Friday, May 29, 2015


For F*** Magazine


Director : Tzang Merwyn Tong
Cast : Lyon Sim, Aaron Samuel Yong, Jade Griffin, Tanya Graham, Farid Assalam, Jae Leung, Roshan G., Kris Moller
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 97 mins
Opens : 26 May 2015 (Exclusively at Filmgarde Bugis+)
Rating : M18 (Some Mature Content)

Dire consequences arise when a clique of misfits strikes back in this dystopian teen drama. Set in an alternate world on the campus of the eponymous Faeryville College, the films follows a group that call themselves the “Nobodies”. Comprising Poe (Sim), Taurus (Assalam) and CK (Leung), the Nobodies embrace their status as outcasts, rebelling against the established school system, making them the target of bullying. Laer (Yong), a transfer student with a tortured past, is a loner who is at first dismissive of the Nobodies but later joins them, taking their anarchy to a new, more serious level. Student journalist Chloe sees the potential for a riveting story in the Nobodies and begins to form a bond with Belle (Graham), a rebellious anarchist who endeavours to leave her former life behind. The rite of passage that is self-discovery in college has never been more dangerous.

            Faeryville is the feature film debut of writer-director Tzang Merwyn Tong and is something of an expansion of his 2003 short film e’Tzaintes, also set in Faeryville College. The events depicted in e’Tzaintes are referenced in the prologue of Faeryville. Faeryville is ambitious and provocative, a brave and daring Singaporean film worth getting behind. However, it is also very rough around the edges and is sometimes burdened by the ideology it explores instead of being carried by the story. Tong weathered the arduous process of getting an independent film made in Singapore, labouring on the project for eight years. Every effort is made by Tong and cinematographer David Foo to infuse Faeryville with a unique style, but it does often feel like a student film, the fact that it takes place almost entirely on a college campus contributing to that.

            Tong has devised some striking imagery, chief of which is the Mother Saint statue, gun in one hand and open book in the other, which stands on the grounds of the fictional school. There are times when the attitude the film takes on and its depiction of rebels both with and without causes can become unintentionally funny. The film suffers structurally as well, leaning too heavily on voiceovers, speeches and news broadcast segments to provide unwieldy exposition. It also feels longer than its 95 minutes. The film’s championing of maligned underdogs while also questioning the concept of fighting for what one believes in is thought-provoking and brings themes that are rarely glimpsed in Singapore cinema to the fore. Tong states that he aims to explore what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-9/11 world, but perhaps it’s more apt to say this looks at what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-Columbine world. It’s a little like The Perks of Being a Wallflower crossed with A Clockwork Orange. There is a mythos that’s begging to be fleshed out here, but Faeryville doesn’t quite succeed at sucking the viewer into its heightened alternate universe.

           As is often the case with independent films, the acting is a mixed bag. Lyon Sim, who worked with Tong in the director’s sci-fi short film V1K1, has a likeable mercurial energy to him and is easy to root for. Aaron Samuel Yong, who was picked from 120 actors who auditioned, brings a brooding intensity to the role of Laer. Tanya Graham is a first-time actor and her delivery is often stilted and unnatural. The members of the Cavalry fraternity who constantly pick on our protagonists are the most one-dimensional school bullies this side of the Cobra Kai. Kris Moller, who plays Faeryville’s Principal Mr. Mathias, lacks the gravitas required to portray a looming authority figure.

            Faeryville clinched a distribution deal with L.A.-based company Eleven Arts and the film had its premiere screening in Hollywood in January where it was positively received. Sterne & Lears Global Pte Ltd, the publisher of F*** Magazine, also threw its support behind the film. Since it is in the English language and takes place in an alternate reality, Faeryville can travel far better than any Singaporean film before it. Faeryville does have the potential to become a cult classic, a rare quality among Singaporean films, but Tong does struggle with articulating the many questions raised in the film. In its heightened stylisation, the film also has a tendency to lean towards the overwrought and unsubtle. That said, it is a crucial step forwards in the diversification of the local filmmaking scene and Tong is certainly a talent to watch.

Summary: Faeryville tackles issues rarely explored in local films and while it is sometimes clumsy and lacking in sophistication, it is a promising feature debut from Tzang Merwyn Tong.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

San Andreas

For F*** Magazine


Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Colton Haynes, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Todd Williams, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 28 May 2015

“We all have our little faults,” Lex Luthor told Superman in the 1978 film. “Mine’s in California.” In this disaster thriller, that “little fault” leads to big problems as the entire US west coast is crippled by a devastating earthquake of unprecedented magnitude. Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Johnson) has to save his estranged wife Emma (Gugino) and the couple have to put aside their differences in order to reach their daughter Blake (Daddario). Blake is trapped in San Francisco alongside Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother Ollie (Parkinson), Ben interviewing for a position at the office of superstar architect Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), Emma’s new boyfriend. Meanwhile, CalTech seismology professor Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) has been working on a system to predict earthquakes and is determined to get the word out so as many lives can be saved before the destruction escalates.

            Let’s address the elephant in the room: Nepal has recently been hit by two major quakes, the death toll now exceeding 8500. The marketing for San Andreas has been tweaked with an emphasis on earthquake preparedness and donating to the relief effort, with a portion of the movie’s takings set to be donated to Nepal. Still, it’s understandable that very few audiences, if any, will find harrowing devastation in this specific context very entertaining. It’s a little like when the kids-on-a-space-shuttle adventure Space Camp was released two months after the Challenger disaster. In fact, it leads one to wonder if a movie like San Andreas was ever a good idea, even before the Nepal tremblor, given the tragic frequency with which such calamities occur these days.

