Thursday, May 16, 2013

Waxing Lyrical

It's been a while since I dedicated an entry just to TV shows. I find it very relaxing so please bear with me. :)

I am a big fan of Ghost Hunters. Probably for at least 5-6 years now. It used to air regularly but local cable stopped screening it for ages, before season 7 recently reappeared on the Thrill channel ( which specializes in horror and suspense ).

There're a lot of paranormal investigator-type programmes out there, in the U.S. and U.K. alone. I've seen quite a few of them, but GH always wins hands down. ( Ghost Adventures is also pretty good, but I have no idea what happened after season 1 and haven't tried Google searching. )

GH was founded by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, who are - get this - plumbers by trade. A moonlighting gig earned them a network contract, and the rest is history.

The format for every episode is standard, but the entire team keeps things interesting. They go to the coolest places - Sharon Tate's home ( scene of the grisly Manson family murders ), sprawling forts / asylums, even a resort in Maine which reminded me of the film, The Shining - the team members all have different, dynamic personalities ( my favourite, Dave Tango, and his pal, Steve Gonsalves, like to investigate together and crack corny jokes which have me in stitches ), and they sometimes pick up the eeriest paranormal phenomena ( disembodied voices, weird sounds, video footage of strange occurrences ).

I'm not saying everyone will enjoy this sort of thing, but I can't get enough of it. :D

Something else I'm addicted to: The Chicago Code.

Originally aired in the U.S. in 2011, after which it was cancelled after 13 episodes. It only materialized on local cable a few weeks ago, and I think it is EXCELLENT. ( Capital letters necessary, believe me. )

I'm a bit of a conoisseur when it comes to American legal procedurals. NYPD Blue, Law & Order ( original plus all the spin-offs ), CSI, Dexter and The Practice, to name a few.

The Chicago Code is right up there with my top 3. The cast is impeccable - Jennifer Beals, Jason Clarke, Matt Lauria - the stories fascinating ( though I don't think I'll have the balls to step into the city ever ), and the action sequences nail-bitingly awesome.

Is Chicago really this frightening? Who cares, when it makes TV viewing so exciting? :)

Beals is superb as the new female police Superintendent - smart, tough, and really cunning. The tactics she employs to solve cases, battle sex discrimination and fight corruption are ingenious. I've learned a few things which I use at work heh!

Lauria is adorable. All boyish good looks and earnest innocence, but blossoming quickly, with sharp instincts of his own.

Clarke, however, is the star. An Australian actor whom I've already seen in Zero Dark Thirty ( caught my eye as one of the Navy Seals who stormed Bin Laden's hideout ) and a few other not-so-prominent films ( e.g. Texas Killing Fields ), he has my undivided attention every time he appears in Code.

As Jarek Wysocki ( talk about a creative character name! ), the Superintendent's ex-partner and best friend in the force, Clarke is perfect for the smart-mouthed, swaggering role. He nails the American accent, keeps me on the edge of my seat whenever a suspect is interrogated, and handles a gun like the best of Hollywood's action stars.

Not conventionally handsome looks-wise, but an incredible actor who oozes massive sex appeal.

Little wonder he's recently won roles in The Great Gatsby and the upcoming Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. He's 43 but still single. Please stay that way. :)

And now, on to Hannibal. It took 20 years for Thomas Harris' Dr. Lecter to hit the small screen, and the result is quite spectacular.

While the first 4 episodes annoyed me slightly - solving serial murders within one episode, plot holes sprinkled here and there, a ludicrous story about abducted boys returning to kill their families - the show has improved significantly since episode 5.

If it had been any other series, I would've stopped watching after episode 3. But I'm a long-time fan of the Hannibal novels ( excluding Hannibal Rising, which is obscenely bad ), and love Hugh Dancy to bits, so this was a no-brainer.

