Friday, December 02, 2011

The Year In Review

I had a choice between writing this or posting a naggy entry on a group blog. I decided being happy is a better option. :)

After a year which I thought couldn't possibly be topped - i.e. 2010 - I've been proven wrong, and am definitely not complaining!

And the fact that the best and most exciting events occurred within a period of 2 months has wreaked havoc on quite a few vital organs, not to mention my already mauled sleep cycle!

Returning to the USA was a major highlight, of course, and I still remember the moment I spotted the lights of New York City as the plane approached during its descent. Sheer joy coursed through my veins, and only escalated further when we arrived at the beautiful Marriott Marquis hotel and were treated to a view of Times Square from our room.

Over the next 6 days, we revisited a few familiar sites, and dropped by a couple of new ones. The Museum of Modern Art is gorgeous, and I could've sat for hours, staring at one of Monet's water lily canvasses, if I didn't have a show to catch that evening!

But nothing beats Broadway, the biggest reason for my return to the Big Apple - and trust me, I can't stay away for more than 4 years at a time!

Every theatre - except for the Lucille Lortel in Greenwich - is within easy walking distance from the Marquis, and even the simple act of collecting my tickets from the box office then standing in line to enter the venue gets my heart pounding.

But sitting in an auditorium with hundreds of fellow theatre fans, as magic unfolds on stage... the amazing talent, the tour de force performances, the soaring music, the major bawling they induce... it really makes you forget your own life back home just for those few precious hours, as you allow yourself to be transported to another world.

I love it. Sooooo much! :)

Watching 5 very different shows - didn't have time for more, unfortunately - was a dream come true! The Book Of Mormon, Follies, Phantom Of The Opera, The Submission and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying all left me spellbound and craving more. However, Follies and Phantom win hands down for the cast's heartrending portrayals. Crying at a Broadway musical is, in my opinion at least, an absolute must! :)

The cherry on top? Seeing Daniel Radcliffe up close outside the stage door, just an arm's length from me as he stopped for a split second before hopping into the waiting SUV. ( Heavy rain that night, so no meet-and-greet with the fans. ) And let's not forget Jonathan Groff, who blew me away with his warmth and record-breaking hug! :D

Next, a blissful week in Orlando, Florida, hopping around Disneyworld, Universal Studios and Seaworld.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is tiny, but the atmosphere is festive, and butterbeer is extremely delicious! Like a perfectly blended vanilla shake mixed with gingerale. I have a very low tolerance threshold where high-speed rides are concerned, so Flight of the Hippogriff was about as much as I could take. And it was fun! :)

Disneyworld is everything I imagined it to be, even though the crazy weather made me miss Epcot and Animal Kingdom ( and there're strictly no refunds for pre-paid tickets, argh! ). Still, Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios more than made up for that. The 'live' shows are the best I've seen ( also visited Anaheim and Tokyo previously ), and the fireworks displays are so beautifully choreographed I couldn't help tearing up. Those timeless Disney melodies are super-potent!

However, I was surprised to discover that another Orlando attraction is dearer to my heart than Disneyworld. Yep, Seaworld stole my heart, and part of it will remain there forever. :)

If you're ever in that area, make sure you drop by. It's absolutely lovely, and if I'd had time, I would've gone twice ( 2nd visit is free! ). The one at the Gold Coast is wonderful, but Orlando's is at least two times larger, with many more opportunities for hands-on interaction with dolphins ( without paying a hefty price for "special encounters" ) and most importantly, the orca shows!

I've been so busy since returning home, I haven't been able to transfer my photos and videos to the computer. Let's hope I'll get to do that this month, including uploading the vids to YouTube. There's one of the baby dolphin pool, where these adorable mammals bob their heads up and down so they can see you better. If it doesn't make you smile, you're made of bloody stone.

After that, a long stay in San Francisco for sightseeing and an emergency medicine conference. Unfortunately, I found SF underwhelming in terms of scenery and activities. But the locals swept me off my feet completely, and a guy at our hotel's front desk is so impressive I made sure to send a complimentary email to his manager. ( He's also very cute, but that's beside the point. :))

Pier 39 is great, but the shopping's even better. Hawaiian pearls, fresh from oysters you hand-pick yourself! I was lucky to choose 3 different colours ( white, pink and blue ), and was only too happy to pay extra for gorgeous ring and pendant settings.

But my favourite place in SF? Macy's, haha. The sales staff are amazing - so friendly and helpful, with the power to grant obscene discounts after minimal haggling. No more new stock in the storeroom so you have to buy what's on the rack? Extra 10% off. Buy more than 3 items in a single style? 10% off too! On top of 50% slashes for selected brands, ranging from Kenneth Cole to Calvin Klein to Ralph Lauren! And tourists get a 10% discount card! My head's spinning! :)

The perfect cap to the 4-week trip? The excellent Scientific Assembly, run annually by the American College of Emergency Physicians. After an especially stormy year on the work front, I suffered a severe episode of burnout, which was miraculously cured by this congress. The speakers are so inspiring, the lectures are expertly delivered, and uplifting quotes abound on a daily basis.

My favourite: We do the impossible every shift, and we make it look easy. :D

So I came home, recharged and ready for anything. But as expected, after a week, I was back to my crabby old self, no thanks to the insane patient numbers and various annoyances which slowly ate away at my attempts to remain upbeat and optimistic. Dammit!

Little did I know that help was on the way. On 3rd November, my mom and I attended David Foster's concert at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre. And what transpired almost gave me a heart attack! I somehow managed to work through an episode of incapacitating stage fright - thanks in large part to Mr. Foster's encouraging smile ( thank you! ) - and will always draw on this fabulous memory every time I feel like crap. Which happens a lot during shifts. So if you see me staring into space with a goofy grin on my face, just give me a moment to switch from mad to glad. :)

Last but not least, Kevin Spacey's much anticipated return to Singapore. The long wait - 15 years! - was worth it, and watching him twice as Richard III is something I will always cherish.

I am also aware of the unbelievably good luck E and I were blessed with, when we managed to meet Mr. Spacey in his car outside the stage door, and he so kindly stayed to speak to us and sign autographs. His personalized message for E is so appropriate, and there was even an indication that he enjoyed the encounter as much as we did, when he cheekily pointed out his co-star, seated beside him, during our conversation. That was priceless! :)

And today, I received an email from his personal assistant at The Old Vic, confirming that my fan letter and enclosed donation to the Kevin Spacey Foundation has been received by Mr. S ( I was worried the cheque may get lost during The Bridge Project's world tour ), and that he will write to me soon.
I'm just glad the cheque is intact! If I hear from Mr. S, that's a bonus! :)

Best of all, though, is news that he'll be back in the near future, to collaborate with the Singapore Repertory Theatre on future projects. Let's hope it will involve another stage performance!

Celebrity and holiday experiences aside, however, it's been a life-changing year on the whole. Appreciation for the arts is one thing, while contributing funds is a completely different kettle of fish. Following Mr. Spacey's Twitter and Facebook updates, reading numerous interviews, being privy to his packed schedule in Singapore ( shows, workshops, fundraisers ) and seeing the depth of his dedication in his fiery performances, I finally understand what it takes to be in this business.

To get a clearer idea of what he goes through, read this Wall Street Journal article, dated 1st December 2011. To quote Dana Brunetti, his close friend and collaborator: "Kevin can plow through scripts, plow through plays, do conference calls, do everything he's doing at the Old Vic, do everything I need him to do... and then he'll do a three-hour play, go to a fund-raiser afterward, meet somebody for drinks, walk his dog and go to bed — and wake up, walk his dog, go jogging, read three scripts. It's like, 'How the hell do you do this?'"

I honestly have no idea where he gets all that energy. Maybe it's possible when you're doing something you love, which got me thinking that it's about time I get off my butt and start putting aside some time for serious writing. As in submit an entry for a legitimate competition and see where I stand. ( Was supposed to do that this year but as usual, medical work got in the way. Hmph. )

Other valuable lessons learnt in 2011? That nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and have God on your side. That good deeds, even if they aren't acknowledged immediately, will be rewarded in some way later on. That total strangers are capable of acts of immense kindness ( thank you for the gorgeous David Foster concert photos! :)). That even huge stars can epitomize kindness and generosity when you least expect it!

I really can't imagine how life can get any better than this, but as Mr. Spacey has said many times, "If you've been lucky enough to have a dream come true in your life, make sure you have another dream."

