Thursday, July 30, 2015

1965

1965

Directors: Randy Ang, Daniel Yun
Starring: Qi Yiwu, Joanne Peh, Deanna Yusoff, Sezairi Sezali, James Seah Mike Kasem, Lim Kay Tong
Run time: 130 minutes
Opens: 30 July 2015
Rating: PG


            There’s been no shortage of events commemorating Singapore’s Golden Jubilee – most of us won’t say it, but we are kinda burnt out on SG50, and it’s not even National Day yet. Historical drama/thriller 1965 is probably the most-hyped SG50 film. Set against the backdrop of the lead-up to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, 1965 focuses on police inspector Cheng (Qi), whose young daughter Xiao Yun (Sun Yi En) goes missing. Khatijah (Yusoff), blames Cheng for failing to save her son during a racial riot, and suspicion arises amongst the Chinese that the Malays have kidnapped Xiao Yun in retaliation. Khatijah’s remaining son Adi (Sezali) is a rookie policeman working under Inspector Cheng, complicating matters. Also caught in the fray is Zhou Jun (Peh), the daughter of a coffee shop owner and Pakistani reporter Raj (Kasem).


            Over the course of 1965’s development, producer and co-director Daniel Yun has had to repeatedly clarify on what the film is not: “it’s not a political film”, “it’s not a biopic about Mr. Lee Kuan Yew”, “it’s not a propaganda film” and so on. Let us issue a disclaimer of our own: this opinion on the quality of the film hasn’t got anything to do with politics. 1965 is a bad movie when judged as, well, a movie. Intended as a sweeping historical drama of great import, it instead comes off as heavy-handed, clumsy and dramatically inert. Andrew Ngin, who co-wrote the screenplay with co-directors Randy Ang and Yun, said that the script required more than 60 revisions. It could have done with 60 more. Film is a visual medium, but 1965 is all telling and zero showing, comprising a flagrant overuse of voiceovers, wall-to-wall exposition and platitude-laden speeches. It’s poor storytelling and it’s a slog.


            We won’t deny the credit that the film’s production design is due; there is a palpable effort made to capture all the tiny details of life in Singapore circa 1963-1965. Period-accurate sets were constructed at Infinite Studios’ facility in Batam and there are many little nostalgic touches that those who grew up in that era will appreciate, in between copious amounts of F&N product placement. That said, the Singapore we see in 1965 is little more beyond a couple of stretches of shophouses, a police station and a kampong (village) – it’s a corner, not a world, sometimes convincing but never wholly immersive. The sound mix is also off, making most of the dialogue sound like an announcement over a public address system.


            The characters are uniformly dull, intended to be a microcosm of Singapore at the time, but always feeling several steps away from being fully fleshed-out. Generally, the acting is fine – Qi Yiwu’s police protagonist is as bland as wet cardboard but he tries to inject some intensity into his performance. Deanna Yusoff’s turn as a grieving, anguished mother is sufficiently compelling. As her son, Singapore Idol winner Sezairi Sezali is earnest but not overeager and is one of the more likeable characters in the film. Joanne Peh does stick out at times, her character never really coming off as authentically from that time period. Former opposition politician Nicole Seah, playing the wife of Qi’s character, turns in a more natural performance, surprising given it’s her first acting gig. Mike Kasem is an odd casting choice for Raj, requiring a whole lot more than that beard to come off as a believable Pakistani. While there is some degree of competence, nothing fits together and everything feels incomplete.


            Of course, the spotlight is trained directly on veteran stage and screen thespian Lim Kay Tong, who shoulders the responsibility of playing the recently-deceased first Prime Minster of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Lim does a dutiful re-enactment of the iconic televised speech Lee gave when Singapore separated from Malaysia, but his screen time is extremely limited and Lee’s role in the plot has no direct bearing on our main characters. Lee passed away on 23 March 2015 and the film includes footage of his funeral procession cut to a sappy power ballad. This may seem like a respectful tribute at first, but this reviewer found it to be opportunistic, tacky and manipulative. Instead of constructing emotional stakes from scratch, the film opts for the easy way out, attempting to get audiences to feel something by presenting them with a recent event that will resonate with most of them. This would have been perfectly acceptable if 1965 were all about Lee Kuan Yew, but as Yun empathically stated, this is not a biopic. The further implication is that the story of every Singaporean is the story of Lee Kuan Yew, and that’s a slippery slope this reviewer does not want to slide down.



