Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rest in Peace : A Tribute to Whitney Houston (1963 ~ 2012)

1993, I was 8 and in third grade, I watched a music video on MTV. This beautiful black woman is singing a ballad sitting on a stool in the snow.  While observing the clip, I thought to myself “Her mouth is very wide, her lips trembling. She is singing very loud and she is singing the same “love you” line again and again.  And I know what “love you” means”. I found out later from my mother that her name was “Whitney Houston”.

Soon afterwards, I watched the movie “The Bodyguard” on VHS with my parents. It quickly became our family’s favorite. My father bought me a tape of the movie’s soundtrack and I would play it in the car on my way home from school every day. I was hooked on her voice and the songs ever since. I would play from track 1, “I Will Always Love You” to track 6, “Jesus Loves Me” and then I would rewind the tape all the way back to the beginning and listen again. I simply could not care less about the other songs featured by other artists on that album. (Until today, I have that album on my iTunes and I am still clueless what the other songs are) My sister and I would sing along always trying to outdo each other in the car while systematically annoying our parents or sometimes our poor driver. We knew the lyrics to these songs not even knowing what they actually meant as we only started speaking English many years later. I was mesmerized, actually to be honest, bewitched by the magic of her powerful singing voice. I had never heard anyone sing like that before.  That to me was (and still is) what I call “the real singing”. To this day, although I listen to a wide range of music genres and artists, no one ever comes close to the greatness of Whitney’s voice.  

As I grew older, I started collecting her music and my admiration for Whitney as well grew from strength to strength.  I inherited the love of music from my father but it was Whitney who single-handedly planted the interest in singing and performing. I have always wanted to be able to sing those big long notes she holds on “Saving All My Love For You”, “All The Man I Love”, “The Greatest Love Of All”, “I Have Nothing”, “Run To You”, “One Moment In Time”, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and my ultimate favorite “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”.  I know the lyrics of these songs by heart and I am always singing them. Be it in the shower, on stage with a band, while cooking meals or serenading a lover in bed or drunken karaoke nights, Whitney and her music is always present. To all of us who love singing and who have tried their hand at singing know how much she means to us. We all try to mimic her vocal runs, riffs, phrasing and adlibbing.  This may sound funny to many but to me (and to us who know what I am talking about) it is a serious business. How we all wish we were blessed with a voice like hers. How we wish we knew how to belt out notes like the way she does. How we wish we could convey emotions while carrying a tune like her . Whitney is the first ever singer that touched me in the most profound way. Her influence and impact on me as a singer and music lover is beyond words.  

2007, I was 23. Studying and living in Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to catch Whitney sing live at a music festival in Kuala Lumpur. As a struggling student I did not have much money.  But did I care? I bought the ticket anyway.  I would rather go hungry than miss this opportunity. I even skipped two afternoon classes ignoring my professor’s icy stares so that I could get to the venue and take the front row seat. To my delight, I was indeed one of the first few people to arrive at the venue and therefore was rewarded with a space closest to the stage. I endured through various opening acts under the scorching sun. I also did not eat lunch and dinner that day as I feared I would lose my precious spot if I had gone away to buy food and drinks. Until she appeared on stage which eventually happened after midnight, I just could not believe that I was actually going to see her. I kept thinking “Is this some sort of hoax?” “Is she (for real, for real) gonna come out and sing?” Considering where I came from, seeing an artist of that magnitude performing live was never in my wildest dreams.  Consumed with so much excitement and delight, I felt like a helium balloon pushing to take off and fly up in the air. If I had not been holding tight on the metal bar in front of me, I probably would have. Whitney did not sing the way I would have liked her to that night but it was more than a treat to see this idol I have long adored since my childhood days singing my favorite songs just a few meters away from me. The experience was so intense and somewhat dreamlike that I knew I would never forget that night.

2012, I am 27 and living in Bali. I woke up to the beeping sound of my iPhone’s message that broke this terrible tragic news. Whiney is gone. The message read “Did you know Whitney Houston is dead?”  I did not want to believe it but I also knew people do not joke about deaths.  But… NO, NOT YOU, Whitney! NOT YET!

Like many things we take for granted in life, I obliviously believed that she was always going to be around.  At least not this sudden. Not this fast.  Reading about her upcoming film “Sparkle”, I was excited like everyone else, rooting for her comeback. By judging the photos with Jordin Sparks released from the film, she looked absolutely stunning and we all thought she was well on her way to recovery and finally had turned her life around. It just breaks my heart that we will never hear anything from her now that she is gone. This is it! 

48, Whitney? Considering artists like Tony Bennet, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand still making music and going strong, you have indeed gone too soon.

Whitney once asked “Didn’t we almost have it all?” with one of her famous tunes.

Yes, Whitney, with you around, we had it all.

In our hearts, you will always live… for we will always love you.

Rest in Peace! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Madonna's Super Bowl Half-time Show Performance 2012 (Review)

"I have to put on the greatest show on earth, in the middle of the greatest show on earth. I have eight minutes to set it up and seven minutes to take it down and 12 minutes to put on the greatest show on earth. That's a lot of pressure.” said Madonna.

The most talked about, hyped about half-time performance of all time took place this Sunday at the Super bowl XLVI.
Madonna on the throne
The opening number “Vogue” saw Madonna on the throne looking defiant and dominant, further confirming to the world that The Queen was definitely back, only this time, making her entrance with the army of Roman soldiers. I would be lying if I was not at all thinking of Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite world tour opening but this was of course way much bigger. The original choreography with a little bit of update, she and her energetic dancers recreated the magic of this timeless classic tune and succeeded. (Time has obviously changed. Now she has high-tech, huge production team and budget at her disposal)

Her #1 smash from 2000, “Music” was next. While dancing and part-lipsyncing, she almost took a little tumble and got us all worried. Being a pro, she kept on going as if it was part of her choreography. By the time she joined the group LMFAO for a mash-up of their monster hit “Party Rock Anthem” and her song “Music”, many of us were already on the floor bewitched, bewildered and bothered by Madonna. She even danced with the group members during “Sexy and I Know It”. IMFAO, that silly song was totally owned when she delivered the line “I’m sexy and I know it
LMFAO with Madonna at The Super Bowl
Chick of the moment, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A and a massive cheer leading squad appeared on stage for the new single, namely “Give Me All Your Luvin”, from her eagerly-anticipated upcoming album “MDNA”. This cheerleading chant, some might say, is a little too inappropriate for a 53 year old woman but we all know when it comes to Madonna, there is no age nor limit. And what a gift she has for writing catchy choruses and hooks! You really want to hate this song but you can just make it leave your brain. “L.U.V, Madonna! Y.O.U, you wanna”. And it goes on and on and on and on…
Nicki Minaj and Madonna performing at The Super Bowl
Before we knew it, it was already time for the big finale. The marching band came onstage. And guess who the band leader was? The marvelous Ceelo Green! For a brief while, we thought she was going to sing “Open your heart” or “Express Yourself” but when the light went down and a mass of choir took the stage, it was clear. What else? There is only one song that could bring the world to her feet. “Like a Prayer” of course. “When you call my name it’s like a little prayer. Down on my knee, I wanna take you there” she sang –and she knew of course that we were all there with her. Lifted! 
Madonna and Ceelo Green Performing "Like A Prayer"
Her costumes changes took only seconds and the incredible staging backed by technology, electrifying dancers, awe-inspiring costumes and blinding neon lights took this performance to a whole new level. Not only that, she collaborated with the hippest coolest youngsters and cleverly picked the songs that struck a chord with the audience. She lip-synched some parts which we can forgive as her energy was full on all throughout.’s the question! Did this performance live up to the hype and everyone’s expectations?  I don’t know but for nearly 13 minutes, the entire world stopped breathing.
The Stage during the performance of "Vogue"

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Who will win at the Oscars? (2012 Oscar Predictions)

Best Picture
"The Artist" Thomas Langmann, Producer
"The Descendants" Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" Scott Rudin, Producer
"The Help" Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
"Hugo" Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
"Midnight in Paris" Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
"Moneyball" Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
"The Tree of Life" Nominees to be determined
"War Horse" Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

It’s a great year for France and... Brad Pitt. Three of the movies nominated for Best Picture are either based in Paris (“Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris”) or led by a French cast, directed and produced by two French gentlemen (“The Artist”). The other two ("Tree of Life" and "Moneyball") are simply associated with Brad Pitt. Epic movies like “War Horse” or “Hugo” are visual stunners and they cost hundreds of millions to make but I doubt if they will stay in our memories in the years to come. The critics’ favorite, “The Descendants” is a delightful family drama but that’s all there is. It’s neither ground-breaking nor can we call it a cinematic triumph? Honestly, I’m quite surprised with all the hoopla that surrounds it. Maybe it’s because of George Clooney?

Critics will always say when a well-known book is made into a movie, that it does not live up to the greatness of the book or how it fails to convey the spirit of the book. For example “The Help”. Despite being a very popular movie that the viewing public actually like, it was certainly not critics’ darling. Personally, I love “The Help” because it is hugely entertaining. It has the best ensemble cast performance in recent memory and it is cleverly made. I would not mind if it wins. I saw it again recently on DVD and it still gets my laughs and tears even the second time around. However, it looks like “The Artist” will win. The light-hearted storyline, dazzling performances by its stars paying homage to the silent films of the past, Hollywood would totally fall for it, of course.
The Artist 
Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir in "A Better Life"
George Clooney in "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

