Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Hooray! Best thing ever.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Breakfast with Chin Han

I was having breakfast with Mum at a coffee shop in Ghim Moh, and who should we bump into but Ng Chin Han of The Dark Knight and 2012 fame! I had gone to get my food, and Mum asked me if the guy sitting just behind was Chin Han. Indeed it was!

So we hopped over to get an autograph and a photo, both of which he graciously granted. We used to stay in the same block as him, actually, but had never seen him on the premises. He was very normal, not a "movie star"-type egotist at all, and was very measured but friendly. He said that Christopher Nolan definitely will get an Oscar eventually, and that he was grateful to have been cast in The Dark Knight as clearly they could've chosen any actor they wanted for the part. Also, he said acting alongside such actors as Morgan Freeman was an "indescribable" experience, like "painting with Picasso" - I'm sure I'd feel much the same way.

Mum and I were pretty starstruck, and just couldn't believe it for quite a while afterwards. I've not met a lot of celebrities, so this is really special. Even if I had, it means a lot to get a picture with the only Singaporean who's been in a Batman movie, gone toe-to-toe with Morgan Freeman, and saved John Cusack and family from drowning (sacrificing his own leg in the process). Thanks Chin Han, and looking forward to Contagion, in which he will next appear!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Morning Glory

As published in F*** Magazine Issue 14 (March 2011), pg. 101

(2010 US Wide Release)

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson
Directed by: Roger Michell
Bad Robot Productions/Dist. Paramount Pictures.

            Here in Singapore, a large number of us start our day with Primetime Morning, a morning news and variety program on Channel News Asia. On the bus travelling to school, while the sky was still dark outside, I often wondered how these show anchors managed to look so awake and preppy at that ungodly hour, and what went into the production of such a show.

            Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a hardworking, bubbly and likeable producer of a morning show quite like Primetime Morning. She joins a struggling show called DayBreak, which faces stiff competition from NBC’s The Today Show and others like it. She is immediately pushed into the deep end of the pool, dealing with temperamental hosts, patently ridiculous and pointless stories and segments, flagging ratings and the feeling that her dedication to her job is jeopardizing every other aspect of her life – including a possible relationship with Adam Bennett (Wilson), the affable and handsome producer of a show just upstairs.

            Becky manages to wrangle experienced and respected (and very serious) news anchor Mike Pomeroy to do DayBreak, and he is the latest in a long line of exasperated anchors unable to deal with the whims of co-host Colleen Peck (Keaton). Pomeroy makes no effort to hide that he feels humiliated, having been reduced from being the first reporter to arrive at Ground Zero on 9/11 to doing arts and craft segments involving Papier-mâché masks. And in the middle of it all, Becky has to hold the fort – despite it quickly spiraling out of her control.

            It’s no secret that Hollywood has been experiencing a serious drought in quality romantic-comedies. Caricatures of handsome, rich and amorous men and having Adam Sandler hook up with the likes of Emmanuelle Chriqui, Brooklyn Decker and Salma Hayek weren’t enjoyable to start with - and are now even worse.

            As such, I really did enjoy Morning Glory. From the get-go, it is tonally assured and the performances are consistently strong throughout. The film quickly establishes that morning television is far from the fun and games that comprise its content, stays away from making sweeping generalizations about working in that genre of TV, and is able to mine a great deal of genuine laughs from this very concept. I was very pleasantly surprised at Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay; her effort to make each character have more than two dimensions and her knack for some side-splitting dialogue almost, just almost, Sorkin-esque.

            By dint of being in the same genre with such classics as Network and Broadcast News, expectations are justifiably high. However, many subtle winks and nods are made towards these films, and a strong character arc and plot that moves efficiently towards a satisfying ending are big players in making Morning Glory as much a hoot to watch as it is.