            Singapore has endured more than its share of tumult as a nation and its history is definitely ripe with heart-rending true stories of courage and tenacity. 1965 ignores all that and serves up a painfully dull, preachy, simplistic and condescending fictional story set against the backdrop of the country’s struggle towards independence. There are elements of the film that may resonate with Singaporeans of a certain vintage, but as a cogent, sweeping historical drama, 1965 is a failure.

Summary: If you enjoy being hit on the head with a social studies textbook for two hours while someone tries to cut open your tear ducts with a scalpel, 1965 is the movie for you.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

For F*** Magazine

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION


Director : Christopher McQuarrie
Cast : Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Zhang Jingchu
Run Time : 132 mins
Opens : 30 July 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence And Brief Nudity)

These days, it seems that every year is the “year of the superhero” at the multiplex. From Kingsman: The Secret Service to Spy to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Spectre – not forgetting the fifth instalment in the Mission: Impossible film series - 2015 is well and truly the “year of the spy”. 


Here, we find CIA director Hunley (Baldwin) disbanding the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), leaving our heroes Ethan Hunt (Cruise), William Brandt (Renner), Benji Dunn (Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Rhames) in the lurch. Ethan crosses paths with the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), supposedly an MI6 agent deep undercover. Ethan uncovers evidence of the Syndicate, a “rogue nation” comprised of secret agents thought to be dead, the dirty underbelly of the dirty underbelly. With the treacherous Solomon Lane (Harris) in charge, The Syndicate’s tendrils reach far and deep. Pressed on all sides and with dangerous enemies in pursuit, Ethan and his associates embark on their most crucial mission yet.


In an age where hype counts a great deal, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has not been hyped as much as other summer blockbusters. It also faces heady competition at the cinemas this year – Paramount shifted the film up from a Christmas release date to late July to avoid facing Bond film Spectre head-on. Helmed by Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation proves the franchise has wind in its sails yet. This film series is unique in that there have been five different directors over five films, counting this one. McQuarrie manages to quickly find his footing, acknowledging the events of the previous film, tying it all together quite nicely (though there’s curiously no mention of Ethan’s wife). This is an exhilarating, superbly constructed action thriller, a palpable affection for and understanding of the genre evident throughout. 


          Structurally, perhaps it is a misstep to pile all the action set-pieces on to the front end of the picture, meaning the pace lags a little as the film nears its conclusion. That said, the set-pieces are uniformly marvelous, so credit to stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood and second unit director Gregg Smrz is due. Right out the gate, McQuarrie and star/producer Cruise show they mean business with an opening sequence in which Ethan clings precariously to the exterior of an Airbus A400 M, a stunt Cruise performed for real. The film doesn’t feature globetrotting so much as “globe-galloping” – From Belarus to Austria to Morocco in addition to the United Kingdom and the United States, the exotic locations and the scale of the film lend it a very appealing throwback quality to the heyday of spy-fi. The scene in which Ethan grapples with a Syndicate operative in the rafters of the Vienna Opera House while Puccini’s Turandot is in progress on the stage below is pure class. A white-knuckle sequence with Ethan swimming into an underwater data storage facility called the “Taurus” while holding his breath the whole time is strikingly unique, adding a futuristic touch that makes it seem as if Cruise has temporarily stepped back into Minority Report. There’s also the motorcycle chase that’s far less silly than the one in M:I II. All this is wrapped in Joe Kraemer’s electrifying musical score, which weaves in both the iconic Lalo Schiffrin M:I theme and Nessun Dorma


           His peculiar personal proclivities notwithstanding, Cruise has held his own as a megastar for decades while others have come and gone. From the moment he enters the movie – sprinting, of course - the 53-year-old shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever. The charisma, intensity, spry athleticism, it’s all intact. Cruise has had several duds in recent years (the baffling sub-Mission: Impossible flick Knight and Day comes to mind) but with Rogue Nation, his trademark star vehicle franchise remains right on track. 