Dancy's Will Graham differs greatly from Edward Norton's version in Red Dragon. Here, Graham is psychologically scarred - by the gory crimes he investigates and his unique ability to think like the killers he hunts. He's socially withdrawn, moody, unshaven and plagued by terrible nightmares. Which is where Lecter steps in, when Graham's boss requests his expertise in keeping poor Will from teetering off the edge.

Mads Mikkelsen is an inspired choice for this crucial role. Following in Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning footsteps is never an enviable task, but he does so very well indeed. It's refreshing to see Hannibal in a younger form, still enjoying his freedom and indulging in culinary activities. Part of the fun for the viewer is figuring out what's in those delectable French dishes he whips up. The first 5 episodes keep his true nature ambiguous, but episode 6 reveals him committing a murderous deed for the first time ( that we know of, that is ), and the cat-and-mouse game ramps up 10 notches.

I think Mikkelsen may soon outshine Hopkins as the quintessential Lecter. Perhaps a TV series format helps flesh out ( apologies for the pun ) the character better, making it easier for audiences to embrace him. But there's no denying Mikkelsen's charisma - he doesn't always do or say much, but every act and word, however simple, resonates. He speaks with a rather thick European accent, in an unnervingly calm manner, always assessing the other subject with great interest if s/he is worthy. I've grown very fond of Hannibal's therapy sessions with his unsuspecting patients. Look out for a simpering, bearded, chubby fellow ( I can't recall his name offhand ) whose clumsy attempts to befriend his psychiatrist is guaranteed to elicit pity and uneasiness. Will he be Hannibal's next main course? If he keeps irritating him, yes!

More importantly, we learn of Lecter's previous specialty before he switched to psychiatry - "ER surgeon". Oooh, thank you, scriptwriters! :D

There're plans for a 5-season run, so I'm rubbing my hands with glee. Keep up the good work. Don't take us for granted! :)

Dexter fans unite! Looking forward to season 8, which, as the picture aptly describes, signals the beginning of the end.

I'm sad to see one of my all-time favourite TV shows sing its swan song, but I'm sure it's going to be epic.

Check out the many YouTube promo clips, which are fantastic. Crime scene nastiness-wise, Hannibal is a worthy successor. Thank goodness - I need my gore fix every now and then. Oh wait, there's also True Blood. And Game Of Thrones. And The Following. And Bates Motel.

TV isn't suitable for kids anymore. I'm glad that phase of my life is long over. :D

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Catching Up

After more than a month of silence, it is time to update the blog. :)

First, my recent trip to Sydney, which was primarily for Josh Groban's concert at the Opera House. However, I ended up getting much more than I bargained for!

The day I arrived - after severe sleep deprivation thanks to a mistake I made with my roster request and zero rest on the plane - I prepared for an evening of R&R, only to receive a message from a friend based in Sydney about the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness being in the city at that very moment. A frantic Google search revealed details of their appearance at a red carpet premiere near my hotel, just an hour after I got the notification!

My mum, who travels with me regularly, wasn't too pleased with the last-minute change of plans, but was surprisingly game to accompany me. After a hurried shower and a series of Facebook message exchanges with staff from the George Street Cinema ( they're amazing :)), we had 30 minutes to find our way to the venue.

Weaving through rush hour human traffic was no joke, but George Street is easy to navigate and the directions I got were accurate. Sadly, by the time we arrived, all the spots in front of the theatre were gone, and we had to make do with places across the road. However, it turns out we managed to get a good look at the proceedings, and my camera's zoom lens helped a lot. :)

Despite not being in a prime position, I could see J.J. Abrams, Karl Urban, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto very clearly. Initially miffed that security wouldn't let us through despite the sparse crowd along the red carpet, this proved important when I realized it actually enabled those of us across the street to see what was going on.

The experience was incredible! Sure, I've caught celebrities from varying distances and interacted with a few of them previously, but this is a major blockbuster, and I'm a huge fan of its director and stars.

