Killers (キラーズ)

KILLERS (キラーズ Kirazu)

Director : The Mo Brothers
Cast : Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Ersya Aurelia
Genre : Thriller
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : R21 (Strong Violence and Gore)
Run time: 138 mins

First, put the Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl-starring travesty far from your mind, because this Killersis worlds away from that one. In this psychological thriller, the paths of a Japanese serial killer and an Indonesian investigative journalist violently collide. In Tokyo, Nomura Shuhei (Kitamura) is a slick, charming psychopath who tortures and murders young women, uploading the resulting snuff films onto the internet. In Jakarta, Baru Aditya (Antara) is a reporter who is following the trial of corrupt magnate Dharma (Sahetapy), frustrated that justice isn’t served. After coming across one of Nomura’s videos and following a chance encounter with a pair of muggers, Baru begins down the dark path of committing murders and recording them. However, the targets are men like Dharma and his ilk and not the innocent women Nomura favours. Nomura contacts Baru over the internet, egging him on and viewing him as a mentee. It is not long before Baru realises the depths of Nomura’s depravity, but by then it seems it’s too late for him to claw his way out.

            This Japanese-Indonesian co-production is advertised as coming from the producers of The Raid, with Gareth Evans’ Merantau Films being one of the production companies involved. Helming Killers is the directorial duo The Mo Brothers. Comprising Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, they aren’t actual blood-related brothers but it seems blood does figure heavily in this partnership, judging by the amounts of gore in this film. Tjahjanto contributed segments to the horror anthology films V/H/Sand The ABCs of Death and this one is indeed intense and disturbing. Apparently, the original concept for the film was that of a serial killer from Japan and another from Indonesia “competing” for supremacy. The end result is something far more sophisticated, a riveting meditation on that age-old question “what is it that makes a man become a killer?”

            Killers possesses a unique structure, with the story’s focus alternating between the two main characters who, for the bulk of the film, only briefly interact via webcam and live in two different countries. The Indonesian section of the film is entirely in Bahasa Indonesia while the Japanese section is in Japanese, with Nomura and Bayu communicating in English during their web chats. The environments and cultures of Tokyo and Jakarta are cleverly contrasted and despite switching between two very different locales, Killers never feels disjointed. It is almost always the case that films questioning the consumption of violence, by dint of depicting violence itself, are a part of the “problem” and can’t have their cake and eat it too. Yes, Killers is a lurid, graphic film and this reviewer did find much of it difficult to stomach, but this reviewer never felt that it was outright “torture porn” or that it settled for any easy answers when dealing with the moral ethical quandaries such as “is murder ever actually justifiable?”

            Both leads deliver stirring performances. Kitamura gets the role that might be considered more fun, with shades of American Psycho or Dexter evident in his portrayal of a psychopath who’s always dressed to kill in the sharpest suits and who has a “murder annexe” to his bachelor pad. The relationship Nomura forms with the florist Hisae (Takanashi) lends the character several layers and there is of course the niggling sense of dread that he can kill this woman any time he wants. The role could’ve been played in a cartoonishly broad manner and while Kitamura does visibly relish the chance to play this unhinged character, he resists indulging in full-on scenery chewing. Oka Antara is very sympathetic as the antihero whose journey from regular family man to something far more sinister is frightening and heart-rending all at once. His frustration and desire to take the law into his own hands feels warranted but we fear for him as we see his sanity slip through his fingers. When these two finally meet, it’s a dynamite nail-biter of an ending.

            A polished, well-made film that truly gets under one’s skin, the production values are solid, Gunnar Nimpuno’s cinematography and the score by Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi ramping up that “pit of your stomach” sense of dread. This is the kind of film where a smart, disturbing concept could’ve been let down by a clumsy execution but The Mo Brothers demonstrate a firm hold on the material all the way through. At 137 minutes, it’s something of a slow burn but the parallel storylines were did have my attention in a vice-like grip. This efficient thriller will be hanging around in the back of your mind for a good while after you’ve seen it.

Summary: An intelligent, edgy and frightening psychological thriller, Killers is a sophisticated, unique entry in the serial killer movie subgenre.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars


The Judge

For F*** Magazine


Director : David Dobkin
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard, Sarah Lancaster, Leighton Meester
Genre : Crime/Drama
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Run time: 141 mins
Remember when after the worst of his personal troubles and before his comeback as a marquee name, Robert Downey Jr. would star in dramas like The Singing Detective, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and Charlie Bartlett (with the occasional The Shaggy Dog because he had to pay the bills)? The Judge, Downey Jr.’s first full-on drama in a while, harks back to those days. He plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot lawyer who reluctantly returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana when his mother dies. He sees his brothers Glen (D’onofrio) and Dale (Strong) again but there’s one reunion he’s truly dreading: that with his estranged father, the titular Judge, Joseph Palmer (Duvall). Hank can’t wait to escape back to Chicago when he learns his father is accused of murder. Hank has to defend his father against prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Thornton) while father and son are at each other’s throats. Hank also takes the opportunity to mend other bridges and rekindle a romance with his high school sweetheart Samantha (Farmiga).

            If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you might find it tonally hard to place. Indeed, this is a movie that has plenty of heavy family drama but begins with a moment of slapstick toilet humour. A character also experiences acute bowel function failure and it’s supposed to be a sad moment but it might be seen as unintentionally funny. It seems director David Dobkin was aiming for “bittersweet”, but misjudges this on several occasions. The screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque piles on the clichés: tempestuous father-son relationship, the prodigal son returning against his will, the adorable little daughter whom our main character hasn’t been the best dad to, a mentally handicapped younger brother and a teen romance from which both parties have never really moved on, all set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It sometimes appears that the writers are aware of the overly-familiar, often sentimental nature of the script, attempting to temper this with wiseacre cynicism. This results in an uneven film that almost lurches from shouting match conflicts to a sappy home video montage set to Bon Iver’s “Holocene”.

