lunch, napped.  Spent the afternoon uploading photos and writing the blog.  Swimming lesson was cancelled – rain – but I had a chance to take Zen to the Malaysia train, which was nice.

Monday: I should be at work, but I took today off as well.  It’s been quiet, I’m updating the blog, going to edit the video for the DVD, study Japanese, hang out, listen to music, maybe drink a beer, play guitar, read comic books…

1. Zen sitting in a bamboo chair in front of our bungalow, number sixteen, at Dolphin Bay in Hua Hin, Thailand. A fantastic four days with not a worry in the world and wonderful memories.
Dolphin Bay Zen

2. Peter and Zen sharing hats.
Dolphin Bay Peter Zen

3. On the second night we ate at a beach-side “restaurant” that was quite fun.
Dinner Naoko Zen 01

4. And the food was pretty good too…
Dinner Naoko Zen 02

5. On the third day we took our second boat trip, this one was to the national park to go hiking to see a wonderful cave with a nice temple structure inside of it. The boat ride was about 30 minutes, the hike took two hours in total, up 430 steps and down 80, then the whole thing in reverse.
boat Naoko Zen

6. Wonderful boat views.
boat Peter

7. A view across the bow of the boat, which is decorated with scarves.
boat bow

8. Naoko and Zen enjoying our boat trip.
boat Naoko Zen

9. Zen posing in front of a nice little temple built in a cave one hour’s hike into the mountains off the coast.
cave Zen

10. Naoko and Zen relaxing in the park cafeteria after a long hike.
park Naoko Zen 01

11. Heading back home after a nice hike in the park.
boat Naoko Zen

12. Zen unhappy after getting his finger stuck in the door.
Naoko Zen hurt

13. We borrowed bicycles one day to take a look at the temple up the road.
Naoko Zen temple

14. Boats at high tide.

15. Leaving Dolphin Bay, heading to Bangkok…
Dolphin Bay PNZ

16. … but first we have to stop in Elephant Village!!
PNZ elephant 1

17. Baby elephant getting frisky!
PNZ elephant 2

18. Hoi Hin’s famous train station.
Hoi Hin train Naoko Zen

19. Little angel sleeping in our hotel room.
Bangkok hotel sleeping Zen

20. Visiting the Golden Buddha in Bangkok’s Wat Tramit.
golden Buddha Naoko Zen

21. A visit to Bangkok train station.
Bangkok train station Zen

22. Zen in a bad mood at Wat Pho, the reclining Buddha.
Wat Pho inside Zen

23. Zen horsing around at one of the monuments in the Wat Pho complex.
Wat Pho outside Zen and Naoko

24. Waiting for a river taxi outside of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.
riverside Naoko and Zen

25. Zen at The New ZEN shopping complex.
Zen and ZEN 01

26. So many Zen photo opportunities.
Zen and ZEN 02

27. Where’s Zen?
Zen and ZEN 03

28. Bumblebee ice cream.
ice cream Zen

Movie reviews:

Collateral – Tom Cruise the villain, who quite naturally gets his just desserts in the end after killing many many people.  Michael Mann shows the long night of Jamie Fox’s soul as he tries to figure out what to do about this troublesome new client of his.  Not a great film from Mann, who directed such treats as Heat and The Insider, but who would sink to greater depths with his film treatment of Miami Vice.

Thank You For Smoking – Clever tale of libertarianism from Peter Thiel, the PayPal guy.  In the story, our hero Aaron Eckhart lives a lie so that he can pay his mortgage, he goes through a series of challenges, and comes out on top the way you’d see in any Tom Cruise movie starring Aaron Eckhart.  Sure, it seems to be a thinking man’s movie, but why would a movie about smoking not show anybody smoking?  Why would a movie about the right of the tabacco industry to exist suppress smoking?  Why would a movie that shows the main character going to Hollywood to convince studio executives to feature its stars lighting up, but then not have its star light up?  Somehow the film, while enjoyable, is not clever enough to answer any of these questions. Rob Lowe is good as a serene Hollywood guru-type, William H. Macy horribly typecast as a snivelling senator who is exposed with ridiculous ease as a hypocrite.

