Friday, December 21, 2012

Adios, 2012!

As the year draws to a close - and I still have a pulse despite all the doomsday predictions - it is time to do my annual review of the past 12 months, as I look forward to 2013.

It's been a good one for sure, though not as spectacular as 2011, which featured once-in-a-lifetime experiences with Kevin Spacey and David Foster, as well as a spectacular week of Broadway shows.

Still, 2012 was equally exciting in many ways, and here's a summary of the highlights:

Without a doubt, the best thing that happened to me this year is Jersey Boys! If you haven't bought tickets yet, PLEASE don't delay any further. This South African production is top-notch, with many who've seen the Broadway version reporting that they're equally impressed by this cast.

If you need another nudge, how about the fact that the 4 leads are unbelievably nice chaps? I've got an interview lined up, so keep your eyes peeled. :)

A close second is Pangdemonium's Spring Awakening, which I reviewed in February. It's bloody brilliant!

In third place, God Of Carnage.

Kudos in particular to Adrian Pang, whose production company staged Spring, and who also starred in GOC. I'm a huge fan. :)

The concert scene was jam-packed this year, and I was ecstatic when the opportunity to catch 2 of my favourite musicians came up. However, both gigs failed to live up to expectations.

Jason Mraz sang flawlessly at The Meadow, but an emotional connection with the audience was sorely missing. I don't know what the underlying reasons may be, but it came nowhere close to his power-packed 2009 performance at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and is way below his mind-blowing Singapore debut at the Esplanade in 2006.

I'm always grateful when he returns to our shores, but if the organizers stick him at The Meadow again next time, I'm going to have to give it a miss. So let's hope that doesn't happen!

Sting's Indoor Stadium concert on 13 December fared no better, personally speaking. Again, I am a long-time fan of his music, and had seen him twice previously, but that night, the audience was absolutely intolerable! I won't go into specifics, but in a nutshell, it was a nightmare.

Sting's vocals were impeccable, as always, and his band was super-slick. Sadly, the repertoire was a rehash of old hits, without much variation from his studio recordings or prior live renditions.

The emotional tone was also lacking, resulting in a conveyor belt-like feel to the proceedings. There's no question about his technical prowess and amazing stamina ( 22 songs in a row, no intermission! ), but I was really hoping for an acoustic set, as suggested by the tagline "Back To Bass".

David Foster's show was much more enjoyable in terms of audience behaviour and artistic performance. I had a such a great time! His annual birthday celebrations and gigs in Singapore have become a tradition, and I fervently hope he will bring either Josh Groban, Chris Mann or Clay Aiken in 2013.

No luck with formal meet and greets 3 years in a row. I hope to change that soon. :)

And speaking of Chris Mann, he is my favourite new artist for 2012! Loved him on The Voice season 2, and downloaded digital versions of his new albums the minute they became available.

By the way, he has 2 releases, not one. He may have come in 4th, but he is clearly doing extremely well. Congratulations, Chris, you deserve it!

I've listened to Roads, and am now moving on to Home For Christmas. Both are overflowing with beautiful tracks, mostly covers, but interpreted in the most inspiring ways, with that all-important ingredient - Chris' gorgeous voice.

I can't quite describe how wonderful he is, only that every note he sings puts a huge smile on my face. I can listen to this man forever. :)

2012 was also a fantastic year for movies. I've lost count of just how many there were, but my personal top 3 are Life Of Pi, The Hobbit and The Bourne Legacy.

p.s. I love Skyfall, but Jeremy Renner is hotter than Daniel Craig. It's true. :)

Click on the individual titles to read my film reviews.

Les Miserables may very well displace one of them. Am looking forward to watching it at the cineplex!

Next, TV shows.

Hands down, Suits is the champion. Granted, season 1 was only screened in Singapore in May, a year after it debuted in the U.S. But it... is... AWESOME. :D

So awesome I couldn't wait for season 2 on local cable ( which probably won't screen it till 2013 ). Thank God for the Internet!

Other worthy contenders: The Voice season 3, The Good Wife season 4, Hawaii 5-0 season 2 and American Horror Story Asylum.

My all-time favourite, Dexter, has lost its way a little with season 7, but remains in the top spot until the story finally concludes in season 8. The cliffhanger finale opted for emotional heft rather than shock tactics, and still almost gave me a heart attack.

Next year, please let Dexter find happiness at last. I won't be happy if he dies...!

True Blood season 5 was wacky as hell, but the cast has never been stronger, nor the chemistry more scorching. It also doesn't help that I had an odd but pleasant dream about Alexander Skarsgard a few nights ago. Can I have another? :)

Rising stars on the horizon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt ( robbed of an Oscar nomination for 50/50, and rumoured to be the next Batman, hmmm ), Richard Armitage ( glorious as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit ), Rick Hoffman in Suits, and Suraj Sharma in Life Of Pi.

Other events worth mentioning: a trip to breath-taking Switzerland; another to fabulous Japan; my cool new car ( I don't talk about it much, but 4 words are good enough :)); meeting the casts of Jersey Boys and Swimming With Sharks!

Things to look forward to in 2013: a couple more trips overseas; finally enrolling in an ultrasound course I waited more than a year for; hopefully, more great concerts and theatre experiences, maybe celeb meet and greets? :D

I've had a blast; hope you enjoyed 2012 as well.

( Am so glad the world didn't end. Not a fan of doomsday prophecies!)

My next entry may be in January. Thanks for reading, and click on this to see and hear something amazing. :)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit - A Review

My 4th entry in 2 weeks! And I thought 2012 would be a dry spell.

But being a movie buff, whenever something truly great comes along, I need to share it with others. :)

It's been a terrific year for movies, and The Hobbit is another in a long line of masterpieces. I'm a huge fan of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but only film-wise, since I never got round to reading the novels despite having them in my cupboard for eons.

I didn't read the prequel either, but it doesn't matter! Worried about the storyline not being grand enough? Yes, it isn't quite as perilous, but I didn't care!
And what about the dwarves? Not exactly the most popular characters around. Surprisingly, I love them! Even more than the LOTR heroes, who were already pretty cool ( e.g. Aragorn, Legolas ).

I've been reading up on the film in Empire magazine ( aka my movie bible :)). Perhaps it helped with the enjoyment factor, because at least I knew what was going on, and had a rather clear picture of each character's background.

I also kept an eye out for the hunky actors. :)

Here's one: Richard Armitage, who plays dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield. Thorin is, essentially, Aragorn's equivalent in this particular tale, but in my opinion, Armitage far exceeds Viggo Mortensen's intense performance in LOTR.

In fact, the former projects such a strong presence, he's probably the reason I had such a fantastic time. He eats up the screen whenever he appears, and even when he's not in a scene, you can't stop thinking about him and wishing he'd return ASAP.

He's also 1.88 metres tall! I'm still trying to wrap my head around that.

Back to the dwarves. I was never a fan of Gimli from LOTR, but absolutely LOVE the motley crew depicted here. Rest assured that you'll be able to pick out individuals easily based on appearance and personality, and will have a roaring good time as you join them on their adventures.

Personally speaking, I consider them fascinating characters when compared to humans and elves. Their various idiosyncracies and group dynamics are hilarious, yet when bravery is called for, they deliver 10 times more than anyone twice their size.

The action sequences are breath-taking! I don't think I've had such a massive adrenaline rush since Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol a year ago! The protagonists battle orcs, wargs, trolls and goblins in nail-biting sequences scattered throughout the movie. Every time you think you can relax, another conflict occurs, with exhilarating results.

These battles marked the turning point in my dwarf appreciation. They demonstrate the lengths to which the pint-sized humans will go to protect their own ( and sometimes, a fellow friend as well ). Gasp in awe as they charge into the fray, facing down giant trolls, vicious wargs and endless armies of orcs and goblins.

I also love how the dwarves' resourcefulness and ingenuity are highlighted, especially in a climactic chase through the goblins' mountain lair. Pay attention to the different methods they employ to escape. It's positively astounding! :)

Do not worry about the lack of a worthy opponent on par with LOTR's evil Sauron. There's a creepy segment where Radagast, the brown wizard, meets a malevolent entity called The Necromancer in an abandoned ruin named Dol Guldur. Made my hair stand!