Big summer blockbusters are meant to provide escapism rather than continually remind viewers of the problems that plague the world in real life. Post-9/11, many action flicks have deliberately invoked the imagery of collapsing buildings and citizens scrambling away from falling debris in the hopes of eliciting an emotional response through mere association with actual tragedies, which seems to be the case here too. The Catch-22 faced by director Brad Peyton is that if the events depicted in the film are too fanciful and ridiculous, it will pull audiences out of it, but if they are too realistic, it will hit too close to home.

            The phrase “destruction porn” has been tossed about derisively in reference to blockbusters like Man of Steel and just about everything in Roland Emmerich’s filmography. Let’s call a spade a spade – San Andreas is destruction porn. We don’t mean this sanctimoniously; wanton carnage has always been one of the main ingredients in creating large-scale spectacle. It’s worth acknowledging the effort made to craft inventive, thrilling sequences and the amount of work involved in creating the digital deluge must have been mind-boggling. All credit to the armies of artists at visual effects houses Scanline, hy*drau”lx, Method Studios, Cinesite and other vendors for their work here. The scale is suitably epic but one can’t help but have the niggling sense of hollow artificiality throughout. Moviegoers have become harder to impress and even with rippling seismic waves tearing through the L.A. city centre and cargo ships lodged in skyscrapers, San Andreas is rarely truly impressive. The 3D conversion is also something of a let-down.

            When it comes to the plot, San Andreas is predictable to, well, a fault. The involvement of at least six screenwriters performing multiple studio-mandated rewrites ensures that the script is safe, homogenised and dull. Paul Giamatti, playing a seismology professor as if the character were a scientist from a ‘50s creature feature, warns “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” We also counted at least nine utterances of the line “oh my god!” (mostly from Carla Gugino). Every disaster movie cliché in the book is flung into San Andreas, as well as clichés from other genres for good measure. You’ve got the strong, hardworking protagonist, his estranged wife, the wealthy douchebag who is his wife’s new boyfriend, the daughter who needs to be rescued but who is largely plucky and capable when required, the daughter’s earnest, handsome love interest and the tagalong kid for comic relief. Oh, and the protagonist has already lost one child in an earlier rafting accident. This doesn’t feel like it needed six writers, it feels like all it took was an algorithm fed into some kind of automated writing software.

            Dwayne Johnson reunites with Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The wrestler-turned-action-hero can do the noble, heroic thing in his sleep by now. Carla Gugino spends most of the movie yelling. Alexandra Daddario is the “damsel in a degree of distress”, competent but still in need of dad coming to the rescue. It’s all just tired and cheesy. Hollywood, it’s time to rewrite the disaster movie formula, and no amount of tsunamis smacking shipping crates into the Golden Gate Bridge can distract us from that dire need.

Summary: San Andreas manages to out-‘90s most ‘90s disaster flicks, unintentionally funny in how dated and corny despite several well-crafted set pieces.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Good Kill

For F*** Magazine


Director : Andrew Niccol
Cast : Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood, Jake Abel, Peter Coyote, Alma Sisneros, Alma Sisneros
Genre : Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 28 May 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language and Sexual Scenes)

            “The war machine keeps turning” – so sang Black Sabbath in their antiwar anthem “War Pigs”. In the 21st century, the war machine has evolved and the last several years have seen an increase in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in warzones. Major Thomas Egan (Hawke) is a U.S. Air Force pilot who has been flying UAVs since the demand for manned fighter jets has decreased. It seems like a cushy job, flying the drones via remote control from a base in Las Vegas, far from the thick of it. However, Egan has become disillusioned and longs to be back in the air for real. His work takes a toll on his relationship with his wife Molly (Jones) and when his new co-pilot Vera Suarez (Kravitz) realises the job involves more than she’s bargained for, Egan begins to question the nature of his missions. When the unit is ordered to run ethically dubious missions for the CIA, even Colonel Jack Johns (Greenwood), whom Egan and Suarez answer to, has second thoughts of his own.

            The relationship between Hollywood and the military is a fascinating one. Hollywood is perceived as being run by liberals, but maintaining ties with the military and portraying them in a positive light is key to getting permits and clearances for filming on military installations or gaining privileged access to equipment and personnel. There was even a recent superhero movie that ran army recruitment ads in the theatre before the feature. Good Kill is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who helmed the underrated, searing arms dealer drama Lord of War. Niccol’s best works, like Lord of War and sci-fi flick Gattaca, examine relevant sociopolitical issues in addition to being stylish and entertaining. Drone warfare is as topical as it gets – the collateral damage resulting from a covert drone strike was recently a major plot point in the fourth season of TV series Homeland. Good Kill spells out its themes in the biggest, blockiest letters available. Watching drone pilots cooped up in a small box flying missions from thousands of miles away does sound somewhat boring, and perhaps this lack of subtlety is compensation for it.

