Conspicuous Trailer of the Week: Love Ranch

Now there’s an odd on-screen married couple: Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci. As the Guardian astutely pointed out, these two have a combined age of 131, but at age 65, Dame Helen Mirren can still pack some heat! Her American accent is inconsistent based on the trailer, but would anyone even notice?

Based on a true story about the owners of the first legal brothel in Nevada, apparently the movie’s been delayed for a couple of years. Joe Pesci himself’s been in retirement of sort, his last movie role was a small part in The Good Shepherd four years ago. Hmmm, perhaps he just couldn’t resist a chance at playing Mirren’s husband… as well as lovers to lots of women one-third of his age :)

Plot Description from Apple trailer site:

Love Ranch is a bittersweet love story that turns explosive when the players in a romantic triangle lose control and cross the line. Set in the late1970s, depicting larger than life personalities living on the edge, Love Ranch stars Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci as Grace Bontempo and Charlie Bontempo, the husband and wife team who own and run Nevadas first legalized brothel. Their lives are suddenly altered when Armando Bruza, a husky, world famous heavy weight boxer from South America, played by hot upandcoming Spanish actor Sergio PerisMencheta, is brought to the Ranch to train as part of Charlies everexpanding entrepreneurial empire. Plans quickly go awry when Bruza comes between Grace and Charlie as an unforeseen love triangle develops that erupts into uncontrollable passion and murder.

From the director of Ray, Devil’s Advocate and Proof of Life, Hackford is Mirren’s real life husband. He directed her in 1985 in White Nights, a drama about a Russian ballet dancer (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov). Just a bit of trivia: the famous Lionel Ritchie’s song Say you, say me used in this movie won an Oscar for Best Original Score.

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Random Question: Who’s your dream on-screen duo?

Charismatic... and looks great in a fedora, what else do you need?

This post’s been laying dormant in my draft folder for quite a while. At the time I was inspired by this Popwatch‘s fantastic idea of two extremely charismatic & bankable actors Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp starring together in a film. The writer had a fascinating idea of having them star in “… Outrageous Fortune meets Tango & Cash and Roxanne, possibly in period garb.” Ha! Now that’s definitely something worth seeing.

But my good friend Marc at Goseetalk‘s nostalgic review of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves gives kudos to one of my favorite mature actor Alan Rickman, just as I finished reading something about Timothy Dalton (you know how I feel about the man). Dalton is so rarely seen in the movies lately (doing VO work in Toy Story 3 doesn’t count), for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Oh man, what I would give to see these two irresistibly-husky-voiced British thespians act in a movie together! I could see them play crime lord partners/rivals, or as adversaries in a period swashbuckling piece a la Brian Cox’s Agamemnon vs. Brendan Gleeson’s Menelaus in Troy (they, as well as Eric Bana, were the highlights of the movie for me, NOT Brad Pitt).

James Bond vs. Hans Gruber?

Hollywood never seems to run out of buddy movies, some of the best ones are featured in this awesome AtomicPopcorn list. They left out a few of my personal faves though: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the buddy action comedy Hot Fuzz, Sly & Kurt Russell in Tango & Cash (even my mom liked it!), and the best father/son duo ever, Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade (though Connery is only 12 years older than Ford).

Cage & Travolta face off

But buddy movies aren’t the only ones with fun on-screen duos. Watching two terrific nemesis play off each other well can be equally thrilling, i.e. Russell Crowe & Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma, Nic Cage & John Travolta in Face/Off (one of my many guilty pleasures), Bruce Willis & Alan Rickman in Die Hard (think I’m going to leave these two out?), and who can forget Pacino & DeNiro squaring off in Heat? (just forget Righteous Kill ever happened) I realize I’m listing all action flicks, I guess a lot of the best duos are usually found in that genre. But I did wrote this two-part posts last year on romantic movie couples: Part 1 and Part 2.

Here are just a couple of duos I’m looking forward to sometime next year: Clive Owen and Jason Statham in The Killer Elite and Gerard Butler squaring off against Ralph Fiennes in modern day Shakespeare political tale Coriolanus. The former is about a group of former British special forces members being hunted by a team of assassins led by Statham’s character, a former Navy Seal (per Firstshowing).

