Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ah, Life!

Watched Captain America, and didn't like it much. Apologies to fans and moviegoers who loved it, but try as I might, I checked my watch 5 times during the 2-hour film. But at least I didn't take a toilet break - a lot of other people around me did. Yay, strong bladder muscles! ;)

I actually wanted to enjoy myself as much as possible. After all, it has many elements that appeal to me - e.g. an underdog who becomes a hero, WWII and lots of Nazi-whacking, a great cast...

So, what happened?

I guess having the best ingredients can't guarantee a tasty dish if the cook isn't on the ball. And director Joe Johnston was, IMHO, not an ideal choice for this particular production.
His previous films include Honey, I Shrunk The Kids ( fluff ), The Rocketeer ( fluff ), Jumanji ( fluffy fluff ), Jurassic Park III ( very fluffy fluff ), Hidalgo ( so-so, even with Viggo Mortensen as the lead ), The Wolfman ( a case of severe misuse of a stellar cast ). The only movie which is not too bad is October Sky, but that was drama, not an attempt at blockbuster action.

( In case you're wondering, I've seen all the abovementioned shows. )

However, believe it or not, I went to see Captain America with zero inkling of Johnston's involvement. Aside from Chris Evans, I knew little about the supporting actors as well, though I recognized quite a few of them as they appeared in succession.

First, I must commend Evans for breaking out of his cocky-smart-aleck mould, thanks to a breakout role in Fantastic 4. Didn't see much of him in subsequent years, but a recent viewing of The Losers made me realize he may be more interesting than I originally thought, and I'm glad he did not disappoint as Steve Rogers.

In stark contrast to his Human Torch persona, Evans plays Rogers with ample restraint, yet successfully conveys the character's inner strength in a number of heartwarming scenes. He remains low-key even after an eye-popping transformation into the super-buff Captain America, but still generates sparks with fellow cast-mates, and handles the stunts well.

Supporting actors worthy of special attention include Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark ( that's Iron Man Tony Stark's daddy ); Sebastian Stan as Rogers' best pal, Bucky; and Hayley Atwell as the plucky but well-coiffed Peggy Carter.

Hugo Weaving - from The Matrix and Lord Of The Rings - is a fine actor in his own right, but too cheesy for words as Red Skull.
Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, even finer actors than Weaving, are completely wasted in peripheral roles.

More grouses: there're loads of big action scenes, but most feel forced, and I can only recall a couple which stood out ( the mountain train chase is one, and another featuring a tiny helicopter-like aircraft detaching from Red Skull's Stealth plane is pretty cool too. ).

One bit I did not appreciate: Red Skull's Storm Trooper army, and all those laser guns. Is this Captain America or Star Wars, dammit?!

Reviews have been good, so everyone will probably make a nice profit, and the franchise is likely to continue.

In the meantime, we can look forward to The Avengers, which will have Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow ( among others ) joining forces. Directed by Joss Whedon - hope he does a better job than Johnston!

Almost fell out of my seat when the Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows trailer came on before the Captain America screening. There was no mention of it in the magazines I've been reading so religiously. Empire, what the heck!?

I LOVE the first Sherlock Holmes movie to death, and the sequel promises much much more. I'm absolutely thrilled! :D

I'm also extremely tickled by the fact that the "get that out my face" joke from the original is repeated. I really thought I was the only person on Earth who loved that line. Apparently not. Thank you, Mr. Guy Ritchie. :D

December 16, 2011 - I may watch it twice if it's excellent. :)

Something else worth rejoicing about this week: the return of Justified, starring the very delicious Timothy Olyphant. I had to give up on the last few episodes of season 1, when the plot got a little unwieldy, but the season 2 pilot proved that the story's back on track, with loose ends neatly tied up, and a new cast of colourful characters for U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to stare down.

Olyphant is so bloody hot, I hope Justified will be adapted for the big-screen at some point. I bet he'll look gorgeous in a cineplex!

In closing, yet another Broadway musical I intend to see, if I can persuade my mother to agree to 4 consecutive shows over 4 nights.

Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige - plus a star-studded supporting cast, staged at the Times Square Marquis Theater.

The song I most want to hear: Buddy's Blues. If it's anywhere as good as Mandy Patinkin's 1985 rendition, I'm happy!

Please say yes, mum. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ah, Life...

It's a little better than the "Updates" or "More Updates", no? :)

Kevin Spacey photo of the moment: a poster shot from Horrible Bosses, the dark comedy which has done surprisingly well at the box office, sparking rumours of a possible sequel.