            Niccol takes particular relish in juxtaposing the shiny decadence of the Las Vegas Strip with the life-and-death stakes of the Air Force drone missions being controlled just a few miles out from the casinos and strip clubs, the partygoers oblivious to the war on terror being waged from next door. He has succeeded in creating a war movie unlike any before it, presenting post-traumatic stress disorder and the questioning of authority in a new look but with the same queasy flavour. The disconnect is a big part of it - the targets on the ground are mostly faceless, but so is the ominous voice of Langley, Viriginia over the speakerphone, the CIA portrayed as a shadowy éminence grise. Colonel Jack Johns, played by Bruce Greenwood, gives a big bravura speech to a gaggle of recruits that is gloriously on the nose but yet not out of place in the context of the film. With lines like “this aircraft isn’t the future of war. This is the here and f***ing now” and “war is now a first-person shooter”, the audience is brought up to speed with the changing landscape of combat in layman’s terms, and there’s also the sense that the Colonel is desperately trying to convince himself.

            Ethan Hawke is on a roll following his Oscar nomination for Boyhood, Good Kill reuniting him with Niccol, who directed the actor in Gattaca and Lord of War. Hawke has the unique challenge of playing a shell-shocked soldier who never steps foot into the battlefield and the film is carried by the tormented humanity he imbues the character with. Bruce Greenwood brings his trademark blend of paternal warmth and no-nonsense grit to the role of Colonel Johns, who despite moments like the abovementioned speech, is never a stereotypically over-the-top hard-ass. Unfortunately, January Jones’ character Molly is every bit the stock type of the nagging wife who doesn’t understand the psychological torment her husband suffers as a result of his occupation, even with the requisite scenes that are meant to make her sympathetic. Zoë Kravitz’s Vera Suarez is an archetype as well, the recruit who has her idealism broken down piece by piece. She handles the emotional beats well and is excellent opposite Hawke.

            Good Kill has a lot to say and it does seem like Niccol has taken the effort in understanding the various sides of the drone warfare argument. However, it doesn’t quite need 104 minutes to say what it does and while it is bereft of the raw bombast of most war films, it is still painted in very broad strokes. Even with these shortcomings, the film still is adequately unsettling, tense and moving.

Summary: A different breed of war film, Good Kill can get heavy-handed and repetitive in its exploration of the moral implications of drone warfare, but still has its powerful moments and is anchored by a superb leading performance from Ethan Hawke.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


Resurrecting the Dinosaurs: the special effects of Jurassic Park

As published in Issue #64/65 of F*** Magazine



F*** goes back to the genesis of the Jurassic Park film series and explores the movie magic that brought the park’s denizens back from extinction

By Jedd Jong

This June, Jurassic World continues the legacy of a film franchise that has enthralled audiences with its depictions of prehistoric beasts stomping among (and occasionally chomping on) mankind. The first Jurassic Park movie, which was released in 1993, broke more than its share of ground in the realm of special and visual effects that marked a great leap forward in filmmaking technology. In the story, it is InGen’s geneticists who clone dinosaurs from preserved DNA, but behind the scenes, it was Stan Winston Studio, Tippett Studio and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) who resurrected these titans of a bygone era.

Jurassic Park is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. Even before the book was published, a fierce bidding war for the film rights was sparked. Universal Pictures, director Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment won the rights. Spielberg had a tough time working with animatronic creatures on Jaws, which was plagued by constantly malfunctioning mechanical sharks. The plan of action was that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park would be created with the joint methods of stop-motion puppets and full-scale animatronic dinosaurs.

Spielberg first turned to theme park attraction creator Bob Gurr, who was working on a King Kong attraction at Universal Studios. Upon realising that particular method was infeasible, the director sought the help of Stan Winston, a legendary special effects creator whose studio was responsible for the monsters of the Alien, Terminator and Predator franchises, amongst other films. “Everyone who does the kind of work we do are dinosaur fans,” Winston professed. The puppets, which would be used for wide shots of the dinosaurs in motion, were to be created by animator Phil Tippett. Tippett had devised an improved stop-motion animation technique called “go-motion”, which he used on the film Dragonslayer. The addition of digital motion blurring would reduce the jerkiness that is characteristic of stop-motion animation.

Winston engaged concept artist Mark “Crash” McCreery to begin designing the dinosaurs; McCreery’s artwork informed by palaeontologist Jack Horner, who has been a consultant for all the Jurassic Park films so far. Among Horner’s contributions was the then-recent discovery that dinosaurs were more closely related to birds than they were to reptiles. Initially, the Raptors would’ve been depicted with snake-like flicking tongues, an idea Horner nixed. The intent was that these would be living, breathing creatures that the audience could buy as real animals rather than otherworldly movie monsters. The design process started a full year before actual production began. “We wanted these dinosaurs to be authentic, not ‘Hollywood’ dinosaurs, and so we really did our research,” Winston said.

Over at pioneering visual effects house ILM, famous for their work on the Star Wars saga, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren was in charge of digitally enhancing Tippett’s puppetry work and exploring new uses for computer graphics in the making of the film. In the midst of pre-production, ILM presented computer-generated test footage to Spielberg, which depicted a heard of skeletal Gallimimus running through a field. It turns out that actors aren’t the only ones who practice method acting as the ILM animators studied under a movement coach and performed the Gallimimus run to provide their own reference material.

Animators Mark Dippé and Steve Williams later worked on animating a walk cycle for the T-rex. Spielberg was impressed, saying “it was so authentic and smooth, I said ‘well that’s the future, that’s the way it’s going to be from now on’…this technology came along and changed my movie forever and in that sense changed the world forever.”

Naturally, Tippett and his go-motion animation team were devastated by this change of approach to the wide shots. “It was a big emotional moment, like when your dog dies,” Tippett recalled.

“We’re extinct, we’re the dinosaurs, and that irony wasn’t lost on any of us,” said dinosaur motion supervisor Randal M. Dutra. This was given a nod in the dialogue of the film, when palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant says “we’re out of a job” and mathematician Ian Malcolm corrects him by saying “don’t you mean extinct?” However, the work that Tippett and his team had developed did not go to waste – the elaborate go-motion puppets were used to create animatics (moving storyboards) that helped Spielberg plan the action beats precisely and served as a guide to the other animators and puppeteers involved. Tippett’s team also designed a telemetry system called the “Dinosaur Input Device” that could project tactilely manipulated movements on a scaled-down armature onto the full-sized animatronic dinosaurs, lending a hands-on element to the way the digital dinosaurs were controlled.

Years later, Tippett became a minor internet meme due to his credit as “dinosaur supervisor”, with posts on tumblr jokingly berating him for the mayhem brought about by dinosaurs as depicted in the film. In 2013, he sent out a tweet in response, playing along with the joke: “Everyone on the internet thinks they could be a better dino supervisor - BUT YOU WEREN'T THERE.”

Principal photography began in August 1992 on the Hawaiian island of Kuai. The first dinosaur to be filmed was the sickly Triceratops, built full-size by Winston’s shop. The Triceratops was sculpted by Joey Orosco, who used reference photographs of elephants and a white rhinoceros taken at a local zoo. The Triceratops puppet was positioned over a pit that could accommodate up to 11 puppeteers.

Prolific human actors like Sir Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum were cast in Jurassic Park, but the biggest star was undoubtedly the full-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex used to film the main road attack. “It’s one thing seeing a great big model, [but] a model that moves and breathes and works with you was something else,” Neill noted. The hulking animatronic creation was set up at the largest soundstage in Warner Bros. Studios, dressed to mimic the T-rex paddock and main road that had been built in Kuai.

Even after being up to the task of designing and building a mechanical behemoth that had to act opposite the human cast, Winston and his crew had another major hurdle to overcome. Spielberg thought that having the scene take place in the rain would be more exciting and that it would enhance the atmosphere. The T-rex was calibrated for weight and not designed to be waterproof. After spending some time under the rain machines, the giant robot would begin to vibrate uncontrollably because the foam rubber skin had started soaking up water. The crew had to dry the T-rex off by slapping it with shammy towels.

The other signature sequence from the movie is the “Raptors in the kitchen” scene, in which two Velociraptors stalk Tim and Lexi into the visitor’s centre’s industrial kitchen. Actor Joseph Mazzello, who played Tim, called the Velociraptors “the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” The way these creatures moved had to be deliberate and reflect a frightening intelligence. “I remember being on set for the kitchen scene and looking behind a counter and seeing about 15 people all operating a different part of the Raptor,” Mazzello added.

For McCreery and art department coordinator John Rosengrant, their work on Jurassic Park wasn’t restricted to sitting behind desks. In addition to designing the dinosaurs, McCreery and Rosengrant got to play them, getting into specially designed Raptor suits to portray the two dinosaurs in the kitchen sequence. To simulate Raptor anatomy, the performers had to assume an awkward pose inside the suits, as if they were skiing. “My back would go out after about 30 minutes,” Rosengrant recalled, “and that was after having trained a couple of hours a day for weeks.”

“It was exhilarating but torture at the same time,” McCreery agreed. “It’s kind of scary because there’s that claustrophobic-type feeling. You’d have a little monitor in front of your face and then that would go out and you’d be blind and hoping you were doing the right thing.”

For the moment in which the Raptor leaps up onto the countertop and when there’s fast running involved, it’s handed off to a CGI Raptor to allow for more fluidity. “That’s a great, great sequence showing basically all the tools working [together], every one of ‘em,” said special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri.

One often-overlooked element in making the dinosaurs convincing as actual animals is sound design. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom was tasked with creating vocalisations for the T-rex that weren’t the usual monster movie roar. The T-rex’s roars were a combination of recorded samples from baby elephants, alligators, tigers, whales, and Rydstrom’s own pet Jack Russell terrier, Buster. The Velociraptors’ signature screech came from combining noises from geese, horses and dolphins. In addition, there was a bizarrely risqué source for the Raptors’ calls: "It's somewhat embarrassing, but when the Raptors bark at each other to communicate, it's a tortoise having sex," Rydstrom revealed.

 Jurassic Park was a box office smash and a hit with critics as well, spawning three further sequels, the latest of which is this summer’s Jurassic World. Stan Winston Studio and ILM continued to collaborate on The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III. After Winston’s death in 2008, Lindsay Macgowan, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, and Alan Scott, who had worked at Stan Winston Studio for over 20 years, founded their own company, Legacy Effects. Legacy Effects is in charge of creating the animatronic dinosaurs for director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, with Tim Alexander supervising the visual effects at ILM. Tippett Studio is involved in the process as well. While the trailers for the film have drawn some flak for a supposed over-reliance on computer-generated imagery, it is encouraging that several key behind-the-scenes figures from the original Jurassic Park are returning for the fourth go-round. We trust that these movie magicians’ handiwork will thrill new audiences and remind long-time Jurassic Park fans of how they first became spellbound. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Do You Believe in Faerytales? Lyon Sim Interview

As published in Issue #64/65 of F*** Magazine 



F*** chats exclusively with Lyon Sim, star of Faeryville
By Jedd Jong

Lyon Sim may play a Nobody in dystopian teen drama Faeryville, but he’s well on his way to becoming a somebody. The actor has worked in Singaporean theatre and short films and is making his feature debut with Faeryville. In the film, which takes place in an alternate reality, he plays the protagonist Poe, a student at the eponymous college. Poe is the leader of a clique called the “Nobodies”, who embrace being outcasts and hero worship a school shooter. Poe’s status as the leader of his little gang is challenged when transfer student Laer enters Faeryville and takes the Nobodies’ ideology to new, dangerous heights.

