Wednesday, April 03, 2019

In Your Atmosphere - Review of John Mayer's concert, Singapore Indoor Stadium, 1st April 2019

He's already received a positive review in today's Life! section, but I'd like to add my two cents.

First, some background: I've been a fan of JM's since 2001, when his debut album, Room For Squares, was released.
Marketed by Columbia Records as a pop release - no doubt banking on John's pretty boy looks - it spawned hits like Your Body Is A Wonderland, which he wrote about then-girlfriend, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.

I loved the album immediately, but not because of Wonderland. I was more inclined towards the other less well-known tracks, like Neon and 83 ( the latter is one of my all-time faves ).

Next came Heavier Things (2003), followed by Continuum (2006).
Continuum is regarded by many to be his career best, and for good reason. John finally moved from pop/rock to blues and soul, churning out classics like Waiting on the World to Change, Vultures and Gravity.
I was totally OBSESSED with this album, with vivid memories of blasting it at high volume on my car stereo during many long drives to and from work. John, you have no idea how much your music helped me get through those interminable traffic jams. :)

Let's not forget his live album releases - Any Given Thursday (2003) and Try! (2005) ( as the John Mayer Trio ).
Try! was on constant repeat for many months. His cover of Ray Charles' I Got A Woman always gave me oestrogen surges. :D

My enthusiasm waned a little after Battle Studies (2009). Probably because Continuum set such a high bar and was just too difficult to outdo. Born and Raised (2012) and Paradise Valley (2013) saw John exploring the folk and country music genres, but The Search for Everything (2017) saw a return to pop, blues and soul.

Watching JM live on stage was always on my bucket list, but I stopped short of travelling overseas just to see him ( even though I did this twice for Josh Groban and once for Hugh Jackman ). So when he finally decided to perform in Singapore, I wanted a ticket extremely badly. And many thanks to my friend's husband for somehow managing to get through to the Sports Hub Tix website when my friend and I were stuck in the virtual waiting room. Without his amazing luck, I would never have had a chance to see one of my favourite musicians.

On to the show itself.
It sold out within a few hours, and additional restricted view seats were later released.
I opted for a spot in the tiered middle section, which offered a panoramic view of stadium, and I had my friend and her hubby for good company.

John came out promptly at 8:15pm, to deafening cheers from the crowd, and I knew it was going to be a terrific night.
He launched into an energetic performance of Helpless ( from The Search for Everything ), followed by New Light ( a standalone single ), I Don't Trust Myself ( with Loving You ) ( Continuum ), Something Like Olivia ( Battle Studies ) and Paper Doll ( Paradise Valley ).
I loved the toggling between albums, which kept the audience on their toes and made the show interesting.
I also wondered how he planned his set list, because based on what he posted on social media, every concert is completely different.

Two songs from the first half stood out for me: Love on the Weekend ( TSFE ) and Heartbreak Warfare ( BS ).
Both weren't on my radar despite multiple listens previously, but the live versions were incredible!
Kudos to John and his band for their savvy musical arrangements ( and TWO drummers on stage, which must've made the difference ). LOTW sounded so beautiful, and HW became an adrenaline-pumping anthem. I couldn't stop smiling. :)

After the 20-minute intermission, John returned alone to the stage, performing acoustic versions of Badge and Gun ( PV ), Your Body is a Wonderland ( RFS ), Free Fallin' ( a cover of the Tom Petty classic ) and In Your Atmosphere ( from his live album, Where The Light Is: Live in LA ).
The audience really stepped up on Wonderland and Free Fallin' - they belted the lyrics with gusto, and John paused multiple times to let us fill in the blanks. His appreciative smiles could be seen by everyone on the big screens. Good job, fans!

After Queen of California ( B&R ), I Guess I Just Feel Like ( single ), Who Says ( BS ) and The Age of Worry ( B&R ), came Slow Dancing in a Burning Room ( Continuum ).
Slow Dancing featured the BEST guitar solo of the night, and I was very lucky to be recording when he played it. 2 minutes of pure heaven, OMG. :)

Waiting on the World to Change ( Continuum ) and Still Feel Like Your Man ( TSFE ) closed the second half, with Edge of Desire ( BS ) and Gravity ( Continuum ) for the encore.

The show ended at 11pm. And we still wanted more. :)

John was in high spirits the entire evening, evidenced by his bopping to the music and frequent smiles. During the song Changing ( TSFE ), many turned their mobile phone lights on and waved them around, which he acknowledged after the performance, saying, "Thank you for the lights, it was beautiful."

In the first half, he also mentioned a sign a fan was holding up in the floor section, asking for a chance to go on stage to play the guitar with him.
He graciously expressed his appreciation for the request, but joked that "it's just something I don't want to do; I want you to enjoy the show without having the hold it up the whole night; I'm concerned about your bi's ( biceps ) and your tri's ( triceps )". Lol!