            Rachel McAdams is a casting coup. She effortlessly exudes likeable energy, and seems so much more comfortable with this role than with that of the femme fatale Irene Adler in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Her character is friendly and has a bit of a gawkish charm, but is serious and dedicated when it comes to her work. She seems to be chanelling 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, and McAdams is more than able to handle every comedy and dramatic note the script throws away. The kooky and almost realistic approach to the character drags the viewer right in.
It’s no secret to those who know me that Harrison Ford has long been my favourite actor, and as such it feels like a bit of a waste when modern films cast him as the scowling guy holding a gun in the background, banking solely on his action star pedigree. The man definitely can act, and his performance in this film as the curmudgeon is easily some of his best work in the past decade or so. A large part of the appeal of his defining roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones was the sense of humour they had. Here, Ford maxes out his comic timing, and replaces his patented “oh no!” face of shock as the wrongly-accused guy on the lam with an equally fantastic “this is embarrassing, I want to kill myself” expression. He’s cranky and rude, but when audiences can finally get under his skin, it’s an amazing payoff. Also, hearing the actor say lines such as “now you think I’m your bitch” and the single word “menopause” is, inherently, hysterical fun.

            Truth be told, Diane Keaton is the only performer who hams it way up for comedic value (in addition to Ty Burrell, whose appearance as a lecherous show anchor is not much more than a cameo). Her barbs towards Pomeroy are stinging and bitchy, but Keaton and Ford make good use of their chemistry to create two characters that we love to see at each others’ throats. Patrick Wilson as Adam is basically the perfect man, but the decision to let the romance between him and Becky take a back seat to the comedic and dramatic elements was very wise, and he and McAdams look great together, their characters’ relationship progressing in a realistic way and at just the right pace.

            Jeff Goldblum pops up as a network executive at DayBreak’s station IBS, and plays a serious but thoughtful businessman-type with cool and measured ease, respectful of the talent under his wing but also showing reasonable concern when losses rear their heads. It seems that both he and Harrison Ford and to an extent Patrick Wilson (fresh off The A-Team) have brought a lot of their experience from astronomically-budgeted blockbusters and that it has helped them as actors in this comedy too.

            Unfortunately, there is one “cardinal sin of romantic comedy” that this movie commits – drowning its soundtrack in pop ditty after pop ditty, almost threatening to dilute the charm of the rest of the movie. Indeed, the most effective uses of music in Morning Glory with re-interpretations of classics – especially the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. It’s like how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross arranged Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, for The Social Network.

            There are amazing gags aplenty in the film, from an editing mistake that leaves the line “sexual offender” under the photograph when former President Jimmy Carter’s face replaces that of the wanted molester from the previous story, all the way to having weatherman Ernie (Matt Malloy) ride a crazy new roller coaster as the camera is fixed on his face, live for TV audiences nationwide to see, but none of it feels cheap or shoehorned-in.

At one point in the film, Pomeroy complains angrily to Becky that the morning show genre of TV is all sugar-coated empty calories, a far cry from his experience interviewing the likes of Mother Teresa and Dick Cheney in serious news shows. Becky, pushed to the brink, still attempts to be reasonable, and explains that he could mesh his strengths, resulting in a “branded donut”. And that’s exactly what this movie is – a delicious treat made with fine ingredients and all the more tasty for it.

RATING: 4/5 STARS           

Jedd Jong


As published in F*** Magazine, Issue 14 (March 2011) p.97


Starring: Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Dark Castle Entertainment/Studio Babelsberg; dist. Warner Bros. Pictures

            It is Oscar season, the time of year when sophisticated, high-brow and complex films are the talk of the town. It is human nature to rebel, and it felt good to eschew such thinking man’s fare in favour of watching Liam Neeson tear up the streets of a European city, as he did in Taken around two years earlier.

            This time, it’s Berlin instead of Paris. Neeson plays botanist Martin Harris, who has taken his wife Liz (Jones) along with him to attend a major biotechnology conference in the city. However, on the way back to the airport to reclaim a briefcase he left behind, Harris’ taxi plunges into the river, and he awakes from a coma four days later in the hospital.