Last but not least, Smaug the terrifying dragon will debut in Part 2 next year, after a sneek peek in the final seconds of An Unexpected Journey. I do hate cliffhangers sometimes!

However, the review wouldn't be complete without mentioning Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins. Jackson made it clear in many interviews that Freeman was always his first choice for the role, and he has chosen wisely indeed. I became acquainted with his work through the BBC's updated version of Sherlock, and think he's much more interesting and charming here.

There're remnants of John Watson's high-strung befuddlement, but Bilbo exhibits his own very unique personality, with many traits which add layers to the otherwise straightforward plot. Since I didn't read the novel, the many instances where Bilbo is at the crossroads and chooses the path we least expect makes for extremely compelling viewing. Whether every incident is faithful to the source material, I have no idea, but the end result is inspiring!

The Hobbit would be excellent for the young and impressionable set, but there're too many potentially traumatizing scenes, from decapitations to slit throats and dismemberment, not to mention all the scary monsters. Yet, at its heart is a beautiful message about never underestimating someone's potential, the unbreakable bond of friendship, and the ability to overcome adversity even when the odds seem stacked against you.

The last 30 minutes had me on the edge of my seat! And my bladder was practically bursting after the halfway mark, no thanks to the blasted air-conditioning which was set to Death Freeze mode.

It just shows how freaking amazing the film is, because I couldn't bring myself to leave the theatre, even for a second. Brace yourself for the 3-hour length, but I guarantee 100% that there will never be a dull moment.

Another 12 months till The Desolation Of Smaug. I hope the time will pass very quickly. :)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Life Of Pi - A Film Review

Many years ago, I read Yann Martel's award-winning novel and (gasp!) did not like it.

My feelings about this ranged from guilt and self-doubt to pure confusion. Over time, my impression of the story faded to a mere wisp of a memory.

When news about Lee Ang's movie adaptation surfaced, my first reaction was "Why?", followed by "How?", because the one thing I did remember about Life Of Pi was that it's impossible to translate to the big screen.

So why did I make it my mission to see it at the cineplex?

One: the AWESOME, jaw-dropping trailer, which was shown before a recent screening of Skyfall. There's this short segment with a killer whale leaping over Pi's boat, shimmering against the night sky, suspended in mid-air for what seems like an eternity.
I don't recall such a scene in the book. What page is it on?!

Two: Lee Ang. ( Yes, I believe in addressing him by his correct name rather than the reverse version favoured by Westerners. )
I've been a fan of his work for 20 years now, having watched his early films - The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman - before moving on to Sense And Sensibility; The Ice Storm; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain.
His track record has been spotty at times, but no-one can deny his immense versatility. If anybody could tackle Life Of Pi, it would be him.

The final result: an ASTOUNDING masterpiece filled with humour, poignance and imagery so stunning it brought tears to my eyes.

And get this - my mother, who dozed off during Skyfall ( Skyfall for pete's sake! ) was wide awake for the entire duration of Life Of Pi. She absolutely LOVED the movie. :)

There're numerous interpretations of the real meaning(s) behind this unconventional tale, and every viewer is entitled to his/her own opinions.

Philosophy isn't my strong point, but attempts at analyzing my overwhelmingly positive response to the film suggest an affinity with its religious themes.

I suspect that if I'd seen this more than 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been the slightest bit moved. Amused and entertained perhaps, but ultimately incapable of identifying with the main characters' turmoil.

And yes, there're 2 protagonists here, one of whom has no dialogue but is nevertheless larger than life. Pi may be the focus of everyone's attention, but Richard Parker, the magnificent Bengal tiger, is brought to vivid life through amazing computer-generated effects, and worthy of his own Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Rendered beautifully by Bill Westenhofer ( already an Oscar winner for The Golden Compass, and who also worked on The Chronicles Of Narnia ) and his fantastic team, RP is - for me at least - by far the story's most compelling figure.

Of course, we mustn't overlook Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenage Pi. It is indeed mind-boggling that this is his first role, because he is remarkably gifted. Remember Dev Patel, who shot to international fame with Slumdog Millionaire? That is nothing compared to Life Of Pi, in which Sharma acts with, well, thin air. When you consider this fact as you watch the movie unfold, you will truly appreciate the depth of his talent. Lee is, without a doubt, an expert director, but Sharma's performance is extraordinary, and I hope his future in acting will soar to even greater heights.

It's hard to pin down a specific source of enjoyment because there're just too many to count. A superb cast and memorable characters top the list, but Claudio Miranda's cinematography adds an additional magical quality, mixing vibrant colours with gorgeous shots of Mother Nature in all her glory.

The opening credits sequence - a serene montage that blends Mychael Danna's evocative Pi's Lullaby with scenes depicting a variety of exotic animals engaging in normal daily activities - is a wonderful prelude to the miracles that follow. Perhaps most viewers didn't think much of these few short minutes, but I was completely hypnotized.

Time to download the movie soundtrack! :)

My great love of Nature also adds to the enjoyment. Life Of Pi is packed with flora, fauna and an entire spectrum of climates ( terrifying storms, a dazzling rainbow, you name it ). Aside from the breath-taking tiger and whale, there're otherworldly jellyfish, an eye-popping flying fish attack, and - a personal fave - hordes of meerkats carpeting a vast forest floor as Pi carefully tiptoes his way through the sea of furry creatures.

Last but not least, the theme of religion. I, too, identify with Pi's soul-searching journey, having found Christianity in my mid-20s after a number of traumatic, life-altering events. I can't fully explain my experience in words, but I'm sure anyone who's ever felt conflicted about the existence of God in any form, who eventually found what s/he was looking for, or whose quest is far from over, will grasp the film's message and be enriched by it.

Every once in a long while, if you're lucky, you encounter something so awesome it either completely changes your worldview ( preferably for the better! ), or reinforces a conviction that you once thought was slipping through your fingers.

Life Of Pi, wondrous jewel that it is, accomplishes both feats simultaneously. It is moving and uplifting in both its quietest and grandest moments, far surpassing 2011's The Artist, matching The English Patient's epic scope as well as Dead Poets Society's intimacy.

It is likely to be 2012's best film and an Oscar front runner in early 2013.
I sincerely hope Lee Ang wins another Best Director honour. He really deserves it.

10/10. Do not miss. :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Jersey Boys - Flashback to 2007

Only 2 more days to go before I watch Jersey Boys at the Marina Bay Sands! Here's a fond memory I'd like to share, from my very first visit to New York 5 years ago. :)

Review of Jersey Boys, August Wilson Theatre, Broadway, New York City
October 17th 2007, Wednesday

Before the trip, I'd been doing a lot of research on the Broadway scene, but only got my first glimpse of Jersey Boys at the Emmy Awards show a few months ago, where the cast ( not from NYC though ) sang an energetic medley comprising classic hits Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and Who Loves You.

That was when I decided I just HAVE to watch the musical. Only problem was, Broadway has an, err, interesting ticket purchasing system, where brokers snap up all the good seats, then sell them at much higher prices. So the only way I could get something along the lines of the first few rows, dead centre, was to buy premium tickets, which cost upwards of US$300 a piece ( working out to S$450 ).

Yow. Too rich, even for me.

It was an intense battle between my brain and my heart -- the former didn't think it was worth it, but the latter had a gut feeling it was. In the end, however, the cerebrum won.

But not for long. Thanks to a stroke of beginner's luck at the slot machines in Vegas, Caesars Palace ended up paying for 2 premium tickets to JB, woohoo! :)

Just some background story on Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: there's a biography written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and the musical was first conceived sometime in 2003, before debuting in California to rave reviews, and eventually moving to Broadway, NYC, where it then scooped up the 2006 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Lead Actor in a Musical, among many other accolades.

Jersey Boys deftly combines all their Billboard hits with a witty and poignant script, casting excellent actors in the major roles, topping it off with terrific musical arrangements and beautifully choreographed numbers, resulting in what I can only describe as "magic in its purest form".

Of course, it helps if you're familiar with their songs and are a fan of '60s music, which my mom and I are.