J.J. Abrams - I've followed his career from the beginning, from TV series Felicity, Alias and Lost, to wonderful movies Mission: Impossible 3, Star Trek and Super 8. He is soooo tiny in person, but extremely personable in spite of his A-list status. Even when reporters' attention was fixed on Pine and Quinto, Abrams continued making the rounds among the fans, chatting, signing autographs and posing for pictures. This is the man who's going to direct Star Wars Episode VII!
I also recently realized I've now seen 2 key figures from Alias in person - in addition to creator Abrams, I also met Jennifer Garner at the stage door on Broadway in 2007.
Who's next? Bradley Cooper? :)

Karl Urban - not exactly A-list just yet, but I love his work in Lord Of The Rings, and most recently, was awe-struck by his turn in Dredd. The latter is sorely underrated - I personally think it's mind-blowingly excellent!
The very tall actor towered over everyone and arrived with his wife and children. Quite friendly, but not as sociable as Abrams. It was great to see him. :)

Chris Pine - everyone arrived separately, and Pine was third. Clearly the hottest crowd favourite, he elicited loud squeals of joy when he emerged from the car, and a bunch of Chinese girls were on cloud nine when they reached out for hugs and he happily obliged. That was probably the only moment I was tempted to climb the barricade in front of me and dash across the road heh! Security can drag me away after I get a hug. :D
I too have been following Pine's career for years, from as early as his role in The Princess Diaries 2. Yes, when he and Anne Hathaway were still acting in Disney fairy tale flicks.
He's done very well for himself since scoring the role of Kirk in Star Trek. And after seeing him treat fans with such affection, I hope he achieves even greater success in the coming years. Nice chap. And equally handsome in person. :)

Zachary Quinto - the last to step onto the red carpet, and significantly more subdued than Pine. Didn't hug anyone, but posed for photos with an arm gently placed on each fan's back, flashing a slightly tight smile. I'm not too familiar with his work, having only watched him sporadically in Heroes, and films-wise, in Star Trek and Margin Call. YouTube clips of interviews reveal a strong command of the English language for sure ( "propinquity", anyone? ), but I'm particularly pleased about meeting both halves of a Hollywood couple ( Quinto's boyfriend is actor Jonathan Groff, whom I chatted with after an off-Broadway play in 2011 ).
Interesting how different they are in terms of fan treatment. Groff is unbelievably friendly, loves to converse and gave me the best hug ever. Maybe Quinto warms up under the right conditions. Who knows, if I'd said something he liked, maybe he would've hugged me too. :)

Day 2 was spent recovering from Day 1's excitement! A little bit of shopping after breakfast, then a short rest before heading to the Opera House.

It was Josh Groban's 2nd performance during his stopover in Sydney, and the audience comprised a large number of middle-aged and elderly people, with a smattering of younger fans. It was also the first time I'd ever attended a show which actually started early! Though scheduled to begin at 8pm, Josh and his band appeared on stage 2 minutes before that, without any fanfare, to everyone's delight.

The next 100 minutes were totally awesome! Not only did the repertoire feature songs from his latest release, All That Echoes, he also included popular hits from earlier albums ( his self-titled debut and follow-up, Awake ).

Selections from the former sent me into the stratosphere! Alejate, Alla Luce del Sole, Vincent ( Starry Starry Night ) and To Where You Are are among my all-time favourites, and he sang them flawlessly.

To Where You Are holds special meaning for me because it was mentioned by the fiancee of a young doctor who succumbed to SARS during the 2003 outbreak. She reached out to me on this very blog and we later corresponded via email. The song brought her great comfort and will always be a significant part of that era. When Josh sang it that night, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I swear I could feel my heart breaking all over again.