            Harris checks himself out of the hospital to find his wife, but is shocked to discover that she apparently doesn’t recognise him, and another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place, pretending to be Martin Harris. The real Martin is shocked and outraged, and everyone else is convinced that not all his dogs are barking.

He struggles to prove his identity and his sanity, seeking help from whoever he can – including the taxi driver who was at the wheel when the accident occurred (Kruger), an elderly former Stasi agent active during the Cold War (Bruno Ganz) and Rodney Cole (Frank Langella), Martin’s oldest friend. At the same time, he must escape pursuit from deadly and mysterious agents, and uncover a horrific conspiracy.

In many respects, Unknown recalls (pardon the pun) the suspense thrillers of the 80s and 90s, such as the stolen-identity techno-thriller The Net and especially Harrison Ford films including Frantic, Witness and The Fugitive – and I’m a big fan of all three of those. In fact, Liam Neeson seems to permanently sport an “oh no, but that cannot be!” face of worry and shock , which he most likely learned from his K-19: The Widowmaker co-star.

Neeson has carved a career out of playing mentors (such as in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Kingdom of Heaven, Krull and Batman Begins), but also as the flawed, tough and sometimes reluctant everyman action hero (see Darkman, biopics Rob Roy and Michael Collins, boxing film The Big Man and the afore-mentioned Taken). It is the latter which he marshals for Unknown, but one gets the feeling that Neeson didn’t need to do much here besides making that Harrison Ford face – and even he cannot make a line as cringe-inducing as “I haven’t forgotten how to kill you, asshole” bearable.

The supporting cast is hit-and-miss: decent, but far from perfect. Mannequin-like beauty January Jones seems mostly stiff and robotic, Diane Kruger running about her native Germany is fun to watch but she’s way too pretty to be a taxi driver (or anything other than a model, really) living in a bad part of town, Aidan Quinn oozes enough sliminess that we can root against him, Bruno Ganz has a twinkle in his eye as the former spy who’s still got it, Mido Hamaza stands around looking dashing as the stock-character Saudi Prince Shada and Frank Langella is woefully underused in what amounts to little more than a cameo.

Unknown works serviceably as a semi-old-fashioned action thriller and it aspires to be The Bourne Identity and indeed Taken, playing on the paranoia of getting into a crisis in an unfamiliar city, with nobody to count on or vouch for you. However, director Jaume Collet-Serra seems more preoccupied with cramming the movie full of stylistic flourishes, including (but not limited to) slow-motion shots, whip pans and Dutch tilts and sepia-toned flashbacks, as opposed to meaningfully developing the plot.

Most of the action sequences in the film are well-shot and the car chases and fisticuffs are reasonably thrilling - of special note is a sinister game of hide-and-seek set in a museum gallery. However, the whole film looks a little too slickly-produced and Hollywood-shiny, and even scenes set in back alleys, ramshackle apartments and a smoky dance club barely look sufficiently gritty and are therefore not believable. It is a good thing then that about midway through, the film gives up it pretentious ambitions to feel realistic as it barrels towards its explosive-if-ridiculous conclusion.

At one point in the movie, a panicked Martin Harris tries to grasp the tremendous amount of thought and preparation that must go into having another man completely steal his identity – if only similar amounts of thought and preparation went into this watchable-but-unsatisfying film.


Jedd Jong


我爱你爱你爱你(FOREVER) 2011 

Starring: Joanna Dong, Mo Tzu Yi, Sarah Ng Li-Wen 
Directed by: Wee Li Lin
Singapore Film Commission/Bobbing Buoy Films/ Add Oil Films/ Iceberg Design

        Everyone’s heard of the phrase “Always a bridesmaid but never a bride”. This Chinese-language, Singapore-made romantic-comedy attempts to tell the tale of a woman who is “always a bride”, but also “never the bride”. It’s an interesting place to start – but be warned, this movie doesn’t turn out to be all champagne, bouquets and diamond rings.

Joey (Dong) is a woman who acts in “instructional videos” for the Wedding Education Department (WED), performing idealised and romantic scenarios for television commercials promoting the services of the matchmaking agency. Her co-star in these videos is Gin (Mo), a dashing Taiwanese musician and music teacher, who handles his professional responsibilities and social life with charming ease.