JB opens with a high-energy rendition of Ces Soirees-La, which is essentially December 1963 ( Oh, What A Night ) done in French. It then cuts quickly to the early years, where self-proclaimed bad boy / mentor Tommy DeVito ( played fabulously by Christian Hoff ) lays the foundation for the tale to follow. He describes how he discovered Frankie's unique sound and powerful pipes at the tender age of 16, then proceeded to groom him for much greater things, initially playing in nightclubs, rehearsing in churches and hunting for the right 4th Season, the right manager, the right song, weathering loads of obstacles along the way yet never giving up hope.

They finally hit paydirt when they recruited Bob Gaudio ( played by superb tenor and Cary Elwes lookalike Daniel Reichard ), a prolific songwriter who was also inspired by Frankie's voice, which prompted him to remark, "I know I need to write for this voice."

What then followed was a long string of massive hits, from Sherry to Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, December 1963 ( Oh, What A Night ), My Eyes Adored You, Dawn ( Go Away ), Big Man In Town, Beggin', Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Fallen Angel, Rag Doll and Who Loves You.

The group eventually split, but reunited in spurts, most notably for a special performance when they were inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame just a few years ago.

They admit they were no angels, falling victim to gambling, divorce and other heartbreaks over the decades. But what remains is a solid friendship built from their childhood days, and loyalty which no form of adversity can ever destroy.

The script moves at a crackling pace, delivered in a strong New Jersey twang, so if you're not familiar with the accent, you'll get lost pretty quickly. Luckily, I've seen enough Hollywood mafia films to switch my brain to the right channel, so it was indeed a pleasure to be able to catch all the punchlines -- and there were many of them! :)

The sets are simple but eye-catching, featuring pop art designs, screen projections of New Jersey landscapes, and cool cameraman / TV viewer perspectives for sequences where the Seasons perform on American Bandstand. There's also an ingenious backstage view for Walk Like A Man, where the guys stand with their backs to us, facing a black screen as flashing lights go off ( mimicking cameras from fans or press in a simulated audience, or maybe just lots and lots of stage spotlights ).

But of course, the 4 leads are the highlights of the show, with John Lloyd Young doing an amazing job with his falsetto. Turns out he looks a lot younger than his age ( born in 1978, but looks like he's below 25 ), and could easily pass off as ( "Numb3rs" star ) David Krumholtz's brother, don't you agree? He blows the roof off the theater when he hits those impossible notes! I know he has a famous vocal coach helping him along, but still...! He is absolutely pitch perfect in a 'live' setting -- something we should all admire him for, considering the level of difficulty involved -- and displays great versatility as he switches from rock 'n roll to ballads, showcasing an incredible vocal range and crisp nuances in his deliveries.

I particularly enjoyed the slower pieces, like My Eyes Adored You, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, and Fallen Angel. Major goosebumps!

Christian Hoff is a hoot as Tommy DeVito, who's something of a wise guy crippled by multiple weaknesses but who's just too damn proud to admit it. He doesn't sing solo much, but more than makes up for it with his larger-than-life personality, grabbing you by the balls whenever he delivers a punchline with a poker face or simply stands there with a knowing smirk. What a great character!

Daniel Reichard, who plays songwriting wunderkind Bob Gaudio, is equally engaging, with his wide innocent eyes and smooth tenor voice. A memorable scene where Gaudio and Valli seal a "Jersey contract" with a straightforward handshake and zero paperwork ( it's honoured to this very day, more than 40 years later ) is one of my personal favourites.

And last but not least, there's J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi, who's somewhat quiet, but opinionated! A scene where all 4 Seasons voice their grouses turns into a riotous comedy when Massi suddenly stands up and lambasts DeVito for his stomach-churning bathroom habits. It's priceless!

If you've ever wondered what truly perfect casting entails, this is it. Young, Hoff, Reichard and Spencer come together in perfect harmony despite their varied looks and personalities, delivering top-notch performances without ever stopping for a breath ( okay, they rested a little during the 15-minute intermission ). Having done the same show almost daily for the past 2 years, the lines and songs come fast and furious without a hitch, but here're a few other surprises ( at least on October 17th ), which I will always treasure:

1) There were a few points during the course of the show, especially in the 2nd act, when the actors were visibly trying to suppress smiles, grins and outright laughs during the punchlines. Being in the centre of the 5th row afforded superb views of their facial expressions, and I loved every minute of it! This happened mostly with Young and Spencer, but also a little with Hoff and Reichard.
Young hid his smile by positioning his right hand strategically over his mouth and furrowing his brows in an attempt to appear serious, but I caught an upturned corner of his lips. Aww, how endearing! :)

2) During Can't Take My Eyes Off You, there's a short interlude when the brass section comes marching out on a balcony behind and above Young, while Reichard stands on the same balcony near the front of the stage, watching the performance.
I kept my eyes on both actors, and saw a HUGE grin spread across Young's face, before he glanced over at Reichard, who was also beaming.
This was clearly a very spontaneous moment, and I have no idea if anyone else saw it. It just shows how much they love what they're doing, and it honestly made my heart soar.

3) The audience that night was very appreciative, bestowing raucous applause and lots of whistling and cheering after every number. But these were most enthusiastic after the biggest hits ( Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off You ), and it's interesting how the actors responded, 'cos I was under the impression that they would've gotten used to such a reception by now.
But no! There were times when they genuinely looked shocked by it all, perhaps even slightly overwhelmed. This just illustrates how none of the fame has gone to their heads, a quality I find most admirable. :)

4) The performance of Cry For Me, when the 4 Seasons get together for the very first time, took my breath away! I was literally in heaven for 2 minutes, holding my breath! After they finished, I leaned over to my mom and said, "That was SO BEAUTIFUL!", only to hear a lady directly behind us say the exact same thing to her companion. Wow... :)

The Jersey Boys tickets are the most expensive ones I've ever purchased, but it is worth every single cent. I've always dreamed of watching a great Broadway musical, and I'm so glad this is my first. One of the perks of sitting in good seats is being able to make direct eye contact with the actors. Whether they actually remember any of our faces is beside the point ( I doubt they recall much, which is understandable ). But for the audience member, i.e. me, I made eye contact with every single one of them, and it was marvelous!

A major high point occurred during Young's delivery of Fallen Angel, a haunting ballad dedicated to Valli's daughter who died from a drug overdose at the tender age of 22. Young was seated on a bench with his back to the hall, then he slowly turned as he sang the opening verse, sweeping his eyes over the first few rows, before resting them ( and I swear this happened ) somewhere in my vicinity.
Again, I'm not assuming he registered anything as he looked my way, but from where I was sitting, it was an unforgettable moment, and the fact that this song is so beautiful made the experience completely surreal. Wonderful. :)

The rousing finale was rewarded with a standing ovation which spilled over into a refrain of December 1963, with the guys dancing and clapping along with us. It was just one gigantic party in there, woohoo!

After the show, I contemplated hanging around the stage door to get autographs, but nobody seemed interested in staying back, with everyone rushing into cabs or subways, or running to nearby restaurants and hotels. My mom didn't feel comfortable with the thought of us being left behind all alone, so I had to relent and return to the hotel pronto. Sigh, a missed opportunity indeed.

Anyway, Young will leave JB come November 22nd, moving on to new projects, no doubt. But the show will go on for many many years, so if you're ever in the USA, you can check the Internet for venues and schedules, 'cos it's playing in a few different states. I just don't know whether other casts can capture the same spirit and energy, even if the singing and dancing are up to par.

Before I end this entry, here're a few quotes from critics to whet your appetite. If you're into the Four Seasons or even just '60s music, and want to know what real magic feels like, Jersey Boys is for you.