Sim worked with Faeryville director Tzang Merwyn Tong on the “techno-fairy tale” short film V1K1, in which he played the fairy Donkey. It was a heavily physical performance since the character had no lines. “I couldn’t see anything because there were no eye holes in the donkey mask,” he recalled. Sim’s credits also include the short films Cubik, Tadpoles and Don’t Hang Up, My Love. He most recently acted in the second season of Singaporean thriller TV series Zero Calling.

An edgy independent feature containing themes not often found in local films, Faeryville took eight years to make and had its debut in Los Angeles in January this year. Now, the film is being screened in Singapore for a limited engagement at Filmgarde Bugis+. Speaking exclusively to F***, Sim discussed the various logistical challenges faced by the cast and crew during production, the dynamics he cultivated with his cast-mates on the set, his experience being a part of the film’s premiere in L.A. and his hopes for independent cinema in Singapore going forward.

It’s very challenging getting an independent film made in Singapore. What has your experience as an actor active in that community been like?

I started in theatre, then I moved on to screen. I don’t know if I’m being active…when I was, it is invigorating to just cause for auditions and get roles and be able to do something you enjoy doing – acting – as compared to having restrictions in a sense, when it comes to mainstream screen work. When people are doing advertisements or even on TV, when you have a gig, it’s there to cater to a certain market. I don’t consider myself mainstream I guess, so it feels good to have a medium to get work.

Tell us about the world that Faeryville takes place in.

It’s actually not in any specific location. It’s a Singapore movie, but it’s not [set] in Singapore, it’s not in L.A. where we premiered, but on a different plane. It’s a world where all teenagers live in their minds, it’s a surreal world, but it’s not “unreal”. It’s very much what their lives are projected to be, what they imagine, a heightened sense of the world.

There’s the metaphor of the school being the entire existence…

Exactly, that’s true. Faeryville is not just the world, it’s also the name of the college where all the different teenage cliques live.

Did you often feel like an outcast or misfit growing up, and if so, what was your way of dealing with that?

I don’t know if I’ve dealt with it, but I guess that’s a “yes” [laughs]. I think friends, the people that you choose as your family, I think it’s really important to have that conversational outlet or just having people who believe in you, who share what you’re going through or support you in one way or another, I think that’s key for me. I’m not good with being alone [laughs] and on that note, to me, no individual person’s success belongs to just that person.

Tzang has said that over the eight years he was working on the film, some actors had to be recast because of several false starts in production and the scheduling conflicts that arose from that. How were you affected by that and what impact did it have on the dynamic of the cast?

I was one of the three people who didn’t get re-cast.

May I ask who the other two were?

Sure. The Nobodies, Farid [Assalam] and Jae [Leung], [who play] Taurus and C.K. respectively. The three of us were not re-cast for reasons that we don’t look too much older or that our schedules were okay. It didn’t really affect us that much I guess, because the three of us were not re-cast, we had camaraderie for a couple of years. It was 3 years later that we shot Faeryville after [making] the trailer. We had a bond. The rest of them who were re-cast or even characters who were not in the trailer, we didn’t have too much to do with them in the first place, so that was a bonus.

In a way it worked out because the Nobodies are a unit by themselves and all the other characters are external to them.

You’re right. Even Laer, who comes in after, it would have been great even to have Laer not re-cast but it didn’t make much of a difference because he’s a newcomer and to have a new person on board, that was exact to what Faeryville was about.

In the film, we see something of a power struggle between Poe and Laer. Did you and Aaron Samuel Yong work on getting that dynamic right?

Aaron did such a great job. Every time I watch the film, I watch his performance and I’m in awe. I don’t remember speaking with him much about the power struggle, we didn’t talk about it. I guess the way Aaron and I worked it out was that we didn’t talk about it. There’s a scene in Faeryville where Poe asks Taurus if he feels that there’s something up with Laer and I guess that’s the similarity with me not talking to Aaron, Poe not talking to Laer. It helps, not breaking out of character too often. I was going through a lull period during production and I don’t know if it was just me subconsciously putting myself in there so it works better for Poe or just coincidental, but things like that do happen. Not talking to Aaron that much in the beginning when we were shooting, him being new to us and then later on when Poe and Laer get comfortable with each other and have a conversation, that was when I became comfortable being with him on set.

So it was mostly shot in sequence?

I’m trying to recall. [Pauses] Actually it was, come to think about it. Mostly.

With regards to the lull period you had during production, do you feel that acting is therapeutic and helps you work things out sometimes?

I do. Many people ask what the difference between theatre acting and screen acting is and there are so many differences, but whenever I hear that question, I feel like people don’t see the similarities. One of the similarities is that acting can be therapeutic, can be cathartic based on the circumstance or it can hurt you if you take it the wrong way. That’s why I don’t believe in…the Method, if it works for people, great, and there are people who do such amazing jobs with the Method that works for them. Especially if the story ends on a good note, if it was shot chronologically, then at the end of the day, you feel good about yourself.