The lines between make-believe play acting and reality blur for Joey as she begins to develop a crush on Gin, and as she quickly unravels, morphing from dreamy-eyed admirer to a stalker with a psychotic streak. She quickly targets Gin’s fiancée, the lusty rich-girl-with-daddy-issues Cecilia (Ng Li-Wen) and sets about sabotaging their relationship. However, nice guy that he is, Gin tries his best to deal with the awkward and frightening situation as calmly as possible, even as his loving Mum (Chen Hui-Mei), Dad (David Loo) and Joey’s early-onset-dementia-suffering mother (Yoo Ya Min) get drawn into the fray. What’s a guy to do?

I desperately wanted to enjoy this film, and the early scenes do a decent job of setting up the somewhat-original jumping off point for the story. The bureaucratic nature of the WED organization makes for a few good chuckles, with their slogans such as “Loneliness kills; WED saves”, advising men to turn up their collars as it looks more attractive, and their use of facial recognition software to determine the compatibility of two would-be partners relatively amusing.

However, it’s not long before one quickly ticks off a whole checklist of clichés, contrivances and lazy storytelling tricks often associated with the romantic-comedy genre. The bland and generic translated title of the film should have been my first clue – the original Mandarin title translates directly to ILoveYouLoveYouLoveYou, which, silly as it sounds, works better than Forever. The film quickly drifts farther and farther away from the Democratic Republic of the Plausible, towards the Island of the Ridiculous – and when this reviewer wanted to stop following that boat and swim back, it was too late, and the savage inhabitants of the Island of the Ridiculous were hungry and waiting.

Instead of using the most common rom-com trope, which is to set up the leads as fierce rivals and have them quickly fall for each other, this flick settles for the second most common one: one party obsessed and starry-eyed, the other cool and unattainable, set on a collision course with a speed bump in the form of a third party standing in the way.

The characters are all decidedly flat and one note. At first, female lead and former Singapore Idol contestant Joanna Dong seems to be channeling the kooky sweetheart vibe defined by such stars as Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts. However, she quickly leaps right off the deep end, making the odd, peculiar and creepily desperate antics of Sandra Bullock’s character in the awful All About Steve look positively restrained. Even that film had the line "If you love someone, set him free; if you have to stalk him, he probably wasn't yours in the first place" – a concept that Joey does not understand, and probably never will.

           Keeping a stash of Gin’s childhood photographs, creating fantasy PowerPoint presentations for her “wedding” with him, squealing “Iloveyouloveyouloveyou!” into the phone, indulging in idealised and preposterous fantasies of their would-be romance, enacting a gender-flipped Romeo-and-Juliet-style balcony scene outside his house and enlisting the help of Gin’s bewildered chamber music students to help her woo him number among Joey’s wacko manifestations. I’m glad that an axe didn’t somehow wander into frame, because Joey did look like she was intent on having Gin “fall to pieces” in more ways than one. It’s a pity as Dong shows potential as a likable actress, but the screenplay does her no favours.

          Gin is essentially the perfect man: kind, thoughtful, intelligent, romantic, musical, great with kids, and the son of nice parents – not to mention very handsome. Taiwanese actor-singer Mo Tzu Yi’s matinee-idol pulchritude actually becomes one of many nails in the coffin for the movie– one needs only remember that Charlize Theron won her Oscar for playing a real-life serial killer in Monster, and not for playing the eponymous futuristic, sexy secret agent in Æon Flux. Mo valiantly attempts to muster up all the comedic timing he possesses, but the character of Gin doesn’t end up being the composed yang to Joey’s crazy yin – he just ends up being stiff. When Gin tearfully confides in his mother that he’s never been lucky in love, it feels as real as if Bill Gates were to sob about money woes.
The supporting cast provides more laughs than both leads combined, really. Model and first-time film actress Sarah Ng Li-Wen inhabits the role of the sexy, wild and whiny Cecilia with much aplomb, even though the script gives her nothing really to do. Chen Hui-Mei and David Loo, as Gin’s parents, actually steal the show. Loo is a hoot as the good-natured but cantankerous dad, at one point likening the taste of Pandan cake to “coconut-flavoured toothpaste”, and plays off Chen, the sole source of any emotion in the picture, pretty well.