"Too good to be true! Jersey Boys is terrific -- a show dynamically alive in music, while as a drama, it catches the very texture, almost the actual smell, of its time." -- Clive Barnes, New York Post

"The crowd goes wild! I mean the real crowd at the August Wilson Theatre, who seem to have forgotten what year it is or how old they are, or, most important, that John Lloyd Young is not Frankie Valli. And everything that leads up to the curtain call feels as real and vivid as the sting of your hands clapping together." -- Ben Brantley, The New York Times

"A fast-moving script electrified by most of the group's greatest hits. Energetically weaving story, songs, visuals and performances, Des McAnuff stages a compelling rush of events that pauses only occasionally to savor the beauty of the songs." -- Michael Sommers, The Star-Ledger

"The most exciting musical Broadway has seen in years." -- Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune

"Jersey Boys should run for about twenty years! The songs -- and you'll be amazed how many hits there are -- are all flawlessly delivered. It's the music that counts, and the music is sheer joy!" -- Jacques le Sourd, The Journal News

"It will run for centuries." -- Richard Corliss, Time magazine

Thank you, guys, for a magnificent evening that lifted our spirits and made us believe we were back in the '60s watching the REAL Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. What a tour de force! I will most definitely see it again when I return to New York, or if it's ever staged in Singapore! :D

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Skyfall, Emily Owens and American Horror Story Asylum

If you haven't watched this yet, spoilers beware!

I give Skyfall a 10/10, but others may disagree.

Allow me to qualify my rating - I've seen many James Bond films featuring Connery, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan. Movies appeal to personal tastes, so feel free to debate.

Timothy Dalton used to be my favourite Bond until Daniel Craig took over and revamped the sagging franchise. I thought nothing could ever top Casino Royale - how wrong I am. :)

I also never imagined Sam Mendes at the helm of a 007 movie, yet here he is, delivering a blockbuster that is filled with nail-biting, inventive action sequences, as well as inspired casting, superb performances and excellent writing.

I won't dwell too much on the rooftop motorcycle chase, train crashes and shootouts. Rather, did anyone notice the locomotive scene where Bond leaps off a bulldozer into a carriage, then nonchalantly adjusts his cuff? It's prominently featured in the trailer, but I wanted to point it out because I remember reading about it in Empire magazine, and it really does embody the essence of 007 - full of physicality, but still ( a little absurdly ) mindful of his personal grooming at all times.

Bond dons a suit for almost the entirety of Skyfall, which further reinforces my observation.

What I find most enjoyable are the quieter scenes: Bond conversing with femme fatale Severine ( played by the ravishing Berenice Marlohe, whose beauty made me salivate - and I'm straight! ); Bond's art museum rendezvous with Q ( portrayed with a mischievous twinkle by an adorable Ben Whishaw ); psychopathic villain Silva's chilling confrontations with Bond and M ( Javier Bardem like you've never seen him before ); and finally, a peek into Bond's past as he travels to his childhood home in a desperate attempt to keep M safe.

The film clocks in at 2.5 hours but I never felt it. Well, my bladder needed some relief at the halfway mark, but other than that, I didn't want the fun to end.

I believe Kevin Spacey was the first choice for the role of Silva, but had to decline because of his commitment to The Bridge Project's Richard III. I do hope he'll get a second chance. He excels at playing villains. :)

And some are clamouring for Christopher Nolan to direct a Bond movie ASAP. A brilliant idea!

I'm told Craig has signed on for 2 more installments, but when he's due to retire, Michael Fassbender had better be at the top of the list of successors. I can't think of anyone else more suitable. :)

After suffering a severe drought, a decent medical TV series may be emerging. Forget about nonsensical fluff like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Royal Pains - Emily Owens MD may be able to revive a dying genre in need of urgent resuscitation.

It took me 3 episodes to get into the groove. Was admittedly skeptical of the first 2 - typical young intern starting work, getting into trouble, having relationship problems, saving lives solo ( the seniors are NEVER around during a code? - what a load of crap! ).

Emily Owens isn't perfect, of course. Networks seem to think the majority of female doctors are either bimbos, sluts or bitches, and the stereotypes are in abundance here. What makes it a cut above the rest is lead actress Mamie Gummer ( Meryl Streep's daughter, note the remarkable resemblance ) - while it's true that Owens is socially awkward and seems to have way too much free time to chat up her patients, Gummer plays her with just the right balance of quirkiness and intelligence so the character never completely veers off the deep end of realism. Teeters on the edge, yes. But at least she stays there.

The supporting cast starts off a little over-eager, but settles down nicely by episode 3. Group dynamics move smoothly, and Gummer's chemistry with male co-stars Justin Hartley and Michael Rady crackles and pops. ( FYI, I'm rooting for Rady's underdog senior resident. :))

Rest assured that life-threatening scenarios are in abundance, and the interns always manage to save the day. However implausible that sounds, I'm on board for the ride thanks to Gummer and the rest of the cast. Looking forward to the rest of season 1!

Last on the list is American Horror Story Asylum, aka season 2.

Following a critically acclaimed season 1, the follow-up takes place in a mental hospital during the 1960s. Racial discrimination abounds, homosexualism is considered an illness, and psychiatric patients are subjected to various forms of abuse without clear cause or authoritative oversight.

Jessica Lange is back, this time as a deranged nun whose past includes a career in prostitution. Evan Peters also returns as an inmate convicted of brutally murdering several women, though his memories consist of alien abductions and medical experimentation. James Cromwell plays against type, portraying a perverted doctor who harbours sexual fantasies about a pretty young nun and commits heinous acts in his basement office, while Zachary Quinto impresses as one of the few sane characters around - a state-appointed psychiatrist who attempts to uncover the atrocities he suspects are being committed.

Creator Ryan Murphy's twisted mind should not be under-estimated. I love his early work ( i.e. Nip/Tuck ), and AHS Asylum is far better than season 1. Episode 2 features an exorcism scene which scared the crap out of me - no mean feat, considering my high threshold for horror. It isn't the body count or gore that gets to you, but the extreme discomfort presented in each situation that's disturbing. Trust the writers and cast to pull it off with such conviction. Truly television at its depraved best.

Closest rival at present: Dexter. :)

By the way, if you're interested in reading my review of David Foster's recent concert, it's at this link.

More next time...

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Switzerland - Part 1 / TV Show Updates

I returned to Singapore 9 days ago, and proceeded to suffer for the next 5 days from severe jet lag, headache and nausea.

It sounds terrible, I know, but here's the thing: the tour itself was great, but the after-effects felt like withdrawal symptoms.

The jet lag was surprising. If I can adjust to 12-hour time zone differences ( U.S. ), 6 hours ( Switzerland ) should be a breeze.

I think this particularly bad phase has a significant contribution from the acclimatization process. When you're exposed to 5 degree Celsius weather daily for 2 weeks, getting hit with 32 degrees, plus haze and oppressive humidity, can't be good for you.

The other unexpected post-holiday reaction: extreme depression upon starting work. This has NEVER happened post-vacation before, not even when I loathed coming back home from France, which I LOVE to death. That year, I was practically euphoric when I stepped into the ER after 3 weeks away. This time, I felt like killing myself. I'm not joking.

I've been trying to figure this out, without success. But looking through the photos I took ( like this one of Lake Lucerne ), I guess despite not experiencing as much passion for Switzerland as I did for France, there may be some underlying emotion that I'm unaware of, which then bubbled to the surface upon coming home.

Weird, yes. And it had BETTER NOT happen again. I can't take it!

Another lovely feature of Switzerland aside from its breath-taking scenery and relaxed pace of life: minimal noise.

Even in the major cities - Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne - I don't recall hearing much in terms of traffic or human chatter. My mom even commented today that she doesn't remember any screaming babies or children. Strange, eh?
So I guess the noise factor is also related to my post-trip pain. The decibel levels in Singapore are atrocious!

The 2nd photo is of Lake Brienz, where we made a very brief stop to stretch our legs and do a bit of shopping. This shot turned out to be one of the best from the entire tour, even though the actual place wasn't that spectacular.

But I really love this picture. It illustrates perfectly everything I enjoyed about the trip - nature in all its splendour and serenity, inviting you to sit and marvel in awe at God's creations.

I definitely felt very close to Him, especially when our coach went weaving through mountains and valleys, or when we stayed at inns perched at high altitudes, and mountains greeted us every time we stood at our window.

My favourite is, without a doubt, Grindelwald. But more on that in a later entry. :)

Here's another photo I especially love, also from Brienz. You had to be there to appreciate the moment fully. I happen to have a weakness for water fowl, and when they're present in large numbers, I can stand there watching them forever.

Ahh, it was such a beautiful morning. I shall never forget it. :D

Part 2 will follow soon.

Something else that's dear to my heart: Dexter Morgan.

Season 7 premiered in the U.S. on 30 September, and thanks to the Internet, I've been able to catch 2 episodes just hours after they aired.