There’s one cliché we left out in the above paragraph: that of the protagonist being a glib, sharp-tongued “man of Teflon” lawyer. Robert Downey Jr. attacks the role in his typical charismatic, entertaining fashion. He once described his take on Tony Stark as “a likeable asshole” and that’s a character type he excels at playing. Schenk and Dubuque have written lots of snarky, snappy dialogue for the Hank Palmer character, and lines like “I’ll extract the truth from your ass like tree sap” just sound great when they fly off Downey Jr.’s tongue. It’s nothing particularly risky for him but he’s far from sleepwalking through this one either. The big draw is seeing the two Roberts play against each other and Duvall once again proves why he’s considered a living legend. Judge Joseph Palmer is a proud, stern man who has suffered a personal loss and conceals his vulnerabilities, someone who has spent years in the courtroom but suddenly finds himself on the other side, standing trial. Duvall is able to cut through the overly-calculated moments of tenderness to deliver an affecting, thoughtful performance.

            While the film is squarely Downey Jr.’s and Duvall’s to carry, the supporting cast is generally decent too and Vincent D’onofrio’s role in this movie means that Iron Man and the soon-to-be-Kingpin are brothers. Farmiga, blonde, sporting a tattoo and pretty much unrecognisable, is convincing as the diner proprietor who finds herself falling for her high school sweetheart while still being very much wise to his ways. Dax Shepard plays the fumbling, earnest small-town lawyer/antique shop owner a little too broad and Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the mentally-challenged Dale is cringe-inducing, though this is like due more to the way the character is written as the awkward comic relief than his actual performance.

            In addition to the performances, the cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s regular Director of Photography, is praiseworthy. With the way the film is lit and shot, Kamiński conveys the combination of small-town home and hearth with the feeling of feeling trapped in a place with too many bad memories associated with it. When the film and its cast was announced, there were murmurs of its awards potential, but this one is very unlikely to stand against the other films of the upcoming awards season. Director Dobkin, known for comedies like Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, is at least a little out of his depth dealing with the family dysfunction and the courtroom drama in The Judge. However, thanks to the strong lead turns from Downey Jr. and Duvall, this is worth a look.
Summary: It’s unsubtle, cliché-ridden and slightly too long, but The Judge boasts the memorable onscreen father-son pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