He isn't a talkative person by nature ( unlike my other fave singers Jason Mraz, Josh Groban, Michael Buble and Ryan Tedder ), but he made it a point to thank fans who "reached out to me" on Instagram and kept asking him to come to Singapore. He wasn't sure what kind of reception he'd get, but he got his answer when he saw the full house and heard the cheers and mass singalongs.

I also had no idea he's so popular here. All these years, I thought he appealed to a niche audience - I guess because all my colleagues and most of my friends never expressed any interest in him. Two nights ago, I finally realized I wasn't alone, and it was FREAKING AWESOME!

John ended the show with a promise to return soon - something he repeated in a social media post that same night.
His exact words were: "First time playing Singapore, and nowhere near the last. I enjoyed every second of each song knowing it was the first time anyone in the room had heard them live. Not a moment taken for granted. And what a crowd. Thank you, Singapore."

I'd like to conclude this entry with something I posted on John's Facebook page. No idea if he or his management team saw it, but other fans did:
"After waiting 18 long years, this immensely gifted musician has finally performed in my country, blessing us with one of the best concerts in history.
As the song title goes - Mr. Mayer, it was a privilege to be In Your Atmosphere. To be in the same room with you, to just breathe the same air, to witness your legendary musicianship in person. I will never forget this incredible night, and please keep your promise to come back. And soon! Not after another 18 years."

I've lost count of the number of shows I've attended since I was a kid, so it's a testament to how amazing John Mayer was that night, when I put him in my top 3 list.
#1 is Jason Mraz's 2006 gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall
#3 is Robbie Williams' 2001 concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium

And last but not least, John is unbelievably handsome. Not the reason I'm a fan ( honest! ) but it adds to the enjoyment of his music when he's so nice to look at haha. :)
I also notice how he gets very caught up in the performance, especially during the guitar solos. He closes his eyes and seems hypnotized by the whole experience.

On a side note, make sure you check out his recent music videos and TV interviews, where his quirky humour is on full display.
The videos for New Light ( JM in PJs ) and Paper Doll ( the one that features "advanced prancercise" ) are real hoots!
He's mellowed a lot these past 10 years and I love his personality.
There's a lot more to this man than just his music.

Thanks for coming to Singapore, John! I hope I can be at your next show here, fingers crossed. And please play Vultures and In The Blood next time round. :)

[ photo credit: Live Nation Singapore ]

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review - Triple Frontier

Believe me when I say I was drooling throughout this movie. :D

The cast features 4 actors whose careers I’ve followed closely for years ( or decades, in Ben Affleck’s case ), and whom I consider among the hottest men in the world.

My anticipation was exponentially heightened earlier this month when I attended Netflix’s fan event at Marina Bay Sands. Ben, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund were present, and I came face to face with Ben and Garrett, though I wasn’t quick enough to snap a proper wefie before the former moved down the line ( big sigh about that one ).

My enthusiasm didn’t wane, however, so when the film was released on Netflix, I watched it the same night, sleep deprivation be damned.

Verdict: I absolutely loved it.

Aside from the cast, I’m also familiar with director J.C. Chandor’s work, having seen all 3 of his previous Hollywood projects. Chandor is an eclectic character whose movies demonstrate an impressive diversity, but he always seemed to cater to a niche audience – until now.

Triple Frontier is Chandor’s foray into military action territory, with no less than Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal ( The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty ) and Chuck Roven ( the Batman trilogy, Wonder Woman, Man of Steel ) producing.

The result is a hard-hitting, heart-pounding action thriller with lots of nail-biting twists, guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat for 2 hours.

The story is fictional and might be viewed unfavourably by military veterans, since the premise involves a group of former Special Ops soldiers going rogue to basically rob and murder a drug lord in order to improve their own situations – i.e. using skills meant for noble purposes to do the exact opposite.

I agree that this will raise a few eyebrows. It probably has already, judging from its average 6/10 score on IMDB ( from critics and viewers ).

It really depends on how you choose to interpret this. If you’re easily bothered by the plot and abhor violence, then this movie is not for you.

But if you’re like me – open-minded and watching just for entertainment – it’ll be a huge blast.

The film’s greatest strength, of course, is its spectacular cast. Although Ben is the only Oscar winner in the group, his fellow actors are no less accomplished. Oscar is part of the Star Wars franchise and was highly acclaimed as the lead in Inside Llewyn Davis; Charlie has been in blockbusters like Pacific Rim ( not to mention he snagged the Christian Grey role before backing out at the last minute ), and Pedro was in Narcos and the Kingsman sequel. I’m not that familiar with Garrett’s filmography, but I do know he was in Tron: Legacy and Unbroken.

This is a veritable dream team. And considering the stressful circumstances the characters keep getting thrown in, strong acting is a great advantage.

Ben’s name may be the first in the credits, but Oscar has way more screen time and is the team leader who rounds everyone up for the heist. ( He also looks amazing! But then, so does everyone else. Kudos to the hair and makeup team! )

The first half hour revolves around the setup, then things start to get interesting, as human nature disrupts their meticulous plan. They may be well-trained soldiers, but when there’s no accountability to a higher authority and they come face to face with hundreds of millions in cash, greed obliterates any good judgment.

I won’t reveal spoilers, so just sit back and watch each disaster unfold ( and boy, do they get hammered ). The best thing about this film is the script never feels like a series of plot gimmicks. Every new obstacle flows smoothly into the overall storyline and I found them all plausible. Anyone who’s had enough life experiences will understand that sometimes, anything that can go wrong will do just that - simultaneously, and at the worst possible time. In this case, it’s meant to add drama, but I can definitely relate.

Another point I appreciate is how each character’s weakness plays a part in every catastrophe ( although it’s quite obvious who’s more to blame compared to the rest ). Some of them might make you cringe, but the script also provides insight into their individual backgrounds and motives, so you do sympathize to a certain extent.

If this movie had been cast with less capable actors, I probably would’ve lost interest halfway. Instead, I remained fully invested until the final scene. Aside from Charlie and Garrett, who are long-time pals in real life, the others hadn’t worked together previously. I guess they really bonded during pre-production boot camp, ‘cos the camaraderie is palpable.

For me, a believable emotional connection is vital. It’s present in abundance here, though thankfully, it doesn’t degenerate into mindless yelling.

What I also notice is how the characters argue over each new complication, but quickly rein in their tempers and get on with the mission at hand, with delayed apologies offered during calmer conditions. It adds texture to the storytelling process – a simple but effective illustration of how strong friendships can survive the worst circumstances.

So there you have it: Triple Frontier is, IMO, an awesome piece of work, due in large part to its director and cast. Pay attention to the stunning action sequences ( air! land! sea! ), but ultimately, it’s the excellent acting which elevates this above most of its counterparts.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review - You

I was planning to review Narcos: Mexico first, but You turned out to be way too entertaining.
I'm not saying the latter's better than the former - they're both equally superb, but the fact that You is only one season old ( while Narcos is four ), I think it deserves some blog space. :)

Some of you may not know that this series originally aired on Lifetime, before moving to Netflix more than 3 months later.
This proved to be a godsend, because despite having access to Lifetime, StarHub cable somehow didn't include this in its lineup, so I eventually got to see it through Netflix. ( Same thing happened with Bodyguard, which StarHub's BBC Demand channel doesn't carry. WTF! )

The general plot is quite straightforward: guy sees girl, develops an unhealthy obsession, stalks her and manipulates the relationship to suit his own notions of romantic perfection.

Sounds twisted, I agree. And it could've gone wrong in so many ways - but it didn't. In fact, the show was a huge hit, has been given the green light for season 2, and is one of my personal favourites.

So what made it work so well?

Much of its appeal lies in savvy casting. Penn Badgley plays said stalker, Joe Goldberg, with charm, intelligence, menace and creepiness in equal portions. The only other actor who succeeded at this was Michael C. Hall in Dexter ( my all-time favourite TV drama ), and I couldn't be happier to read about similar comparisons in various reviews.
There're other parallels too - from Joe's father figure mentor, to the frequent voiceovers ( narrated by the lead character in a deadpan tone ).

The object of Joe's affection, Guinevere Beck, is played by Elizabeth Lail - an actress I'd never seen before this. Lail is wonderfully cast: pretty in a wholesome, non-threatening way, with a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh. This is key in order to understand Joe's obsession.
However, kudos to the writers for making Beck a complex character who confuses and frustrates Joe, causing him to commit risky acts, upping the suspense significantly. It makes every episode highly unpredictable, keeping viewers hooked and craving more.

The peripheral characters are no less important, especially Beck's frenemy, Peach, and Joe's abused-kid neighbour, Paco. Both play integral roles in the storylines, with a twist in the climactic finale that made me go "WHOA!" Well played, scriptwriters. Well played, indeed!

Another great thing about the writing is the humour. It mostly involves Joe's inner voice and takes the form of sardonic comments. Sometimes, it occurs when Joe panics ( e.g. when a dead body might be discovered ) or, in one standout episode, when he's delirious from a head injury.
Credit goes to Badgley for delivering his lines with such comedic flair. Making me laugh during violent / gory scenes brings back memories of Dexter. :)

Gossip Girl fans will remember Badgley fondly. There, he played perhaps the only good guy in a swamp of douchebags ( he was also the good guy in The Stepfather ).
I wouldn't have pictured him as the villain, but You's producers obviously saw something dark in him and took a chance. Hopefully, this will open the door to even juicier roles. I'd very much like to see him in a period piece. Someone please make it happen!

On a more personal note, I've been stalked myself a couple of times, although not in such a severe manner. Examples include finding out my home address and driving past at night without my knowledge ( he voluntarily owned up to it later ), showing up to look for me during a night shift ( thank goodness I wasn't on duty ), repeated phone calls and messages, etc.
Social media didn't exist back then. Now that I have Facebook and Twitter accounts, people have much easier access to my comings and goings, although I have different privacy settings for more personal posts.

All I can say is, if someone who looks like Penn Badgley stalks me, I may not protest that much lol.
Looking forward to season 2!