It is, hands down, my favourite TV series ever. Sure, it's had ups and downs, but no other character appeals to me more, and I hope Michael C. Hall wins an Emmy soon before the show ends after season 8.

It's hard to top season 4, which won guest actor John Lithgow a well-deserved Emmy for his role as a vicious serial killer, and provided some of television's most nail-biting plot developments.

Season 7 has a rather jerky start after season 6's jaw-dropping cliffhanger, but according to People magazine, things pick up after episode 4, so I'm looking forward to that!

Apart from the TV series, I'm also an ardent fan of Jeff Lindsay's novels, which are completely different from the small-screen adaptation ( only season 1 comes close ). Each medium offers different rewards - the books are hilarious, but glaring loopholes abound. The TV show is thus superior, thanks in large part to Hall's spot-on portrayal of a complex character, adding more layers with each new season.

In fact, I love Dexter so much I keep wishing he'd find a soulmate so he can vanquish all his inner demons and finally lead a normal life. No more fun for us viewers, but his happiness is much more important!

Dexter's relationship with his foster sister, Deb ( played beautifully by Jennifer Carpenter ), was veering toward the romantic ( though one-sided ) on TV, but remains purely platonic in the books. I'm a little ambivalent about this, but considering the fact that Hall and Carpenter used to be married, it's nothing short of amazing how convincing their on-screen performances are. No animosity at all - trust me, I'm scrutinizing their every move haha. Someone give them their Emmys already!

God I love this show. :D

Another big fave - The Good Wife. Followed this from season 1, and it just keeps getting better and better. That said, many series tend to peak in season 3 or 4, so I'm not sure if the writers can keep this up. I certainly hope so. :)

The cast has always been the big draw for me, but 2 episodes into season 4, it's clear that the writing team is upping its game tremendously. The cases are riveting, but the banter is top-notch. And let's not forget the subplots, ranging from the law firm's financial troubles ( $60 million, no less ) and Alicia Florrick's ( Julianna Margulies ) complicated marital issues, to her husband's heated run for Governor ( challenged by the deliciously sinister Matthew Perry, aka Chandler from Friends ) and law firm P.I. Kalinda's S&M-tinged entanglements with her terrifying husband.

Also, the cast is one of the most uniformly good-looking I've ever seen. Margulies is 46 but has never been more glamourous, and the men ( Chris Noth, Matt Czuchry, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming ) are all actors whose work I've followed for many years, and they age magnificently.

Please, if you aren't watching The Good Wife yet, this is the time to start!

A couple of new programmes to highlight, the first being Elementary. Also 2 episodes in, and I'm hooked. The main reason is Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Sherlock Holmes with a jittery, wild-eyed anxiety that works surprisingly well. Forget about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's dry mysteries, Robert Downey Jr's heroics and Benedict Cumberpatch's regal disdain. I'm a fan of RDJ's modern take, but JLM is sexier, radiates far more intelligence ( and at least makes sense, in contrast to BC's incomprehensible ramblings ), and demonstrates the most vulnerability ( undergoing drug rehab; father never visits but instead hires a paid companion for him; has a strange fear of playing the violin, his face contorting with pain at the mention of the instrument ).

By the way, JLM played the leader of a serial killer gang in Dexter season 5. He was FANTASTIC. :)

My sole grouse about Elementary: the honestly inappropriate casting of Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson.
First, she looks like a pure Chinese, so what's with the ang-moh name?
Second, Liu is famous for firecracker roles ( Ally McBeal, Charlie's Angels, Shanghai Noon ). Watson is too calm, too dour, too withdrawn. Is she going to be like this for the entire series?
Third, the 'companion' plotline is ludicrous. I'm quite open-minded about stupid or insane stories as long as they're fun and well-written ( e.g. Dexter, Suits, American Horror Story ), but a skilled surgeon giving up her medical career to become a babysitter? Come on...

No matter. I will continue to tune in for JLM alone. The crimes are nowhere as challenging as those in Law & Order, The Closer, The Good Wife or The Practice, but I'm hopeful that things will improve.

Besides, JLM takes his shirt off quite regularly. Sherlock has an older brother, Mycroft. Will he appear at some point? Will he be equally hot? :)

The last of the new shows I'd like to rave about is Major Crimes. A spin-off from The Closer ( which I love immensely ), it has kept most of the cast intact, with a few new additions in the form of Mary McDonnell ( lead character Sharon Raydor, above in the grey jacket and blue skirt ) and Graham Patrick Martin ( as key witness and troubled teen Rusty Beck, on the extreme right ).

Already at episode 8, the series received a lukewarm response when it premiered immediately after The Closer ended ( 7 successful seasons, mind you ). And I admit I wasn't pleased either. Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson was widely acclaimed ( scoring Emmy nods ) and a veritable firecracker, while McDonnell plays Raydor with a whispery voice and unflappable demeanour. Johnson had a propensity for losing her temper and banging tables during interrogation; Raydor rarely bats an eyelid at anything.

Here's where Martin plays an important part. Rusty was introduced in the series finale of The Closer, portraying a hustler whose run-in with a serial killer placed him under protective police custody. Initially cared for by Johnson, her departure from the major crimes division for personal reasons results in Rusty being transferred to Raydor.

What seemed like an irrelevant subplot has transformed into a huge revelation. Rusty's misfortunes make him highly suspicious and rebellious, yet as time passes, his bond with Raydor deepens in a heartwarming manner which is thoroughly believable.

Episode 7 made me reach for multiple tissues when Raydor located Rusty's biological father and the latter misinterpreted her kind gesture as an attempt to get rid of him. There's a tense exchange as Rusty's insecurities escalate into sheer panic, and Raydor is obviously distressed by his meltdown. This is the first time Rusty lets down his guard and shows his true age ( only 16 ), with Raydor uncharacteristically losing her composure as well. Truly heart-breaking, and GREAT TV!

Martin's 20, but still looks like a kid. I predict great things ahead in his acting career if he makes the right choices.

Thanks for reading this long entry. Was feeling inspired. Another effect from the Swiss trip? :)

To conclude, a photo dedicated to pure indulgence ( haven't done that in a while ). You know who it is, right? Smack yourself on the head if you don't. Heh. :D

Till next time...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Swimming With Sharks Review

VERY good indeed. :)

Hope I can post an entry about my recent trip to Switzerland. Once I get over the jet lag and headache / nausea induced by the awful local weather, blech.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


This will probably be the only entry for the month, so here're 3 topics for discussion.

HBO series The Newsroom has received a lot of flak since its debut a few months ago. And I mean A LOT. A description that comes up quite often is "sanctimonious". But honestly, I don't comprehend where all this negativity is coming from.

I've been riveted since it premiered on local cable in July. Does it have flaws? Yes. To list a few - regular segments of over-the-top acting ( most glaringly from Dev Patel - someone needs to ask him to tone it down a little ); the occasional pompous line about how great journalists are (usually courtesy of Will McAvoy ); a little too much attention on a certain love triangle ( someone help me understand Maggie's appeal, 'cos I still think Jim is way too good for her ).

Sounds bad? It all depends. I've boycotted shows for much less, but continue to watch The Newsroom religiously for a number of good reasons:

1) Jeff Daniels - as lead character, Will McAvoy, Daniels is superb. Acid-tongued, sharp-minded, with acrobatic verbal skills that put even the Gilmore Girls cast to shame, this role deserved an Emmy nomination but didn't get one. A massive travesty!

2) Will McAvoy - the actor is amazing, but the character is one of the best I've seen on TV. I like to compare him to Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer, who's also tough, opinionated and damn good at her job.
But like all compelling figures, a vulnerable soul lurks beneath the hard exterior, and Will's insecurities are exposed surprisingly early, with more nuggets revealed as the show progresses.

The big ones tend to revolve around personal relationships ( actually, don't they all? ), but a few tip their hats to journalism as well.

I'm particularly fond of Will's comment: "I'm tired of people telling me [being cheated on] is a just-get-over-it situation. You don't know what that's like in my head." A kindred spirit! I know EXACTLY how he feels. :)

3) John Gallagher, Jr / Jim Harper - Gallagher won a Tony for playing Moritz in Broadway's Spring Awakening. It's one of my favourite musicals of all time, so woohoo! :)

I ADORE Jim. Sure, there's a lovesick puppy in most TV series, but Gallagher deftly handles the emotional depth, and shows quite a flair for comedy too.

Think George from Grey's Anatomy. I LOVE George!

4) Aaron Sorkin - whatever the critics are saying about his work on The Newsroom, don't listen to them. I honestly don't have a clue why they're so pissed off.

Okay, OTT lines aside, the gems far outnumber the duds. There's a tonne of witty banter packed into each hour-long episode. Sentences spoken at machine-gun speed, quoting statistics, C-SPAN, pop culture, etc.

But the memorable ones? When they come, you'd better be paying attention.

Will: Balance is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with truth, logic or reality.

Charlie ( Sam Waterston ): I thought you got where you were by being fearless.
Leona ( Jane Fonda ): I got where I am by knowing who to fear.

5) The stories - again, critics aren't happy that Sorkin based his writing on events which have already occurred. Again, I ask, what's the big freaking deal?

What matters is how each plot is presented on-screen, and so far, after 7 episodes, there've been at least 3 which were nothing less than AWESOME.

The pilot: how the News Night team scrambled to cover an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, turning an event which most thought wasn't newsworthy into a headline.

Episode 6: a super-tense investigation of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown.

Episode 7: devoted to multiple perspectives related to President Obama's announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death.

If you decide to tune in but end up hating The Newsroom, then I guess it isn't quite right for you.

However, since I tried watching critically acclaimed series like Mad Men, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and was practically bored to death, accolades no longer matter much to me.

True Blood isn't going to win any major awards ever, but season 5 is its best one yet, and the cast deserves credit for investing so much of themselves in their roles. Is the rampant nudity ruining the show's Emmy chances? Tsk tsk!

Another victim of unfair reviews - The Bourne Legacy. Having trawled through quite a few movie websites this past month, I am appalled by some of the nasty reviews posted. A 1/10 score? This is getting personal...

At least it's still going strong at the box office. Hasn't quite reached the takings of The Bourne Identity, but this bodes well for a sequel.

Picked up from where I left off, almost 3 months ago, following an overdose of Fifty Shades ( read book 1 then went straight into the first half of book 2 - not advisable! ).

Fortunately, Fifty Shades Darker is much more palatable once you get past the halfway mark, mostly because the frivolous outings don't make an appearance ( e.g. helicopter / boat / sports car rides ).

The writing is still laughable, and the sex romps are becoming a tad routine, but plot developments are interesting enough to keep me entertained, and after a gruelling ER shift, reading a novel that doesn't make you think too much is a great way to relax.

No news about the cast yet. Hot favourite Matt Bomer ( White Collar ) remains a top pick for many, but his sexual orientation may be an issue. Not for me though - I had no idea he's gay when I saw him on TV, and am perfectly happy if he's cast as Christian Grey.

The latest bombshell? Harry Potter's Emma Watson is game for the Anastasia Steele role if Ryan Gosling is on board as Christian. I'm all for Gosling, but Emma? Not so much.

The hunt continues...

Next entry will be in October, after I return from a much-needed holiday break. I have a strange feeling about this trip - rest assured it's a good one. Won't know if it comes true until I get back.

Till next time! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jersey Boys Is Coming To Singapore!

Check out my entry on Just Watch Lah.

Very tempted to go. Need to double-check my cousin's daughters' schedules first. Taking major exams this year...

And for the purpose of happy reminiscing, my blog review of the Broadway show, posted in October 2007.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reviews - The Bourne Legacy & Peter Cincotti's Metropolis

Just got back from a screening of The Bourne Legacy, and feel compelled to post a review.

This hasn't happened since X-Men: First Class last June. I guess it also helps that I'm not working today. :)

As I've already indicated on Twitter and Facebook, the verdict comes in multiple parts:

Movie - 9.5/10

Cast ( overall ) - 10/10

Leading man Jeremy Renner - 100!

Reviews are mixed, and Legacy's domestic opening weekend box office haul of US$40 million is far behind The Bourne Ultimatum's $70 million, but here's hoping the fans will be pleased enough to spread good word-of-mouth and keep theatres packed.

**spoilers alert**

**spoilers alert**

**spoilers alert**

First, a few things to point out:

1) I have not read Robert Ludlum's novels.

2) I have seen all 3 Bourne films. Multiple times.

3) I am a huge fan of Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner.

4) I'm also very fond of Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz.

5) Legacy has been at the top of my personal Most Anticipated Movies Of 2012 list for at least the past 9 months.

Did I expect a lot from first-time director Tony Gilroy? You bet.

Did I want Gilroy and his team to succeed or perhaps surpass those who made the Bourne trilogy such a classic? Of course.

As you know, it isn't my habit to go into the details of the storyline. The Bourne franchise combined cerebral spy thriller with visceral action sequences to deliver 3 of the genre's best products. Naturally, Gilroy - writer for the entire series thus far - and the producers fully intended to capitalize on a formula that's been proven to work magic.

So did they deliver?

If you believe the critics, then the answer is apparently no. My response - I prefer to form my own opinions, thank you very much. :)

Obvious Fact #1: This is NOT about Jason Bourne.

Obvious Fact #2: Legacy finally explains what actually goes on in these top-secret medical experimentation programmes.

Obvious Fact #3: Matt Damon is not in this movie!

If you can get past these obstacles, I guarantee you'll enjoy the film as much as I did.

What's the deal with the reviewers grouching about too many medical / scientific terms? Are they bothered because such scenes slow things down? Because they can't understand what's being said? Or because they just don't care?

Yes, the first half moves at a rather leisurely pace, but I thoroughly appreciated every single minute, from Aaron Cross' ( Renner ) lonely trek through Alaska, to the CIA and the military's restrained meltdown in the control room. Things start picking up when Cross rescues Dr. Shearing ( Weisz ) at her home, then really hit top gear after they land in Manila.

The Bourne trilogy is famous for assembling casts of extremely high calibre, which is a huge advantage given the dramatic heft of the material.

Legacy does not disappoint in this area. Weisz, an Oscar winner for her role in The Constant Gardener, has been on my radar for 13 years now, since her appearance in 1999's blockbuster, The Mummy. Since then, she has starred in many wonderful productions, from Enemy At The Gates and Runaway Jury, to Constantine and The Lovely Bones.

Although her character, Shearing, doesn't have as much to do, Weisz shines in a few key sequences, such as the one in the car with Renner after her house goes up in flames, and a nail-biting massacre in the U.S. lab.

An actress with less ability could've messed up badly, but she manages to be hysterical without going over the edge.

Take that, Franka Potente! ( Don't know who that is? Shame on you. :))

Another actor whose work I'm very familiar with is Oscar nominee Norton.

I first saw him in 1996's Primal Fear ( 16 years ago, wow! ), then Rounders, American History X, Fight Club, Keeping The Faith, Death To Smoochy, Red Dragon, 25th Hour, The Italian Job, The Illusionist, The Painted Veil, and The Incredible Hulk.

Yes indeed, I am a devotee. :)

As Retd. Col. Ric Byer, his scenes are limited and he shares only a few minutes with Renner himself. He's excellent, of course, but I wish his role had been a little more well-developed. You get a sense of Byer's cold-hearted ruthlessness when he calmly stares at a monitor as a drone blasts what he thinks is a human being into smithereens, but I've seen him portray cruel / evil in American History X, Fight Club and The Italian Job. This does not come close.

Oh well, maybe in Bourne #5?

Next, the action scenes.

Damon was astounding as Bourne, be it close one-on-one combat ( remember the pen-as-a-weapon bit in Paris, in The Bourne Identity? ), wielding lethal weapons ( handguns, shotguns, knives, rolled up magazines ), or handling an assortment of vehicles through rush-hour traffic while evading entire armies of law enforcement officers.

Legacy starts small and builds up as the movie progresses. The pre-appetizers: an exploding mountain cabin, a pack of hungry wolves, the lab shooting.

Appetizers: a SUPERB whack-and-shoot fest at Shearing's country home. Do not miss the continuous shot of Cross scaling 20 feet of wall before running through a room and killing a rogue agent from the top of the stairs.

Stunt double, you sniff? I watched a Bourne Legacy movie special a few days ago, which shows Renner climbing the wall while attached to a harness. Okay, he had help. But it's him!

The main course is served when the protagonists arrive in Manila. The last 30-40 minutes of the film are pure adrenaline, beginning with a tense trip to the lab facility, followed by an UNBELIEVABLE rooftop sprint ( very reminiscent of the Tangiers sequence in Bourne Ultimatum ) and an AWESOME motorcycle chase.

Again, that's Renner jumping and running on the roofs ( tumble included ), and there're many clear shots of him and Weisz as they zoom through traffic.

Most impressive indeed!

Audience-pleasing tactics aside, Renner still has to carry the movie, and he does it with great style. Already a double Oscar nominee ( The Hurt Locker and The Town ), he blossomed further upon hitting 40, and boasts an amazing degree of athleticism.

He demonstrated skills in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, but has A LOT more to do in Legacy, which pleases me immensely. :)

There're Damon / Bourne fans who feel that Renner / Cross can't measure up. Are they insane?! Are they disappointed because the latter has much more dialogue? Bourne was always aloof and inscrutable. Cross is, by comparison, practically dripping with warmth.

By the way, I greatly appreciate the humour during the car scene with Weisz, where Cross expresses shock that Shearing doesn't even know his name.

Renner has quite an affinity for comedy. This became apparent in MI4, but is present in abundance in The Unusuals, a hilarious detective TV series I'm currently watching on DVD. Thank you, Amazon. :)

With Legacy's success at the box office, the Bourne franchise is alive and kicking, and Renner has joined the exclusive ranks of Hollywood leading men capable of carrying big-budget releases.

No word on when Bourne #5 will materialize, but rumours are circulating that Damon is game to team up with Renner. Music to my ears. :D

I highly recommend this terrific movie! But if you don't enjoy it, don't blame me. :)

Before I sign off, a special mention about Peter Cincotti's latest album, Metropolis.

I've been listening to this non-stop in the car for the past fortnight, and consider it Peter's best work yet.

Previously known for his adventurous interpretations of jazz classics and fabulous piano-playing skills ( he trained at the illustrious Manhattan School Of Music ), he decided to branch out into the pop / rock genre a few years ago, recording East Of Angel Town.

It was a laudable effort, but an awkward transition which wasn't very well-received.

With Metropolis, however, Peter has definitely found his mojo. Congratulations! :)

Blending pop, rock, funk, jazz and techno, this is a heady mixture that showcases his writing talent, and also features much stronger vocals.

Every track is fantastic, but standouts include Do Or Die, Take A Good Look, Graffiti Wall, World Gone Crazy and Before I Go.

I've seen him in concert 3 times, the last being 2008's Singapore Sun Festival.

All were extremely different gigs - lucky me! - and I was fortunate enough to meet him twice as well.

Both encounters were wonderful to say the least, and I hope to watch him perform again in the near future. Would be great to hear him sing these songs live.

Time for dinner. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Man, my blog entry frequency this year is dismal. Here's one for August, in case I don't post again till September.

The last time I mentioned this AWESOME series was in May, and thankfully, I have been keeping up with season 2 via Internet.

Like The Good Wife and Dexter - 2 excellent shows which have not lost their momentum - Suits' follow-up season is delightful. I love programmes that are smart, challenging and funny. Suits has all 3 in spades!

Another quality I really appreciate: shifting the focus away from the usual high-profile criminal cases. Most legal dramas like to drum up the adrenaline factor by featuring serial killers or bizarre murders. The Practice excelled at this, but after a while, the tricks get old.

Which is why I find Suits so refreshing. It discusses a wide range of subjects - will disputes, copyright infringement, class action, wrongful death, sexual harrassment - but somehow makes every single episode utterly fascinating.

The legal jargon is mind-blowing, but actually comprehensible as long as you're fully awake. I always make it a point to avoid watching it when I'm post-call or exhausted for some other reason. Maximum enjoyment is key!

Another element I can't get enough of - the complex dynamics between the characters. Granted, Harvey Specter and Mike Ross are at the forefront, but Louis Litt ( played to perfection by Rick Hoffman ) is gaining a lot of ground in terms of show-stealing!

There's a terrific episode in season 2 ( #4 or #5, I believe ), where Litt gets the defendant in a civil suit to turn on his own company during a tense deposition. It is one of the most ingenious scenes I have ever witnessed on television. Where straightforward legal tactics failed, he found a way to win the case by hitting where it really hurts - the bruised ego. I wish the clip was on YouTube, but it isn't. Trust me, it is UNBELIEVABLE.

The humour has picked up as well, coming at you fast and furious in season 2. I always find myself laughing heartily at the zingy one-liners, mostly from Harvey. They're a mixture of unrestrained narcissism and astute observations of the human condition. Love it! :D

Being overlooked at the Emmys is a massive injustice, but as a fellow fan assured me on Twitter - "NEXT YEAR!"

I hope so too. :)

Looking forward to The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner, whom I have become rather obsessed with since his prominent role in last December's immensely entertaining Mission: Impossible 4.

His previous films weren't exactly action blockbusters - okay, he shot a gun and played the bad guy in SWAT - but he has really hit his stride since turning 40, wow!

He looks positively gorgeous, shows off a graceful athleticism ( Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy calls him a "machine" ), and handles weapons with style ( handgun, sniper rifle, bow and arrow ).

If you thought MI4 and The Avengers were tough, check out the trailers and clips for Bourne Legacy. I'm surprised he can still walk after all that leaping and tumbling and major whacking. I'm already starting to experience pain in both knees, and I'm only 37!

Another plus now that Renner's in the limelight - interviews.
There're tonnes of clips on YouTube, but this past week, I got my hands on episodes from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Both discuss his involvement with Bourne Legacy, but the interviews couldn't be more different. I've noticed that Renner makes it a point to vary his conversations, no matter how many he has to go through. I honestly don't know how he keeps track of them all, but it's a huge treat for us fans, and I especially enjoy his wicked sense of humour, lol!

Also, he dresses EXTREMELY well for events. Not just TV appearances, but press conferences, conventions, etc. Either a sweater / shirt combo, or a suit and tie, sometimes with a vest included. I just love guys who dress up. :)

Oh yes, the photos. The first is from Empire magazine's subscriber copy cover, and the second is from the 2009 TV series, The Unusuals, which was unfortunately cancelled after 10 episodes.

The latter, however, has attained a cult-like status on the Net, thanks to a faithful following and word-of-mouth. The YouTube clips are also side-splittingly funny.

Ordered my copy from Amazon recently. Can't wait to watch it!

A few TV shows I'm watching out for...

Dexter season 7 - this is my #1 favourite series at the moment, and is unlikely to be toppled anytime soon, despite a slightly disappointing 6th season.
Michael C. Hall is flawless as Dexter Morgan, and no-one except him can play this dark and twisted character so beautifully.

Premieres in the U.S. September 30. I prefer uncensored versions, so it's back to the Internet for me. :)

Another series I'm highly anticipating - The Following, in which Kevin Bacon plays an FBI agent hunting down a network of serial killers. Wow, I just got goosebumps. :)

Last but not least, Elementary - a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story, now transplanted to New York, with Dr. Watson played by none other than Lucy Liu. Eli Stone's Jonny Lee Miller should make an enigmatic Sherlock, following his memorable, evil turn on Dexter season 5.

So many other Hollywood stars are also turning to television these days - from Glenn Close ( Damages ), Angelica Huston ( Smash ), Sigourney Weaver ( Political Animals ) and Dustin Hoffman ( Luck ), to Ashley Judd ( Missing ), Patrick Wilson ( A Gifted Man ) and Rose Byrne ( Damages ).

A check regarding American Horror Story season 2 ( the show is completely insane but I just adore it :)) mentions James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes and ( surprise! ) Adam Levine among the new cast.
Jessica Lange will return, creepier and zanier than ever, I'm sure.
My fave is Evan Peters - a young actor who holds his own and mesmerizes with his fiery performances.
Debuts October 2012.

The small screen has never looked more spectacular!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Review of Jason Mraz's Concert, Gardens By The Bay, 29 June 2012

As you can see, this entry is a week late. Mostly because I've been too busy to post something coherent, but also because I want to make sure my favourite musician gets a proper review rather than a cursory one.

JM's Gardens By The Bay gig marked his return to Singapore after 3 long years, following a sell-out show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

This was his 4th appearance here, and he was bestowed the honour of being the opening act for the Rhythm With Nature festival, in conjunction with the Gardens' official launch on 28 June.

My last experience with large crowds at an outdoor venue was SingFest 2008, which also featured JM doing an hour-long set with an all-star lineup ( review link here ).

It was really rough - hot and humid weather, sardine-can conditions, dehydration, physical exhaustion - and I swore never to put myself through that again.

But I couldn't pass up a chance to see him, even though I had no idea what The Meadow's exact conditions were like.

Only for you, Jason! Nobody else! :)

First, the venue.

It was, to be honest, aesthetically disappointing.
The Meadow should be renamed The Grassy Patch. Because that's what it is.
Considering the $1 billion poured into the construction of the sprawling Gardens, little effort was made to beautify an area which is supposed to host concerts on a large scale.
Fort Canning Park by comparison is practically scenic. At least the Marina Bay Sands provides some nice photography shots especially after sunset, but that's about it.

It's also reaaaally dark.
This became obvious when more than 10,000 concertgoers moved toward the various exits. Some areas were practically pitch black - a danger zone if the ground's uneven or if you have poor eyesight. If kids are involved, they're at risk of getting trampled.
Will someone please consider installing more lamp posts!'s damn confusing for newbies.
Of course, most if not all of us there that night were first-time visitors.
The ushers did their best to direct us, but after a certain point near one of the small gardens / bridges, we were basically moving around en masse, without any clear idea whether it was the right direction or not.

I'd also like to add that if there'd been an emergency - collapse, fire, terrorist attack - good luck to everyone.

Suffice to say, I WILL NOT be attending a show there for a loooong time. I treasure my life too much.

Second, the concert itself.

I've seen JM in action 4 times in total now, and am happy to report that every single performance has been completely different.

His first Esplanade Concert Hall gig will always be my fave ( it's also the BEST concert I've ever attended, no chance of being toppled, period :)), followed by his 2009 Indoor Stadium extravaganza ( review link here ).

I'm no fan of outdoor venues partly because of our tropical weather ( makes things terribly uncomfortable ), and also because the atmosphere changes dramatically.

I suspect The Meadow causes sound to disperse, so even though the crowd was 12,000 to 15,000 strong, JM might not have heard much from the audience.

I chose to stay near the back, just in front of the hilly section. The people around me applauded at the appropriate times, but were otherwise subdued, even during the singalong segments.
A group of young girls just behind me also jabbered for almost half the show, shouting at the top of their lungs when the music drowned out their voices. I chose not to give them dagger stares to avoid any ugliness, but it was definitely annoying. Why even bother to come if you're not going to listen, dammit?!

Here's the list of songs JM performed, in order:

The World As I See It
Everything Is Sound
The Freedom Song
Bella Luna
Be Honest
Only Human
The Woman I Love
A Beautiful Mess
Make It Mine
Frank D. Fixer
Curbside Prophet / The Remedy medley
You And I both
( A song I didn't recognize, with the lyrics "I'm coming over tonight" )
Details In The Fabric ( duet with Corinne May )
Lucky ( with Corinne May )
Living In The Moment
I'm Yours

Mr. Curiosity
93 Million Miles
I Won't Give Up

This makes a total of 23 songs, spanning about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Non-stop! Jason, your stamina never fails to astound me. :)

My general impression of his mood that evening is: introspective, maybe a little sad, hopefully not bored.

People tell me he's been rather mopey this year, perhaps due to his recent breakup, or perhaps other factors are in play.

Whatever it is, the energy level was generally at a plateau, with occasional small spikes. None of the euphoria at the Indoor Stadium and SingFest for sure.

Did I mind? Not at all. I made the trip only to hear his gorgeous voice. Anything extra was a bonus.

And vocals-wise, he continues to impress.

Maybe the predominantly slow tempos appealed to me because I've grown older. But I think it's also because this reminded me of his 2006 acoustic concert at the Esplanade. I've always preferred JM's stripped-bare performances, sans heavy band backup.

Previously, JM would wing it during his gigs, choosing songs on the spot based on audience response. This time, I don't think he had as much freedom considering the programmed video clips flashing behind him during each song.

Another significant difference is the predominance of pieces from his latest release - only 3 tracks were left out. Past shows featured a much more varied repertoire.

I couldn't be happier, of course. Love Is A Four-Letter Word is, IMHO, his best album yet, and I would've been ecstatic if he'd gone through every single song on the list!

Third, highlight moments.

Definitely the slowest pieces. There were many, but I absolutely melted during Bella Luna, Be Honest, A Beautiful Mess and I Won't Give Up.

I was really looking forward to Living In The Moment, but somehow, I couldn't get into the groove, and the audience wasn't very enthusiastic either. What the heck!?

Many would've noticed the paucity of cheeky banter and on-stage antics, but JM's vocals haven't sounded this exquisite since 2006 ( i.e. at the Esplanade ). Flawless, I tell you! :)

So in conclusion, despite not being as exciting as I'd hoped, it was still a great privilege to see JM again.

He didn't tweet anything about Singapore the last time I checked, but he did post something on his blog. I stayed at the MBS in 2010 and don't recall any of the things he mentioned, but hey, I'm glad whatever was arranged managed to impress.

No luck getting a meet-and-greet this year, but I did forward a belated birthday gift via the event organizer. I hope you like it, Jason, and please come back soon! :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

10 Years And Almost 2 Months :)

Another busy 4 weeks have passed, but an update is in order!

I've been turning to the Internet in recent months, since local cable either takes forever to bring my favourite TV shows to Singapore, or forgets about them entirely.

Sherlock falls into the latter category. After an interminable hiatus following a terrific season 1, StarHub cable shows no intention of airing season 2. How typical.

Last week, I got my hands on all 3 new episodes, and I must say, BBC is trying to match HBO in terms of racy content!

Prime example: the manner in which Irene Adler is introduced. Forget about Guy Ritchie's film adaptations, which leave Robert Downey Jr completely exposed but keep the ladies covered up. BBC's version features head-to-toe nudity and bondage. Are these in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels???

Anyway, season 2 looks like a load of fun thus far, thanks to the aforementioned antics and the always excellent cast. Look out for Andrew Scott who plays Moriarty. He's absolutely terrifying despite looking like a little boy. Gave me the creeps in this scene, brrrr!

Another wonderful film I need to rave about: The Debt, starring Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson.

I'll leave you to read the synopsis elsewhere. If you're into tense thrillers with sporadic action scenes, but which feature a truly stellar cast and outstanding performances, this is definitely for you.

It took me a long time to get round to watching the movie, mostly because reviews I'd read were mixed and I honestly thought it would be dull. How wrong I was! My nerves were on edge from beginning to end, and certain bits were positively harrowing.

While Mirren is billed as the star, I personally feel that Chastain and Worthington are thrust in the spotlight. Without giving too much away, I will just say that these 2 actors share amazing chemistry here, and there're a few scenes which are exquisitely beautiful to behold.

Chastain never disappoints, but it is Worthington who really stands out, turning in one of his best performances since Terminator Salvation.

Also, keep an eye out for a prisoner who enjoys playing mind games with his captors. He derives evil pleasure from causing others to suffer, saying things which will chill you to the bone, while he flashes a smile and giggles with glee.

Although TV and movies help keep me sane, Dale Carnegie's motivational book is adding to the positive energy.

Like most publications in this genre, a lot of the advice offered sounds like common sense, but somehow, reading it helps spur you to action.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity and constant whining, I decided to empower myself by adopting a few of his suggested practices. They sound insanely simple, but produce miracles!

Over the years, work and personal experiences have turned me into a hard-core pessimist with cynical tendencies. So now, I'm trying to tune those traits down a notch, so I can stay healthy and live long enough to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Give it a go if you'd like. Then let me know what you think. :)

Jason Mraz's Gardens By The Bay concert takes place this Friday, woohoo! Will try to post a review soon. :D