Tuesday, October 30, 2012


For F*** Magazine, Singapore


Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Following MGM’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, it seemed that the sky really was falling for Bond fans everywhere. The future of the film franchise was put in jeopardy, and, for a while, it was a very strong possibility that Quantum of Solace would be the last James Bond film ever — which, for many, would have been disappointing to say the least. Thank goodness that Bond’s future seems brighter than ever with this triumphant 50thanniversary celebration.

The film opens in Istanbul, where Bond (Craig) is thrust right into the frenzied pursuit of Patrice (Ola Rapace), a French mercenary who has stolen a hard drive containing a list of NATO undercover agents embedded in terrorist cells. Bond is assisted by field agent Eve (Harris), and the mission goes awry. The repercussions make themselves felt: the names are leaked in a YouTube video, M (Dench) comes under pressure from Gareth Mallory (Fiennes), chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to call it quits, and MI6 falls victim to a vicious cyberterror attack. Bond follows a lead and tracks Patrice down to Shanghai, where he tangles with the mercenary in a high-rise skirmish. He also glimpses the enigmatic and beautiful Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), whom he meets again at a lavish floating casino in Macau. Bond asks to be taken to the woman’s employer, thus encountering the villain of the piece, Raoul Silva (Bardem). Silva is a flamboyant, psychopathic figure who bears quite the grudge against M, and perpetrated the attack on MI6 headquarters. Bond realizes that this mission is far more personal than it first appears — and perhaps just as much for M as it is for him.

In Skyfall, Bond is asked what his hobby is. “Resurrection” is his reply — and this is resurrection of the most glorious kind. Skyfall sets right many perceived problems viewers had with the previous installment. This being the 23rd official Bond film, some might say he’s a little long in the tooth, but Skyfall examines and proves the character’s relevance. With Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes at the helm, this is a very stylish, good-looking film; nine-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins serves up startlingly gorgeous imagery. Adele’s theme song is many times better than the Jack White/Alicia Keys trainwreck “Another Way to Die,” and it plays over Daniel Kleinman-designed opening credits that make strong reference to plot points throughout the film, instead of serving as a mere light show. Many wrote off the first two Daniel Craig-starring Bond films, Quantum in particular, as vainly aping the Bourne movies. Well, that’s definitely no longer the case (even though Bourne alumnus Albert Finney is in this too), as Skyfall’s tone strikes a near-perfect balance between the tough and gritty and glamorous and smooth, with a strong emotional current running through it all.

Daniel Craig is back in the saddle, the days of fans crying foul over his casting as the iconic character well and truly behind him. There’s a moment in the opening action sequence that’s in the trailers: Bond uses an excavator to tear the roof of a train carriage open, climbs on the excavator’s arm, leaps into the train and adjusts his cufflinks after he lands. That pretty much sums up Bond’s characterization: he’s willing to get his hands dirty and is rather brash, but at the same time is growing into the slick, suave agent he should be. This film also does something traditionally considered rather taboo in Bond films — delving into the character’s past, and it does so pretty well.  Many Bond films struggle with fitting M into their stories. Well, one could go so far as to say Skyfall is really M’s story, with Bond happening to become embroiled in it. Judi Dench is better than ever as the character; a woman hardened by years in a particularly challenging line of work, and someone who has to reconcile personal sentiments with duty. Also at MI6 is Ben Whishaw as the new incarnation of Q, Bond’s quartermaster, and, traditionally, the curmudgeon who begrudgingly hands out his gadgets to him. While former Qs John Cleese and, before him, the late Desmond Llewelyn were slightly older gentlemen, Skyfall runs in the opposite direction with a rather young, “adorkable” Q, whom Bond almost immediately writes off because of his youth. Whishaw and Craig share remarkable chemistry, and it would be a sin not to have this Q continue to appear in future Bond movies. The ever-dependable Ralph Fiennes ties it all together as the meddling bureaucrat who might not be that big of a jerk after all. This film also does something traditionally considered rather taboo in Bond films, delving into the Bond character’s past — and it does so pretty well.

So, how about the Bond villain and the Bond girls? Oscar-winner Javier Bardem puts in a spine-chilling performance as Silva, the villain. He’s proven he can play unhinged in No Country for Old Men, but Silva is a psycho of a different stripe. Bardem’s over-the-top portrayal is sometimes comic and harks back to villains of old. Silva is something of an impetuous child, but behind the loudness and the posturing lays a bitter, broken soul. Not every actor can convincingly inhabit a character of this sort. Naomie Harris has a nicely playful chemistry with Daniel Craig; Eve and Bond’s mutual flirtation providing much respite from the rather intense proceedings. Bérénice Marlohe makes for a stunning, exotic Bond girl and gets to share a scintillating shower scene with 007 himself. However, this isn’t a Bond film that will be primarily remembered for its women.