As usual, yet another KS film fails to hit local theatres, so I'm waiting for the online version. Promises to be a hoot, but I'm no fan of Jennifer Aniston's.

On a related note, my seats for The Bridge Project's Richard III have been confirmed. 3rd row centre. You can't beat that! :D

My current bedtime companion is Steve Martin's latest novel, An Object Of Beauty.

If you're a fellow fan of Martin's films, but are as yet unfamiliar with his literary works, then I highly recommend The Pleasure Of Your Company, which had me in stitches. :)

An Object Of Beauty is the polar opposite of Company, more in the style of Shopgirl - leisurely, almost aimless at times, but rewards the patient reader in spurts of inspired prose and sparkling plot developments that keep you turning the pages.

I've read my fair share of "leisurely" novels, since John Berendt is my favourite author ( Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, The City Of Falling Angels ) and another fave, Thomas Hardy, also writes in a similar manner ( Jude The Obscure was a challenge! ).

Martin can't quite compare to either writer, of course. And I think, out of his 3 fictional tales I've covered thus far, this is the weakest.

While insights about the world of art-dealing and art-collecting are intermittently fascinating, it's difficult to identify with characters who seem totally self-absorbed and frivolous, spending tens of millions of dollars on paintings ( or 1.2 million bucks on what looks like an unfolded kitchen sink, mounted on a wall ).

Perhaps Martin intended for his readers to feel alienated? I hope not.

I will, however, praise him for a few well-written chapters, especially one situated near the end, where an eclectic group of art lovers gathers for an evening of fine food and animated chatter.

The best - and also worst - thing about art is how it may be interpreted, regardless of genre and period. The photos of selected works will either make you gasp with pleasure, scratch your head in confusion, or wince in disgust. Someone paid XX dollars for that piece of CRAP?!, you ask.

I'm no conoisseur of modern artists, preferring more conventional masterpieces - portraits, landscapes, and oooh, exquisitely rendered sculptures of beautiful homo sapiens or majestic creatures! I guess that's why the Louvre, Metropolitan and Egyptian Museums left me awestruck. Besides, straightforward concepts are so much easier to understand, and less likely to induce a migraine.

I almost gave up on finishing the book, but since I'm less than 30 pages from the final paragraph, I shall endeavour to complete it, then move on to my next reading assignment, Shakespeare's Richard III.

Next, a couple of new TV series I'm sampling.

First, The Killing, a crime drama revolving around the investigation of a young girl's murder in Seattle.

May not sound like much on the surface, but the pilot episode was riveting, and I am hooked.

Much credit goes to Mireille Enos, whose name I can't even pronounce, who plays the lead character, the quiet but whip-smart detective, Sarah Linden.

Already nominated for an Emmy, she exudes strength and class without the need for any over-the-top antics. Since I haven't seen the subsequent episodes, I can't comment on whether she deserves the nomination, but compared to other new shows which try way too hard to please, to the extent of being ridiculous ( Body Of Proof, The Glades ), The Killing looks much more promising.

[ Available online, not sure if or when it will be on local cable. ]

Another interesting new series is Teen Wolf, which just premiered on AXN Beyond on Monday.

Touted as "based on the movie" of the same name, it couldn't be any further from the truth.

The film, starring the adorably boyish Michael J. Fox, had a cheesy plot and bad makeup. The TV show, starring the darkly handsome and super-buff Tyler Posey, is actually quite scary, with convincing visual effects to boot.

Posey, whom I clearly remember from Maid In Manhattan ( he played Jennifer Lopez's cute young son - how he's grown! ) shows potential. He may not be that great an actor - peers Shia LaBeouf and Anton Yelchin beat him hands down - but there's a lot of room for improvement, and I hope he makes an effort to hone his craft.

I just hope there won't be crazy plot twists like The Vampire Diaries, which made my head spin. I tend to stop watching when I stop understanding what's going on.

Also on my must-watch list: The Closer season 7. I can't praise this show enough, having followed it from the very beginning until its peak in seasons 5 and 6, culminating in Kyra Sedgwick's Emmy win in 2010.

There're A LOT of crime dramas in TV Land, but The Closer rarely disappoints. The writers never take the viewers for granted, so each standalone story is complex yet plausible. Twists and turns abound, resulting in shocking conclusions which also, somehow, make perfect sense.

I've also grown very fond of the entire cast, who make up the squad at Priority Homicide / Major Crimes. The early seasons are especially funny, as the detectives grudgingly learn to accept, then respect, their new leader, then forge strong bonds as they successfully solve one complicated crime after another.

Such a pity Season 7 will be the last. But hey, it's always better to bow out when you're at the top, right?

I will miss you terribly, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

More Updates

This entry's Kevin Spacey picture features a shot taken from The Bridge Project's Richard III production, directed by Sam Mendes, currently on an 8-week run at London's Old Vic Theatre.

Reviews so far have been positive, though one critic couldn't get over the thought of it being "a calculated performance".

I don't know what the hell that means, but IMHO, every performance is calculated, so get off your high horse already!

My tickets for 2 of its Singapore shows have been confirmed, though exact seats are still unknown. Paid a small fortune for them, and begged for good locations, so please don't disappoint me!

Will definitely read the play a few times before its run here. Must memorize the best parts so I can savour them better when Mr. Spacey's reciting the lines.

Public sales began on 1st July, so please go to SISTIC before they're all gone.

Most exciting! :D

Now, on to a list of shows I watched recently. Thank you, Megavideo. :)

Game Of Thrones is based on a fantasy novel series I haven't read - yet. May not get around to it anytime soon, so catching the HBO TV adaptation is good enough.

For someone who knows nothing about the books, episode 1 left me quite disoriented. Still, the superb cast, expert direction and beautiful costumes kept me going, and by episode 2, I was completely hooked.

Empire magazine also helped, with its excellent guide on the characters and various storylines. The number of players is staggering, and the exotic names make things even more difficult for newbies like me. So make sure you do some research to maximize your enjoyment!

I'm fascinated by tales set in a different era or world, but can be fussy when it comes to TV series, which demand a viewer's patience and loyalty. How else can it draw audiences back, week after week? I was addicted to The Tudors, but gave up on Rome, Camelot, Spartacus and The Borgias.

Game Of Thrones, however, excels in all aspects - acting, direction, costume and set design, script. Each episode is expertly paced, keeping the viewer on the edge of the seat, hungry for more.

Sex, violence, and Machiavellian maneouvres are present in abundance. Where the former two are concerned, I recommend online resources, because local cable's version - IF this ever sees the light of day here - will be heavily censored. ( Same thing occurred with True Blood S3. )

Characters-wise, no doubt fans have their personal favourites. Mine include Daenerys Targaryen ( played by Emilia Clarke ), the platinum-blonde princess who is married off to the leader of a barbaric tribe ( played by Jason Momoa, who will next be seen in the big-screen remake of Conan The Barbarian ), to further her evil brother's plan to reclaim their father's throne.

There's also Jaime Lannister ( Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ), twin brother to Queen Cersei ( Lena Headey ). The diabolical siblings plot constantly, and also commit incest without guilt. Yes, graphic scene inserted.

Pint-sized Peter Dinklage plays the third Lannister, Tyrion. One of the show's best roles, full of snarky attitude and witty one-liners.

Even the children shine. In particular, Arya Stark ( Maisie Williams ) with her fire and courage, and Joffrey Baratheon ( Jack Gleeson ), a teenage prince whose cunning and cowardice make my blood boil.

Now you understand why I'm addicted. A+++! :)

Give it a go. You won't regret it!

I'm a big fan of horror shows, even when they're bad heh! I'll just sit through the whole thing to see what happens in the end. Because if there's a good jolt to be had, I want it. :)

The Ward stars Amber Heard, an actress who seems to be enjoying her status as the go-to girl for slasher flicks ( e.g. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Zombieland, The Stepfather ). She's quite good actually, so let's hope she rises above this label quickly. There's no shame in starting out in B-grade films, as long as you climb the ladder at some point.

This movie is a little more interesting than the standard gore-fest. It's set in the '60s, a time when psychotherapy remained brutal and unethical. There isn't much blood-letting either, with director John Carpenter preferring to let the eerie mental asylum do all the work.

Creepy dark corridors - check. Frequent thunderstorms with lightning - check. Weird asylum staff - check. Strange bumps in the night - check.

The premise is that there's a ghost terrorizing the inmates, supposedly the vengeful spirit of a dead patient.

I guessed the ending somewhere around the halfway mark. Easy when you've seen Shutter Island. :)

Jolts-wise: there're a few. One of them almost gave my mum a heart attack. Do NOT sit too close to the screen. :D

Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. B+

I watched Unstoppable because of generally strong reviews. Not a fan of Denzel Washington or Chris Pine, and while the first half dragged, the last 30 minutes were worth the time spent waiting for the tension to build up.