Ok now (putting my casting director hat on), here are ten random pairings that I’d love to see on-screen together: (I’m sticking to male duos right now, I might work on the female ones in a later post)

  1. Michael Caine & Rufus Sewell
  2. Gerard Butler & Michael Fassbender
  3. Russell Crowe & Daniel Day-Lewis
  4. Morgan Freeman & Christoph Waltz
  5. Viggo Mortensen & John Malkovich
  6. Guy Pearce & Denzel Washington
  7. Christian Bale & Harrison Ford
  8. Edward Norton & Michael Sheen
  9. Mark Strong & Gary Oldman
  10. Clive Owen & Colin Firth

Ok, your turn. I’m sure you have your own picks, so let’s hear ‘em!

Random Thoughts: London Tube & the Movies

On Monday, IMDb has an interesting poll that asked ‘what is your favorite movie set on a train?’ Well, part of what’s so fun about my recent London trip was taking the underground tube every day, which not only provides a fast and convenient transportation but it’s a fun place for people watching as well.

Photo courtesy of Pixelcrave.net

I didn’t realize how popular London tube system is in the movies until I read this. According to that page, the London Underground Film Office handles over 200 requests a month. Wow! The list of movies filmed in various tube stations are quite long, and it also includes scenes in music videos.

Here are a few scenes I remember that takes place in the London tube, as well as those I haven’t seen that people consider memorable (thanks for NickCooper.org for the great resources on the subject) – beware, list may contain spoilers:

  • V for Vendetta
    Takes place in the final climactic scene where Natalie Portman tearfully says goodbye to the masked-man V. Of course I couldn’t help wincing as I watch the beautiful Parliament building and Big Ben getting blown up to pieces! According to weburbanist.com, the Aldwych Tube Station in London is relatively well preserved, despite not being operational since 1994. making it an ideal location for film shoots. Built on the site of the Royal Stand Theatre, it opened in 1907 and was used as a public air-raid shelter during World War II.
  • Atonement

    This is such a memorable and heartbreaking scene. I kind of predicted it would happen, but when the water just burst out from the wall flooding the people taking shelter underground, I too was flooded with tears. The shot showing Keira’s lifeless body floating in the water is one I won’t soon forget.
  • Love, Actually
    It’s a really brief scene of Colin Firth’s character with hands full of shopping bags coming down the stairs of apparently the Canary Wharf Jubilee line station.
  • Bend It Like Beckham

    Another Keira movie, trust me I wasn’t planning on it. But this was an early one of hers before she became a star. I actually quite like this fun, sports-themed chick-flick with ER’s Parminder Nagra as well as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as her soccer coach turned love interest. Boy it’s hard to imagine Rhys-Meyers looking all wholesome :)
    ….
  • Sliding Doors
    With that kind of name, it’s got to involve the bus or the tube, doesn’t it? This one I’ve actually just seen bits and pieces of, but I do remember the scene of Gwyneth Paltrow at the faux Embankment station trying to catch up with John Hannah.
  • 28 Days Later
    This terrific zombie flick gets a nod from even a non-horror fan like me. The main protagonist Jim who was stranded in a hospital ends up meeting fellow survivors who were hiding in a tube station. Lucky for Jim, he meets up with fellow survivors Selena and Mark. They kill the zombies chasing him with a very effective explosion and take him to their hideout in a tube station.
  • The Wings of the Dove
    There are a few scenes in this period film based on the 1902 Henry James novel that are set in the tube station. Apparently there’s even a sexy love scene according to this London Underground facts page. After seeing the trailer, I put it on my Netflix queue pronto. It kind of reminds me a bit of the beautifully-filmed The Age of Innocence I saw recently. Helena Bonham Carter can do period dramas like no other and Linus Roache is a great character actor!


Well folks, do you recall a memorable scene set in a tube or subway station? If so, feel free to chime in the comments section.