The Mission: Impossible television series from the 60s had an emphasis on teamwork. The movies have certainly been all about Cruise, but it is great to see the returning IMF members back in the field. This film gives Simon Pegg’s Benji in particular a meatier role – since the character’s introduction in the third movie, he’s gotten a nice upgrade from the designated techie comic relief, an evolution which continues ahead in this film. Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell, this team’s original techie, is back as well. While Jeremy Renner has a little less to do, spending the first half of the film duking it out with Alec Baldwin in front of a senate oversight committee, he gets his moments to shine too. Speaking of Baldwin, it was a little difficult for this reviewer to see him as anything but Jack Donaghy in some spy movie-inspired fever dream of Liz Lemon’s on 30 Rock. In future movies, it would be great to see some of the female IMF agents return – Maggie Q and Paula Patton on the same team would be awesome! 


Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, best known for her leading role in period series The White Queen but otherwise not a big-name star just yet, was apparently hand-picked by Cruise to star in Rogue Nation. Her Ilsa Faust is meant to remain an enigma throughout, ostensibly an ally yet someone we are never sure whether or not to fully trust. There’s a femme fatale element she doesn’t overplay, as well as a sophistication and intelligence that Ferguson balances out the requisite sex appeal with. Still, she doesn’t quite stand out as strikingly as, say, Eva Green did in Casino Royale. We’ve seen villains like Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane many, many times in this genre – he’s the quietly menacing guy pulling the strings, playing everyone from a distance. It’s not an outstanding character, but he’s functional and his part in the grand scheme of things makes sense.


McQuarrie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, weaves an intricate plot of gambits and double-crosses which the audience has to make a conscious effort to follow, but which stops a safe distance from being pointlessly convoluted. It harks back to a bygone era of stylish spy movies, but is also a straight-ahead contemporary thriller rather than self-reflexively playing with the tropes of the genre the way Kingsman and Spy do. The chases, shootouts, fisticuffs, daredevil Houdini escapes, ticking bomb suspense and Cruise’s unwavering star power - Rogue Nation has it all.

Summary: Carried by a propulsive momentum and packed with meticulously-assembled thrills, going Rogue has never been this entertaining.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man

ANT-MAN

Director : Peyton Reed
Cast : Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Judy Greer, Tip "T.I." Harris, David Dastmalchian
Genre : Action/Comics/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens: 16 July 2015
Rating: PG
    
        Following the behemoth Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is undergoing a downsizing of sorts to close out its second phase. Retired scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), the inventor of the Pym Particle, has been fighting for decades to keep his Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands. This suit allows its wearer to shrink down to the size of an insect while retaining his normal strength. Darren Cross (Stoll), Hank’s former mentee who has ousted Hank out of Pym Technologies, is close to perfecting the Yellowjacket, his own militarised version of the Ant-Man suit. Hank and his daughter Hope (Lilly) enlist the help of reformed thief Scott Lang (Rudd), who takes on the Ant-Man persona to put a stop to Cross’s evil machinations.



            Ant-Man arrives in theatres carrying a great deal of scepticism on its insectoid shoulders. Many scoff at the inherent silliness of the premise, and then there’s the matter of original director Edgar Wright leaving the project, to be replaced with Peyton Reed. Marvel Studios has cleverly played the underdog card, just as they did with last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, creating a fast-paced, raucously funny, very entertaining little beast. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has attempted to stave off superhero movie fatigue by dipping its toes into various subgenres, including conspiracy thriller with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and high fantasy with Thor. Ant-Man is a comedic heist caper with a healthy amount of sci-fi stirred in. The screenplay, credited to Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd, is packed with belly laughs. The light-heartedness assists in the suspension of disbelief required to go along with the premise and admirably enough, does not undermine the more emotional beats of the story.