STGCC 2014: Frank Kozik Interview

STGCC 2014: Frank Kozik Interview by Jedd Jong

Frank Kozik with Marvel Labbit Rocket Raccoon – Image Credit: Vinyl Pulse
Artist and designer Frank Kozik is known in collectible art circles as the creator of the Labbit, but it also famous as a poster designer who created artwork for bands such as The White Stripes, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys and Nirvana. The commercial artwork he has done includes work for Nike, Swatch and MTV. Kozik was in Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) and I got to sit down with him to discuss his work. He was somewhat intimidating and frank and off-the-cuff, giving a detailed description of how Labbit came to be (it involves booty calls) and offering a surprising piece of advice to aspiring artists.
Jedd Jong: What was the genesis of Labbit; how did you conceptualise that?
Frank Kozik: That’s an interesting story. In the mid-90s, I was going to Japan quite a bit, I was working with the people there. When I went over there for the first time, I was really in Sanrio products, was really into like Hello Kitty and Keroppi and stuff, I thought it was very interesting, the stuff they were doing. I liked how they did the characters, it was like super-perfect. What’s interesting is in Japan then, it was just something for low-class people. These were are sort of like snotty Shinjuku fashion dudes, right? And they’re like “what do you want to do, do you want to do cocaine on top of a mountain?” and I’m like “no, I want to go to Kitty Land!” And they all just thought I was crazy, they were like “what?!” They couldn’t understand, it was such a low thing for them. And I tried to explain it, I said “look, there’s something really interesting here. It’s like super-perfect way to develop a character,” like you got to get beyond who buys it. In the US, it became a really big cult thing.
So they were all making fun of me, we were in a bar and they said “maybe you can make your own character,” like I was the idiot, right? So I said “okay” and I did this little…it was actually a rabbit but it looked like my cat and I showed it to them and they all sort of were like “oh…that’s actually pretty good, maybe that’s going to work” and they all got kind of bummed out. So what I’ve done in my small way, we never have any mainstream advertising but in the last ten years or so, we generated over $20 million in revenue, which is pretty good for an independent thing, to make all that money.
That was my sort of experience and the whole thing with the Labbit was I wanted to make a Hello Kitty-type of character, but I also wanted it to reflect a little bit of punk rock, so kind of like the Labbit is like…you guys have the term “booty call”, you know what a booty call is? It’s like 3 in the morning and you f***, right? The Labbit is who Hello Kitty booty calls and Dear Daniel doesn’t know anything about it. He’s just like the dirty guy at the bar who’s kind of sexy and she’s like “okay, let’s have some fun” and then won’t talk to him for a few months and he doesn’t care. That was the kind of idea, a cute character who’s a little dirty, so it has balance. He can be a nice character, he can be a dirty character, he can be you when you’re in a bad mood, that kind of idea is what I tried to develop and I think it’s worked really well. In the United States, it’s become a very popular character and the appeal is going to regular people, a mainstream appeal is starting to happen. So it out as an experiment and like I said, there’s never been big money behind it, never done any kind of advertising, it’s just been a word of mouth, self-generated thing.
You’ve just come out with the Rocket Raccoon Labbit with the flexible tail…
The Rocket Raccoon character, it’s kind of a cool thing with the flexible tail with the wire in it. It’s done real well, the movie’s really popular and it’s a cool character.
And Rocket Raccoon is a dirty character who’s also cute!
Yeah, that does make sense.
What message did you set out to send with your Ultraviolence Toys line?
Those are totally personal so all the Ultraviolence stuff, which is like the political thing, the big army men and the weird s***, that’s just stuff I want to have. Like that’s something I want for my office or whatever, and since they don’t exist, I have to make them. And it’s expensive, I like them being manufactured, I don’t like one-of-a-kind art sculptures, I really wanted it to exist and actually have the manufactured model. So basically, I market and sell those just so I can have them. They’re totally personal and I thought “nobody would ever buy any of them” but they ended up doing really well, so that was kind of a bonus. That was the one thing with the toys that was purely just a personal sort of artist’s statement thing that ended up being kind of profitable.
So it wasn’t like a political statement that you were trying to send out?
Well, it’s more like my riffing on combining ideas and values in politics and things and also, if you want to get really serious about it, I’m really fascinated with like 60s pop art and like bad public art. There was a phenomenon in the United States in the 70s where there was a lot of horrible public art that was really expensive, you’d go downtown and there’d be a statue of a giant foot or something and those things are still around, they’re all like decayed and s***ty. So I had a fantasy that if I had been approached to do like a giant piece of public art for the waterfront, that would be it. So all of those kinds of…thoughts about politics and society, like cultures meeting, the Mao is really about that. The Mao is like “okay, he became the last emperor of China, but it’s a China he didn’t want.” Like he’s the emperor of the capitalist future. Hence it’s Mao, very formal, but the mouse ears represent western capitalism and the cigarette was because he was a heavy smoker, they were covering that up, so it’s him in his natural statue. Plus it looks cool, right? It looks nice, it has some presence.
Have you kept in contact with any of the bands you did art for in the early days?
All of them. You have to understand like I’m old. All those bands always had a first tour in a small club and nobody watched the show. I worked in those clubs, so all those bands that became famous, I worked in the club where they had their first tour, I did the local poster. I lived in Austin, a city in the middle of the country which was the only local city [the bands would stop at]. So all of the underground culture, the bands would travel from coast to coast and Austin was the only place they could stop, do a show, make some gas money, so every band would stop to do a show there. It was a small college town with many small punk clubs and rock clubs. So all the bands that became super-famous, you have to understand, they all at one point were just like four guys in a van with no money. I was just there at the right place at the right time doing local posters, working in the club, met them, watched the show, made friends with them, maintained contact. Later, when they became bigger, they needed a tour poster so yes, I met and hung out with all the bands, all of them.
Will you go back to poster design?
I still do posters, it’s like a hobby now. Last year, I did a bunch of Eddie Vedder posters, so I still do posters for Pearl Jam. A lot of bands have a huge cult following. There’s this band called 311, they’re like okay, I did their posters years ago. They have a huge cult following and their posters sell very well. They all work with like these merchandising companies so there’s no pressure, I can do whatever I want. And it’s fun to do, I don’t care whether or not it’s good for them anymore, basically I just play and actually the posters sell very well. I do fine art prints all the time.
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
I listen to boring new metal. There’s a new band, relatively new band called Weep and it’s kind of slowed-down, weird faraway vocals. They have a couple of albums out, they’ve got stuff on YouTube. J Mascis did this crazy metal band called Witch. And there’s a new band in England called Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, they’re really great, they sound like they were recorded in the 1960s-70s, evil biker Satan rock music. So that’s kind of what I listen to, like new metal-y kind of s***. I don’t listen to any like punk bands. I like ambient stuff that’s weird, I’ll just come across stuff.
We’ve seen hand-drawn poster art, particularly for movies, on the decline. What do you think it will take for a revival of that?
There’s an enormous one going on right now in the United States. If you look at a couple of websites like gigposters and the Alamo Drafthouse Mondo poster series, it’s all hand-done, it’s all super-amazing, it’s a huge thing. There are hundreds of poster artists doing thousands of posters every year, it’s just not mainstream. The Alamo Drafthouse series, all that is is they show old movies and then hire artists to do new posters for them and then they market and sell those posters. That s*** is like astounding. So there actually has been an enormous revival over the last 15 years. The s*** you see will blow your mind.
The studios wouldn’t use them as the A-poster though.
