Friday, July 23, 2010

Bliss Part 23

First, the countdown has begun.

Yes, it's that time of year when I prepare for a long overseas trip, to preserve what sanity I have left. And the past 10 months have reinforced the fact that one vacation is sorely insufficient.

So as I do tonnes of research for the upcoming tour - and believe, the reading alone is keeping me up nights - I've also asked my parents about the possibility of a shorter trip to a nearby destination, sometime next April / May.

Sounds like they're all for it. Only issue is my annual leave, which is already almost maxed out ( I take some of that leave when I do medical cover for sports events ), and the state of my pocket ( I pick up the tab for my parents' travel expenses ).

But the way I see it, if you don't spend quality time with your family now, you'll only regret it later.
And my parents are fun travel companions - game for anything from taking a speedboat down NZ's Dart River, to helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon, and running around Tokyo's subways. :)

Other things to smile about:

Nip/Tuck season 5 - now airing on AXN Tuesday nights at 11pm.
I completely skipped season 4 because I didn't even know it was on TV till it was too late, but fans will still be able to follow the storyline, since Sean and Christian have uprooted themselves from Miami and moved to LA to make a new start.

3 episodes in - albeit with the usual snips from the censorship board - I'm totally hooked. Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon have never looked better. The script remains tight and filled with dark humour. And the kooky characters, they just keep a-comin'. Bradley Cooper is a hoot as a narcissistic TV actor starring in a medical drama that makes absolutely no sense. One hilarious scene has the "doctor" shocking a "patient" with 580J! I laughed till my sides hurt. :D

Portia de Rossi also guest stars, but I'll refrain from revealing any spoilers. Let's just say it's a most delicious plot development. :)

True Blood season 3

Airs on HBO Monday nights, but honestly speaking, don't bother with the PG-rated local cable version, because it takes too much away from the uncut original. And you need to see this sans snips.

I've given up on reading the novels ( too long-winded for my taste ), and I'm very sure the TV adaptation is far superior.

S3 launches like a rocket from the get-go, as Bill gets kidnapped by a pack of werewolves and Sookie enlists the help of Eric the Viking vamp to find him. Lots of new characters enter the picture, from Alcide the super-hot werewolf, to Franklin Mott ( perhaps the scariest vamp on the show ), and Sam's long lost family of shapeshifters.

The nudity is abundant as well, and the problem is, a lot of the more important conversations occur while one or more cast members is in the buff. So if you watch the censored version, you'll have no idea what the heck is going on.

And since we're all grown-ups here, let me just tell you there're a couple of sex ( or near-sex ) scenes which boggle the mind. One involves Franklin and Tara ( the ultimate orgasm, it appears ), another between Bill and Lorena ( twisted - literally! ), and a truly bizarre exchange between - of all people - Bill and Sam. The last one's soooo weird. But in a funny way. :)

I'm sure you can find it online somewhere. Megavideo, you're a lifesaver. :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception - A Review

Yes, I've finally decided to stop the Bliss theme. For now, that is. :)

The last film I caught at the cineplex was none other than the very enjoyable Iron Man 2. And as my work / family / social commitments continue to escalate, a trip to the theatre has become a major decision. So if I think a movie isn't worth the time or effort, I'm more than happy to wait for the DVD.

I didn't plan on watching Inception. It wasn't something I'd been anticipating with bated breath, though I did mark the release date in my diary.

And no, Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely not the main draw for me. Rather, it's director Christopher Nolan, whom I've worshipped since seeing the jaw-droppingly awesome Memento years earlier, followed by his next masterpiece, the best Batman installment thus far - The Dark Knight.

So what's the verdict, you ask? A rating of 8.5/10, compared to perfect 10's for Memento and The Dark Knight, to help you understand the comparison a little better.


I'm not the sort who enjoys rehashing plotlines, so let's just share opinions here.

The best thing about Inception - aside from its genius director / writer Chris Nolan - is the cast.

A true dream team led by DiCaprio, and beautifully supported by Marion Cotillard ( whose turn in La Vie En Rose haunts me to this day ), Cillian Murphy, and the massively talented but sorely underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

First, Leo DiCaprio. I've had mixed feelings about him for many years. Loved some of his work ( What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet, The Man In The Iron Mask, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator ), disliked some of it ( The Beach, Body Of Lies ), was relatively unaffected by Revolutionary Road and Blood Diamond, and couldn't get past the foul language in The Departed.

I also didn't enjoy watching him balloon in weight over the past decade.

So yes, I'm thrilled to see him back in top form, thanks in large part to Nolan's deft guidance ( he always draws the best performances from his actors ). Of course, the script already provides rich material for Leo to chew on, but his portrayal of Cobb is extremely admirable, so bravo for that.

Second, Marion Cotillard. I personally think she has the best role in the movie, despite not having the most screen time. I knew little about her character, Mal, before seeing Inception, so learning more about her as the story slowly unfolded added a lot to the overall enjoyment.

This is only the 4th Cotillard film I've watched, but her meteoric rise to fame in recent years is certainly well-earned. She always pours her heart and soul into every role she plays. And even though a distinctly foreign accent can sometimes prove an insurmountable obstacle in Hollywood, her skills as a thespian have practically wiped it out of the equation.

She looks really cool shooting a gun. Action flick in the works, I hope?
( A check with IMDB reveals perhaps the next best thing: yet another thriller about a disease outbreak, co-starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. Add a few shootouts please. :))

Third, Cillian Murphy. I'm not familiar with his work aside from the Batman movies and Red Eye, but couldn't be happier that Nolan picked him for a pivotal role here. Robert Fischer Jr, heir to a sprawling business empire, is tormented by his father's last words, yet compelled to follow in Fischer Sr's footsteps.

Cobb and team's assigned mission: to somehow convince Fischer Jr to tear this empire apart, by planting the idea in one of his dreams.

Which brings me to point #4 ( and don't worry, Joseph Gordon-Levitt will not be missed out :)).

The astounding script, written by Nolan himself.

Wachowski brothers, consider yourselves beaten to a pulp.

Sure, there's bound to be some comparison with The Matrix, but Inception doesn't need to rely on kungfu stunts and New Age mumbo-jumbo to hold an audience's attention.

Instead, we have fascinating conversations about the dream process, how we perceive our subconscious experiences, and the ability to train one's mind to defend itself against intruders.
In Nolan's world, dreams can have multiple levels, with the deepest ones lasting decades when in reality, only minutes have gone by.

My favourite plot ingredient: the "kick" - a failsafe method whereby dreamers can be awakened from even the most potent sedation. Usually preceded by a trigger - e.g. a particular piece of music - followed by a physical jolt of some kind, ranging from a simple chair tilt to driving your van off a bridge.

How bloody cool is that! :D

Fifth, the visual effects. They are fan-freaking-tastic. 2 in particular have stuck in my mind:

1) A scene where Cobb and young apprentice Ariadne ( Ellen Page ) practise constructing and manipulating dreamscapes. She manages to literally fold the scenery, so certain parts move vertically, and others turn upside-down.
My jaw dropped.

2) The final section of the film, where Cobb's team put Fischer Jr under, and move through each subconscious layer in turn. There's a thrilling car chase, a zero-gravity hotel scene, an avalanche, and to top it all off, a trip to Cobb's own secret world, where skyscrapers stretch as far as the eye can see.

And yes, sixth. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I know best from his teenage years on 3rd Rock From The Sun, and adorable performances in 10 Things I Hate About You and (500) Days Of Summer, has carved a career and gained a cult following from indie films, with very occasional forays into mainstream blockbusters.

As Cobb's right-hand man, Arthur, JGL is always dressed to the nines, his dark hair slicked back, his facial expression either serious or mildly irritated. His character may be a tad one-dimensional - most of the team members don't have much of a backstory - but his screen presence is clearly felt, and he is perfectly capable of holding his own against the likes of Leo, Cotillard and Ken Watanabe.

I am especially impressed with his gun skills. This dude has action star written all over him. He looks like a pro handling firearms. Someone please hand him a role that is worthy!

I guess my main complaint about Inception is the ending, which was a little abrupt. I understand what happened to Leo, but would've liked an explanation about Watanabe's character's fate as well - the latter was in major subconscious limbo, did he make it out with his mind intact?

Also, there were a few other plotlines I didn't fully comprehend, the biggest of which is Mal's descent into madness and suicide, apparently a direct result of Cobb's manipulation. Heavy stuff.

Overall, Inception was definitely not a waste of time, and I will watch it again once it hits cable. I'm quite surprised that the movie has stuck in my head for more than 24 hours, for reasons unknown. I just can't help replaying certain scenes over and over again in my head, as if there's some subliminal message embedded somewhere, making it impossible to erase the images from my mind.

Mr. Nolan, are you conducting an experiment of your own? :)

Whatever you do, DO NOT MISS THIS.