For 2012? A trip to Spain and Portugal. A do-or-die short story submission to an international writing contest. Chief editor duties for a massive emergency medicine-related paper. Perhaps a return to the Singapore Medical Association's newsletter? ( I've been asked to take over The Hobbit's column, but do not deem myself worthy. :))

2013 and beyond? Watch Mr. Spacey on stage at The Old Vic in London. Go back to Broadway, Las Vegas and Paris. Visit the Southern part of the U.S. - there's a tour of Savannah, Georgia, including sites featured in my favourite novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil ( which, incidentally, stars Mr. Spacey in the lead role - uncanny? Yes! :)). Visit Canada, Hawaii, the rest of Europe. Get my writing off the ground so I don't need to rely on my medical career as much ( I can enjoy it more that way ). Become a patron of the arts. Etc, etc.

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” - Abraham Lincoln

"To infinity - and beyond!" Buzz Lightyear


Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Life Is Complete :)

Thank you for dropping by my blog and please prepare yourself for a VERY gushy entry, which is completely warranted, because:

1) Kevin Spacey has been my favourite actor for about 15 years now, and will always remain at the top spot. :D

2) I can't believe how blessed I am to not only be able to meet my favourite actor ( how many of us are lucky enough to have Hollywood stars visit Singapore, let alone star in a play? ), but to meet him TWICE in less than 12 months.

3) Both encounters were truly amazing for different reasons, and unforgettable!

4) Mr. Spacey's immense kindness to so many during his 2-week stay in Singapore is nothing short of mind-boggling. :)

First, a recap of the very first time I met Mr. S last December, just to give you something to compare with.
And for those who are unaware, he later sent me a personal reply to a fan letter I passed to him. Yow!

Okay, on to last night's events.

It was the closing performance and I will post a proper review soon. I attended with my cousin's 15-year-old daughter, E, and this was the very first time she was seeing a play.

As expected, she loved every minute of it, and we were treated to a lovely address by Mr. S during the curtain call, as he thanked all of us for coming to see the show, for the "warmth and affection" showered upon them by everyone they met, assuring us that "those of you who live in Singapore have much to be proud of".

I'm trying to recall whether he said he'd be back in the near future - E, help me out?

After that, we made a beeline for the stage door, located on B1 near the glass doors leading to the carpark.

I was shocked to find nobody there - the cast and crew don't count!
There were a few doors, so we positioned ourselves at the one which looked most promising ( follow the arrows ). A guy in a suit passed us and helpfully said Mr. S "will not be signing autographs", that he'll be leaving from another door and going straight to the car.

So we shifted ourselves and stood near the car instead, a black Audi sedan ( is that the correct term? ) where a Chinese man sat at the wheel, waiting.

About 20 minutes passed, and various cast members appeared in small groups, heading in different directions. A few walked up the ramp leading to the main road, saying they were going to a restaurant nearby ( I bet it's One Fullerton, famous for its nightlife ). Others strolled by, smiling and even waving hello when they spotted us holding the Richard III programmes. We were hoping to speak to Chuk Iwuji, who's terrific as the Duke of Buckingham, but he didn't come our way, darn.

Isaiah Johnson, who plays Lord Rivers ( Queen Elizabeth's brother ) is unbelievably friendly and stunned us when he said a big happy "Hi!" as he passed us. He spoke to another man a few metres away, then returned to where we were standing. At this point, E walked up to him and asked for a photo, to which he immediately agreed. After that, he told us "I love Singapore!" and that "I want to come back!"
I answered, "That's great! We'd love to have you back here anytime!" :)

Next, Nathan Darrow, who plays Lord Grey and Henry, Earl of Richmond, appeared wearing a cap, chatting with Simon Lee Phillips ( Sir James Tyrrel ) and Gavin Stenhouse ( Marquess of Dorset ).

E went up to Darrow and requested a picture, but strangely, he looked perplexed, and repeated, "You want a photo?" But he obliged and gave E a hug during the shot, before hauling a couple of big bags to the waiting Audi, depositing them in the trunk then entering the vehicle on the left ( back seat passenger ) side.

Another tense 5-10 minutes passed, then we heard voices approaching from round the corner. Lo and behold, Mr. Spacey materialized, walking with a group of actresses, among them Annabel Scholey ( Queen Anne ) and Hannah Stokeley ( Young Edward Prince Of Wales ).

Stokeley spotted us instantly, flashing a warm smile and waving - awww. :)
They said their farewells to Mr. S and left ?for the other waiting Audi SUV? - they didn't go to the main road, I think.
Mr. S entered the car on the right, behind the driver, then turned to his left to talk to Darrow. He didn't appear to have seen us.

At this moment, E and I looked at each other, contemplating our next move.
E: Oh no, he's gone into the car.
Me: What do you think? Should we go over?
E: Errr...

Earlier during our wait, I predicted that if E were to go up to Mr. S, he wouldn't ignore her, mainly because she's so young, and encouraging young people to develop an interest in theatre is one of his missions.

This, coupled with E's conviction to not let her fear result in a lifetime of regret, prompted her to steel herself and stride over to his window.

I followed behind, stopping a couple of metres away, out of Mr. S's direct line of vision.

As she stood outside, he was still turned the other way, talking to Darrow. The latter spotted E when she waved, and she gently pointed at Mr. S. Darrow then informed Mr. S of what was going on, and he turned to face her. E waved again and gave him a big smile.

There's a split second when I held my breath and felt my heart almost stop - I'm not kidding! I had no idea what Mr. S's mood was like, and wouldn't have blamed him for refusing to do anything further. Perhaps just shake his head to indicate he isn't quite prepared to meet fans tonight.

I honestly couldn't believe it when he gestured to the driver to roll down the window. It took about 5 seconds 'cos there're 2 parts ( a dark inner one, and a normal outer panel - that's an Audi for you :)), then Mr. S leaned over, a curious expression on his face.

KS: Hello. [ I almost passed out - we didn't offend him, thank goodness! :) ]
E: *super-excited* Hi, Mr. Spacey!
She stretches out her hand and he immediately takes it, giving her a firm shake.

E pauses, and I worry that she's tongue-tied. This is, after all, her very first face-to-face encounter with a star.

I step forward and Mr. S turns to look at me.

Me: Hi, this is E, she's 15, and this is her first play.
KS: *looks pleased* Oh! Did you enjoy it?
E: Yes, I did! You were AWESOME! *says the word "awesome" with immense gusto*

KS: *gives her a HUGE smile* That's great!

( Did he also thank her for coming to the show? E, please confirm. )

KS: *suddenly points at Darrow* This is Richmond!
E: Yes, I know! I took a photo with him! *laughs*

I can see Darrow through the window, and he's laughing as well. :)

E: Can I have your autograph please?
KS: Sure!

I quickly fish a marker pen out of my pocket - incidentally, it's the same pen he signed an autograph with last year when I first met him. A lucky charm indeed! :D

Me: Thank you so much! *he takes the pen from me*

We turn to the centrefold of the programme, a 2-page spread of Mr. S and Annabel Scholey, in that scene where she's plastered against a wall and he leans in close to ask, "Why dost thou spit at me?"

KS: How do you spell your name?
Me and E: It's E*****

He writes each letter as we spell it out, adds "To" before it, then scribbles something below before signing his name at the bottom.

Me: *trying to decipher the words* Something to more theatre?
KS: Go to more theatre!
Me and E: Ohhhh, go to more theatre!

He returns the programme to E, then I tentatively ask if he can sign mine too.
He doesn't smile, and hesitates for just a moment, but then says, "Sure!" ( Whew! :))

I don't know if he's tired and maybe not too enthusiastic about being ambushed, so I expect him to just scrawl his name and be done with it.

KS: What's your name?
Me: *stunned* Err, XX.

And here's the weird part - he doesn't ask me how to spell it.
Last year, he requested this, but yesterday, he wrote it out all by himself, without any assistance from me!
Which leads me to wonder - he probably has a vague memory of me somewhere, even if he didn't acknowledge it specifically. Hey, that is, in my book, TOTALLY AWESOME! :D

He goes through the same drill - writes my name first, then adds "To" before it. The message below - Thank you! ( exclamation mark included - none last year, only With Thanks ). Yes, I analyze everything, haha. :)

He hands the programme and pen back.

Me: There's a letter that C ( from the Singapore Repertory Theatre ) helped me pass on to your personal assistant.
KS nods.
Me: Have you received it?
KS: No... *looks concerned*
Me: Well, there's a donation to your foundation inside, so I hope you'll get it. It's with your assistant at the moment.
KS: Oh yeah, don't worry, I will.