            This is not to say the film is flawless by any stretch of the imagination. Even as it valiantly tries to offer up something fresh, Ant-Man succumbs to formula at every turn. There’s the ex-con trying to make good for the sake of his young daughter, the evil new CEO who has betrayed the man who believed in him, the tough, no-nonsense female lead who despises our hero but eventually warms to him, the comic relief trio who form the hero’s motley crew and a training montage or three to cap that off.  While most of the jokes land, some of the comedy carries with it a smart-alecky, post-Apatow affectation that comes off as trying too hard. However, Ant-Man packs in a dazzling amount of visual invention, trucking out extremely clever sequences in which the mass-shifting technology is put to ingenious use. Reed has acknowledged the lineage of “shrinking” special effects-driven films that include The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fantastic Voyage and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Ant-Man earns its place in that pantheon. The visual effects work on the ants, who serve as Scott’s little helpers, are not hyper-realistic, but perhaps that is to help them become a little more endearing – and endearing they are indeed.


            Paul Rudd, primarily known as a comedic actor, slips into the shrinking suit with ease. After Chris Pratt’s resounding success as a leading man in GotG, casting a funnyman in a superhero part no longer seems like that much of a gamble. Rudd’s charm, charisma and mischievous streak, including his ability to play the more heartfelt moments of the film with appropriate sincerity, allow him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MCU’s now-venerable pantheon of leading men. Unlike several respectable big-name actors have in the past, Michael Douglas doesn’t look like he’s begrudgingly doing this big blockbuster just for the paycheck. There’s a wisdom, weariness and hint of playfulness to his Hank Pym and his presence elevates the material without seeming like he’s yelling “look at me and my prestige!”


            Evangeline Lilly has several ass-kicking female characters under her belt, coming straight off playing Tauriel in the Hobbit films. Beyond the severe bob and the proficiency in martial arts, there’s Hope’s conflict with her father. Her distaste for Scott stems from her belief that she herself is far more qualified to inherit the shrinking suit, and while the character’s arc is basic, it will make more than a few misty-eyed. The trio of misfit crooks with hearts of gold who form Scott’s team provide more than a few laughs, led by Michael Peña doing his best Luis Guzmán impression as the awkward, garrulous, earnest Luis. David Dastmalchian, hitherto known as “that creepy guy you kind of recognise from The Dark Knight”, is a revelation as Kurt, rocking an over-the-top Russian accent and ridiculous coiffeur, showcasing spot-on comic timing.


The film’s one major misstep is its egregious waste of Corey Stoll’s considerable talents, relegating him to the role of a staggeringly mono-dimensional villain. Stoll eats up the part with great relish, but the Marvel movies have mainly drawn criticism for their dearth of truly compelling villains, and unfortunately, Darren Cross is no exception. As the new CEO with evil designs on the hero’s technology, he strongly echoes Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man flick. That said, other Marvel films have sacrificed well-developed villains for the sake of well-developed heroes, a gamble that has paid off and that does pay off here.



Ant-Man proves itself as more than just the sorbet course to follow up the big steak dinner that was Age of Ultron. It’s an enjoyable romp that stands nicely on its own but is also packed full of nods and Easter Eggs to the other MCU movies and the comics at large. A friend of this reviewer was very excited at the inclusion of Scott’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and a string of cameos provides connective tissue to the rest of the films. As is de rigeur with these movies, be sure to stick around for two stinger scenes during and after the credits. Ant-Man may not break the mould, but it offers enough fresh morsels for long-time fans and doesn’t alienate neophytes by requiring the in-depth knowledge the Avengers flicks warrant to fully enjoy. Now that’s ant-ertainment.

Summary: Bet on the little guy.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con International 2015: The Booths/Exhibits

A huge part of the dazzling sensory bombardment that is the Con floor (and, increasingly, spilling out beyond the Convention Center itself) are the booths and exhibits, the fact that they stand in the way of the flow of human traffic notwithstanding. It's always a treat to take a peek at props from movies and TV shows that are being put on auction - I'm proud to admit I got a genuine thrill out of seeing Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft gun belt from the first Tomb Raider flick. More significantly, there were Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman's costumes from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and there was also the original Rebel Blockade Runner model used in the famous opening of the first Star Wars

THE BOOTHS/EXHIBITS

Hasbro's epic, epic Marvel Legends diorama has EVERYYYOONNNNE fighting Ultron drones!