Well, that makes it kind of cool. You have to understand you know, I do commercial artwork and post people don’t have good taste. Most people, like if you a really elaborate, beautiful hand-drawn thing, they’re not going to understand why it’s cool. They have no context. They don’t collect stuff, they don’t know the history of movie posters, they’re just people who watch television. So the public wants the movie studios to put the movie stars’ face [on the poster] because that’s all they see in the magazines and on TV. They don’t care if the poster is artistic, they want to go and see the movie, right? They’re not collectors, they’re not into art, they want to go and be entertained and see a movie with their favourite actor, they don’t care about anything else. People who come here and collect are different, so at least there’s an alternative underground.
It’s okay that it’s not the mainstream version because the mainstream won’t appreciate the effort anyway. There’s two worlds, so there something for each of them, I’m not going to say one is right and one is wrong. Maybe we’re all abnormal. Being a collector is not really a mentally healthy thing, believe me. So I’m not saying one is better than the other, it’s good that both exist, because what it does is it allows really crazy superhero movies to be made. I’m 52, when I was 17 years old, movies f***ing sucked! Star Wars came out and things started to change, but I remember going to the movies before Star Wars, it was nothing that great, like for a kid. Sure, there were great movies, but you had to be mature to understand it, as a kid movies kinda sucked. It’s different now, you go see something like Guardians of the Galaxy, f***ing mind-blowing. But it’s dependent on like reaching the mainstream audience because it costs a lot of money to make, I’m just happy both things exist.
And I’m glad Guardians did so well because so many people were saying “this is going to be the first flop for Marvel Studios…”
It was funny dude, they had charismatic acting, there was no story, it was like a comic book come to life. They weren’t trying to make it be logical or realistic or anything, it was just cool.
What kind of toys do you collect, do you collect the mainstream mass-market stuff too?
No. It’s changed over the years, I mean originally like starting in the late-70s, I was heavily into Bandai die-cast toys, like all the crazy toys based on TV shows, where it would be like “it’s a talking stove!” or whatever, “an ape-man!” And then, as I had more money, I started collecting the more intricate Bandai stuff, like the big Tetsujins. Bandai made really, really nice stuff in the 80s, all die-cast, all articulated, all magnetic, they made some crazy s***. From the little goofy stuff to like the huge…I was really into that for a long time, and then it got really expensive and I stopped collecting that and I actually sold my collection. Then I got into vintage tin space toys for a while, collecting those for a long time and those got more expensive, sold that collection.
I’m really into this company called Marx Toys, it was an American toy company from about 1920 to like the late ‘70s and they made some really amazing s*** over the years, like metal toys, plastic toys, all this kind of stuff, so I collected Marx playsets, they made these really great playsets. And then like I said in the 90s, in the late-80s, I started going to Japan to do stuff and I sort of got turned on to the Sanrio character thing. I got really into that. I never was into anime, I was never really into the Macross thing or Gundam stuff, too complicated. As time went on, I got more and more into simpler stuff, refined Japanese toys, simpler and simpler, sort of ultimate perfection stuff.
These days, I don’t really collect specifically anymore. Once in a while, I see something that [I like]. It’s got to be something really odd. My favourite toys are bizarre, generic toys, like it’s a weird s***ty toy from like Argentina, but it’s made in such a vacuum by like some weird dude in South America that it’s a super-perfect cartoon race car, it has no context whatsoever. Like the last 10 years, I really like collecting stuff that’s like entirely unknown, like some weird toy that some normal person made just to make money but somehow, it just came out really cool. They’re kind of hard to find, but I’ve got a nice collection of kind of weird [toys].
There was a small toy company in America in the 50s called the Erie Toy Company that was a normal place, a plastics and one year [they went] “we should make toys!” So they just made these bizarre, generic plastic toys out of hard plastic, but they’re like so generic it’s perfect. “It’s a truck,” “it’s a boat,” “it’s a race car.” They made this one thing, a clown car with an organ and a monkey playing it. And they’re like weird hallucination toys you’d see in a dream, because they didn’t know what they were doing. They sold them locally or some s*** like that or maybe they had some deal with a store. I’m not stuff like that these days, if that makes sense, where they’re just bizarre objects that don’t fit into any category. Lots of interesting like communist toys too, all the communist countries made toys, but it would be the weirdest design. It was like some dude in Poland going “I will make a toy for children”. Weird s*** like that, I’ll look on eBay and stuff like that. It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of them, they’re singles. They have to be weird and cheap. I have a really cool [bootleg] He-Man, that weird s***.
What is a day in the life of Frank Kozik like?
Really boring. I have a whole routine: I get up really early, I make a cup of coffee, I feed the cats, my wife is still asleep. I’m lucky my studio is the same neighbourhood as my house. I’ll walk to the park, go to work and just work 12 hours a day and then go home, have dinner and go to sleep.
Do you get artist’s block?
Never, never. I work every single day, 12 hours a day, I’m always productive. I’ve never had a day I didn’t work.
If you weren’t designing toys and posters, what would you be designing?
Everything. What I do is I have a large studio with different areas, so I can do digital work, sculpting, I can cast resins, I paint my own toys, I have a painting area for fine art, a drawing area and so I have a schedule. I have a production schedule, I’m always getting jobs, I’m always planning releases so I have a very elaborate schedule like 5 months in advance and it will be like “Monday I have to do these 5 things, Tuesday I have to do this, Wednesday I spend all day working on that” so there’s a schedule and I just go and work every single day. I do all my social media like in the morning usually, I do all my social media work for an hour a day, I have a lot of followers. I’m on TwitterInstagram and have two Facebook pages and they all require a different approach, different kinds of people on different social media. I have to do all my business calls, every day is very, very full.
For those who want to turn their artistic hobby into a career, what advice do you have?
Don’t do it. No, seriously, become a doctor or a lawyer, something where there’s a health plan and a pension. There’s too much competition. I’m lucky I started before the internet, that was never a good situation but today, it’s a blessing and a curse. There is so much competition and everybody is really, really good, so it’s become noise. It’s like unless you’re very lucky or have a very good idea or have a rich family, it’s impossible. If you have to do it, do it. But my advice for someone who’s like “I don’t know what to do” is “no, no, go be an engineer.” You know what I’m saying?
Singaporean parents will agree.
image02The thing is, the odds are like getting struck by lightning. It’s like yes, there are a few hundred people who can make a living being creative, but that’s it man. There’s no room for it. And I’m talking like both America and Europe, there’s only 2-300 of us. Every year, it’s very heart-breaking because in North America, going to art school is very expensive. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, so many families will do that and the schools don’t teach you anything, it’s totally f***ing bulls***. So the kids come out of art school, there are no jobs for them, they’re in debt, it’s idiotic. I go to give lectures in schools and the first thing I say is “drop out of the school. Tell your parents to rent you a work space and buy you tools and just start making s*** because your chances of having a career will be better if you do that than if you spend four years in school doing nothing and then getting out with debt. No one’s going to hire you. There are no jobs.”
If you want to be a real creative, like “I want to be like a guy in an advertising firm that specializes in some bulls***” then yes, you can go to school and you can do that, but if you want to be an artist, the only way to do it is you have to just work a lot. Sitting in a class is not going to do it for you, no one cares about your portfolio, no one cares that you’ve got good grades because who are you? When you get out of school, you are nobody. You have no access to work space or materials or anything, so why do you waste the money? If your parents are willing to pay for school, they should be willing to go “f*** it, here’s the money, start a business”. This is my experience, because a lot of people want to do it. It’s like [how] everybody wants to be in a band but there can only be like 20 top bands. Time goes by fast and there’s a lot of competition. But by all means, if you really want to do it, do it. Dude, I’m 52 and I still have to work all day. It’s not like you get to retire or something. You’ve got money in the bank and everything but you’ve got no pension, every day I have to make something fresh.
Like Bill Mantlo, the writer who co-created Rocket Raccoon, said “don’t be a creative, become the people who are the exploiters because the creatives get exploited.”
Yeah. Over the years, I’ve learnt to exploit myself. It works okay.

Gone Girl

For F*** Magazine


Director : David Fincher
Cast : Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Emily Ratajkowski
Genre : Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Opens : 9 October 2014
Rating : R21 (Sexual Scenes)
Run time: 149 mins
At various points in the 90s, audiences have heard a frustrated Harrison Ford emphatically declare “I did not kill my wife!” Now, we get to hear Ben Affleck say it. Affleck plays Nick Dunne, an unhappily married former journalist who runs a bar with his twin sister Margo (Coon). It is the fifth anniversary of Nick’s marriage to Amy (Pike), the basis for her author parents’ popular children’s book character “Amazing Amy”. That morning, Amy vanishes. A media frenzy envelops Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri; cable TV host Ellen Abbott (Pyle) insinuating on her show that Nick is guilty. Leading the investigation, Detective Rhonda Boney (Dickens) begins to doubt Nick’s innocence as well. Of course, not all is as it seems, with Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi (Harris) drawn into the fray. Nick has to rely on superstar lawyer Tanner Bolt (Perry) as more and more of the public turn against him, demanding to know what exactly happened to “Amazing Amy”.

            Adapted from the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, the most superficial of glances might lead one to think Gone Girl is just another whodunit. Wife disappears, husband is the prime suspect, there’s probably a twist or two. Gone Girl is so much more than that, ending up as a wickedly subversive deconstruction of your average Lifetime Channel movie of the week while skewering mass media sensationalism. Working from a screenplay written by Flynn herself, director David Fincher is still at the top of his game, his signature technical acumen and incredible instincts as a filmmaker on full display here. The tonal balance Flynn has achieved in the story is stunning – one wouldn’t expect a murder mystery thriller to be this funny. The humour is dry and scathing and never undercuts the intensity and the suspense, both of which Gone Girl has in spades. The first half of the story alternates between the unfolding events surrounding Amy’s disappearance and flashbacks detailing Nick and Amy’s relationship, told in the form of Amy’s journal entries. Some screenwriting guru somewhere once said “never use voiceovers” – Rosamund Pike’s voiceovers framing said journal entries are pitch-perfect in how they’re written and delivered.

        When the film was in production, much was made about how the book’s ending had been altered. That infamous ending has remained unchanged. If you haven’t read the book yet, go into this movie blind, then pick up the book. The gut-punch developments in the story are, to borrow a cliché, a roller coaster ride. There’s a difference between a film making the audience feel like they’ve gone on a crazy ride and a film making an audience feel like they’ve been played like chumps – there will be viewers who think Gone Girl falls into the latter category but this reviewer was thoroughly entertained. This is the kind of movie you want to see twice in theatres, the second time to pay attention to how your fellow moviegoers react. There will be gasps; there will be howling. This is the rare thriller where the twists not only hold up upon inspection in hindsight, they actually seem even stronger than they did the first time round, events turning operatic and heightened without becoming laughable.

            Ben Affleck was nominated for “Worst Actor of the Decade” at the Razzies. He’s not the worst actor of the decade – or at least, he isn’t anymore. His Nick Dunne is in over his head, he’s not brilliant but he’s not a total idiot either. The audience has to root for Nick at some points and doubt him doubt him at others; Affleck playing those different colours well enough. He also gamely takes jokes about his chin. Rosamund Pike does completely steal the show from him though – in your run of the mill whodunit, the “missing/dead?” wife wouldn’t be playing too big of an active role in the story – but this is not your run of the mill whodunit. The contrast between the wistfully romantic flashbacks (there’s a scene in which Nick and Amy kiss in a “sugar storm” outside a bakery) and the suspenseful, dramatic investigation is effectively jarring as performed by Pike. Amy is not just another “missing white woman”; Pike creating a memorable character in a genre where “the wife” is often, well, “the wife”.

            Affleck and Pike are backed by an excellent supporting cast. The familial bond between Nick and his twin sister Margo is believable and moving thanks to Carrie Coon’s strong turn as the pillar in Nick’s life following his wife’s disappearance. Kim Dickens is the “no-nonsense tough cop” without playing up the stereotypes associated with those character types. Missi Pyle’s sneering daytime TV show host, hurling allegations which the public swallows wholesale, provides biting comic relief. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry actually don’t play that big a part in the proceedings until around the halfway mark. It might be distracting to some, but the urge to go “hey Barney Stinson/Doogie Howser” or “hey Madea” does quickly die down. This reviewer was honestly worried about that, with Perry in particular, but Perry is sufficiently credible as the affable, astute Tanner Bolt.

            As with just about all of David Fincher’s films, the atmospherics click right into place. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver an ominous score that rears its head at just the right moments and this marks yet another visually-arresting partnership between Fincher and his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Editor Kirk Baxter also includes some interesting flourishes, such as a scene which cuts from Nick and Amy about to kiss in a flashback to Nick getting his cheek swabbed at the police station. The ending will probably be infuriating for many viewers, but we think it’s far from the cop-out it could’ve been. After all, some of the best stories have pretty “infuriating” endings.

Summary: Gone Girlwill pull you in, spin you around and leave you completely hypnotized. With Gillian Flynn’s razor-sharp screenplay and some terrific performances, Fincher has yet another winner on his hands.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Black and White: The Dawn of Justice

For F*** Magazine


Director : Tsai Yueh-Hsun
Cast : Mark Chao, Lin Geng-Xin, Huang Bo, Chang Chun-Ning, Zha Na, Terri Kwan, Christopher Lee
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 9 October 2014
Rating : PG13 (Violence)
Run time: 126 mins

This reviewer is fighting with every fibre of his being not to make a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice joke. This reviewer has failed. In this Taiwanese action flick, our super team is not that of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, but of Harbour City cops Wu Ying-xiong (Chao) and Chen Zhen (Gengzin). Following his rescue of a hijacked plane in the first film The Dawn of Assault, Wu Ying-xiong has become the poster child for the Harbour City police. His new partner Chen Zhen doesn’t think quite as highly of him as everyone else does, but they have to put their heads together to foil a massive threat to Harbour City. The Nightwalkers, a highly-trained and well-equipped terrorist organisation, have captured wanted criminals and in a sick form of vigilante justice, have unleashed them upon the city as suicide bombers. The Nightwalkers steal an EMP rocket and in addition to killing all power to the city, are bent on releasing the lethal Irukanji virus into the air. With the government’s black-ops team the Black Hawks crippled, the two cops must go it alone to save Harbour City from destruction.

            Black and White: The Dawn of Justice is the second film based on the 2009 TV series Black and White, also starring Mark Chao as Wu Ying-xiong. This is a franchise where the hero’s name literally translates to “hero”. The Dawn of Justiceis a bombastic, over-the-top action spectacular that is deeply silly but is somehow all the more enjoyable for it. Right out the gate, we get an action sequence in which the baddies jump their motorcycles out of a truck, backflip off said motorcycles onto the roof of an official government vehicle carrying the defence department’s top brass, use a plasma cutter to break into the vehicle and receive air support in the form of a henchwoman in a black leather skirt, firing a mini-gun mounted on a stealth helicopter straight out of GI Joe. Now, this isn’t exactly “so bad it’s good”, but it’s on that spectrum. As of late, we’ve seen Asian films that try to emulate the post-Bournegrittiness of Hollywood actioners to limited success. In this movie, any semblance of realism is tossed out the window with wild abandon and that’s far from a bad thing.

            Tsai Yueh-Hsun, who worked on the Black and White series among other TV shows and made his feature film debut with The Dawn of Assault, deserves applause for this ambitious undertaking. The action is almost wall-to-wall, the film only sagging slightly during its third act before the climax. There’s a great mix of crazy, gigantic fireball-fuelled set pieces and intense hand-to-hand combat sequences. The visual effects work is far from wholly convincing, particularly the afore-mentioned computer generated helicopter. However, the effort taken to create a high-octane extravaganza akin to Hollywood productions but on a fraction of the budget is evident. Stunt coordinator and second unit director Jack Gill has worked on Fast Five and fight designer Ron Yuan’s credits include 24 and Prison Break; their expertise helping Tsai realise his vision. This reviewer was giddy with childlike excitement when the Chen Zhen character leapt onto an attack drone, wrestling with it in mid-air while forcibly turning its guns on the bad guys.

            Of course, it is impossible to take any of this even remotely seriously. Whatever pathos Tsai was aiming for is undercut by the goofiness of the stock villainous scheme. Lam Xi-en, the leader of the Nightwalkers, is shaggy-haired, wears aviator shades, is covered in tattoos and speaks in a low, gravelly growl.  He’s on a mission to “cleanse the city of its sins” and he actually delivers a speech beginning with “You think I’m a bad guy. I’m not. I’m God.” Of course, there’s a faux-shocking revelation regarding his true identity.

However, there is a good deal of intentional humour in the film as well and the buddy cop pairing of Mark Chao’s Ying-xiong and Ling Gengzin’s Chen Zhen carries the film. Yes, their “bickering old married couple” dynamic is not new to the genre, but it did remind this reviewer of Riggs and Murtagh from the Lethal Weapon movies – this is high praise. Reprising his role of Huang Shi-kai from the series, Shiou Jieh Kai is slightly more of a heartthrob than the two leads. Returning from The Dawn of Assault, Huang Bo is equal parts sympathetic and tragicomic as Xu Dafu, the misunderstood criminal who ended up helping Ying-xiong in the last film. Singaporeans should get a kick out of seeing local star Christopher Lee in a supporting role as Harbour City’s defence department chief. Unfortunately, the female members of the cast, including ostensible leading lady Ning Chang, get side-lined.

            In the midst of all that fun, this reviewer did cringe hard at the questionable imagery of downed airliners crashing into a populated city and skyscrapers collapsing. Action movies are meant to have large-scale destruction but this is particularly poor taste, guys.

That aside, Black and White: The Dawn of Justice is gleefully ludicrous in its presentation of action movie hijinks. Once you view it as a heightened, comic book-y, cheesy action romp, you’re probably gonna have a good time with it. This is the kind of earnest, overblown popcorn entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is not obnoxious self-parody either, something action junkies haven’t gotten often enough from major Hollywood studios as of late.
Summary: If you’re in the mood for unabashedly silly, not particularly polished but lavish, entertaining action, hop in the cop car with Wu Ying-xiong and Chen Zhen.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

GameStart 2014 press conference


The press conference for the inauguaral GameStart videogame convention was held today at the St. Games Cafe in Bugis+. Organised by Eliphant Pte. Ltd., the lineup of games, activities and special guests was announced to the media.

Elicia Lee explaining the genesis of GameStart

Elicia Lee, the Director at Eliphant, revealed that GameStart was born out of a desire to capture the excitement of major conventions like the Tokyo Game Show and PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo. Members of the Eliphant team, including former GM at EA Mobile Asia Pacific Christopher Ng, had been working in the gaming industry and had travelled to conventions such as the two above-mentioned ones. While referencing those conventions, Lee stated that “We want to be our own show for the Singapore and Southeast Asia audience.”

Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Asia’s Hidetoshi Takigawa

Sony Computer Entertainment HK (SCEHK) will be the main exhibitor at the show, occupying 250 square metres of floor space showcasing around 30 titles for the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. Gamers will be able to try out hands-on previews for Bloodborne, The Order: 1886, Until Dawn and Guilty Gear Xrd, all due for release in 2015. Masaaki Yamagiwa, the producer of Bloodborne, and Junichi Yoshizawa, producer of Freedom Wars, will be hosted by SCEHK, meeting fans and speaking about their games at the event.

A key part of the convention will be the GameStart Founders Base, spotlighting local artists, designers and other creators in the gaming industry. Exhibitors include Boomzap Entertainment and Witching Hour Studios. Witching Hour is known for their Ravenmark series and their latest title, Romans in my Carpet. “We were very excited to hear about this event and get involved, to tell Singaporean gamers that ‘yes, there is a booming industry here in Singapore,'” said Ian Gregory, co-founder and Creative Director of Witching Hour. Inzen Studio and Liongeeks Studios will also be showcasing their work, as well as homegrown artists Kinetiquettes, who will showcase their crafted licensed Capcom figurines, and conduct a live sculpting demo at their booth over the two days. Gregory will moderate the ‘Joining the Games Industry in Singapore’ panel to offer guidance to Singaporeans looking for a career in the videogame line.

Witching Hour Studio’s Ian Gregory

The finals of the Capcom Pro Tour Asia gaming tournament will be held in conjunction with GameStart and will see top Street Fighter players from Asia vying for a spot in the Capcom Pro Tour finals to be held in the U.S. Pro gamers RZR Xian, MCZ Daigo Umehara, AVM Gamerbee and Jonny “HumanBomb” Cheng will be participating.  RZR Xian made history as Singapore’s first ever EVO winner in 2013 and MCZ Daigo has a reputation as one of the top Street Fighter players in the world. At GameStart, attendees will stand the chance to challenge MCZ Daigo and should they win, their reward will be a PlayStation 4. I’m getting Kobayashi Maru vibes.

Namco Bandai Games and Blizzard Entertainment will also be conducting tournaments and showcasing their new games at the show. Blizzard will be distributing beta keys for Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor and codes for Hearthstone card packs (while stocks last). Sword Art Online producer Yousuke Futami will also make an appearance.

GameStart has partnered with Versus City – Singapore (Indie-Pendent Games) – a gaming shop which specialises in retro game consoles – to run ‘Retro DNA’. Showcasing games and paraphernalia from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and the early millennium, this will provide a dose of nostalgia. The arcade games that will be showcased include Super Contra, Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting, Mega Bomberman, Final Fight, Alien VS Predator and Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster.

Thai cosplayer Yuegene Fay and Australian cosplayer Yasemin Arslan will be at GameStart to meet fans and to judge the GameOn! GameStart Cosplay Competition that will be held on the second day of the convention.

XMashed Gear’s Zhou Xuanming

I spoke to Zhou Xuanming, the owner of and lead designer at Xmashed Gear, the official apparel partner for GameStart. Explaining the concept behind GameStart’s mascot Alyse, Zhou said that initial ideas for the mascot included an android and an alien, but he conceded that “there’s still a very large male audience” and so they went with a girl as the mascot. “I wanted to do something that was sexy but not ludicrously insane,” he continued. Alyse’s design emphasises her athleticism and also includes futuristic elements, using GameStart’s dark blue with orange accents colour scheme. She also has a directional pad as a hair accessory and as a belt buckle. Does Alyse have a last name? “She has a few short-listed last names but for the moment we left it at just ‘Alyse’,” Zhou said with a laugh. If all goes according to plan, Alyse’s back-story will be further explored and we may even get to see an arch-nemesis for her at next year’s GameStart.

The NeoToyko Project’s Charlotte cosplaying as Lux from League of Legends, posing with a standee featuring GameStart’s mascot Alyse

“Her back-story is that she’s an A.I. (artificial intelligence), a gamer from the future,” Elicia Lee added. “She actually was a hologram at one point but then she morphed into this A.I. personality.”

GameStart will be held on the 25th and 26th of October 2014 at the Suntec Convention Centre. 

Jedd Jong

Dolphin Tale 2

For F*** Magazine


Director : Charles Martin Smith
Cast : Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman
Genre: Family/Comedy/Drama
Opens : 2 October 2014
Rating : PG 
Run time: 107 mins
The true story of Winter, the rescued dolphin with the prosthetic tail, was dramatized in 2011’s Dolphin Tale, this sequel following up on Winter and some of her new companions at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Dr. Clay Haskett (Connick Jr.), his daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff) and teams of volunteers cope with the crowds of visitors who flock to the aquarium to see the now-famous Winter. Sawyer (Gamble), with whom Winter shares the closest bond, notices that Winter has become erratic and aggressive. Panama, the dolphin who lives alongside Winter, dies of old age. U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation states that a dolphin in captivity must be accompanied by another of the same sex and cannot live in isolation. The companionship of rescued dolphins Mandy and Hope might be just what Winter needs. While Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Freeman) works on a new prosthetic tail for Winter, Sawyer and his mother Lorraine (Judd) must decide if he will accept a prestigious scholarship, which means spending three whole months away from Winter.

            A good live-action family film seems to be an increasingly rarer beast at movie theatres these days. It’s difficult to strike a balance in order to create a film that appeals to kids but also won’t elicit protests from adults. 2011’s Dolphin Tale was mostly successful in this endeavour, an involving “a Boy and his X” tale that wasn’t overly schmaltzy. It doesn’t seem like the natural candidate for a sequel, but it turns out that Winter’s story didn’t end there. Thankfully, all the principal cast members and director Charles Martin Smith have returned, ensuring that Dolphin Tale 2 shares many of the attributes that made the first film palatable. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that just as it was for the first go-round, the human characters share few similarities with their real-life counterparts and “Sawyer Nelson” was created from whole cloth for the purpose of a “Boy and his X” narrative.

            This isn’t one of those children’s movies where everyone gets along and everything is hunky-dory. There is a good deal of drama and conflict in the plot, partially owing to the main kid characters coming into adolescence. Hazel is at loggerheads with her dad and Sawyer is conflicted as to whether or not he should take an extended period of time away from Winter to go on a university research trip. Dr. Haskett has to fend off the threat of Winter being taken away from Clearwater Marine Aquarium by the USDA and has to explain to the board of directors why Winter can’t make public appearances. While it’s good that character development is made central to the story and that the film doesn’t resort to a cartoony villain, the film is undeniably at its best when we spend time with the dolphins and not with the human characters alone. At times, it can feel like Winter, Mandy and Hope are not receiving sufficient screen time even when the focus is always ostensibly on the dolphins.

            The returning cast helps maintain a sense of continuity and allow viewers to get back into Winter’s story with ease. “You kids take us by surprise, you grow up so stinking fast!” Judd’s character says at one point. She’s right – both Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff have grown into fine young adults, capably handling the dramatic moments and the interaction with the animals just as they did as younger children. There must’ve been the temptation to shoehorn some kind of romance in but thankfully, Smith resists doing so. Both Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman’s roles are smaller than in the last film, but their kind, authoritative presence is still welcome. “Soul Surfer” and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton cameos as herself. Winter and Hope the dolphins, who play themselves, deserve credit as well.