During this exchange, he turns around to face me directly, and is sitting in a rather uncomfortable position. I also notice 3 other women standing behind us - no idea where they came from - but Mr. S never once breaks eye contact or gets distracted. So cool. :)

I realize he's been extremely generous and that we should take our leave.

Me: Thank you so much! It's been great having you in Singapore. Hope to see you again soon!
KS: *smiles* Bye!

( E, if you remember this differently, let me know. My brain was turning to mush at this point! )

E and I walk away and the other women step forward. I hear them greet him and he says "Hi", but we don't hang around to see what comes next. However, there was nobody else around so I'm sure he chatted with them and signed autographs too.

I developed a serious case of insomnia when I got home. Slept at almost 4am, and was up again at 7:30am, thanks to the tonnes of adrenaline coursing through my veins, haha.

After hounding the SRT for weeks, asking for a chance to meet Mr. S, it couldn't be arranged because of his tight schedule. Plus, I'm not a VIP or big-time sponsor. Understandable.

Add to that the fact that I had to miss the SRT fundraising dinner at St. Regis, because I was supposed to work the night shift, but ended up falling sick and taking MC. I was told that Mr. S was spectacular at the event, climbing onto tables to entertain the guests. OMG, kill me, kill me now!

And last year, despite shaking his hand, getting an autograph and a beautiful photo which I will treasure forever, I kept wishing I could've spoken to him a little.

So I finally got my second chance! And I really can't believe how fortunate we are!

E is on cloud nine like me, and I'm sure she will take Mr. Spacey's words to heart. I too will make sure she is given opportunities to enjoy the theatre on a regular basis.

Best of all, Mr. S has promised to return in the near future, to collaborate with the SRT on more projects. I can't wait to hear about those, and next time, I will attend 3 or more performances, so let's hope the ticket prices will be more affordable.

Thank you, Mr. Spacey, for your generosity and kindness! You have changed yet another young life, and made me a supporter of the SRT and your foundation. Jack Lemmon would be proud. God bless and may you continue to have a fulfilling career and leave a great legacy through your tireless work in arts advocacy. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Finally, I saw Mr. Spacey on stage. And it was AWESOME! :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over - Again!

A review of David Foster's concert, followed by my amazing encounter with him.

Thank you, Mr. Foster, for your immense kindness! :D

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Broadway Show Review #1

Long overdue, but hopefully worth reading. :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Let The Countdown Begin!

Yes, it's that time of the year again, when I prepare for a long trip overseas, and recuperate from burnout.

I tend to restrict myself to one holiday every 12 months, but it may be better to take 2-3 short ones instead. Only problem: not being able to get leave. Department's really short on manpower. Hope that doesn't last too long.

David Foster fans rejoice! He's returning to Singapore for the second time in 12 months, performing with two of my favourite singers - Michael Bolton and Russell Watson.

The best seats in the house are reserved for "VIPs", and the top-priced tickets don't even guarantee the best views. No matter. I got lucky last year when the concert organizers helped me snag second row places. I mustn't be greedy. :)

Will I try to grovel my way into a meet-and-greet? You bet! I'm told Foster's very busy and requested a restriction on the number of meetings he has lined up, so I'm going to see if Bolton or Watson will be more obliging. Especially Watson, who is known to be extremely friendly, and whom I'd like to congratulate for overcoming a serious illness.

And since one of the shows falls exactly on my mum's birthday, if we do meet Watson, I will definitely ask him to sing something for her. And you can be 100% sure that he won't say no! :)

In other news... oh yes, there was a little itty-bitty thing called the Presidential Election. Also known as Farce #2, after Farce #1 ( i.e. the General Election ).

I can accept the final result, but please, don't call this a "victory" for the sake of saving face. When will these people publicly acknowledge the precarious positions they're in, and stop acting smug and self-righteous?

5 more years, and they may have to eat their words.

What else...

Was appointed "adjunct assistant professor", which sounds fancy, but doesn't come with additional protected time for teaching. It does, however, come with extra money. :)

Having a ball planning the upcoming trip. Catching at least 3 Broadway shows, including one that stars Daniel Radcliffe, and another that just won the Tony for Best Musical.
Day trip to Washington, D.C.
Visiting 3 massive theme parks in Orlando.
Then off to San Francisco for a medical conference, a visit to the Napa Valley, a tour of the Californian coast, and an afternoon at UC Berkeley where a friend's daughter just started term.

Also meeting a JC pal and having dinner with a renowned emergency medicine professor in NYC.
Not to mention giving a lecture at Mt. Sinai Hospital ( at the professor's invitation ). Quite nervous about that!

Oh yes, supposed to "interview" another emergency physician from New York, who may be interested in working with us. I hope my pessimism doesn't scare him off, haha.

And there's a celebrity New Yorker my mom INSISTS on meeting, if I manage to persuade him via Facebook. All I can say is, he's on American TV, he's gorgeous, rich, single, super-friendly ( i.e. replies to all my messages, believe it or not ), and my mom wants a picture with him at all costs.

Think I'll come back even more exhausted than ever.

But at least I'll be happy! :D

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mad About Improv-a-ganza!

Just a short post about a show I'm currently addicted to, and which I'd like to rave about. :)

I've been a fan of Drew Carey's for many years, since his Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway days. Was a little bummed when he became the host of The Price Is Right, but hey, he hasn't forgotten his comedy roots after all!

Can't exactly recall how I found out about Improv-a-ganza, but wasted no time in downloading online episodes. There're about 40, and I'm currently at Ep 23. And I still can't get enough of the guys. :D

If you've never watched Carey's improv series before, you're in for a huge treat! The "games" are creative and often really tough, and the cast is absolutely top-notch. Ryan Stiles and Carey are the current regulars, with Whose Line veterans Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie dropping in on and off.

Other standouts include Jonathan Mangum ( adorably boyish despite being 40 years old, wow! ), Brad Sherwood ( as goofy as ever ) and Chip Esten ( the best-looking of the lot :)).

I, however, have latched onto Jeff Davis, also a Whose Line alumnus, who now features much more prominently on Improv-a-ganza.

[ note: There're LOTS of people named Jeff Davis, so if you want to Google search, type "Jeff Bryan Davis". You're welcome. :) ]

As I was saying, I am positively OBSESSED with JD. The turning point was this sound effects segment from episode 3, about 2 garbage collectors.
YouTube doesn't have the full clip, but all the best parts are in there. The first time I saw it, I almost died laughing. No, I'm not exaggerating. :D

Here's another fabulous clip! Things to take note of:

1) Drew Carey is a whiz at picking volunteers ( you will notice this when you watch the entire series );

2) The older women are a lot hornier than the younger ones. Yeah! :)

3) The guys doing the serenading love to play up the cougar factor. To illustrate, check out this Jeannie clip, lol. :D

4) JD flirts outrageously with the ladies, regardless of their age, and boy, do they reciprocate! Watch the Song For Pam video closely and you'll see the woman practically drooling over him. I know exactly how she feels, heh! :)

5) Skits are best appreciated if you understand the terminology - "carpet matches the curtains", "swingers", etc. The songs are actually damn dirty, but the guys are experts at utilizing euphemisms. Bravo!

Another superb clip is from BBC TV, with my other favourite, Jonathan Mangum. Hilarious!

Shall let you chew on these for now. More to follow in my next post. :)

As my upcoming U.S. trip draws near, I'm bummed out about the end of Catch Me If You Can's Broadway run. No idea why it's going to stop after about only 6 months on stage, despite Norbert Leo Butz's Tony win. Was really looking forward to seeing it!

On the plus side, I have an opportunity to see Kevin Spacey in San Francisco, because Richard III will open while I'm there. So what if I'm already going to watch it twice in Singapore? I'm always game for theatre overseas, hopefully at a beautiful and historic venue, with a crowd that at least understands what's going on.

[ Have attended enough local events to say that most "theatregoers" here are clueless. For pete's sake, read up before you go to the damn show! ]

I'm still hunting for a musical to take Catch Me's place though. Or maybe a play... Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alan Rickman are starring in a couple of fall productions, but these will likely open after I've left New York. Sigh.

Till next time.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ah, Life!

Watched Captain America, and didn't like it much. Apologies to fans and moviegoers who loved it, but try as I might, I checked my watch 5 times during the 2-hour film. But at least I didn't take a toilet break - a lot of other people around me did. Yay, strong bladder muscles! ;)

I actually wanted to enjoy myself as much as possible. After all, it has many elements that appeal to me - e.g. an underdog who becomes a hero, WWII and lots of Nazi-whacking, a great cast...

So, what happened?

I guess having the best ingredients can't guarantee a tasty dish if the cook isn't on the ball. And director Joe Johnston was, IMHO, not an ideal choice for this particular production.
His previous films include Honey, I Shrunk The Kids ( fluff ), The Rocketeer ( fluff ), Jumanji ( fluffy fluff ), Jurassic Park III ( very fluffy fluff ), Hidalgo ( so-so, even with Viggo Mortensen as the lead ), The Wolfman ( a case of severe misuse of a stellar cast ). The only movie which is not too bad is October Sky, but that was drama, not an attempt at blockbuster action.

( In case you're wondering, I've seen all the abovementioned shows. )

However, believe it or not, I went to see Captain America with zero inkling of Johnston's involvement. Aside from Chris Evans, I knew little about the supporting actors as well, though I recognized quite a few of them as they appeared in succession.

First, I must commend Evans for breaking out of his cocky-smart-aleck mould, thanks to a breakout role in Fantastic 4. Didn't see much of him in subsequent years, but a recent viewing of The Losers made me realize he may be more interesting than I originally thought, and I'm glad he did not disappoint as Steve Rogers.

In stark contrast to his Human Torch persona, Evans plays Rogers with ample restraint, yet successfully conveys the character's inner strength in a number of heartwarming scenes. He remains low-key even after an eye-popping transformation into the super-buff Captain America, but still generates sparks with fellow cast-mates, and handles the stunts well.

Supporting actors worthy of special attention include Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark ( that's Iron Man Tony Stark's daddy ); Sebastian Stan as Rogers' best pal, Bucky; and Hayley Atwell as the plucky but well-coiffed Peggy Carter.

Hugo Weaving - from The Matrix and Lord Of The Rings - is a fine actor in his own right, but too cheesy for words as Red Skull.
Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, even finer actors than Weaving, are completely wasted in peripheral roles.

More grouses: there're loads of big action scenes, but most feel forced, and I can only recall a couple which stood out ( the mountain train chase is one, and another featuring a tiny helicopter-like aircraft detaching from Red Skull's Stealth plane is pretty cool too. ).

One bit I did not appreciate: Red Skull's Storm Trooper army, and all those laser guns. Is this Captain America or Star Wars, dammit?!

Reviews have been good, so everyone will probably make a nice profit, and the franchise is likely to continue.

In the meantime, we can look forward to The Avengers, which will have Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow ( among others ) joining forces. Directed by Joss Whedon - hope he does a better job than Johnston!

Almost fell out of my seat when the Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows trailer came on before the Captain America screening. There was no mention of it in the magazines I've been reading so religiously. Empire, what the heck!?

I LOVE the first Sherlock Holmes movie to death, and the sequel promises much much more. I'm absolutely thrilled! :D

I'm also extremely tickled by the fact that the "get that out my face" joke from the original is repeated. I really thought I was the only person on Earth who loved that line. Apparently not. Thank you, Mr. Guy Ritchie. :D

December 16, 2011 - I may watch it twice if it's excellent. :)

Something else worth rejoicing about this week: the return of Justified, starring the very delicious Timothy Olyphant. I had to give up on the last few episodes of season 1, when the plot got a little unwieldy, but the season 2 pilot proved that the story's back on track, with loose ends neatly tied up, and a new cast of colourful characters for U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to stare down.

Olyphant is so bloody hot, I hope Justified will be adapted for the big-screen at some point. I bet he'll look gorgeous in a cineplex!

In closing, yet another Broadway musical I intend to see, if I can persuade my mother to agree to 4 consecutive shows over 4 nights.

Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige - plus a star-studded supporting cast, staged at the Times Square Marquis Theater.

The song I most want to hear: Buddy's Blues. If it's anywhere as good as Mandy Patinkin's 1985 rendition, I'm happy!

Please say yes, mum. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ah, Life...

It's a little better than the "Updates" or "More Updates", no? :)

Kevin Spacey photo of the moment: a poster shot from Horrible Bosses, the dark comedy which has done surprisingly well at the box office, sparking rumours of a possible sequel.

As usual, yet another KS film fails to hit local theatres, so I'm waiting for the online version. Promises to be a hoot, but I'm no fan of Jennifer Aniston's.

On a related note, my seats for The Bridge Project's Richard III have been confirmed. 3rd row centre. You can't beat that! :D

My current bedtime companion is Steve Martin's latest novel, An Object Of Beauty.

If you're a fellow fan of Martin's films, but are as yet unfamiliar with his literary works, then I highly recommend The Pleasure Of Your Company, which had me in stitches. :)

An Object Of Beauty is the polar opposite of Company, more in the style of Shopgirl - leisurely, almost aimless at times, but rewards the patient reader in spurts of inspired prose and sparkling plot developments that keep you turning the pages.

I've read my fair share of "leisurely" novels, since John Berendt is my favourite author ( Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, The City Of Falling Angels ) and another fave, Thomas Hardy, also writes in a similar manner ( Jude The Obscure was a challenge! ).

Martin can't quite compare to either writer, of course. And I think, out of his 3 fictional tales I've covered thus far, this is the weakest.

While insights about the world of art-dealing and art-collecting are intermittently fascinating, it's difficult to identify with characters who seem totally self-absorbed and frivolous, spending tens of millions of dollars on paintings ( or 1.2 million bucks on what looks like an unfolded kitchen sink, mounted on a wall ).

Perhaps Martin intended for his readers to feel alienated? I hope not.

I will, however, praise him for a few well-written chapters, especially one situated near the end, where an eclectic group of art lovers gathers for an evening of fine food and animated chatter.

The best - and also worst - thing about art is how it may be interpreted, regardless of genre and period. The photos of selected works will either make you gasp with pleasure, scratch your head in confusion, or wince in disgust. Someone paid XX dollars for that piece of CRAP?!, you ask.

I'm no conoisseur of modern artists, preferring more conventional masterpieces - portraits, landscapes, and oooh, exquisitely rendered sculptures of beautiful homo sapiens or majestic creatures! I guess that's why the Louvre, Metropolitan and Egyptian Museums left me awestruck. Besides, straightforward concepts are so much easier to understand, and less likely to induce a migraine.

I almost gave up on finishing the book, but since I'm less than 30 pages from the final paragraph, I shall endeavour to complete it, then move on to my next reading assignment, Shakespeare's Richard III.

Next, a couple of new TV series I'm sampling.

First, The Killing, a crime drama revolving around the investigation of a young girl's murder in Seattle.

May not sound like much on the surface, but the pilot episode was riveting, and I am hooked.

Much credit goes to Mireille Enos, whose name I can't even pronounce, who plays the lead character, the quiet but whip-smart detective, Sarah Linden.

Already nominated for an Emmy, she exudes strength and class without the need for any over-the-top antics. Since I haven't seen the subsequent episodes, I can't comment on whether she deserves the nomination, but compared to other new shows which try way too hard to please, to the extent of being ridiculous ( Body Of Proof, The Glades ), The Killing looks much more promising.

[ Available online, not sure if or when it will be on local cable. ]

Another interesting new series is Teen Wolf, which just premiered on AXN Beyond on Monday.

Touted as "based on the movie" of the same name, it couldn't be any further from the truth.

The film, starring the adorably boyish Michael J. Fox, had a cheesy plot and bad makeup. The TV show, starring the darkly handsome and super-buff Tyler Posey, is actually quite scary, with convincing visual effects to boot.

Posey, whom I clearly remember from Maid In Manhattan ( he played Jennifer Lopez's cute young son - how he's grown! ) shows potential. He may not be that great an actor - peers Shia LaBeouf and Anton Yelchin beat him hands down - but there's a lot of room for improvement, and I hope he makes an effort to hone his craft.

I just hope there won't be crazy plot twists like The Vampire Diaries, which made my head spin. I tend to stop watching when I stop understanding what's going on.

Also on my must-watch list: The Closer season 7. I can't praise this show enough, having followed it from the very beginning until its peak in seasons 5 and 6, culminating in Kyra Sedgwick's Emmy win in 2010.

There're A LOT of crime dramas in TV Land, but The Closer rarely disappoints. The writers never take the viewers for granted, so each standalone story is complex yet plausible. Twists and turns abound, resulting in shocking conclusions which also, somehow, make perfect sense.

I've also grown very fond of the entire cast, who make up the squad at Priority Homicide / Major Crimes. The early seasons are especially funny, as the detectives grudgingly learn to accept, then respect, their new leader, then forge strong bonds as they successfully solve one complicated crime after another.