What it will be remembered for is its ending, a showdown which I’ve been kindly told not to spoil. If there’s one “issue” with the film, one which is reinforced by the ending, it’s that this is clearly a movie best enjoyed by Bond aficionados. It’s less action-driven than one might expect a modern-day Bond film might to be, and is a love letter to Bond in commemoration of his 50 years onscreen. As such, more casual viewers might feel just a teeny bit left out. It doesn’t attempt to chuck out everything the older Bond movies are remembered for; instead teasing some of those elements and building upon them. The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger appears, complete with the same license plate and all the frills from that film — a symbol of the healthy nostalgia Skyfall possesses. By the movie’s end, it seems as if the Daniel Craig-starring Bond movies have found their footing at last, having incorporated more classic motifs into their framework – and fans can toast their martinis to Bond’s sterling return.

SUMMARYSkyfall is a Bond film that’s worth the wait, one that’s worthy of marking Bond’s golden anniversary, and one that Bond devotees will welcome with open arms. Here’s to 50 more years at the movies, 007!

RATING: 4.5 out of STARS

Jedd Jong

Monday, October 8, 2012



Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 118 mins
Opens: 11 October 2012

Looper - ReviewThere’s no doubt about it: time travel has been something that’s fascinated the public consciousness for quite a while now. From H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to Back to the Future to The Time-Traveller’s Wife, it seems authors and filmmakers have tapped into mankind’s almost primal desire to transcend the boundaries of time. It could be compared to mankind’s almost primal desire to fly. But while we’ve kinda achieved flight by way of heavier-than-air flying machines, time travel is still something that is quite elusive, to say the least.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s film Looper offers an interesting twist on things: the ‘Loopers’ of the title are specialised assassins who take care of the trash of the future, by executing those sent back in time by criminal syndicates for a clean, untraceable disposal. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one such Looper, living the high life working his fairly uncomplicated job. However, every Looper must eventually ‘close the loop’ – i.e. kill the future version of themselves sent back in time, effectively tying up any loose ends for the crime syndicates. However, Joe’s future self (Willis) won’t go out without a fight, and evades execution. The younger Joe seeks refuge at a farm owned by redneck single mother Sara (Blunt), and just as he figures out how to deal with future-Joe, future-Joe sees the opportunity to right a few wrongs now that he’s in the past, and both must confront each other - even if it means tearing apart the fabric of time itself.

Looper is not your grandfather’s time-travel movie. Johnson has crafted a very intelligent, highly-engaging picture. He quickly establishes the high-concept premise and the story never gets swallowed up in its complexities. There’s a scene where future-Joe meets Joe in a diner, and says that if he attempted to explain the mechanics of time-travel, they’d end up sitting there for hours “making diagrams with straws”. Johnson makes sure he doesn’t end up doing that himself, instead spinning a very human and surprisingly poignant yarn with the science-fiction element as a backdrop. The picture is stylish but never flashy, and Johnson keeps a firm hold on his narrative even as it branches out into “possible eventualities” and alternate futures. Our attention is captured by the intricate plot, so much so that we never stop to question the metaphysical technicalities of it all, and that is very much to Johnson’s credit.

This film re-teams Johnson with the star of his earlier film Brick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So, does he make for a decent Junior Bruce Willis? Yes. Although the prosthetic makeup designed by Kazuhiro Tsuji can start off looking a mite goofy, it’s easy to get past that and the actor does a marvellous job emulating Willis’ strained vocal affectations. There was a time when Bruce Willis could have been considered sexy, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal seems to hearken back to those days. He puts across the moral and emotional toll being a Looper takes on Joe very well without doing too much, and he shares crackling chemistry with Willis himself.

As the older Joe, Willis is really good and actively lends his action hero credibility to the part, without his ‘icon’ status overshadowing the rest of the film. This movie doesn’t succumb to the cliché of having the older version of the character act as a mentor to his younger self and show him the ropes; rather both versions of Joe are almost constantly at each other’s throats and Willis is bitter and aggressive as the older one. What’s quite amusing is how quickly both Joes get over the absurdity of it all, staying focused on their respective missions as the other Loopers are sent to hunt them down (led by a rather intimidating Jeff Daniels).

