Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shame - A Review

My second entry in less than a week, inspired by a truly astonishing film!

Have been anticipating this for months, but when the time came to actually sit down and watch it, there was a tiny bit of apprehension about being let down. Tends to be the case when my expectations are set too high.

Thankfully, no such thing occurred here. Shame kept me riveted from beginning to end, and earns a perfect 10/10 from this finicky movie buff!

If you're not familiar with the subject matter, the less I reveal, the better. However, I will advise you NOT to be distracted by the "sex addition" tag, because although it is the dominant theme, director Steve McQueen's deft manipulation ensures that the sleaze never overwhelms.

Details follow beyond this point, so spoiler alert!

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The central character, Brandon Sullivan, is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, an actor whom I became a huge fan of only a year ago, following his broody turn in Jane Eyre ( during which I made the connection between him and Lt. Archie Hicox from Inglourious Basterds ). Since then, I've watched him play a comic book villain ( X-Men: First Class ), an evil zombie ( Blood Creek ), a Roman soldier ( Centurion ), an adulterer ( Fish Tank ), an IRA fanatic ( Hunger ), a tragic hero ( Eden Lake ) and a legendary psychiatrist ( A Dangerous Method ).

Little wonder he sits just below Kevin Spacey on my personal Top 10 Actors list! I am in awe of his talent and versatility. Plus it certainly helps that he's drop-dead gorgeous. :)

As Brandon, he once again blows me away with a multi-layered performance, combining animal sexuality with vulnerability to potent effect. Of course, the script ( by Abi Morgan and McQueen ) deserves major kudos for creating a character who is both deplorable and sympathetic, but undeniably memorable.

Viewers will no doubt feel like guilty voyeurs as McQueen takes us through intensely private moments in Brandon's life - outwardly normal and successful, inwardly in constant turmoil and progressively spiraling out of control.

We bear witness to his frequent trysts with random women which fail to satisfy his voracious sexual appetite. Pay attention to every scene - there're numerous revelations to pick up on, illustrating the gross discrepancy between Brandon's reckless abandon and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. For instance, he listens to Glenn Gould ( quiet, rather dull stuff ) but has no qualms about hiring prostitutes, engaging in threesomes, even venturing into a gay bar.
In another sequence, he vigorously cleans a toilet seat before urinating. And I wonder, this guy doesn't give a crap about sharing bodily fluids with strangers, and he wipes a toilet seat he doesn't even have direct contact with?!

Another fascinating segment involves a dinner date Brandon arranges with a saucy female colleague who's obviously attracted to him. They banter about their past and personal views on relationships. I don't have the exact quotes on hand right now, but remember laughing when Brandon said his longest relationship lasted only 4 months! He also gives his perspective on couples who have nothing to say to each other, which I can vouch for 100%. :)

Special mention goes to Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, who plays Brandon's younger sibling, Sissy. It's difficult to describe their bond in a way that will do it justice, but again, the script provides excellent material, and the actors deliver their scenes flawlessly.

I was momentarily stunned by one sequence which left Mulligan completely exposed for a few uncomfortable minutes, but I need to accept the fact that she's a grown woman now, not giggly Kitty from Pride & Prejudice or virtuous Jenny from An Education.
Her on-screen chemistry with Fassbender is positively scorching. There're a few sexual undertones - sufficient to make my mum use the word "incestuous" - but mostly it's a totally believable dynamic, alternating between deep affection and outright disgust, that makes this acting partnership so exciting.

I definitely harbour hope for another Fassbender-Mulligan collaboration in the near future, preferably in a sweeping Victorian-era romance!

Next, the subway train scene, where Brandon locks eyes with a pretty redhead and attempts to follow her when she alights.
Words alone can't possibly convey the fiery eroticism so expertly portrayed in this 3-minute segment. There's zero dialogue, every subtle gesture carries heavy subtext, and when Brandon stands behind the flustered woman as the train comes to a stop, their hands almost touching on the subway pole, I dare you to take a breath.

The encounter is so transient, yet it reverberates throughout the film. And when it finally comes full circle, the tension slices through like a hatchet.

Last but not least, the movie title proper. When the end credits roll, I guarantee you'll find yourself pondering its various definitions, and how they apply to the different characters and situations.
While it's obvious that "shame" alludes to Brandon's self-loathing, that alone comes in many forms: he knows he needs to kick the sex addiction, but can't; his sickness is discovered by Sissy, which is mortifying; he contemplates using an infatuated colleague to act out his twisted fantasy, but stops before it's too late and hates himself for being the instigator.

The other prime example includes the redhead episode. But I'll leave it to you to figure it out, because it is absolutely stunning.

The McQueen-Fassbender partnership struck gold with Hunger in 2008, and they will work together again on Twelve Years A Slave, set in the 1800s and co-starring Brad Pitt! Am looking forward to that! :)

The Artist may have swept the Oscars, but Shame is, in my opinion, far better. Michael Fassbender should've been named Best Actor for his fearless performance, and Steve McQueen at least nominated for Best Director.

Thank you both for one of the best film experiences of my life! :)

Next entry: A review of The Avengers, which I will be seeing next week. :D

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Love Is A Four-Letter Word

Many of us have been waiting anxiously for the release of Jason Mraz's new album, and I finally got to listen to it a couple of days ago.

Yes, he's my favourite musician - and will remain so as long as I still draw breath :) - but the effect his music has on me never fails to surprise.

Although We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things hit stores in 2008, fans were spared withdrawal symptoms thanks to constant tidbits these past 4 years, e.g. an acoustic version of WSWDWST, the Beautiful Mess - Live On Earth CD/DVD, intermittent spurts of new singles, plus the Life Is Good and Live Is A Four-Letter Word EPs.

Some may call these crafty marketing stunts designed to empty pockets, but in the age of digital downloads, one song may cost only 10 cents, so you do the math. :)

If anything, the albums highlight Jason's sheer artistry. How else can you describe 5 versions of a song, all of which are clearly different, yet equally awesome? I've attended 3 gigs and own every single concert CD/DVD I could get my hands on, and never tire of his performances.

This review of Love Is A Four-Letter Word is preliminary. I've listened to it straight through a couple of times, but am now hitting repeat on a number of tracks to dig a little deeper. It usually takes more than 10 replays before I'm able to identify real favourites, but here's what I thought after round 1: ABSOLUTELY SUBLIME. :D

One of the reasons I derive such great pleasure from Jason's music is that I've been lucky enough to follow his career from the very beginning. ( Thank you again, G, for introducing me to Waiting For My Rocket To Come. :))
Many musicians crash and burn after 5 years, but Jason keeps getting better a whole decade after his debut.

My general impression of Love is that it's more introspective. The trademark upbeat JM ditties are still present, but the slow and sweet melodic ballads are especially prominent here, and only one piece can be considered just a tad on the unconventional side. Compare this to WSWDWST, which featured The Dynamo of Volition, Only Human and Coyotes, which aren't exactly singalong-friendly.

Not that I'm complaining, of course! My admiration for Jason has reached the stage where I'm able to digest anything he sings. But after 10 years, this is without a doubt the JM album I've been wishing for.

His maturity shines through in many aspects, but most notably in the lyrics and musical arrangements. Certain melodies may sound deceptively simple, but then you wonder why no-one else has come up with similar tunes!

An early fave - sure to be a crowd pleaser at concerts! - is Living In The Moment ( track #2 ). Jason loves to share positive messages with fans, and the lyrics are guaranteed to put a spring in anyone's step:

"I will not waste my days / Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about all the things / That will not happen to me

I'm letting myself off the hook for things I've done
I let my past go past / And now I'm having more fun
I'm letting go of the thoughts / That do not make me strong
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone

Living in the moment / living my life
Easy and breezy / With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart / Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home"

I can already picture the scene at his June 29 Gardens by the Bay gig - 12,000 fans belting the song with Jason, waving whatever glow-y objects we have available ( gadgets, lighters, etc ). You can bet I'm going to sing my heart out! :)

Another current fave: The Woman I Love ( track #3 ). I'm familiar with the 'live' version, but the studio recording moved me immensely. As always, Jason has a knack for noticing a relationship's subtle nuances and little moments, putting beautiful words to a gorgeous tune to produce an instant classic.

To complete the hat trick, next comes I Won't Give Up ( track #4 ), which Jason readily admits he wrote for Tristan Prettyman, a long-time love whom he was engaged to for a time before it was called off. Again, I've heard this before, but for some reason, the album recording reduced me to a teary mess. I was initially shocked by the reaction, but also realized how far my journey with Jason has progressed. I've never connected with his music so deeply before. What a breakthrough! :D

Other worthy contenders: 93 Million Miles ( poignant ), Frank D. Fixer ( outstanding ), In Your Hands ( intensely romantic ) and Be Honest ( I liken it to seeing 3 rainbows all at once :)).

Yes, Love Is A Four-Letter Word is phenomenal! Sensational! Brilliant! Which is why I'm going to try my best to memorize all the lyrics and heartily participate in the mass karaoke sessions at the show. ( I'm very bad at this, but there's always Google on my mobile for easy reference. :))

In 2009, when Jason was nominated for a few Grammys but didn't win, I predicted that his luck would quickly change, and it did ( he picked up 2 awards in 2009, in addition to being inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame ).

For 2012, I have 2 more: that Love deserves and will win the Album Of The Year Grammy, and that Jason will seriously consider writing a Broadway musical.

I also hope he will duet with Sara Bareilles someday. They're perfect for each other. :)

Thanks for reading, and if you're going to the June 29 gig, I look forward to seeing you there! It's gonna be awesome!