Including, for some reason, the Lizard, in the, uh, sewer on this jungle island.

"HULK RIP PUNY ROBOT IN HALF!"

Natasha looking cool as all get-out, as usual.

Do want this Amazon four-pack!



Terminator Genisys wasn't great, but this statue looks badass, particularly lit like that!

Guyver bust by Cinemaquette

Medusa bust


Wonder Woman Barbie - pure class!


Digging the wooden grappling gun handle.

Mattel's Wonder Woman

Mattel's Superman

Mattel's Batman

Mattel's armoured Batman


The Reverse Flash's screen-used costume!

Captain Cold

The Flash himself
Jay Garrick's helmet

The Arrow's outfit

The Dark Archer

Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman outfit

Ben Affleck's armoured Batman outfit

Henry Cavill's Superman suit, with the colours brightened up a tad 


Black Canary
 
Felicity Smoak's glasses, as worn by Emily Bett-Rickards.




Said the X-Wing to the TIE Fighter, "come at me bro!"

The Rebel Blockade Runner model used in that iconic, awesome opening shot.

The Winnebago Space Ship from Spaceballs!

Sideshow's Premium Format Power Girl statue

Ledger Joker

Arkham Knight Batman


Yoda

Space Jockey 
Still waiting on Hot Toys figures of the rest of the HIMYM crew.

Bewitched

"It's awfully well-balanced."




Loki loves Comic-Con, especially after invading Hall H in 2013.



The Gotham figure I'm most excited about. You go lil Catwoman!

Captain Solo is home.


Man that's a handsome, handsome John Barrowman headsculpt!


Brace yourself for a super punch!


Come on in, it's roomy!




Captain Archer's beagle!


The Rocketeer's helmet

One of many, many Enterprises.

Original flavour Stormtrooper helmet



"You call thish archaeology?"

Oscar-winning glasses!


Arrrrr.


Kick-Ass's scuba suit headpiece!



Hey, USA Today doesn't look like that in 2015!

The First Order Stormtrooper, an exclusive I did not want to wait in line for.

The Book of Vishanti Doctor Strange figure set, ditto.


A wacky Lego dimensions sculpture. Samurai mech-suit Homer assisted by Wonder Woman? Hell yeah!
Hold up a second, that's just Hawkeye's head with red glasses instead of purple ones!

Hot Wheels' Batman v Superman Batmobile - this beast is a beauty!

NECA's always-impressive line-up, kicking off with Quarter-Scale Christopher Reeve Superman.

Pengy!

Arkham Knight Batsy




Terminator 2 Pescadero Mental Hospital diorama

Badass Sarah Connor is badass.


"Old, but not obsolete"

The egg crate packaging is a hilarious touch. Bishop isn't as thrilled about it as I am though.

"Get away from her you...UNPLEASEANT WOMAN!"

Kaiju in cardboard city

Interstellar dolls! Amelia Brand can go hang out with Catwoman

Speaking of which, here's the Michelle Pfeiffer version from Sideshow. Mrrow.

Jurassic Park art prints! They were also selling reproductions of the map pamphlets from both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

XM Collectibles' shiny Iron Men.

Was there anyone who watched the end credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron and said of that marble marvel, "I don't want that"?

Surprise! Remote control opening hatch!



The DC artists have doodled on the table in-between autograph sessions - just like in school, then!


"Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination"

That gun belt.




No photos of the Doctor Who figures you say? I too like to live dangerously.

Worry not, Sherlock's got POSEABLE ARMS!

American Horror Story: Hotel's hotel. Not actual size.


When being in the doghouse isn't such a bad thing after all



 
♫I fought the law and the law won♫






Heroes that fit in the palm of your hand!

"Eyes on me!"

It's the LEGO Jurassic World Raptor Squad! Adorable.
Clever girl.







And as I'm caught in between the wrath of the Science Bros, it's a wrap!