Aside from the heavenly music, Josh's humour also shone through. Famous for his witty and often corny jokes, the concert hall regularly erupted in uproarious laughter. At one point, he invited a lady in the front row to go on stage and sing a duet ( it was The Prayer ). She did an amazing job, and Josh's attempt to upstage her had us all in stitches. ( I have it on video too, what a treat! :))

Later, he hopped down and ran to the back of the hall to give someone his drumstick. Lucky girl! :D

I wish the night could've gone on forever, but it had to end sometime. When I got to the stage door, the place was swarming with around 200 fans, and Josh was only able to stay for about 10 minutes, signing autographs for those closest to him. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to meet him, but it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless, and I hope another opportunity will present itself one day in the not too distant future.

Most importantly, please don't bypass Singapore again argh!

On Day 3, we took in the annual ANZAC Day parade - a military extravaganza which we had no idea about until the day before. We also took a ferry ride to Manly. If there's time, perhaps I'll write more and post pictures in a subsequent entry, but I'd like to say a special thank-you to all the wonderful Australians we met on this trip! Strangers offered directions on the street and opened doors; drivers always let us cross the street even though it was their right of way; almost everyone we met was incredibly gracious and kind.

The locals were nice the last time we visited in 2009, but have improved even more 4 years later. Singaporeans have much to learn from other countries. Coming home is such a rude awakening. :(

Next, I need to send some love to Robert Downey, Jr. :)

I've been a fan for decades now, since his heyday in Chaplin, Chances Are and Only You. My support did not wane during his up-and-down periods, and I was hopeful about his comeback during a well-received stint on Ally McBeal.

Regardless of his trials and tribulations, I couldn't be happier when he slowly returned to prime form, notably in Zodiac, followed by Iron Man, which sealed his status as a profitable leading man.

Iron Man 2 was equally terrific, but the franchise scales new heights with Part 3. Don't think I've been this thrilled since Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol!

It's always tough to follow 2 super-successful films, but everything came together perfectly here. The mind-blowing special effects are present, but relatively toned down compared to its predecessor. Still, the plot and subplots move along efficiently, and nothing feels gimmicky. Stripping Tony Stark of his powerful suit is pure genius, and a detour to a sleepy town, with Stark befriending a precocious boy and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting inhabitants, is one of the movie's best highlights.

That, and a certain sky-diving sequence, minus parachutes!

Also, Guy Pearce has never looked better, WOW! :)

My only grouse - a small one - is the purpose of the female characters. Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen has a pseudo-pivotal role that doesn't optimize her talent, while Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is suddenly transformed into a super-powered fighting mutant. Err, okay...

Small wonder Iron Man 3 is raking in hundreds of millions at domestic and international box offices. I'll bet the studio is doing everything it can to keep RDJ in the franchise, because who else can play Tony Stark so perfectly? Stay on for at least Part 4, yes? :)

Someone else worth raving about: local actor Eden Ang.

I saw him last February in Pangdemonium's Spring Awakening, and more recently, in Rabbit Hole.

He played polar opposites in both productions - in the former, he was a mohawked rebel who belted rock songs; in the latter, he played a wholesome schoolboy trying to make amends for a tragic accident.

I thought he was remarkable in Rabbit Hole, despite having a relatively small role. Whenever he was on stage, I couldn't look anywhere else, and a scene he shares with Janice Koh is absolutely gut-wrenching.

He also reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A LOT. That's a huge compliment, by the way. :)

Here's my review.

Last but not least, another upcoming trip overseas, also to catch a show which will not come to Singapore.

The main draw is Ramin Karimloo, a theatre star I've hoped to see since 2011. Purchasing tickets for shows in Japan is a horrible nightmare, and I managed to do so only because a friend who lives in Tokyo kindly offered to help. I initially gave up when 2 websites wouldn't allow seat selection, but for some strange reason, a 3rd site popped up and offered a great location.

I hope attending the show won't present any complications! Also crossing my fingers that I'll be able to meet the cast - a friend who knows Lea Salonga personally may be able to help. :)

Was planning to review Hannibal, but perhaps in the next entry.