When one thinks ‘redneck single mother’, English Rose Emily Blunt isn’t the name that immediately springs to mind, but she does a fantastic job as Sara, Southern accent and all. The character is a tough chick that isn’t your stereotypical tough chick; she’s just looking out for her son and making a living on the farm. The subplot which focuses on her character is intriguing to say the least. About halfway through, Looper becomes a completely different film, and while this makes sense in retrospect, it can come off as jarring and abrupt to some. This is one aspect of the film we are desperate not to spoil; the twists and revelations are just incredible. We’ll give you one hint – it’s a little “X-Men”. There are themes of predestination (a little akin to The Adjustment Bureau, also starring Emily Blunt) and sacrifice, and by the film’s end it’s turned from a head-spinning sci-fi action thriller to a poignant, moving drama – and yet doesn’t feel too disjointed.

We moviegoers often complain that Hollywood seems to have well and truly lost its creativity and is content in churning out production line cash-ins, banking on the names of franchises by way of sequels and remakes. Looper is a blunderbusser blast in the face to all of that. Here is a heady, intelligently-made science fiction film that true aficionados of the genre will want to take in, layering emotion, thrills and philosophy one on top of the other. It may not be immediately accessible and it will take a bit of effort to make sense of, but audiences will be amply rewarded.

SUMMARY: A refreshingly original, captivating sci-fi action thriller, this is one loop you want to keep yourself in even if it means working a little for it.

RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Taken 2

For F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Olivier Megaton
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Šerbedžija
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 94 mins
Opens: 4 October 2012
Rating: PG13 - Some Violence

Taken 2 - Review

2008’s Taken was a film that, well, took many by surprise. It was something of a sleeper hit, giving its star Liam Neeson a second wind as a viable action hero, and it also made $226,830,568 on a $26.5 million budget. You know what that means: sequel time!

Taken 2 fashions itself as a revenge story - Murad Hoxha (Šerbedžija), the head of the Albanian mafia, is none too happy about the body count from the first film, his son among them. So, he vows to take revenge on Bryan Mills (Neeson) on behalf of the rest of the Albanian village too. Mills takes his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen), going through a rough patch with her current husband, and his daughter Kim (Grace) along with him to Istanbul for a family vacation of sorts. It is there that the tables are turned on him, as Bryan and Lenore are taken, leaving Kim to figure out how to get to them as the bad guys chase after her as well.

Most moviegoers, upon hearing news of a Taken sequel being made, probably had the same thought – “the first one was cool, but do we need a second?” Taken seemed like the kind of film that would receive a shoddy direct-to-video sequel featuring a completely different cast with the exact same premise, so perhaps it can be considered good news that Neeson and co. are back for a proper part deux, with Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen also returning to script the movie.

However, Pierre Morel is not back in the director’s chair – in his stead is Olivier Megaton, who directed the Luc Besson-produced films Transporter 3 and Colombiana - and yes, that is his real name. Megaton keeps the film at a frenetic pace once the actual ‘taking’ takes place, but perhaps it’s a little too frenetic for its own good. There are quick cuts and editing flourishes, and where the first film felt as fluid as it was dynamic, here it’s a bit more choppy.

One could be mean and say that the story is not much more than a rehash of the first and truth is, it kind of is – the main difference being that it’s Bryan and Lenore who are kidnapped, with Kim in a position to aid her parents’ escape. Surprisingly, the movie takes its time with its opening scenes, which reintroduce the characters and establish how their relationships have changed since the events of the first movie – Bryan, ever the over-protective dad, not taking kindly to news that Kim now has a boyfriend (Luke Grimes).

This, however, may leave some audience members twiddling their thumbs. It’s a good thing then that when the film kicks into high gear, it doesn’t stop. The filmmakers take advantage of Istanbul’s potential as an action movie location (Bond will next be headed there in Skyfall) and there is a series of foot and vehicular chases through the back alleys and across the rooftops of the Turkish capital. Thing is, we really have seen it all before – and done a smidge better – in the original Taken.

Neeson is as good as he normally is, turning up the intensity and furrowing his brow as only he can. Most of his dialogue is very cut-and-dried and matter of fact, which can be a little hard to take seriously given how his terse speech from the first movie has been reduced to not much more than an internet meme. Famke Janssen has more screen time but not all that much more to do, panicking and crying through most of the movie. Maggie Grace’s part gets more of an upgrade, and you get the sense that Kim has learned a fair bit from her experiences in Paris, and with her father’s guidance possesses a degree of competence (and gets to toss a few grenades to boot). Rade Šerbedžija is stoic as the villain, but not as imposing or frightening as he could have been, and it ends up such that the lower-level grunts seem to pose more of a threat than the head of the Albanian mafia himself.

Is Taken 2 a decent film on its own merits? Yes. But is it an absolutely necessary sequel? No. Was it made primarily as a cash-grab? Probably, and unfortunately, yes.

SUMMARY: Taken 2 passes muster as an action film in the vein of its predecessor, even if it never quite matches it in quality - it’s a little “run of the Mills”, as it were.

RATING: 3 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong