Friday, May 21, 2010

Bliss Part 18

Choice quotes from The Strain.

To minimize plot revelations, I shall provide only minimal context.

One of the best passages so far ( I'm now 205 pages in ) describes a solar eclipse:

"As the crescent sun continued to narrow, the complexion of the sky became a strangled violet. The darkness in the west gathered strength like a silent, windless storm system, spreading throughout the sky and closing in around the weakened sun, like a great organism succumbing to a corrupting force spreading from within.

The sun grew perilously thin, the view - through safety glasses - like that of a manhole lid being slid shut high above, squeezing out the daylight. The crescent blazed white, then turned to silver in its agonal last moments.

...The end came quickly. The last throes were chilling, intense, the crescent shrinking to a curved line, a slicing scar in the sky, then fragmenting into individual pearls of fiery white, representing the last of the sun's rays seeping through the deepest valleys along the lunar surface. These beads winked and vanished in rapid succession, snuffed out like a dying candle flame drowned in its own black wax. The crimson-colored band that was the chromosphere, the thin upper atmosphere of the sun, flared for a precious, final few seconds - and then the sun was gone.


I have to admit that the first 40 pages lumbered along at too leisurely a pace for me. But in hindsight, this was necessary in order to build up adequate momentum and introduce the reader to the key players.

It's quite rare - for me at least - to find a novel which contains everything I could possibly ask for: great characters, fantastic writing, cool story, nail-biting suspense - in equal measure. Usually, I enjoy a book for one or more of these features, with a single element somewhat lacking.

But no, The Strain has exceeded expectations on all counts. Could be due to the fact that I seldom read horror novels ( Dexter's gory, but infused with a lot of humour, which helps take the edge off ). Can't remember the last time I read a truly scary book; even Laurell K. Hamilton's Vampire Hunter series is more action-adventure than hair-raising.

I would highly recommend The Strain primarily for its exceptional writing. Hogan expertly draws you into a beautifully woven tale filled with vivid characters and exciting set pieces.

One of the scenes had me cowering in bed past midnight. Not good if you need to get up early the next morning for a meeting! Superbly written yet again, but if I quote it here, I will certainly ruin the surprise.

Have already expressed hope that a film adaptation will materialize in the near future, but del Toro has his hands full with The Hobbit, and I don't think any other director would be able to match his vision.

Maybe after the book trilogy is completed? Hint, hint. :)

Shall leave you to digest this over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bliss Part 17

Comes in the form of RDJ's 2004 album, The Futurist.

Naturally, this isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. It definitely helps if you're already a fan. Helps even more if you're familiar with his work on Ally McBeal, where he first showcased his singing talent to a mass audience.

The Futurist features 10 tracks, 8 of them penned by RDJ himself ( only Your Move and Charlie Chaplin's Smile are covers ).

I was pleasantly surprised by this little nugget of information, because the original compositions are actually very good.

An early favourite - my preferences change after repeated listens ( regular readers will know this :)) - is 5:30, a smooth jazz-pop-rock number that I can't get out of my head.

Another great track: Kimberly Glide, a beautiful, introspective piece that's heavy on the piano arrangement and jazz inflections. Very cool. :)

The song which seems to address RDJ's personal struggles most directly is Man Like Me.
Just read the lyrics and you should be able to see references to drug purchases and not showing up at work ( derailed his acting career twice ).

Vocals-wise, RDJ reminds me a lot of Tom Petty. Not an exact fit, but the styles are pretty similar, no?

Of the covers, Smile is a winner indeed. Can't find a high-quality recording of the original RDJ version on YouTube, but this Enigma-esque remix is nice too.

Any chance of an encore album? :)

Another activity I'm enjoying immensely these days: reading a damn good novel.
Namely, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain.

And I just realized that Amazon posted major spoilers, argh!!!
Don't scroll down if you don't want to ruin the experience!

It's a terrific book - fast-paced, intelligent, with vividly drawn characters, lots of intrigue, and minimal foul language.

Since I assume del Toro isn't that well-versed in the English language, I shall give Hogan credit for the exquisite prose. Haven't gotten this many goosebumps since Jeff Lindsay's Dexter In The Dark. I'm only 100 pages in, and can already count quite a few great passages scattered within the compact-sized chapters. Will try to quote them in the next entry.

I borrowed this months ago but had to return it when I got side-tracked by other tomes. Finally managed to get my hands on it last week, and will try my darndest to finish it just in case someone decides to place a reservation.

It's amazing how much reading can be done just before bedtime and during breakfast. :)

Till next time...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bliss Part 16

Video time. :D

I remember the dance routine, but forgot that it was on American Idol. Absolutely hilarious!

Bad resolution, but you can see what you need to see.

I've watched this before. Great stuff.

Assorted clips assembled into a montage.

Chances Are

Man Like Me


Kimberly Glide

Going to download his 2004 album, The Futurist, very soon.
As you can tell, I'm craving all things RDJ at the moment. Bear with me, it will pass at some point. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bliss Part 15

The Robert Downey Jr (RDJ) saga continues.

I'm no longer a diehard cinephile, preferring to vegetate at home with my DVD player / laptop these days. But I made the effort to catch Iron Man 2 at the theatre last Wednesday.

And it was sooooo worth it. :)

Was it as good as Iron Man? I would say yes. Despite having established the superhero's background story - which made for quite a few cool scenes as Stark experimented with his invention in the first film - the sequel had its fair share of thrills and spills.

And since I assume everyone's seen the movie - if you haven't, then the spoilers probably won't matter anyhow - I'll just state for the record that the crash-cum-Whiplash-vs-Iron-Man-blowout scene at the Monaco Grand Prix was quite an eye-popper!

Especially Stark's super-awesome briefcase that transformed into a self-assembling Iron Man suit. Woooo. :D

RDJ is in his element, as always. Arrogant and politically incorrect, Tony Stark is clearly having the time of his life flaunting his wealth and new-found fame, and now battles not one, but two, villains, comprising a Russian rogue physicist ( a severely under-utilized Mickey Rourke, but nice accent ) and an unscrupulous arms dealer ( a most superb Sam Rockwell ).

Along the way, he is aided by his US Army pal Lieutenant-Colonel Rhodes ( I still prefer Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle ), his trusty assistant Pepper Potts ( good chemisty ), and now, Agent Romanoff, played by the sultry Scarlett Johansson ( she doesn't do much acting, but boy does she look good in a skin-tight ?leather? suit! ).

And if you weren't hanging onto the edge of your seat in the climactic showdown with a terrifying army of drones, I ask: are you dead?

So gushing over Iron Man 2 aside, I've been catching up with RDJ's filmography, and count approximately 15 films of his that I've seen over the past 20 years.

The earliest one being Chances Are from 1989, when he was 24, and I was 14.

It's one of those dead-husband-reincarnated-as-a-young-man type of comedies. Fluffy stuff, but memorable because RDJ did a great job with the limited material he had. And those huge eyes framed by long lashes went a long way in making him a credible romantic figure. There's a piano scene which is quite breath-taking. Am sure it's on the Internet somewhere. :)

Other RDJ movies I've caught: Only You, Chaplin ( his best by far ), Air America, U.S. Marshals, Bowfinger ( small role ), Gothika ( dumb show but worth watching just for RDJ alone ), Zodiac ( terrific performance, very tormented ), Tropic Thunder ( hilarious, though all the explosions gave me a headache at the end ), the Iron Man series, The Soloist, and of course, his stint on Ally McBeal, which almost heralded his comeback before his drug addiction relapsed.

Which reminds me - I'd like to rewatch his Ally McBeal episodes, just to see how I'll react now that I've become a much bigger fan.

My favourite RDJ film thus far, however, is Sherlock Holmes. And I couldn't be more pleased to read that a sequel is already in pre-production, also to be directed by Guy Ritchie.

The reviews were not kind, even though Holmes made a nice profit at the box office. I remember critics disapproving of the manner in which the great detective was portrayed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

RDJ plays his character with debonair charm and great panache, yet infuses it with an undercurrent of personal torment. I thought the latter was rather prominent in a tense scene where Holmes meets Watson's fiancee, Mary, for the first time. His attention to detail impresses her initially, but this is quickly derailed when he later makes a wrong assumption and ends up with wine dripping down his face.

The script doesn't explain why Holmes behaved in such a cruel manner, especially when assessing his best friend's future wife. But I found it utterly fascinating - surely there must be something in his murky past to account for his cynicism? Let's hope the sequel will help us solve the mystery. :)

While RDJ's impersonation of Charlie Chaplin was flawless, here he breaks away from the Holmes we've all become familiar with ( i.e. stuffed old shirt in a gawky getup ) and turns a British sleuth flick into an international blockbuster.

I could listen to his accent forever - it's absolutely perfect!

Jude Law is also aptly cast as the more serious half of the duo. He shares terrific chemistry with RDJ - even more than Rachel McAdams, who's Holmes' romantic interest.

They've got quite a number of bickering scenes, one of which had me laughing out loud. It's around the 36th minute. Holmes points his violin bow at Watson, irritating the latter and causing him to remark, "Get that out of my face."
Holmes then nonchalantly replies, "It's not in your face, it's in my hand."
To which Watson counters, "Get what's in your hand out of my face."

I love it! :D

So before I sign off, here're a couple of excellent YouTube clips of RDJ:

Part of a Jimmy Kimmel interview - he mentions Singapore, heh!

He's also an accomplished pianist and singer, so you can listen to him covering The Police's Every Breath You Take, together with choice video snippets from the Ally McBeal series.

Last but not least, part of the awesome Grand Prix scene from Iron Man 2!

Till next time...