Thursday, August 29, 2013

Awesomeness At Its Peak!

It's been a most eventful few weeks since my last entry, but I've picked the following to wax lyrical about. :)

First, I watched a an excellent indie(?) film named Lovelace, based on a true story about a porn star who was forced into the industry for 17 days, thanks to an abusive, greedy husband who exploited her abominably.

Only 90 minutes long but really packs a wallop, thanks to a truly exceptional cast, script and directors.

Check out the leads - Amanda Seyfriend ( Linda Lovelace ), Peter Sarsgaard ( her a-hole husband ) - plus a stellar lineup of supporting actors including Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, James Franco, Robert Patrick and Wes Bentley.

Never mind the star power - another feature I greatly appreciate is how unexpected the casting choices are. E.g. Franco as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, wholesome Brody ( remember The O.C.? ) as a well-endowed porn stud, Stone and Patrick as a boring, dowdy couple ( Linda's parents! ).

Bentley also has a few very memorable moments as a photographer who gets Linda to loosen up during a shoot. I've known about him since American Beauty, and he's hardly aged a day since that film, despite a hard-core drug habit which almost killed him ( he's been to rehab, so here's wishing him a successful recovery ). I mention him specifically because even though the movie is jam-packed with famous faces and explosive performances, Bentley's mere minutes on screen are hypnotic. I'll let you experience this for yourself. Even my mum - who isn't the sort to comment unless she's REALLY impressed ( or disgusted, haha ) - couldn't help blurting something about his sheer gorgeousness. If he'd been 5-10 years younger, I think he'd be perfect as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades. :)

I'm a huge fan of many of the cast members' work, but Peter Sarsgaard blew my mind! He'd already wowed me in Shattered Glass, Jarhead, An Education, Orphan and The Killing season 3 ( freaking amazing, that series ), but Lovelace is the current pinnacle of his career ( and I have no doubt he will surpass it again soon ). He's always excelled at playing flawed, complex characters, and although Chuck in Lovelace is obviously evil, Sarsgaard conveys his pathological paranoia and insecurity brilliantly, with a few comical scenes thrown in for good measure.

I am most eager to get my hands on Blue Jasmine, in which he stars with Cate Blanchett, and Woody Allen directs!

Another fantastic series I need to mention is The Fall, starring The X-Files' Gillian Anderson as a top detective on the hunt for a serial killer. A BBC adaptation of a European (?Swedish ?Danish) show, season 1 only has 5 episodes, but every single one is absolutely amazing.

I've included this variation of the poster because I want to highlight the male lead, Jamie Dornan, who plays the killer. He's remained far below the radar all these years, and I missed his turn in Once Upon A Time ( because I can't understand it ). Imagine my surprise when he surfaced in The Fall and blew me away with quite possibly one of the best serial killer portrayals ever ( aside from Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan ).

Again, I don't want to ruin your viewing, so I'm going to keep things vague. Suffice to say, there're numerous shocking moments, and episodes 4 and 5 are positively chilling. Be prepared for the major cliffhanger ( same goes for The Killing season 3 ), which will keep you going till the show returns ( no date announced yet ).

Breaking Bad is currently in its 5th and final season in the U.S., but I only caught on last month, so I'm now at season 2 episode 2.

I'd always wondered what everyone was raving about, but never felt the urge to find out for myself until recently, when I succumbed to multiple friends' repeated prodding.

I happily concede defeat, and am hopelessly hooked! :)

I've added various posters for your examination - if you follow the series, you'll realize that this sequence tells Walter White's story chronologically, i.e. a tale of gradual but alarming transformation, and a riveting study on how extenuating circumstances can drive decent, peaceful people to extremes.

The best part, however, isn't the sheer nastiness or intermittent spurts of psychopathic violence. As season 2 episode 2 ingeniously illustrates, even the simplest prop can elevate satire to the highest level.

Stroke patient in a wheelchair + counter bell. Watch and tell me you laughed your guts out too. :D

I'm taking my time getting the online episodes. Definitely one of my top 3 faves right now. A huge thank you to everyone who recommended this to me. :)

Will sign off with a photo of my next holiday destination next spring. Didn't take any big trips this year, so I can afford to splurge a little. The flights will be tough, but I expect a lot of R&R downtime. Beautiful, isn't it? :D

More reviews and updates in September...

Friday, August 09, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

It's been a while since I finished reading a novel of moderate length ( 400 pages ) within 3 weeks - yes, sounds a little pathetic I know, but I have a bad habit of juggling multiple books and magazines, plus a tonne of commitments which sap what remaining energy I have at the beginning and end of the day to do any recreational reading.

If I'd had the luxury of time, I would've probably taken 6 weeks to complete Crazy Rich Asians. Unfortunately, I got a copy brand new from the National Library ( first on the reservation list, hah! ) and a whole line of people was waiting for me to return it, so I apologize if this review is skimpy on detail, because the book is no longer in my possession.

Unless you've been hibernating in a cave these past few months, you would've at least heard or read about Kevin Kwan's debut which has become a national bestseller in the U.S. and was recently green-lit for a Hollywood film adaptation.

First, many congratulations to Mr. Kwan, a native Singaporean whose work is creating great buzz for our country.

Second, I look forward to news about the cast and shooting locations. I assume they'll come to Singapore? :)

Third, I would recommend this novel, but with caveats.

Synopses and reviews are available from various online sources, but in a nutshell, CRA focuses on Asian high society - a colourful group of powerful and insanely wealthy characters with equally exotic names and backgrounds.

Prepare yourself for over-the-top opulence and debauchery - regular trips to Paris to purchase haute couture gowns which cost $200,000 each; private viewings at exclusive jewellery galleries where millions are spent without guilt; a sprawling mansion behind the Singapore Botanic Gardens, guarded by Gurkhas and manned by an army of servants larger than Downton Abbey's ( the road mentioned in the novel exists - I was kay-poh enough to check my street directory :)); luxurious getaways via private jet - the list never ends.

Posh brands are mentioned extensively, and for the ignorant reader ( like myself ), this penchant for name-dropping might cause some irritation because not only does it affect the flow of the prose, it's also often performed without adequate description ( aside from the occasional footnote ).

I'm certain many will revel in the exhaustive expositions, and I can only imagine what such scenes will look like when the film takes shape. I consider myself an avid reader, and enjoy lengthy narratives immensely. While there's no question that Kwan writes well, his style has a superficial tone to it, and after the umpteenth paragraph waxing lyrical about someone's dress / shoes / face / palatial home, my attention started wavering.

Then there's the multitude of characters, many of whom are related through marriage. A helpful family tree is provided but I still found it difficult to follow. To me, it's an indication of the lack of depth with regards to portrayal, but I don't blame Kwan for his choices. CRA was meant to be savoured as a decadent dessert, albeit a really expensive one. Don't expect a literary classic.

It is, however, highly entertaining. Eccentric personalities abound, and even the super-rich run the gamut of extreme behaviour, from reckless extravagance to irrational miserliness. Many of the outrageous dialogues made me laugh out loud, and a certain bachelor party in Macau is positively hair-raising.

Viciousness also features prominently, and is mostly confined to the female cliques. Gossip traverses the Atlantic within seconds thanks to mobile phones and the Internet; tai-tai's spew venom during a bible study session; a tropical island holiday turns sinister, complete with a gutted fish and a savagely worded note.

Most readers aren't privy to what goes on within this relatively mysterious world, so many must be guessing exactly how much of this is actually true. Kwan has apparently denied that the characters are based on people he knows, but in one interview, he mentions his mother's clothes being exclusively tailored and how stylish his grandparents were. Plus, in the book itself, he admits to being an ACS boy. You do the math!

Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch for the authenticity of Kwan's depictions. I know a handful of high society figures, and they definitely span the whole spectrum. One family owns a business empire and has a son who once served as a U.S. ambassador, but they live frugally, dress in nondescript attire, and hand out a maximum of $10 per Chinese New Year red packet. A longtime friend is the only son of a couple whose abundant wealth I can only surmise, because he never discusses it with anybody, is one of the most humble and hardworking people I know, and doesn't seem to own anything faintly resembling a designer brand. How do I know his parents are filthy rich? People who were invited to his home - only once - told me he lives in "a palace". It was more than 10 years ago - I think I was invited but couldn't make it. Have been dropping hints ever since. Did someone tell me he lives at Tyersall Park??? :)
Then there's the 20-plus-year-old diva who loves to flaunt her lavish lifestyle for all to see. She travels frequently "to shop", shows off haute couture gowns at high society events, and is absolutely vile.

Concerns-wise, I do have a few. Like Amy Chua's controversial Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother ( which totally distorts the image of Asian mums ), CRA - though a fictional tale - may reinforce Western prejudices. While I agree that Singaporeans are generally loud, crass and gossipy, the novel amplifies this significantly, and for those of us who actively avoid behaving in this manner, being inaccurately portrayed to the rest of the world isn't a pleasant thought.

I suppose it all depends on Hollywood - who knows how much control Kwan can negotiate, what the producers / screenwriter / director want to do with the story, etc. I just hope they'll shoot the movie in Singapore, and have the decency to cast local actors. Rope in the theatre veterans ( Adrian Pang, Janice Koh, Tan Kheng Hua, etc ), whom I think are exceptional!

I've tweeted Kwan a few times over the past month, and haven't received any acknowledgement so far. Considering the fact that he has fewer than 300 followers, tweets daily and responds to other Twitter users, the silence is perplexing. Perhaps a tweet about my blog review will finally trigger a reaction? :)

Anyway, congrats again, and even though putting Singapore on the map in this manner may have repercussions, it's a significant splash nonetheless. Hopefully, it will help pave the way for other aspiring writers ( including myself ), which is always a good thing.

All the best, Mr. Kwan!

p.s. If you'd like a taste of more sinful affluence, I also recommend Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby ( film ) and John Berendt's The City Of Falling Angels ( novel written by one of my favourite authors ).
The former is a sumptuous visual spectacle, and the latter a divine reading experience. Enjoy. :)