The plot is simple: careless train operator results in a runaway 39-car locomotive; toxic chemicals on board; risk to thousands if train derails and explodes; multiple attempts to stop the train fail, so it's up to these 2 heroes to save the day. And they do. Naturally.

It's entertaining enough, but credit goes to Washington and Pine for maintaining their dignity despite the formulaic script. And director Tony Scott needs to understand that jerky camera shots make some people nauseous ( i.e. me! ).

Rating: B

On to Source Code, which Empire kept raving about.

Jake Gyllenhaal is an interesting choice for this blockbuster, because he always seems to be lurking just under the A-list radar, even after acclaimed turns in Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac.

One of my favourites, though, is Jarhead. Such an under-rated classic. More people should see it!

With Source Code, JG is once again in leading man mode, this time a military pilot recruited into what looks like a time-travel programme, a la Groundhog Day, in an attempt to sniff out the person responsible for a massive train explosion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely. It's well-directed so the repetitive scenes ( each 8 minutes long ) don't grate on your nerves. Each new clue gets your pulse racing just a little more, and there are memorable performances from JG, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga.

Heck, even the villain does a great job.

The last 15-20 minutes are especially poignant. Won't reveal spoilers here, but get your hankies out!

Rating: A

I've left The Adjustment Bureau for last because it totally blew me away, and I am once again very VERY impressed with Matt Damon. Can't believe he wasn't on my Top 10 Favourite Actors list before!

Screenwriter George Nolfi directs for the first time here, adapting a Philip K. Dick short story titled "Adjustment Team".

Viewers can interprete this any way they like, depending on their religious or personal beliefs. Even the script offers alternative explanations to the baffled David Norris ( Damon ).

There's much to appreciate - suspense, action, romance, even humour. The cast includes Emily Blunt, Mad Men's John Slattery, and The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie.

But what I think will stay with the viewer long after the credits stop rolling, is the undeniable chemistry between Damon and Blunt.

Their characters' first meeting in, of all places, a public restroom ( the scene, for obvious reasons, isn't available on YouTube ), lasts maybe 5 minutes, but ends with an unexpected kiss that sent shivers up my spine. I could literally feel the heat between the two actors. It was sensational!

This is probably why the rest of the film works so well. When you become invested in the protagonist's struggle, you start rooting for him to defy the odds, no matter how much they're stacked against him. And the Adjustment Bureau is practically ruthless when it comes to "sticking to The Plan", complete with a nifty little black book which looks suspiciously like Harry Potter's Marauder's Map. :)

Blunt is a revelation as Elise. She's an actress I love to watch - The Devil Wears Prada, Sunshine Cleaning, The Young Victoria, Wolfman, The Jane Austen Book Club - but this is the first time I actually saw her abilities as a newly trained dancer. In fact, her on-screen performance looks so authentic I'm shocked to learn that she picked up the skills during a boot camp!

Again, the various elements come together seamlessly - the bathroom meeting, Elise's dances, the Bureau's incessant interfering. Layers are unveiled as each scene unfolds, and every new piece of information propels the story forward. There are, IMHO, no redundant bits in this film.

The heart of the tale is, undoubtedly, the love David and Elise have for one another. You may not fully grasp the reason/s behind the strong bond they share, but rest assured, that too will be explained in due course.

Ultimately, it is Damon's powerful portrayal which drives the film all the way to the finish line. I have seen him in everything from Good Will Hunting to The Talented Mr. Ripley, from The Bourne series to Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, from The Rainmaker to The Departed to Invictus, even comedies like Stuck On You and The Informant!

I took his versatility for granted for so many years, mainly because I saw a Ben Affleck interview once ( Inside The Actors Studio with James Lipton ), and he ribbed Damon for his "method acting". Perhaps that's why I never took him that seriously, even when he won the Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting. I always thought he tried too hard to impress, and that cheapened the performance in some way.

Not anymore. Damon has finally awed me enough to earn a place on my Top 10 list, and I apologize for not recognizing his talent much earlier. With The Adjustment Bureau, he embodies all the qualities of a full-fledged movie star - looks good on-screen, is 100% believable in a challenging role, generates sparks with fellow cast members, and leaves audiences yearning for more, more, more!

Make sure you see this movie! Rating: A++++! :D

I will leave you with an Oprah interview montage from YouTube. It contains only a short clip from the best one - for All The Pretty Horses, in 2000 - but guess it'll have to do. Damn that I lost the video tape recording when I moved house!

Till next time...