You can go on a journey with that character.

Yeah. You leave on a good note, especially so if it’s about something bad, say the death of someone, and you’re using a real instance, then it ends well. Exactly like you said, you go on that journey, and it’s therapeutic.

With the cult of personality depicted, the film seems influenced in part by events like school shootings and bombings, events like the Columbine High shooting. What sort of research did you do to play Poe and was that a conscious thing you had in mind?

Hmm. I don’t think it was conscious for me, especially because I don’t think Poe would be consciously thinking about that. But because there is that struggle between going with the flow of being bullied or standing up to your adversities, taking a stand, I guess that’s why Laer comes in. Poe is happy with who he is, he’s not trying to be what he’s not, so when there was that conflict, that scene where Laer gets the Nobodies to stand up for themselves, that’s when I was asked to realise that maybe there’s a different way to go about things, to rebel.

Did you devise a backstory for Poe in preparing for the role?

No, I didn’t. Tzang and I talked a lot, time and again, it wasn’t like one sitting. 3 years before, 3 years later, in between, there were different dynamics to characters that might have an impact on what the Nobodies would be like. The actors he had cast, the new ones, we talked about Poe’s back-story again and again. There are certain things that would always be there, we know he loves his friends and he’s happy being who he is, comfortable, even if he gets pushed around. That’s what I would try to use and that’s why I didn’t want to plan too much and go back.

The Mother Saint statue is a very striking image. Did Tzang speak with the cast about how that came to be?

No, but he did mention how…I might be wrong, but the book is “law”, and the gun is like…putting a gun to your head. There is a scene in the film where Poe tries to explain what the statue is about and he talks about how the people who are power are the ones afraid of losing control.

The female leads in the film, Jade Griffin and Tanya Graham, are first time actors. What was it like working with them?

Tanya was pretty easy-going. “Oh, you need to get this done? Sure, let’s do it.” One time, she gets pushed on the ground, insinuating a rape was about to happen. And I think she was under-aged then, 17 or 18, and of course Tzang had to consult her parents. Once that was done, they watched the film too. She was cool. Jade…[chuckles]…Jade was mostly herself, a high-class model. [Laughs] It was okay I mean…yeah, I’d rather not go on [laughs]. I think now they’re full-time models, I don’t know, I haven’t been in touch.

Tanya’s character in the film is very mysterious and she has this former life she wants to leave behind. What was that like when you were interacting with her in between takes?

That’s the thing for me – I might just be on the less sociable side, I don’t talk that much in between takes, and/or because she’s mysterious, I try to keep it that way. I made it a point not to talk to Tanya or Aaron that much off-takes. But with Farid and Jae, if they wanted to play wrestling in-between takes or run around the blocks and do silly things [we would], but not with Tanya or Aaron. Having said that, with Jade, even though Poe and Chloe are supposed to be good friends, we didn’t talk that much. She’s a high-class model you know? [Laughs] Totally understandable, she has her own [circle].

Were there moments making the film when it seemed like it would not see the light of day? What kept everyone persevering on?

Making the film wasn’t just about the shooting. I don’t know if I can quote one specific time, but a few times, there’s just so much to making an independent film, that’s why I say no one person’s success truly belongs to one person. The whole team of people persevering and even now, promoting the film, having F*** Magazine help with that, now that it’s in cinemas, it’s not over but I guess there’s a sigh of relief…

Like you’ve seen it come to fruition?

Thank you, yeah. Before that, we had to drop a couple of crew members because things weren’t happening with that team. I remember sitting on the train with Tzang on our way back from the shoot one day because he needed to have this conversation with someone and we were talking about what’s next – should we drop that team, are we going to be able to continue making the film if we did? He made a bold decision and I think it was the correct one to try and get a new team. And that it rained on a certain day, and when we had to transport the statue [laughs] there was a tow truck and everything. And then cost – Faeryville was made for way less than what Tzang planned. Having that truck bring the statue to the location and having the extras come down, a whole group of 30-40 people, and then it had to rain that day [laughs]! Wanting to reshoot the scene or not…there were many things that happened over the eight years. Tzang has two boys now.

It’s like over the course of making the film, everyone’s lives went through a lot of changes.

Yeah. People flying back and forth or not coming back, so the story had to change. Jae is from Hong Kong, Galen Watts from Canada, from all over! Everyone’s from everywhere. Kris [Moller], [who played] the Principal – he’s coming back from the premiere

He’s from South Africa, I read in the production notes that he had been in a bombing during Apartheid.

Wow – he’s a man with a lot of life experience. Very intelligent man, wise man.

Did you shoot the film on a working campus and did you have to shoot around real students in an active school?

Now that you mention it, I think the production team did a good job in shielding us from that side. We didn’t see the problems because it was a live location, an active school. We had a lot of delays, perhaps it was because people were using certain rooms. An actor’s job is to come and just bring the character out. Tzang didn’t want to impose these [logistical] things on 30 different people. It’s a huge group, not all of the time, but that’s why he probably needed that chat with me on the train.

What was it like premiering the film in Los Angeles?

It was eye-opening, it was something different. I’ve done minimal work overseas – not because I don’t want to [laughs]. That was an experience for me. They could with resound with what the film’s talking about and I saw live examples of what the Nobodies from L.A. might be. It was very heartwarming to see people who appreciate and were accepting of independent films.