TMNT – Another kiddy movie for Zen that I tried to enjoy.  I have fond memories of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles movies from the 1990s, the ones where the turtles were guys in rubber suits.  Somehow those suits worked in a way that wasn’t Howard The Duck.  Nevertheless, the computer animation isn’t that impressive, and the film takes itself a bit too seriously with creepy 2000-year-old ghosts saving the world from being turned into a hell.  And so the turtles will save us.

Mr. Bean’s Vacation – In the weeks leading up to this film, none of the adults I asked would admit to wanting to see this film. And yet is it one of Singapore’s most popular films at the moment. Odd… Maybe the people I ask are all so very “mature” that they won’t deign to see this film, or maybe they can’t admit that they would want to see Mr. Bean to someone else. Not sure. Either way, my son cracks up at the mere mention of the word “Mr. Bean,” so I thought it would be priceless to see this film just to be sitting next to him and watching his reactions, not even considering the quality of the film itself. As to the film itself… well, it does take itself rather seriously, giving Bean a lost boy to take care of – Bean the Hero. However it redeems itself by blending false pretense (the Willem Dafoe bits of the Cannes performance part) with regular old Bean mugging (i.e. putting oysters in some lady’s purse). Naturally, it’s the little things that matter the most, with the tank thing being quite funny, as well as the cell phone in the urinal, the maitre d’ eating burgers, and the ultra slow motorcycle (and its subsequent grand theft cyclo…). Very nice stuff.

CD reviews:

Black Sabbath “Black Box” – While there was a time that I may have wanted to deny that I was ever a hard rock fan, that time is finally over and I’m ready to face the music. There’s no getting around it – I listened to rock radio growing up, the first recording I paid for with my own money was an Ozzy Osbourne tape of Black Sabbath songs (“Speak of the Devil,” where he’s got blueberry jam on his face), and guitar rock is pretty much what I could listen to for the rest of my days. Having all the Ozzy albums in one set saves me from finding them to download, and also gives me a nice box, a cool booklet, and a so-so DVD of stuff. Great. Something to pass on to Zen when he gets old enough to appreciate it, or maybe to my parents, who have heard a bit of Black Sabbath finally on their last visit to Singapore. The primitive riffs are compelling, as are the funky drum beats. The sinister lyrics aren’t so cool, but ultimately can be taken in. I’d never heard all of most of the albums, particularly the first one, and I was happy to hear that the final two weren’t all that bad – some of the songs on Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die were just as good as the early solo Ozzy albums, and the cheeziest song I could find was actually “Superczar,” on Sabotage.  Horrible!

Book reviews:

The Shape We’re In – by Jonathan Lethem. A strange, surreal book. It would be useful if I could compare it to something, but that’s just not possible…  A man travels through the insides of a cow looking for his lost son, who he believes has found the eye and is observing the outside world.  Along the way, he passes groups of people who are barbecuing parts of the living cow, having orgies, whatever.  Yes, odd…

Windup Bird Chronicle – by Murakami Haruki. I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, having already sampled most of Murakami Haruki’s work, and since I’d heard that this was his best work I was naturally compelled. Yet the reports were mixed – some non-Japanese had devoured it, while some Japanese had found it dull as hell. Certainly, it presents a very whole world. It is very Murakami in the way that it shows a man – very dull, quite ordinary, yet somehow unconventional – thrust into an odd situation where he must solve riddles, learn about other-worldly things that connect with a fantastic history, while he makes sense of trauma in his own life. Along the way he meets many strange women.  Okay. The book was published in three parts in Japan. I find the first two parts more interesting. In the third part, he abandons some of the characters, and moves on with others. I don’t find this improves the book, and by the conclusion I am only partially fulfilled. Still, he does a good job of NOT tying the strings together, and building a fascinating metaphor/allegory of post-war Japan. Nice, good stuff. I lived this book for six days over my first vacation in a year, that is part of my testament to world literature.