Iron Man 2 Review & Highlights from the Movie

Two years ago, when the trailer of Iron Man first came out, I thought it was just ridiculous and juvenile that I had no interest in seeing it. Not sure why I ended up seeing it but let’s just say I absolutely loved it. It was such a fun and enjoyable flick from start to finish and Robert Downey Jr. in the title role carries the movie with his effortless charm. It’s irrefutable that the sequel became one of my highly anticipated flicks this year, and the buzz and trailers only enhanced my enthusiasm.

So? Does it live up to the original?

The short answer is: not quite. Yet, the movie is not completely without merit

This sequel picks up exactly where the first left off when billionaire inventor Tony Stark declared to the world that he is indeed the man inside that Iron Man suit. Borrowing from fellow Marvel superhero Spiderman: ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ thus the mounting pressure from the government, the press and the public to share his weapon technology with the military. As if that weren’t enough, it’s also revealed early on that the chemical element used in his arc reactor – the one used to keep him alive after the shrapnel wound – is toxic to his blood and the seemingly-untouchable hero is dying. That is, if the vengeful Russian physicist Ivan Vanko doesn’t destroy him first. Seriously, is every single Russian bad guy has to be named Ivan?? As someone married to one bearing that name who doesn’t happen to be Russian, I resent that!

Pepper Potts and Tony Stark

The film veers off Transformers territory at times with the noisy clink-clank sounds of metal clanging with each other, and the only thing that reminds me this wasn’t a Michael Bay flick is the presence of the RDJ and the strong supporting cast. He is able to elevate the hedonistic, egotistical Stark  from being an utter and complete jerk because he is just that charismatic. But yet, there’s barely any emotional connection with any of the characters. Despite his health condition and daddy issues though, it’s tough to feel sympathy for the ultra-flamboyant Tony. At times I feel like the secretary-turned-CEO-plus-covert-love-interest Pepper Potts who’s constantly exasperated by his boss’ antics.

Potts is just one of the few familiar faces that are overrun by too many new characters with no real arc. Even the returning character of Capt. James Rhodes feels new because Don Cheadle takes over from Terrence Howard – who I thought was terrific in the role. Cheadle did fine here but I still much prefer Howard, but it doesn’t bother me as much as the completely wasted Samuel L. Jackson as the much-hyped Nick Fury (he appeared in the end credits of the first). His role just comes across pointless and forgettable, which is a shame because SLJ isn’t a ‘forgettable’ kind of a guy. I mean his abrupt death scene in the shark thriller Deep Blue Sea was far more memorable! Scarlett Johansson as the supposedly va-va-voom Russian spy doesn’t have much to do besides slinking around flaunting her curvaceous body on screen.

The poor narrative also makes the film feel disjointed, it doesn’t move from scene to scene in a cohesive fashion. Screenwriter Justin Theroux couldn’t decide whether he wanted to make an Avengers prequel or a follow up to Iron Man, so by trying to fit in the two, he falls short on both counts. I agree with Castor that  “… this movie feels more like an Avenger prequel than an Iron Man sequel.” Last but not the least of the movie’s problems is the last battle scene, which lacks a sense of real danger for the protagonists, despite being surrounded by lethal droids created and controlled by Vanko. It’s also far too brief that it really undermines the buildup of what Mickey Rourke did with his villainous role.

Now, despite all the low points I mentioned, it’s still quite fun to watch this movie, and the one liners did make me laugh. For the fun of it, here are what I think are the five best things of the movie:

  1. RDJ – the only reason I’d even watch the original and he’s still the reason this one is so enjoyable despite its flaws.
  2. Sam Rockwell's scene-stealing weapon demo scene

    Sam Rockwell as Stark’s rival Justin Hammer – it takes a formidable actor to outshine RDJ, but this massively talented actor did just that and stole every scene he was in. I LOVE the hilarious weapon demonstration scene, I’ve got to admit I really like his character almost as much as Tony!

  3. The briefcase armor – This scene alone is worth the price of admission … well ok, perhaps a matinee admission. Man, it was such a high watching the cool red and silver armor slowly envelopes Stark’s body just by kicking the case open. Freakin’ awesome!

    Courtesy of gifbin.com

    Briefcase Iron Suit animation

  4. The Monaco action sequence. The location itself is breathtaking, but as soon as Rourke’s Whiplash shows up looking all menacing and uber bad-ass, I was ready for an exhilarating, full-throttle action and Favreau delivers! I think this is the best battle scene in the whole movie and every once in a while, it’s nice to see a hero – or god as Vanko calls it – bleed.
  5. Mickey Rourke makes for a menacing, sinister villain, but some of his scenes are funny as heck. I almost choke from restraining my laughter in the whole ‘I want my bird’ scene that left Rockwell mystified.

    The villain and his beloved bird :)

    Ivan Vanko (thick Russian accent): I want my bird.
    Justin Hammer: Yeah sure. We can get you a bird
    Ivan Vanko: You don’t understand. I want *my* bird. *My* bird.

    Classic!

Another Blog Event: My Best Post Blog-A-Thon

Hi all! A very cool blog-a-thon is coming to you sometime today, organized by the über imaginative blogger over at He Shot Cyrus. It’s an awesome idea where a community of movie bloggers will share their best post(s), a list that’s compiled over a three day span: today until Sunday. The My Best Post Blog-A-Thon idea is to give more exposure to an otherwise overlooked or underrated posts. The thing is, sometimes the ones that we work laboriously for hours on end are the ones that don’t get as much of a response.

Here’s the link for DAY ONE, and look for my post on DAY TWO. Do check out the links and kindly drop your comments if you will, that’s guaranteed to perk up any blogger’s day… always! :)

Michael Fassbender’s Jonah Hex Poster & Upcoming Projects

Happy Friday, folks! I thought I was too tired to write a post for today, but I guess Michael Fassbender stunning green eyes below inspired me last nite :)

I haven’t been following the DC Comic-based Jonah Hex as I don’t really care for the storyline (nor the lead star Josh Brolin), but with Fassbender having a pretty prominent role, I just might check it out. He plays one of the adversaries Burke, and the other one is played by John Malkovich as Turnbull. Saucy Megan Fox (who just yesterday announced she’s out of Transformer 3) plays the love lust interest (what else?). You can see the rest of the character posters here.

Here’s the plot in case you’re interested: Hex (Brolin) is a horribly scarred veteran of the US Civil War who has turned bounty hunter. The US military offers to clear the warrants on Hex’s head if he’ll stop a terrorist with a supernaturally-tinged plot from going through with his plans – and it’s an offer he can’t refuse.

Anyway, back to Fassbender, the German-born actor is really on a roll! After one excellent turn after another in various flicks like 300, Hunger, Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank and most recently Centurion, Hollywood doesn’t seem to get enough of him (and so do we!) Take a look at these four projects he’s lined up for next year:

  • A Single Shot – a thriller he’s just been cast in, alongside William H. Macy and Forest Whitaker.
  • Jane Eyre – I’ve been soooo excited about this one for quite a while. The Charlotte Brontë’s gothic love story is currently shooting in Derbyshire, England. Rope of Sillicon has the first still of Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as the young governess.

    Hope the pics of him as Rochester turn up soon. Really, THAT is what we gals are looking forward to! :)
    ….
  • A Dangerous Method – formerly titled The Talking Cure, a David Cronenberg film. It’d have been nice to see him reunited with Christoph Waltz again  (his co-star in Basterds), but with Viggo Mortensen as his replacement, I’m not going to complain. Fassbender will play Carl Jung, with Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, a relationship that gives birth to psychoanalysis. Vincent Cassel and Keira Knightley round up the cast.
    ….
  • Knockout – the ensemble-cast Steven Soderbergh has compiled for his action thriller is quite impressive: Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton, among others. The plot: A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission. Not sure what part Fassbender will play as of yet.

I’m sure glad to be seeing more of this talented and easy-on-the-eye actor. Here’s to a lasting and fruitful acting career for Mr. Fassbender!

Conspicuous Trailers of the Week: Animal Kingdom + Adjustment Bureau

I’m playing catch-up with the latest trailers after weeks of not posting a single one. So here are a couple that piqued my interest (oddly enough, both names starts with the first letter of the alphabet):

Animal Kingdom

Parents better not be confusing this with a Disney flick or any other animated feature with cute, cuddly animals. In fact, there’s nothing cuddly about this Jury Prize winner from Sundance. It’s a gripping gangster flick set in the underworld of Melbourne, Australia. It centers on a seventeen year-old J (Josh) as he navigates his survival amongst an explosive criminal family and the detective who thinks he can save him. The always terrific Guy Pearce plays the detective amongst a cast of mostly unknowns (to us in the US anyway).

I was startled, and puzzled, when the cheesy 80s Air Supply song comes on. Boy, I remember my brother playing All Out of Love over and over again in his car to my deafening ear. It’s so bizarre, but maybe that’s the point? CinemaBlend says “… its use in the film is perfect and spooky” and “… in one of the most awkward of places… it gets stuck in your head after watching the film” says GeekTyrant. Hmm, I’m even more intrigued now. Kinda reminds me of Somewhere over the Rainbow playing in contrast to the brutal gunfight scene in Face/Off, I always think of that scene every time that song comes on ever since.

A lot of the stuff I’ve read about this film seems to echo the blurb written in the Sundance site:
Wielding a formidable cinematic lexicon, writer/director David Michôd shows complete command of every frame as he shifts between simmering intensity and gut-wrenching drama. There isn’t a false note in the film as it follows through on the tantalizing promise displayed in his short films and unleashes a fierce new voice in Australian cinema.

The movie is released in the US August 13th.

Adjustment Bureau

An affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by “mysterious forces” keeping the lovers apart.

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terrence Stamp

Based on a Philip K. Dick‘s short story Adjustment Team, this movie is a directorial debut of screenwriter George Nolfi, whose work include Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report. It’s a familiar, tried-and-true story – heh, what isn’t in Hollywood these days – but at least it’s one I’m tend to be drawn into. It reminds me a bit of the Rufus Sewell movie Dark City and Christian Bale’s Equilibrium which deal with an authoritarian government/elite group run amok and the heroes must fight for their freedom.

As for the cast, Damon is quickly growing on me. I haven’t seen him as a romantic leading man very often though, but I think he can pull off the tough-guy-with-heart quite well. I’m a big fan of Emily Blunt and the chemistry looks pretty convincing between these two, which is crucial in the plot as Damon’s character risks everything to be with her. And the cold stare of General Zod (whom Mr. Stamp will always be to me) is pretty much synonymous with ‘sinister villain.’

The movie’s release has been pushed back to September 17 (from the Blockbuster calendar of July 30), which means it’ll open the same day as his best buddy Ben Affleck’s crime thriller The Town (which is one of FC’s most anticipated flicks of this year).

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So folks, does either one of these flicks appeal to you?

Flixchatter Review: Invictus

On the plane ride back home, I wasn’t able to fall asleep right away. So what’s better than catching up on flicks I’ve missed and Invictus is one I had been wanting to see (I wrote a post on it back in October).

The Clint Eastwood-directed flick tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team Francois Pienaar to help unite their country. It’s what he called a ‘human calculation,’ a risky political gamble on his part, but one he isn’t afraid to lose. “The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead,” he says admirably.

Biopic is always a tricky undertaking, but Eastwood wisely chose not to tell Mandela’s whole life story. Instead it’s a slice of his extraordinary life as the newly-elected first black president, four years after he was released from 27-year imprisonment in 1990.

Going in, I confess I didn’t know much about Mandela’s history, but I definitely come to appreciate him more after seeing the movie. There’s a scene where a newspaper headline reads: He can win an election, but can he lead a country? A skeptical sentiment amongst his people that greeted his political triumph. But Mandela calmly responds to his irritated chief of staff Brenda, “It’s a legitimate question.” It’s amazing how after nearly 3 decades behind bars, he didn’t become embittered or vengeful.

Based on a short poem of the same name that means ‘unconquered,’ the story is quite simple and blatantly predictable. I never doubted for a moment that somehow the underdog team would win the championship, the rugby-heavy scenes played out like a tearjerker sports flick like Rudy or Invincible. But yet, it was still a worthwhile journey to take in all the way to its jubilant happy ending. This is truly a movie where performances are the heart of the movie, overcoming the cliches and schmaltzy-ness on numerous occasions.

Morgan Freeman is used to playing larger-than-life characters, after all he’s played God with such finesse – in a brash comedy Bruce Almighty no less – so it’s a no-brainer he’s the right man to portray the Noble Peace Prize-winning humanitarian. Acccording to IMDb trivia, Mandela himself apparently wanted the 73-year-old Tennessee-born actor to portray him, and it’s easy to see why. Freeman depicted Mandela such grace and convincing statesman-like quality that his uneven South African accent never derail his heartfelt performance. He truly made the movie for me, he embodied his character so well and made him admirable and relatable at the same time.

The handshake that made history


Matt Damon isn’t an actor I’ve always been a fan of, but he won me over after the excellent Bourne series and he’s proven time and again that he’s quite a versatile and likable actor. He bulked up considerably to play the role of Springboks captain Pienaar, and took some extensive rugby training by Chester Williams, the only black Afrikaan member of the team. But it’s his warmth and believable respect and admiration towards Mandela that really touched me. Freeman and Damon’s chemistry is crucial to the plot and they had that in spades.

The rugby scenes are ok I suppose, but then again I’m not a sports fan and sports flicks isn’t my genre. But I think it served the story here, and provided for the emotional key scenes. I’m more moved by the inspiring Mandela quotes peppered throughout: Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it’s such a powerful weapon. That’s definitely something to aspire to.

I don’t know if it’s the music, Eastwood’s direction or my hormones simply playing tricks on me, but I find myself tearing up a lot throughout the movie. Even my hubby was chuckling at me as I frantically searched for tissue to wipe off my endless tears.

At the end of my previous post, I asked ‘let’s see if this will indeed rise above a typical feel-good sports movie.’ Happy to say that it absolutely did rise far above that. I’ll remember this movie more for its profound message on humanity than the rugby game.

Stage Musical Review: Love Never Dies

This is my first attempt at reviewing a stage play, so bear with me folks. I saw the show last Thursday night at Adelphi Theater. Walking from the main square from Covent Garden, we asked a couple of people along the way how to find the theater, and one of them remarked, ‘Oh is that the one showing Tomorrow Never Dies?’ Ha! Perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber and James Bond’s producers flip a coin on the title?

Anyway, having loved the original Phantom of the Opera and its beautiful, haunting music, I was really curious to see how the sequel pans out. No, I’m not one of those ‘phans’ who’ve seen the original hundreds of times and collect all kinds of memorabilia, who apparently are none too keen on the sequel idea even before they even saw it. Many of them are even posted on ALW’s own company site Really Useful Group. It’s interesting that POTO is still playing just a few blocks away at Her Majesty’s Theater, and the stats on what’s dubbed as the most successful single piece of entertainment of all time is staggering. Now, I’ve only seen the stage show twice when it toured in my hometown, but I’ve enjoyed the songs since I was in high school and still love it to this day. But when I caught a glimpse of Ramin Karimloo‘s singing voice as the Phantom, I found myself swept away by the song ‘Til I hear you sing, so it was a real dream come true to see it months before it opens on Broadway!

The Phantom and his muse, Christine

The Story:

Love Never Dies continues the story of The Phantom of the Opera, who has moved from his lair in the Paris Opera House to haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island. It’s set 10 years after Phantom’s mysterious disappearance, and he’s now a successful impresario with his own freak show appropriately called Phantasma. Even after all this time, he still pines for (read: obsessed) with the French soprano singer Christine Daaé, who no longer performs. She now has a 10-year-old boy Gustave and her husband Vicomte de Chagny/Raoul has squandered much of their fortune on drinking and gambling. The Phantom invites her to sing an aria he’s written especially for her, and as soon as she arrives in the then-popular beach resort, the roller-coaster romance continues.

The Good:

Before I proceed, let me just say that I had no doubt in my mind before I even saw it that this show wasn’t going to top the original, especially in terms of the music and the story. But with that said, I found the show to be enjoyable and delightful, even if I wasn’t as enchanted as I did the first time I saw the original show.

High marks should go to the visually-stunning and inventive production design of Coney Island, which is a feast for the eyes. Mixing digital projection technology and art nouveau pieces, it was electrifying-ly bizarre. Things and creatures in the Phantom’s new home are far more freaky than those in his former underground lair, i.e. medusa-like singing chandelier; half-skeleton, half-woman legs in fishnet stocking pushing what looks to be a tea cart, which are fittingly set to the eccentric, loud rock-opera tune “The Beauty Underneath.”

The Phantasma staff: Squelch, Fleck and Gangle

Then there’s the spectacular voices from the main cast. The Iranian-born, Canadian-bred Karimloo has impressive set of lungs, his rendition of the main tune ‘Til I hear you sing gave me goose-bumps and moved me to tears. We’re sitting on row F which is quite close to the stage and I thought his performance was good, sure he didn’t quite have the imposing stature as the titular hero, but he nailed the emotional scenes nicely. He had a sort of peculiar hand gesture as he belted out a tune, but it wasn’t overly distracting.

Brit Joseph Millson as Raoul

Sierra Boggess was equally enchanting as Christine, and seems to be age-appropriate as the heroine who’s supposedly be in her mid twenties by now. In contrast, the Phantom seemed to have grown even younger ten years on (Gerry Butler in the 2004 movie version was already a younger version of Michael Crawford, and Karimloo looks at least five years Butler’s junior!). In any case, Boggess’ vocal prowess was downright amazing, the aria Love Never Dies already started quite high but it soared to what sounded like a five-octave range towards the end, I was breathless just listening to her! Joseph Millson gave equally strong performance as the handsome but crestfallen Raoul, as did Summer Strallen with her impressive dancing sequences as Meg Giry, who ended up being the ‘villain’ of the show.

Summer Strallen as Meg Giry

Of course, there’s the music itself. Of course POTO is a formidable act to follow musically as the tunes such as Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and The Point of No Return are so unabashedly romantic, haunting-ly beautiful, and has that inherent timeless quality. Now that I’ve gone back to listen to POTO music again, I realize those will remain a cut above the rest of all Webber’s work, including LND. At the same time, I really enjoyed the new music, particularly ‘Til I Hear You Sing, which was far more moving when heard live on stage. It’s packed with a strong emotional punch and more than a hint of romantic obsession and frustration. Boggess’ rendition of the aria Love Never Dies gives me goose-bumps the way the original theatrical Christine Sarah Brightman does with most of her songs, which is always a good thing in my book. It was hard to keep my eyes dry during the two scenes. The rockin’ The Beauty Underneath may seem out-of-place in a romantic tale, but it fits just fine in the Coney Island freak-show theme, though it’s probably not a tune I’d rewind and listen over and over again like the ballads.

Which brings me to …

The Bad:

IMO, the major problem with the sequel is the implausible plot. A Guardian reviewer said it best, “Romantic obsession may be common to both shows, but where one may feel sympathy for a doomed outsider, it is hard to feel much for an omnipotent impresario.” That’s precisely how I felt. For me, the reason I had so much sympathy for the tragically-flawed character was because he was an outcast, rejected by the world, even those he loves so dearly. But now, he’s got a slew of staff ready at his beck & call, and even his arch nemesis, the formerly influential Vicomte is now reduced to a drunken wreck.

Christine & Phantom during ‘Beneath a Moonless Sky’ scene

Love triangle is apparently not complex enough for ALW, as now we’ve also got Gustave, who’s more-than-implied to be the fruit of Phantom/Christine sexual tryst (wha–?). Apparently, upon his disappearance, Christine was able to locate the disfigured masked-one and the song Beneath A Moonless Sky intimates their err, intimate rendezvous “… and I held you, and I touched you and embrace you… and I felt you, and with every breath and every sigh …” (whew, is it hot in here?)

Ok, fine I’ll buy that, I confess that despite his deformity, the Phantom could be quite seductive. But get this, in this story, he’s actually the one who left Christine in the middle of the night, which left her no choice but to choose Raoul. Yeah right, I find that extremely hard to believe. I mean I’ve always thought in POTO that Christine wasn’t so much in love with the Phantom as much as she was indebted for his teaching and felt sorry for him. There was no way the relentlessly obsessive Phantom would’ve let her go after he finally won her over.

The mystique and thrilling mystery of the main character is also lost somehow, which IMO is the biggest issue I had with the show. The biggest draw for me in watching and listening to the Phantom is its untouchable, otherworldly quality, he is after all the Opera ghost… dark, tormented, terrifying… yet we’re drawn to his wretchedness and genius musical creation. Alas, there’s not much of that here. Perhaps the fact that we see him so often on stage (with and without his mask) have something to do with it. Nothing in Karimloo’s portrayal depict him as a threatening character who can suddenly lose his temper and go for the kill, and instead of his trademark punjab lasso, he’s now a gun-totting curmudgeon.

And lastly, I’m not a fan of the ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that though love might never die, but a major character does, and it’s the most drawn-out death scene ever. One that defies logic of course – I never knew someone suffering a short-range gun-shot wound is still able to not only talk effortlessly but sing as well! And all that convoluted gothic love story is reduced to a mere father-son hug. Heh!

In conclusion, it’s not as bad as the ‘paint never dries‘ notion this blog said, but phantastic? Not exactly. Still, the experience of going to Adelphi to see Karimloo and Boggess sang their hearts out was worth every pence!

…..

By the way, when this sequel was first announced, there were rumors that Gerry Butler might reprise his role as the Phantom in the the movie version of LND. In my eyes, the Scot will always be the best and most captivating Phantom – as legions of his fans would agree – so to see him swing his cape and smolders will always be a welcome sight. Besides, as of now Butler has never done a follow-up to any of the role he’s played, so why not go back to the one he’s obviously born to play.

But now come to think of it, it’s probably best for him to move on to other things. The sequel story is just too weird and preposterous for a film adaptation. Plus, even though he’s supposedly the same character, in LND, the Phantom’s essence has been altered so much from the original that the mystique is lost. Thus, I’d rather have my memory of him as the perfect opera ghost I wouldn’t mind having as a stalker :) Why mess with perfection, y’know?

So, has anybody’s seen either POTO or LND? If so, I’d love to hear your take on ‘em.

Hello everyone, I’m back from London!

Hello again everyone! Finally back from London Friday Saturday (d’oh! Thanks Becky) night after a slight flight delay due to a security breach, where we had to vacate the plane and be re-boarded one by one! But hey, considering all travel woes from the volcanic ash, I really can’t complain about how smooth our trip was. Not to mention the gorgeous weather we’ve had in all seven days – it only rained very briefly when we were in Trafalgar Square, but by the time we got out of the tube station five minutes later, it was dry again! Suffice to say we didn’t have to open our umbrellas once in the entire trip, and was greeted by blue sky and bright sunshine nearly every morning. We had to pinch ourselves and ask, ‘are we really in London?’

The Roman Baths and Temple of Aqua Sulis Minerva

It was overall an unforgettable trip, even a broken hotel room door that left us ‘stranded’ in our own hotel until they could break it in the following morning didn’t dampen our fun-filled holiday. We’re able to visit nearly all of the must-see tourist sights, including my dream flight up the London Eye, as well as a quick getaway to scenic Bath and Windsor.

Well, I miss blogging and reading others’ blogs, but I must say it was a much-needed break from being chained to my desk in front of a computer. I hope to get back on the blogging routine shortly. I should have my next post up by sometime tonight or tomorrow morning, as I’m working on my first ever theater review on this blog of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, the follow-up to The Phantom of the Opera. I also got to watch the Nelson Mandela rugby-themed biopic Invictus on the plane, so a review on that is forthcoming as well, as well as other stuff I had started before the trip.

Thanks for your continued readership whilst I was away, and thanks again to Vince and Samantha for being a guest blogger last week!

P.S. I forgot to post this pic of ODEON Theater in Leicester Square, which was totally ‘owned’ by Iron Man 2. The area itself wasn’t as grand as I had imagined it, but it’s still cool nonetheless, complete with the young kids making out in the park across from it! :) We didn’t have time to actually see a movie there though, but there’s always next time.

ODEON Theater - Leicester Square