Like they didn’t come to it from a judgmental stance or with preconceived notions of what the film would be like?

Judgmental I guess would be fine for me. I think a film should always pose more questions than answers. We had people who really understood and felt the same.

Have there been any particularly memorable moments while conducting Q and A sessions after screenings?

[Laughs] Jeez, it has to be this one, it tops it all. A week ago at *SCAPE, Farid was all over the place! Not in terms of speech or anything – there were 2 sofas and we were sitting down, and all of a sudden he just stands up and walks off – he just leaves to the restroom. He comes back, he goes behind the couch, starts kneeling down then he stands up again [laughs]. He was all around and I had to try to keep a straight face while I was in the chair. That was the most memorable to me. Other times, you talk about the film and we do it all the time in every Q and A segment. It’s good to have thoughtful questions, I was very heartfelt to see people relate to it closely, but I never expected this, especially not from our side of the Q and A [laughs].

Did you ask him about it later?

[Shakes head] I didn’t want to put myself in awkward position to ask him “hey, what was that all about? Were you high?” [Laughs]

What are your hopes and dreams for the development of Singaporean cinema going forward?

This is a really tough one because there are a few things of the top of my head that I want to say but I’m not sure if I feel that way anymore. Recently, I read a quote on a friend’s Facebook page. He was talking about how everyone’s saying “support local cinema because it’s local cinema” and he said “shouldn’t we be way past that? Shouldn’t people support art because they like it?” I understand that, but at the same time at the back of my head, I have this conflict. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t know enough, but in Japan and Korea, all these pop singers get recognition from their country first. We live in a small country, Singapore, with a decent population size. I really think support goes a long way. Bringing the film to L.A. and if that had anything to do with Singaporeans being more accepting to the film, says a lot just because “Los Angeles” is being quoted. I guess things happen in their own time. I hope people won’t be biased towards or against independent cinema, local or not, and for filmmakers to make thoughtful, bold and meaningful stories.

Faeryville opens at Filmgarde Bugis+ on May 26. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


For F*** Magazine


Director : Henry Hobson
Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 8 May 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

            Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the protective father casting a watchful eye over his daughter in many an action flick. In this horror drama, he plays Wade Vogel, a Papa Wolf of a different stripe. Wade’s daughter Maggie (Breslin) is among the victims of an epidemic, infected by a virus that slowly turns its host into cannibalistic zombies. Maggie, her father and her stepmother Caroline (Richardson) live in fear of “the turn”, the point in the disease’s incubation period from which there is no coming back. As Maggie struggles with the illness and the impact her condition has on those she holds dear, Wade stands steadfast by his daughter’s side.

            Coming off like an alternate universe collaboration between Jodi Picoult and George A. Romero, Maggie takes a zombie outbreak and spins this horror trope into a terminal illness drama. John Scott 3’s screenplay landed on the 2011 Black List of most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood and it’s easy to see the appeal in the premise. However, Maggie often gets caught up in said premise, unable to transcend the concept itself to be truly affecting. Director Henry Hobson takes great pains to establish the situation and portray the epidemic as a credible threat, but seeing how ingrained a particular interpretation of zombies are in popular culture, it will be difficult for audiences to break free of the perception of zombies as mindless, shambling monsters and even harder for them to reconcile that with tender family drama.

            Those whose lives have been affected by terminal illness directly or otherwise will certainly be able to relate to many of the heart-rending scenarios presented in Maggie. We applaud the allegorical approach and this isn’t the first story to put a spin on the zombie formula – World War Z (the book far more so than the film) was a socio-political satire set against a global zombie outbreak. Maggie takes the premise very seriously, devoid of self-reflexive winks at the audience, and is earnest to a fault. There is always the danger that the inherent absurdity of a weepy zombie flick will negate the emotional beats, Maggie occasionally painting itself into this corner. The film is also very much a slow burn, drifting from scene to scene in an episodic fashion. Even though there are disturbing moments of tension and there’s a ticking clock element in place, Maggie often lacks a crucial urgency.

            The cast does give it their all and this does have the vibe of an indie picture that’s managed to snag a couple of big names because they were drawn to the challenge. This has been touted as a revelatory performance from Schwarzenegger, and while he is more convincingly vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him, it is difficult to completely buy the Austrian Oak as an average Midwestern dad for obvious reasons. That trademark accent is an integral part of the Schwarzenegger brand and his larger-than-life persona works against him in this film, as opposed to dovetailing into the onscreen role. The most justification this is given is the surname “Vogel”. Rather than completely becoming the character, as is the goal for any actor, Schwarzenegger’s presence calls attention to itself in spite of his best efforts. That said, it is a smart move on his part to tackle a “serious acting” role that happens to be in a genre movie.

       Abigail Breslin delivers a raw, moving performance, assisted by unsettling makeup effects devised by Michael Broom, Karri Farris and other talented artists. The Oscar nominee takes it as seriously as something like My Sister’s Keeper, and the turmoil within Maggie as the zombie virus tightens its grip on her is sufficiently moving. She persists in trying to live as regular a life as possible, one of the film’s best scenes set during a campfire as Maggie hangs out with her friends, clinging to whatever normalcy remains in her existence. Joely Richardson’s turn as Maggie’s stepmother Caroline is realistic, never overplaying the implication that her attitude towards Maggie’s condition differs from Wade’s because Maggie isn’t her biological daughter. That all three are believable as a family unit is testament to the level of acting skill everyone brings to the table.

            Maggie is a bold little experiment and its mashup of genres sometimes yields results, but it is ultimately less absorbing than it could’ve been. This reviewer spent much of the running time wondering “is this a horror movie that’s trying to be a drama or is this a drama with elements of horror stirred in?” This indicates that the seams are still visible. However, we’d still recommend this for horror aficionados looking for a change of pace from the usual frenzied jump scare festivals and perhaps as a gateway for audiences who aren’t big horror buffs and prefer more substantial fare.

Summary: A zombie flick that cries “heart” rather than “BRAINS!”, Maggie has its shortcomings but is worth noticing for its uniqueness.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

For F*** Magazine


Director : George Miller
Cast : Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 14 May 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence)

It’s been 30 long years, but with the fourth instalment of the Mad Max franchise finally seeing the light of day, it’s time for road warriors to do battle again. Taking over from Mel Gibson in the iconic titular role is Tom Hardy. Max Rockatansky is captured and tortured by scavengers and in the midst of escaping, teams up with “war boy” Nux (Hoult). Their paths cross with that of the Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a warrior woman who drives the “war rig” oil tanker truck. Furiosa plans to liberate the “breeders”, five young women enslaved by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) for the sole purpose of bearing his children. As Max and Furiosa begin to rely on each other’s skills as they cross the inhospitable desert, their various pursuers get ever closer.

            Director George Miller, who helmed the first three Mad Max movies and whose bizarrely diverse filmography also includes Babe and Happy Feet, is back in the driver’s seat for Fury Road. This is a “soft reboot” that stands fine on its own if one hasn’t seen the other movies. The film spent a tumultuous 25 years in development hell, with Gibson initially attached but dropping out and Miller turning his attention to an animated Mad Max movie instead. For long-time hard-core fans, Fury Road is worth the wait. Unlike, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this belated fourth movie is still very much in the spirit of the originals. A noticeable change – an improvement really – is that the pace is a lot quicker here. The original Mad Max trilogy did have its lulls, but things keep moving in this one. It’s also increased in scope and scale, but not to a bloated extent. The editing is also a lot faster too, but thankfully stops short of being whiplash inducing.  

            It’s telling that co-writer Brendan McCarthy was also the lead storyboard artist and concept designer on the film. It’s very much style over substance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The unique “post-apo-car-lyptic” aesthetic developed by Miller for the first movie has often been imitated and it’s great to see that style on the big screen again in such grand fashion. If we could list every single crew member involved in the creation of the vehicles, we would, because each one is a modern masterpiece of twisted metal. Cinematographer John Seale delivers gorgeous vistas of desolation; one wouldn’t expect scenes in a crazy post-apocalyptic action movie to be described as “poetic”, but many of the shots really are. Seeing as the setting is all desert, there’s the challenge in making sure it doesn’t look dull, a challenge Seale overcomes.

            While some fans are still unable to get over the recasting of Max Rockatansky, Hardy is the ideal replacement for Gibson, Miller citing a similar animalistic quality in the two actors as one of the reasons for this casting. Though he has been sometimes disparagingly classified as a “pretty boy”, Hardy is convincingly tough and does look like he’s been an inhabitant of this wasteland all his life. There’s also that haunted quality to his eyes, bringing life to the precious little back-story we get to glimpse. This is definitely not a subtle movie – the opening voiceover might as well go “hey, I’m the antihero. I have emotional baggage. Let’s go crash into stuff” but Hardy does bring some subtlety to bear. As his sidekick of sorts, Nicholas Hoult plays against type as a wild-eyed crazy kid whom Max grows to see as a kindred spirit. It’s a transformative performance that is entertaining when it could’ve been just plain annoying. Fans will also be pleased to see Hugh Keays-Byrne a.k.a. the Toecutter from the first film return as new villain Immortan Joe.

            Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa definitely has the potential to become an iconic heroine. Sporting a shorn head and a bionic arm, Theron goes the full Sigourney. It makes one realise that even though we’ve got the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Black Widow these days, we do badly need more old-school kickass women in movies. With all its pulpy 80s-ness, Fury Road could have very easily become blithely exploitative, but instead there is an admirable plot thread in which the young women cruelly forced to bear children for the villain fight for their freedom and Max eventually joins their cause. Sure, there are times when some of the women (played by models/actors Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton) seem to blend together and they’re all clad in wispy bandages, but their rousing refusal to be victimised is as invigorating as the big action beats. There are also “badass grandmas” in the form of actresses Jennifer Hagan, Melissa Jaffer, Gillian Jones and Antoinette Kellerman.

            Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely an acquired taste. There will be audiences who, upon seeing the exaggerated vehicle designs, over the top costumes and scary makeup, will dismiss this outright and we see where they’re coming from. This being as heightened as it is, it might be difficult to find an emotional foothold and since this is essentially one big long chase, fatigue might set in. However, for those who grew up with the series, this will be a particularly awesome dose of nostalgia. Action movie junkies who are tired of blockbusters that lean too heavily on CGI effects will get a kick out of the authentic metal-on-metal tactility seen here.

Summary: While it might be difficult for those without a personal connection to the series to get into gear, Fury Road offers long-time Mad Max fanatics a heaping serving of exhilarating vehicular carnage and an excellent replacement for Mel Gibson in the form of Tom Hardy.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong