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!