Such a pity Season 7 will be the last. But hey, it's always better to bow out when you're at the top, right?

I will miss you terribly, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

More Updates

This entry's Kevin Spacey picture features a shot taken from The Bridge Project's Richard III production, directed by Sam Mendes, currently on an 8-week run at London's Old Vic Theatre.

Reviews so far have been positive, though one critic couldn't get over the thought of it being "a calculated performance".

I don't know what the hell that means, but IMHO, every performance is calculated, so get off your high horse already!

My tickets for 2 of its Singapore shows have been confirmed, though exact seats are still unknown. Paid a small fortune for them, and begged for good locations, so please don't disappoint me!

Will definitely read the play a few times before its run here. Must memorize the best parts so I can savour them better when Mr. Spacey's reciting the lines.

Public sales began on 1st July, so please go to SISTIC before they're all gone.

Most exciting! :D

Now, on to a list of shows I watched recently. Thank you, Megavideo. :)

Game Of Thrones is based on a fantasy novel series I haven't read - yet. May not get around to it anytime soon, so catching the HBO TV adaptation is good enough.

For someone who knows nothing about the books, episode 1 left me quite disoriented. Still, the superb cast, expert direction and beautiful costumes kept me going, and by episode 2, I was completely hooked.

Empire magazine also helped, with its excellent guide on the characters and various storylines. The number of players is staggering, and the exotic names make things even more difficult for newbies like me. So make sure you do some research to maximize your enjoyment!

I'm fascinated by tales set in a different era or world, but can be fussy when it comes to TV series, which demand a viewer's patience and loyalty. How else can it draw audiences back, week after week? I was addicted to The Tudors, but gave up on Rome, Camelot, Spartacus and The Borgias.

Game Of Thrones, however, excels in all aspects - acting, direction, costume and set design, script. Each episode is expertly paced, keeping the viewer on the edge of the seat, hungry for more.

Sex, violence, and Machiavellian maneouvres are present in abundance. Where the former two are concerned, I recommend online resources, because local cable's version - IF this ever sees the light of day here - will be heavily censored. ( Same thing occurred with True Blood S3. )

Characters-wise, no doubt fans have their personal favourites. Mine include Daenerys Targaryen ( played by Emilia Clarke ), the platinum-blonde princess who is married off to the leader of a barbaric tribe ( played by Jason Momoa, who will next be seen in the big-screen remake of Conan The Barbarian ), to further her evil brother's plan to reclaim their father's throne.

There's also Jaime Lannister ( Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ), twin brother to Queen Cersei ( Lena Headey ). The diabolical siblings plot constantly, and also commit incest without guilt. Yes, graphic scene inserted.

Pint-sized Peter Dinklage plays the third Lannister, Tyrion. One of the show's best roles, full of snarky attitude and witty one-liners.

Even the children shine. In particular, Arya Stark ( Maisie Williams ) with her fire and courage, and Joffrey Baratheon ( Jack Gleeson ), a teenage prince whose cunning and cowardice make my blood boil.

Now you understand why I'm addicted. A+++! :)

Give it a go. You won't regret it!

I'm a big fan of horror shows, even when they're bad heh! I'll just sit through the whole thing to see what happens in the end. Because if there's a good jolt to be had, I want it. :)

The Ward stars Amber Heard, an actress who seems to be enjoying her status as the go-to girl for slasher flicks ( e.g. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Zombieland, The Stepfather ). She's quite good actually, so let's hope she rises above this label quickly. There's no shame in starting out in B-grade films, as long as you climb the ladder at some point.

This movie is a little more interesting than the standard gore-fest. It's set in the '60s, a time when psychotherapy remained brutal and unethical. There isn't much blood-letting either, with director John Carpenter preferring to let the eerie mental asylum do all the work.

Creepy dark corridors - check. Frequent thunderstorms with lightning - check. Weird asylum staff - check. Strange bumps in the night - check.

The premise is that there's a ghost terrorizing the inmates, supposedly the vengeful spirit of a dead patient.

I guessed the ending somewhere around the halfway mark. Easy when you've seen Shutter Island. :)

Jolts-wise: there're a few. One of them almost gave my mum a heart attack. Do NOT sit too close to the screen. :D

Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. B+

I watched Unstoppable because of generally strong reviews. Not a fan of Denzel Washington or Chris Pine, and while the first half dragged, the last 30 minutes were worth the time spent waiting for the tension to build up.

The plot is simple: careless train operator results in a runaway 39-car locomotive; toxic chemicals on board; risk to thousands if train derails and explodes; multiple attempts to stop the train fail, so it's up to these 2 heroes to save the day. And they do. Naturally.

It's entertaining enough, but credit goes to Washington and Pine for maintaining their dignity despite the formulaic script. And director Tony Scott needs to understand that jerky camera shots make some people nauseous ( i.e. me! ).

Rating: B

On to Source Code, which Empire kept raving about.

Jake Gyllenhaal is an interesting choice for this blockbuster, because he always seems to be lurking just under the A-list radar, even after acclaimed turns in Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac.

One of my favourites, though, is Jarhead. Such an under-rated classic. More people should see it!

With Source Code, JG is once again in leading man mode, this time a military pilot recruited into what looks like a time-travel programme, a la Groundhog Day, in an attempt to sniff out the person responsible for a massive train explosion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely. It's well-directed so the repetitive scenes ( each 8 minutes long ) don't grate on your nerves. Each new clue gets your pulse racing just a little more, and there are memorable performances from JG, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga.

Heck, even the villain does a great job.

The last 15-20 minutes are especially poignant. Won't reveal spoilers here, but get your hankies out!

Rating: A

I've left The Adjustment Bureau for last because it totally blew me away, and I am once again very VERY impressed with Matt Damon. Can't believe he wasn't on my Top 10 Favourite Actors list before!

Screenwriter George Nolfi directs for the first time here, adapting a Philip K. Dick short story titled "Adjustment Team".

Viewers can interprete this any way they like, depending on their religious or personal beliefs. Even the script offers alternative explanations to the baffled David Norris ( Damon ).

There's much to appreciate - suspense, action, romance, even humour. The cast includes Emily Blunt, Mad Men's John Slattery, and The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie.

But what I think will stay with the viewer long after the credits stop rolling, is the undeniable chemistry between Damon and Blunt.

Their characters' first meeting in, of all places, a public restroom ( the scene, for obvious reasons, isn't available on YouTube ), lasts maybe 5 minutes, but ends with an unexpected kiss that sent shivers up my spine. I could literally feel the heat between the two actors. It was sensational!

This is probably why the rest of the film works so well. When you become invested in the protagonist's struggle, you start rooting for him to defy the odds, no matter how much they're stacked against him. And the Adjustment Bureau is practically ruthless when it comes to "sticking to The Plan", complete with a nifty little black book which looks suspiciously like Harry Potter's Marauder's Map. :)

Blunt is a revelation as Elise. She's an actress I love to watch - The Devil Wears Prada, Sunshine Cleaning, The Young Victoria, Wolfman, The Jane Austen Book Club - but this is the first time I actually saw her abilities as a newly trained dancer. In fact, her on-screen performance looks so authentic I'm shocked to learn that she picked up the skills during a boot camp!

Again, the various elements come together seamlessly - the bathroom meeting, Elise's dances, the Bureau's incessant interfering. Layers are unveiled as each scene unfolds, and every new piece of information propels the story forward. There are, IMHO, no redundant bits in this film.

The heart of the tale is, undoubtedly, the love David and Elise have for one another. You may not fully grasp the reason/s behind the strong bond they share, but rest assured, that too will be explained in due course.

Ultimately, it is Damon's powerful portrayal which drives the film all the way to the finish line. I have seen him in everything from Good Will Hunting to The Talented Mr. Ripley, from The Bourne series to Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, from The Rainmaker to The Departed to Invictus, even comedies like Stuck On You and The Informant!

I took his versatility for granted for so many years, mainly because I saw a Ben Affleck interview once ( Inside The Actors Studio with James Lipton ), and he ribbed Damon for his "method acting". Perhaps that's why I never took him that seriously, even when he won the Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting. I always thought he tried too hard to impress, and that cheapened the performance in some way.

Not anymore. Damon has finally awed me enough to earn a place on my Top 10 list, and I apologize for not recognizing his talent much earlier. With The Adjustment Bureau, he embodies all the qualities of a full-fledged movie star - looks good on-screen, is 100% believable in a challenging role, generates sparks with fellow cast members, and leaves audiences yearning for more, more, more!

Make sure you see this movie! Rating: A++++! :D

I will leave you with an Oprah interview montage from YouTube. It contains only a short clip from the best one - for All The Pretty Horses, in 2000 - but guess it'll have to do. Damn that I lost the video tape recording when I moved house!

Till next time...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I've been neglecting my 2011 resolution to post Kevin Spacey pictures for every blog entry, so it's about time I restarted.

Eagerly awaiting my tickets for Richard III! Costing me a small fortune ( requested 2 shows and good seats ), but heck, I don't intend to buy an iPhone or iPad, and this is way better than any gadget. :)

And speaking of the iPad, I think some people are really going overboard with their obsessions. I mean, bringing it to a hair salon? One young woman sitting next to me was fiddling with her iPad while getting her hair styled. Then gave up when she couldn't get any wi-fi. Big joke.

I always have my novel / magazine within easy reach. Already own 2 laptops ( non-Apple products, and proud of it ). More than enough for me.

2 more Michael Fassbender films worth mentioning.

Fish Tank's a small British indie movie which swept quite a few awards not too long ago, but probably isn't available in Singapore, so I'm extremely grateful for the Internet.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it's sort of a coming-of-age tale, involving a teenage girl with mum issues, whose life is forever altered by her relationship with mum's boyfriend.

You can interprete that any way you want. There is absolutely no possibility of predicting what's going to happen next, and my own mother - who usually doesn't appreciate "indies" - was riveted for 2 hours.

Strong performances all around, but of course, MF is yet again exceptionally watchable in his role as "mum's boyfriend", oozing sex appeal, cheekiness and paternal concern in equal amounts.

This is one of those productions where dialogue is intermittently sparse, and imagery conveys the story effectively. Lots of interesting characters and surprising moments, with a pivotal scene that IMHO came out of nowhere causing quite a jolt!

What I love most about Fish Tank: there's no clear delineation between good and bad. Sure, everybody has their individual flaws and make mistakes, but the viewer actually understands the motivation behind their actions, and may not necessarily condemn them for it.

To make more sense of what I'm saying, just watch the movie. It's excellent!

Another excellent MF film is Hunger, also a British "indie", tracing the last 6 weeks of Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands' hunger strike ( he eventually died, by the way ).

This is not for the squeamish. Its depiction of prison life is harsh, with the actors fully committed to their roles, i.e. full frontal nudity - lots of it.

Again, there're scenes with little or no dialogue, illustrating the mundane moments of incarceration. But when the tension spikes - e.g. bath times, believe it or not - the violence is positively harrowing.

This photo of Fassbender is one of the reasons he shot up to #2 on my favourite actors list. He is astounding as Sands, and I only wish the segment documenting his emaciation could've been a tad longer. After all, MF starved himself for the sake of his craft.

I'm also very impressed with a lengthy scene - no camera cutaway, mind you - between Sands and a Catholic priest who visits him in prison. I think it lasts about 20 minutes, and the conversation is practically non-stop. It's like watching a stage play unfold. The Oscars really overlooked this gem.

Now, I'm eagerly anticipating MF's next project - A Dangerous Method, playing Carl Jung opposite Viggo Mortensen's Sigmund Freud.

May not come to local theatres, but never mind. There's always Megavideo. :)

Something else I recommend: The Kennedys TV series, starring Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes.

Got it from the Net, after it aired in the U.S. in April this year. Only 8 episodes, jam-packed with information, boasting stellar turns from Kinnear, Pepper and Wilkinson as Jack, Bobby and Joe Kennedy, respectively.

Holmes has always struck me as a bland actress, and remains true to form here. Casting her as Jacqueline Kennedy wasn't a good decision, but at least she doesn't annoy me as much as she usually does ( e.g. Batman Begins, yech ).

That aside, Kinnear deserves much praise for his distinguished portrayal. There're so many different elements to the story, which covers everything from the Kennedy family's tragic history and JFK's less-than-ethical election campaign, to his tumultuous White House term ( Bay Of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, racism in the South ), a marriage troubled by numerous affairs, and his battle with painkiller addiction.

My mother was especially delighted with the show, being a walking encyclopaedia where Kennedy trivia is concerned. She was practically on cloud nine when a certain juicy nugget of information - that she read in a memoir - was included in a key scene. Hats off to you, mum! :)

A few minor complaints: 8 episodes are insufficient when covering such massive ground; too little about Marilyn Monroe's involvement with both Kennedy brothers; the other Kennedy siblings are completely ignored; skimming over both assassinations.

The last 2 episodes feel terribly rushed, but at least the first 6 are terrific.

And may I add that Kinnear and Pepper have never looked better. :)

Can't wait to see the Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber concert at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre. Promises to be a great evening!

Also booked tickets to Rain, the Beatles tribute extravaganza, which I initially considered watching on Broadway.
Contrary to what was suggested in the press, this is NOT the Broadway cast. Might be the guys who tour internationally, and may not be as top-notch as the group in New York, but I'm okay with it. Don't have that much time in NY anyway...

... because I booked tickets to yet another musical, Catch Me If You Can, woohoo!

This makes it the 3rd one I'm watching, and mum says, "Enough! We may be jetlagged!"

But actually, based on previous experience, we suffer jet lag only after returning to Singapore. I was bouncing off the walls when we arrived in the U.S. Even went for a 3-hour walk around L.A. :)

The countdown to our trip has begun. No major disasters please!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Pure Indulgence

It's been a long while since my last indulgence-themed post ( sometime in 2010, I believe ). It's about time for another. :)

I've become a massive Michael Fassbender fan in recent weeks, thanks to Jane Eyre and X-Men: First Class. I noticed MF a couple of years ago during his memorable 30-minute performance as Lt. Archie Hicox in the extremely funny Inglourious Basterds. I missed a few subsequent releases ( other than Centurion, were the others even shown in Singapore? ), but am now catching up thanks to the Internet.

As mentioned, MF's short but high-profile turn in Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece will always remain as one of his most defining roles. A dashing figure in military uniform ( British and German ), hair slicked back, sporting a crisp English accent then reprimanding in fluent German, even simply clicking a cigarette lighter - it was clear that he was destined for stardom. He remained slightly below the radar for a year or two, but has made a huge splash in 2011. I certainly hope his career will continue to soar.

Here's the movie I watched recently, titled Eden Lake.
It's a British psychological thriller revolving around a couple whose weekend trip to an isolated picnic haunt turns into a nightmare of infinite proportions, when they meet a group of homicidal teenagers.

I'm not the squeamish type, but had to shield my eyes during a few scenes. Not because of the blood quotient ( though that's present in ample quantity ), but the disturbing subtext lying just beneath the surface.

In this tale, the adults are the hapless victims, the kids their ruthless tormentors. And if that doesn't make you squirm, then the severity of one boy's psychosis will definitely do the trick.

MF isn't the star here, but plays a supporting role beautifully. You empathize with his character, whose hotheadedness leads to his downfall, and that famous MF intensity never wanes. ( I just noticed he bears a resemblance to Sting. Interesting. :))

Still, the movie belongs to lead actress Kelly Reilly ( who also appeared in Pride & Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes ). She does the plucky heroine routine well, and the teenage cast is top-notch.

My review isn't doing it the justice it deserves. Eden Lake is much more than what's written here. Every viewer will react differently, and the film will occupy your thoughts way after the end credits stop rolling.

Next, Centurion, which I watched earlier this week.

Not well-executed, but recommended for MF fans.
He plays a Roman centurion on the run with fellow soldiers, as they're relentlessly pursued by a group of savage Picts.
Again, MF excels as an action star, this time wielding giant swords and smashing skulls with aplomb. But for some strange reason, his unwavering gaze receives a lot of attention here. Is it due to the lighting, the makeup, or the director's discretion? Either way, I enjoy it very very much. :)

Now, a series of glamour shots, obtained from a Google images search. There're many to choose from, but the first ( and the last ) is especially engrossing, thanks to my obsession with hands.

And MF has 2 of the most gorgeous ones I've ever seen. Loooong, tapering fingers are right up my alley. :)

An interesting pic featuring a motorcycle - though I much prefer him in suits sans grunge.

If the Jane Eyre makeup artist had been any good, Mr. Rochester would've looked like this!

And mark my words, someday ( and soon ), MF will play a monarch. And he will make all the women swoon at his feet. :)

Need a napkin for my drool. :D

Friday, June 03, 2011

Review Of X-Men: First Class

**spoilers beware**

**spoilers beware**

**spoilers beware**

[ Note: site links are highlighted in bold blue font. ]

Followers of my Twitter and Facebook accounts would, by now, be apprised of my high praise for this film. If my effusive comments prompted you to watch it, I hope you're happy that you did. :)

I'm no comic book fan, but having seen all 4 preceding X-Men blockbusters, with each successive movie worse than the one before it, I had high hopes for this "reboot", mostly because its 2 leads, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, like their older counterparts Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, are respected thespians capable of adding dignity to any film project they undertake.

My expectations were also elevated further by the eye-popping trailers and positive early reviews following its premiere screening last week.

Now that other critiques are pouring in ( check out Rotten Tomatoes for a quick summary ), I'm happy to note that the majority of opinions remains favourable, with only a small number of negative contributions. Although I must admit I was taken aback by Time magazine's Richard Corliss' grumpy assessment. He's usually quite spot-on, but perhaps not this time.

Here's the funny thing about me: I can be a huge stickler when it comes to historical accuracy, but allow film-makers ample liberties when other mitigating factors come into play.

In this case, the Cuban missile crisis has evil mutants yanking the puppet strings, culminating in a climactic showdown involving opposing groups of mutants, the Russian and U.S. naval fleets, and some major mind-blowing action on the high seas. ( More on this later. )

There's much to like if you can get past that initial hurdle, i.e. suspending your disbelief for just 2 short hours. Most importantly, the cast is superb. You can't go wrong with a McAvoy-Fassbender combo ( their first on-screen collaboration, with more to come in the confirmed sequel ), and there's strong support from Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Hoult.

Bacon, whose career I've followed for almost 30 years, since his Footloose dancing days, is an interesting choice for mega-villain Sebastian Shaw, a mutant who harnesses high levels of energy for diabolical purposes, and whose connection to Magneto is a driving force in this story.
It's interesting because Bacon isn't known for playing bad guys, much less a bad guy of this magnitude, in an X-Men movie no less.
I thought he did a very good job - menacing without being over-the-top, very stylish in attire and gait ( that famous swagger is still there :)), holding his own among the younger, gorgeous cast members.

Byrne and Hoult deserve special mention for their understated performances as a CIA agent and Hank McCoy / Beast respectively. You may remember Byrne from Troy and Damages, as well as the current release, Insidious. Hoult, on the other hand, cut his teeth playing precocious young teens in About A Boy and A Single Man, before a massive growth spurt rendered him almost unrecognizable.

Both characters aren't fully fleshed out, but are the most likeable and memorable, in my opinion at least. There's a lot going on in this film, and quite a few of the bit players get lost in the whole spectacle.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Raven / Mystique, is given ample screen time in key scenes with both McAvoy and Fassbender, but still fails to win me over. I saw her in Winter's Bone - it bored me to death, rave reviews be damned - and remain unimpressed.

January Jones as Emma Frost also left me cold. I don't know if she was attempting to play up her character's icy quality, but her acting was painfully wooden.
She will, however, no doubt be fantasized about by millions, thanks to her outrageously campy wardrobe.
I'm particularly fond of one movie critic's description of her as a "giant disco ball". You know, when she whips out that impenetrable diamond shell. Pretty cool. :)

Which leaves the 2 leads.

First, McAvoy. Perfectly cast as the highly intelligent and kind Charles Xavier, he adds sparkle by showing Professor X's fun, flirtatious side. Before he became wheelchair bound ( the circumstances are revealed in a tragic sequence that is wonderfully executed ), he was a skirt-chaser like any normal, heterosexual young man - imagine that! :)
I've seen enough of his work to recognize his distinct style - that unmistakeable laugh, the twinkle in his blue eyes, an impish grin, effortlessly switching to emotional intensity and tears on cue.
His portrayal of Charles is warm and regal, a kindly mentor and fearless leader. Sadly though, he doesn't have that much high-octane stuff to do, spending quite a lot of his time on-screen with a couple of fingers delicately pressed to his temple, frowning like he's constipated.

Now, on to the undeniable star of this summer vehicle, namely Fassbender.

It's actually rather ironic that his name comes second in the credits, and that McAvoy, not him, was cast first. Because X-Men: First Class appears to devote its best material to Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto, giving Fassbender ample opportunity to show off.
And show off he does. In the most beautiful ways. :)

Where do I start? How about the James Bond homage, where Erik travels to exotic locales to hunt down Nazi war criminals, employing creative torture and execution methods? Or maybe that scene where Erik attempts to capture Shaw on his yacht, ripping a long metal chain through the vessel like a madman?
Then there's the mind-bending finale, as Erik first heaves a giant submarine out of the ocean, then singlehandedly halts a whole slew of high-velocity missiles in their tracks, before gleefully waving them back to their sources.

Anyone notice Fassbender's got exquisite hands? One of my fetishes, sorry. :)

My personal favourites:

1) Erik's surprisingly subdued farewell to Shaw, by pushing a Third Reich coin gently through the latter's skull.

2) And easily the best part of the entire movie: Erik, with Charles' guidance, learns to unlock the strength of his power, using it to ( get this ) turn a humongous satellite dish.
Unfortunately, the clip isn't available on YouTube, and words don't do it justice. But it is, IMHO, the film's most poignant 5 minutes, revealing not just the depth of friendship and trust between the 2 men, but also highlighting Erik's bottomless pit of personal pain.

Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I am officially awed by both actors. :D

Many have already predicted great things in Fassbender's future, with critics recommending him as a worthy successor to the James Bond franchise should Daniel Craig decide to retire.
I fully support that motion! Consider this Fassbender's unofficial audition for the iconic role. :)

[ You may notice I've added him to my list of favourite actors, debuting at a very high #4. Sadly, John Cusack needs to be reshuffled. His recent career choices have not served him well. ]

Hats off to director Matthew Vaughn, who helms the film with great skill. The big scenes are expertly handled, allowing maximum thrills without causing confusion. The quieter ones are equally riveting, a good example being the chess game played by Charles and Erik as they discuss their differing worldviews.
I keep hearing fantastic things about his other movie, Kick-Ass. Must download it and watch ASAP!

Kudos to the screenwriters ( a team that includes original X-Men director Bryan Singer ) for what I consider a terrific job with the script. It isn't perfect ( I can pick out a few glaring loopholes ), but considering the immense number of characters being juggled amid the chaos, the final product stayed coherent and convincing enough. Some great lines in there, especially between Charles and Erik.

Last but not least, the awesome soundtrack, by a composer I'm hearing about for the first time, named Henry Jackman. I pay close attention to the music every time I watch a show, which is precisely how I discovered John Powell and other rising stars. Check out the X-Men: First Class theme, accompanied by a cool montage.


p.s. If you're interested in another excellent film about the Cuban missile crisis ( this one's based on fact ), I highly recommend Thirteen Days. The Megavideo link works.

And since I'm going on leave starting this Sunday, I'll try to find time to post a review of another Fassbender movie I recently watched: Eden Lake, a low-budget British thriller that outdoes many Hollywood productions, and which is so disturbing it kept me up a few nights. No kidding.

Something else I'm VERY excited about: tickets for The Bridge Project's Richard III are finally available. This year, however, features priority booking for SRT Friends, which necessitates a donation. And I'm wondering if the size of that donation will determine what seat you're given. Argh!

Am hoping an insider I've been in touch with for some time will be able to help. Definitely don't want to sit all the way in the back!

Looking forward to seeing you back in Singapore soon, Mr. Spacey. :)

Also ( hopefully ) in the next entry: waxing lyrical about The Tudors season 3 & 4. Have been watching this almost everyday. It's bloody addictive!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Week In Review

After boycotting American Idol season 10 for a week, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to watch the final 2 episodes.

I definitely had very high hopes for this bunch. There was a lot of talent ( except for Paul McDonald, whom I consider the biggest fluke ever. ), but voters were inconsistent, especially in their treatment of Casey Abrams.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. He's the best of the lot, and deserved to be in the finals. The only other contestant I deem a worthy contender is James Durbin.

As Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson have said countless times: this is a singing competition. Instead, AI10 has turned into some weird popularity contest, and I can bet the new Facebook voting option ( which allows up to 50 votes per person ) resulted in tweens and teens staying glued to their computers / iPhones / iPads, frantically clicking away.

How else to explain the freakish success of the mediocre? Lauren Alaina has a voice, but Pia Toscano beat her hollow before being unceremoniously eliminated early in the competition.

And Scotty McCreery? I fail to understand the appeal. He looks very ordinary, sounds bland, and lacks charisma. I'm sure he's a nice, innocent young man, but winner of the AI title? Nah...

I'm sure Lauren and Scotty will gain confidence and maturity with time. But will they be lucky enough to attain Carrie Underwood's degree of success? Something tells me they probably won't.

Always rooting for Casey and James. I hope they get recording deals and outsell the 2 finalists. :)

Are you excited about X-Men: First Class, due for worldwide release on June 3rd? Can't believe I didn't post a picture till now.

The star-studded cast includes Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, and Jennifer Lawrence ( Best Actress Oscar nominee from True Grit, in case you're wondering ), but none of them compares to the 2 leads, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender ( pictured ).

McAvoy fans will know him well from The Last King Of Scotland, Atonement, Becoming Jane and Wanted ( I own many of his films on DVD :)). When I first learned he landed the role of the young Professor X, I was practically swooning. Because it's one of the coolest superhero roles ever, and this fine actor is perfect for pulling it off.

If the special effects don't swallow him up, I'm prepared to be awed by his talent once again. I predict a sensitive yet strong performance, peppered with heart-pounding action sequences that show off his physicality in the best possible way ( remember his turn in Wanted? I love that movie! :)).

Someone I'm watching closely - already mentioned in the previous entry - is, of course, Michael Fassbender. This being perhaps his biggest role yet, I hope he does well so it will lead to even better offers in the future.
After remaining just under the radar for years ( audiences might have noticed him in Inglourious Basterds, but didn't catch his name ), this could be his breakthrough performance, and he definitely has an edge over McAvoy with his tall lanky frame and movie star looks. But Jane Eyre isn't his best moment. Blame the makeup artist.

Last but not least, the movie poster for Tintin! I don't know about you, but I think it's fabulous. :D

Short post. Am still in the midst of a bad week, and nursing a painful mouth ulcer.

Friday, May 20, 2011


It's been 3 weeks since the last blog entry and of course, lots has happened.
The General Election revealed major cracks in certain constituencies which were considered sure-wins for the ruling party, and the Workers' Party secured a coup in Aljunied.

PAP supporters may hail the overall result as favourable, but considering the fact that the opposition contested many districts for the very first time, the proportion of votes for the latter was indeed significant. Even in Marine Parade, which is led by behemoth Senior Minister Goh, the PAP scraped by with only 57% of the total vote.
Not good...

In the subsequent weeks, there've been major reshuffles in the Cabinet, something I can never quite understand. For example, the Education Minister will now be in charge of Defence, and he's actually a breast surgeon by training. The ex-chief of the Monetary Authority of Singapore will take over at the Ministry of Education. Excuse me, but HUH???

And let's not forget the exit of our Senior Minister and Minister Mentor. However, I have a gut feeling it's all for show. We can imagine what happens behind closed doors, especially when the ex-MM is the PM's father. These people don't have normal dinner conversations like the rest of us, okay?

Anyway, we shall see how the new arrangement pans out.

On to more lighthearted topics.
This poster is for an upcoming comedy due for release in July, starring Kevin Spacey. Check out the cool trailer here.

The only cast member who looks out of place is Jennifer Aniston. Playing a sadistic maneater dentist with a penchant for phallus-shaped food. Err, yuck?

I fully expect Mr. Spacey to outshine everyone. Nobody matches him in the nasty-boss character department. Perfect example: Buddy Ackerman in Swimming With Sharks. My favourite KS role ever!

I do, however, like Jason Bateman a lot. Since his Hogan Family days on TV, in fact.

Looks like it's going to be one big rollercoaster ride. Will it come to Singapore?

Watched the much-hyped Jane Eyre last night at the newly renovated Lido cineplex. There were only approximately 100 seats in the theatre, but with lots of leg room. Audience comprised mostly middle-aged Caucasian couples and locals in their 20s or 30s. A generally well-behaved crowd except for 2 idiots seated behind me, who giggled during almost every scene, but shut up when I loudly told my irritated mother, "They're probably DRUNK!" :)

So does the film live up to my expectations? Definitely not. This is a problem when I read movie reviews. I start getting extremely excited and prepare to be blown away, only to be disappointed. But I'm not saying it was a bad show. Just that it wasn't quite worthy of all the praise it received.

The cast is very respectable. Mia Wasikowska, who became a household name in Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, has made some interesting choices since her big debut, recently in Oscar darling The Kids Are All Right. My cousin's 15-year-old daughter also happens to be her doppelganger, albeit with Asian features. I'm not kidding. :)

There's also Judi Dench, whose dignified presence is always dependable. And Jamie Bell is another favourite of mine, after his breakthrough performance in Billy Elliot ( the movie, not the musical ).

But the actor I was most eager to see was Michael Fassbender ( pictured above ), someone whose name didn't really register though he played a memorable role in Inglourious Basterds ( he looks fabulous in military attire :)), but who impressed enough in the Jane Eyre trailer to make me leave my home on a weekday and drive downtown to catch a late night screening.

I deliberately avoided YouTube clips of cast interviews, though I enjoyed the trailers immensely ( Gothic horror, wooo! ). It was the right decision, since I just found out he isn't British ( watch this clip ). Don't know about the rest of you, but this would've spoiled the whole experience for me.

IMHO, the only reason anyone should see a TV / film adaptation of Jane Eyre is Mr. Rochester. Same goes for Mr. Darcy in Pride And Prejudice. Casting this role is vital to the production's success, and in this respect, I believe Fassbender excels.

He may not be as handsome as I had hoped ( makeup artist, hello? ), but his performance is sufficiently tormented, even if his chemistry with co-star Wasikowska is rather lacking. The pivotal scene where Jane tells Rochester she is leaving Thornfield is meant to be heart-wrenching, with the latter tearfully begging her to stay.

Fassbender handles this beautifully, though again, I felt some discomfort seeing him and the very young Wasikowska locked in a tight embrace.

Perhaps other scenes are more palatable, and I am confident I will enjoy the film after watching it a few more times ( same thing happened with Pride & Prejudice ). Check out this clip. And how about this one? Fassbender's "You transfix me quite." is simple, yet enough to make one's heart race. I love Victorian love stories. :)

So how does the lead actress fare? I think she does a pretty good job considering her relative inexperience and the heaviness of the material. I believe she will improve further with time, the same way Natalie Portman did this past decade.

My biggest complaint, I suppose, is the editing. How much of it is the fault of director Cary Fukunaga versus film editor Melanie Oliver is anyone's guess. Condensing this particular novel into 2 hours is no mean feat. Remaking it for the 21st century audience is even tougher. Joe Wright did a marvelous job with Pride & Prejudice. Unfortunately, Jane Eyre does not live up to that standard.

Still, it isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours at the cinema, especially if you're a literature fan. And pay attention to the soundtrack, composed by Dario Marianelli ( also responsible for Pride & Prejudice and Atonement ).

Besides, I have another opportunity to see Fassbender in action soon, as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, with one of my fave actors, James McAvoy. Looking forward to that! :D

In the meantime, I'm going to rewatch his performance in Inglourious Basterds. Rakishly dashing as Lt. Archie Hicox, easily the best-looking male in the entire cast! Can't believe I didn't check his name in the credits. Here's a link that works. He appears at 64:30, continuing on to the superb, tense tavern scene. ( Sadly, Hicox dies. )

Cable has endless reruns. Shall record this the next time it airs. :)

I am highlighting this TV series because I watched it many years ago, when I was in primary or secondary school. Local stations used to broadcast BBC productions back then, and I loved it so much I bought the DVD recently. It is an EXCELLENT adaptation, mainly because of Timothy Dalton ( previously James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill ).

Regardless of how his career has nose-dived since his 007 heyday, I will always remember Dalton as one of the finest British actors around. I also consider him my favourite James Bond ( second fave: Daniel Craig :)).

Here's a YouTube clip of that pivotal scene I mentioned earlier. It is a million times more affecting than Fukunaga's version. Watch Dalton as he paces the room like a restless lion, breathless with anxiety and fear. Listen to his voice, thunderous then tremulous. See the tear trickle down his left cheek as he kisses his co-star, holding her tight against his chest.

If you don't want to buy the DVD, then watch the entire series in 10-minute installments, on YouTube. Your choice. :)

Before I sign off, a link to the official trailer for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, due for release this Christmas.

I love the comic book series. I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. I took The Lord Of The Rings tours when I visited New Zealand in 2003, and our guide drove us right past Jackson's home in Wellington. So yes, I will be watching this at the cineplex! :)