The kids in Gin’s chamber music class provide the only semblance of believability, Kenny Gee (unrelated to the saxophonist) is mildly amusing as a Goth-obsessed, rival wedding videographer, and there are surprise cameos from “controversial” pageant princess Ris Low and pre-eminent theatre doyen Dr KK Seet – but all this is like trying to flood a desert with a 500 ml bottle of mineral water.

Tonally, the film suffers. It’s nowhere near as bad as in much of Jack Neo’s work – there was a scene where a character attempts suicide in the middle of his otherwise cheesy and over-the-top comedy I Do I Do – but it is still unable to find a footing. It teeters haphazardly between high-comedy and high-drama and tries to stuff in an element of satire at the same time. When complemented by Director of Photography Gerard Stahlmann’s slow dolly shots, soft focus-filled idyllic fairytale vision of Singapore, it is a very disorienting experience. The film is also smug, employing visual gags such as parallel messages on a graffiti wall and on a banner hanging in the WED office, but none of it really works. I’m not even going to start on the exploitation of mental health issues for comedy.

Watching these films is a dangerous experience – I was running and trying to avoid the anvils falling from the sky. Subtlety seems like a foreign concept, and Forever ends up feeling like a song with a catchy melody, but with the chorus shouted instead of sung. Yes, the film is definitely not completely awful – watching it felt less like a painful eye infection, and more like a skin rash. It is marginally better than most entries in the increasingly-less-funny stable of romantic comedies from both Hollywood and the local scene, but in the end is more apt as a description of what cringing through the movie felt like, than as its title.


Jedd Jong




The Adjustment Bureau

As published in F*** Magazine, Issue 14 (March 2011)

2011 release

Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: George Nolfi
Media Rights Capital/dist. Universal Pictures.

            A topic of discussion that often pops up when philosophy is the subject is that of fate – do we believe that we are solely in control of our lives, or that every move we make has been planned, pre-destined by some sort of higher power or sinister underlying force? A lot of this does sound like pretentious dribble, and films that try to address it often end up as the same – but this one, this one is a wee bit different.

            The film is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story The Adjustment Team. Dick numbers amount the authors who have had the most number of films based on their books and stories. Alas, the man passed away just several months shy of the release of the first one, the seminal classic Blade Runner. Unfortunately, the qualities of these adaptations vary vastly (who can forgive Paycheck, Next or Impostor?), and Blade Runner is often regarded as the best, with Spielberg’s Minority Report a close runner-up.

            Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young, up-and-coming New York politician running for Senate. He is loved by all, until an embarrassing photograph comes to light, published in the New York Post. His numbers fall and he is crushed. Before making his “defeat speech” to concede to the other candidate, he bumps into Elise (Blunt), a slightly kooky but friendly and beautiful dancer. The next day, by sheer coincidence, he meets her again on the bus.

            He is immediately enamoured with the girl, but his life is suddenly turned upside-down by the eponymous Bureau: strange, mysterious men, unclassifiable but for the sake of explanation something like half-angels, half-CIA covert-ops spooks. They seem omniscient but blend into the background, and are all identically dressed in grey suits and a bowler hat. They tell Norris that he was never meant to meet her a second time, and to never meet her again, or the “plan” will fall apart. But Norris is smitten, and proves he will defy anything or anyone to be reunited with Elise – even an all-powerful secret organization.

            At first sight, The Adjustment Bureau seems like it might be an interesting watch, but borrows too many elements from its predecessors, such as the television series Fringe with its bowler hat-wearing “Observers” or Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary, which depicted heavenly angels as policemen. However, The Adjustment Bureau is a beast all its own – a mostly enjoyable, clever and very entertaining beast.