This category is fairly weak this year especially when compared to the solid group of female contenders on the other side. They are all good performances but nothing grandiose or tremendous, I must say. Clooney, obviously talented and smart, but he plays himself too often in the movies that I find him rather boring and one dimensional. However, his role “The Descendants” is a pleasant surprise; he is in fact the character and not Clooney for a change. With that being said, the dashingly handsome Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) is unbeatable here, way too charming and most importantly foreign (which usually plays a great advantage in winning Oscar: Roberto Benigni, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Christoph Waltz,  just to name a few). Plus Clooney won his Oscar a few years ago. Dujardin is safe!
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn"
Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte in "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Christopher Plummer’s role as an elderly man who came out as gay after his wife’s death in what should have been one of the best film nominees of the year, “Beginners”, is quietly brilliant unlike Branagh’s energetic and loud portrayal of Sir Lawrence Olivier in “My Week With Marilyn”. Both are deserving nominees and long overdue to win Oscar but I think the voters will award Plummer. Instead of giving the old man, now at age 82, a life time achievement Oscar at some later time, it is best he gets his award this year. Better late than never! Such a marvelously long career he has had. (He plays the hunky Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound Of Music). Bet ya money on Plummer! Nick Nolte and Max Von Sydow? Interesting choices. Hey, they need at least five nominees in a catagory, right? And…  Jonah Hill. Well, he will now get offers to play some serious roles. Good for him.
Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis in "The Help"
Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"

Avery tight race as usual in this category with five praiseworthy actresses competing. Rooney Mara gets recognized for her work in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” which will hopefully lead her to some exciting roles in the future. That’s pretty much about it. Michelle Williams as Marilyn is truly marvelous but she is no “Black Swan” this year unfortunately. When Viola Davis mesmerized us, with her mere 8-minute plus performance in “Doubt” (2008) (her first Oscar nomination), we all knew we would see her again at the future Oscars. There she is this year breaking our hearts with her powerful performance as a middle-aged black maid in the Civil Rights era movie “The Help”. She could win Oscar this year and I would not mind but I’ll give Viola a few more years. She will eventually win one for she is just too good. Just not this year. So, that leaves the two veteran actresses with whopping 23 Oscar nominations between them (Glenn Close with her 6th and Meryl Streep, 17th) I was rooting for Meryl in “The Iron Lady” even before I saw the movie because it just pains me to see every year, she goes home empty-handed from the Oscar ceremony. The last time she won Oscar was in 1982 for “Sophie’s choice”. And Meryl as Maggie Thatcher, is "The Performance of the year". Hands down! If this performance doesn’t win her the third Oscar, we’ll need to bring Judge Judy. We need justice! Arrrmm.. Sorry, Glenn!
Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"

Actress in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain in "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

Usually no surprises happen in this category therefore making it an easy category to predict the winner. Melissa Leo (“Fighter”), Monique (“Precious”) and Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”), all three recent winners, were expected to take home the gold statue from the start and they did. So who do we have this year?  Bejo, with her megawatt smile and oh-so- refreshing face is undeniably a driving force in “The Artist”. And…Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”? Welcome back! It’s been a while since we last saw you! But I don’t see them both winning. Both Chastain and Spencer manage to gain laughs with their electrifying performances in “The Help” but Spencer is a sure bet considering all the awards she has swept up so far. It would be a crime if she does not win. McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) will just enjoy her first nomination and the glitz and glamour it brings. Hey, getting a nomination for shitting in the sink. Not too bad eh?
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"
"The Artist" Michel Hazanavicius
"The Descendants" Alexander Payne
"Hugo" Martin Scorsese
"Midnight in Paris" Woody Allen
"The Tree of Life" Terrence Malick

If it were up to me, I would give this award to Woody Allen. His “Midnight in Paris” is the reason why we go to the movies; to appreciate and celebrate the beauty, magic, fantasy, laughter and romance that the cinema brings while at the same time, being inspired and intellectually stimulated. With “Midnight in Paris”, you have it all there. As usual, in true Woody Allen fashion, every single frame is given thoughts, carefully composed, backed with stunning music score and set in gorgeous locations. Not to mention the stellar cast featuring Katy Bates, Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams, the signature witty dialogues, imaginative narratives, and all those little usual delights. But I bet Woody’s Oscar is in writing this year (Best Original Screen Play) which clears the way for Michel Hazanavicius of “The Artist”. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Artist” as well for its ingenuity and freshness. I like it that it is not too ambitious yet innovative and intelligent while not going overboard. “The Artist” is in fact a sweet nostalgic homage to the silent movies and the stars of that era. For a new comer like, Hazanavicius, I am sure being nominated in the same category with “Woody Allen”, “Alexander Payne” and “Martin Scorsese” itself is a treat and… to eventually win. I mean, C’mon! 

Animated Feature Film
"A Cat in Paris" Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
"Chico & Rita" Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
"Kung Fu Panda 2" Jennifer Yuh Nelson
"Puss in Boots" Chris Miller
"Rango" Gore Verbinski

Strangely enough, Spiellberg’s highly-anticipated and critically-hailed “The Adventures of Tin Tin” did not get the nomination. And… that means only one thing: “RANGO”

"The Artist" Guillaume Schiffman
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Jeff Cronenweth
"Hugo" Robert Richardson
"The Tree of Life" Emmanuel Lubezki
"War Horse" Janusz Kaminski

No other movies this year could beat Spielberg’s visual extravaganza: “War Horse”. Breathtaking scenery of England’s countryside, gorgeous farm houses, beautiful horses and incredible battle scenes: Need I say more?