            The main thing that separates The Adjustment Bureau from most films based on P-K-D source material is that this takes place in the present, in a world that is immediately established as real and normal – accomplished effectively by having media figures such as Jon Stewart and Wolf Blitzer appear as themselves, and by putting Norris’ face in publications such as GQ and the New York Post. In a way, this is much like the montage in Iron Man, which showed publications that had featured Tony Stark in the past, including Wired, Esquire and Time. Mainly because of this, The Adjustment Bureau shares a very similar tone to that of Iron Man – it takes place in a world almost exactly like ours, only with a large helping of fantastical, super-high-tech or maybe even supernatural gravy.

            The Adjustment Bureau’s Achilles heel is really its look. There are several cool and iconic images, and the “planner diaries” that the Adjusters use are literal E-books, normal bound paper notebooks except displaying complex computerized “decision trees”, tracking the effect of every move the subject makes. However, many may form expectations of the film based on the image of the mysterious men in suits and hats, just as I did.

            I was quite wrong – a huge part of the movie’s success is the way it handles the characters of the Adjustment Bureau agents. We are used to seeing cold, emotionless and robotic Men-In-Black types, who are everywhere; who can and will do anything. The Bureau agents here however are depicted as mostly regular company men – regular salary guys who have to deal with office politicking and back-biting, meeting deadlines and fulfilling responsibilities, and who need to take holidays too.

            The performances are very solid across the board. Matt Damon is an excellent actor whose specialty is playing the normal, everyday guy with a special talent, gift or skill. Therefore, he is the right choice to play an idealised, almost-perfect Congressman whom everyone immediately loves, and who is genuinely a good man through and through. Emily Blunt is, like Damon, also considered one of the best talents in the industry at the moment. She plays a ballerina, but unlike in Black Swan, she’s mostly a dream girl – quick-witted, intelligent, a tiny bit on the eccentric side and dedicated to her craft.

            There are very few successful films with no real, solid villain – Forrest Gump is the example that quickly comes to mind. The Adjustment Bureau agents seem sinister, but as we get to know them better we learn they’re just doing their jobs. However, along comes senior agent Thompson (Terence Stamp doing what he does best), cold, dangerously effective and amoral. Anthony Mackie, again a rising star with a solid pedigree (best known as Sgt. Sanborn in The Hurt Locker and as the late rap superstar Tupac Shakur in Notorious) puts in marvellous work as Harry; a supporting character who first clues us in to the fact that the Bureau’s agents have the capacity to be scrupulous and some may even have grown a conscience.

            The movie’s main problem is the opposite of that that has plagued a good number of recent blockbusters – it boasts a strong story, very competent writing and intriguing characters, but lacks in the style department. This is a pity as writer/director George Nolfi, co-screenwriter on The Bourne Ultimatum (also a Damon-starring film) and first-time director, has a nose for a good story. The film’s story departs a fair bit from the source material, but so did all the other P-K-D story-based movies – except here, like in Minority Report, it is a wise change of context that makes it a good watch.

            The biggest credit that Nolfi, the filmmakers and the cast deserve is that they took a fantastical, genre-bending paranoid conspiracy thriller and made it extremely relatable to audiences. The dialogue between Elise and David is natural, witty and most of it sounds a lot like how real couples would speak – it was as if Nolfi wrote David’s lines, and his wife/girlfriend wrote Elise’s. Nolfi, armed with a Ph.D in political science, also demonstrates his remarkable aptitude for writing a politician character and arming him with rhetoric-filled speeches and an adoring public.

            Ultimately, it’s a crying shame that The Adjustment Bureau can and will come off to many as run-of-the-mill, boring and forgettable, if mildly interesting. This is a movie that boasts formidable acting talent and a masterful adaptation of a classic short story written by a literary legend – and in the end, it feels like it doesn’t work mainly because the mysterious agents look exactly the same as every one of that kind before. This is actually a good film, and my main advice is to adjust your expectations and enjoy the ride.


Jedd Jong