The KNB Effects Group, headed by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, returns to furnish the animatronic animal effects and the results are largely seamless. That’s right, the guys responsible for the dolphin, pelican and turtle puppets in these two movies also help create the zombies for The Walking Dead. The underwater photography is also as beautiful as in the first one. In spite of some stilted dialogue and overly-engineered plot mechanics, Dolphin Tale 2 emerges as an above-average piece of family entertainment and to its credit, does not feel like a cash-grab sequel, as it well could have. Older audience members might roll their eyes at the continuing antics of Rufus the Pelican, but the goings-on at Clearwater Marine Aquarium are depicted in a fairly engaging manner.

Summary: Just like its predecessor, Dolphin Tale 2 is a decent family film with an educational quotient but just as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium has expanded and gotten busier, this film loses some of the intimacy and warmth of the first.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dracula Untold

For F*** Magazine


Director : Gary Shore
Cast : Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Diarmaid Murtagh, Charles Dance, Charlie Cox, Art Parkinson
Genre : Horror/Fantasy/Thriller
Opens : 2 October 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes) 
Run time: 93 mins
The title character of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula has reared his fanged head in popular culture, the vampire of vampires a perennially popular subject in every entertainment medium. This origin story takes us back to 1462, when Dracula preferred the taste of coffee to that of blood and was still known as Vlad Tepes III (Evans). The peace that Prince Vlad’s domain of Wallachia, south of Transylvania, has enjoyed for a decade is under threat. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III (Cooper) demands 1000 boys to serve in his army – including Vlad’s young son Ingeras (Parkinson). Driven by a love for his son, his wife Mirena (Gadon) and a dedication to his people, Vlad makes the proverbial deal with the devil. In this case, that devil is the Master Vampire (Dance) who has waited centuries for someone worthy enough to inherit his powers. Of course, there’s a price: with the superhuman strength, speed and the ability to transform into a colony of bats comes an insatiable thirst for human blood and various specific weaknesses, including to sunlight and silver. Will Dracula bear this curse for all eternity to save his people?

            Your willingness to accept this incarnation of Dracula will be contingent on which version of the character, if any, you hold dear. Distancing itself from Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman’s famous performances, Dracula Untold recasts its protagonist as a tortured antihero not unlike the Crow, Spawn or the Punisher. The character is handled similarly to in the Castlevaniavideogame series and the “perspective flip” is perhaps reminiscent of Maleficent. The medieval fantasy action feel the film is striving for is also clearly influenced by Game of Thrones, with actor Charles Dance and composer Ramin Djawadi involved in both. Unfortunately, this approach makes the film come off as generic. Largely dreary and self-serious, Dracula Untold would have benefitted from just a dash of theatricality and operatic grandeur, elements often associated with Dracula. The film’s production values are decent, the costumes designed by Ngila Dickson (co-designer and Oscar-winner for the Lord of the Rings films) especially praiseworthy – that dragon relief detail on Dracula’s armour sure is cool. Blurry CGI used for set extensions and to create landscapes does let it down somewhat.

            Luke Evans is solid if unremarkable in the lead role. In terms of presence, his Dracula (im)pales in comparison to those of the afore-mentioned three actors, whom every actor to play the role will be measured against. Evans’ Vlad is stoic and strong and there is an attempt on the part of screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless to give him character development. You might be left wondering “how can someone who loves his wife and child so much be okay with impaling thousands of villagers?” The morality and inner dilemma of the character is touched upon, sure, but it isn’t given the depth required to be truly compelling. The line “sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster”, in addition to being something that probably applies more to Hellboy than to Dracula, just isn’t enough.

            Dominic Cooper, who had a brush with vampires in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and who’s memorably portrayed real-life villain Uday Hussein in The Devil’s Doubleand who was the bad guy earlier this year in Need For Speed, is the adversary here as well. In this story, Mehmed III grew up alongside Vlad, when Vlad was forcibly conscripted into the Ottoman army as a child. Cooper does look evil-cool in that ornate gold chest plate and guyliner but doesn’t get a lot to do, the story not playing up the angle of “blood brothers-turned-enemies”. As Mirena, Sarah Gadon is little more than “the wife” and could have done with even just one ass-kicking scene to herself. As the being who turns Vlad into a vampire, Veteran actor Charles Dance steals the show, his naturally menacing mug covered in makeup designed to echo Count Orlok from Nosferatu.

            Dracula Untold is intended to launch a new Universal Monsters cinematic universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe got its start with Iron Man, and Iron Man this ain’t – even with Howard Stark in it. That said, Dracula Untoldisn’t the mess it could’ve been, considering that this is director Gary Shore’s first feature film. While horror aficionados might thumb their noses at the PG-13 rating, there are still some brutal moments in the film – these vampires don’t sparkle in the sun, they burn, as it should be. There are a few moments of unintentional silliness – when Vlad hurls Ottoman soldiers into the air, they look like they’re victims of a trampoline accident and when he commands swarming bats, it brings to mind Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia. As a period fantasy action film, Dracula Untold is a passable diversion, but as a reimagining of one of the most iconic characters in all of fiction, it leaves a good deal to be desired.
Summary: This “untold” story is a familiar one and in place of elegance and mystique we get humdrum fantasy action, but we’ll take these vampires over those from Twilight any day of the week.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Left Behind

For F*** Magazine


Director : Vic Armstrong
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Nicky Whelan, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks
Genre : Action, Sci-fi, Thriller
Opens : 2 Oct 2014
Rating : PG
Running time: 110 mins
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ best-selling 1995 novel Left Behind has spawned a successful franchise including 15 further books, a young adult spin-off series and three films. Dissatisfied with how the movies turned out, LaHaye sought to remake the film series – he’s gotten his wish of a remake, but not of a “first-class, high-quality movie” as he desired. Airline pilot Rayford Steele (Cage) is stuck in an unhappy marriage, his wife Irene’s (Thompson) Christian beliefs driving both Rayford and their daughter Chloe (Thomson) away. TV news reporter Cameron “Buck” Williams (Murray) meets Chloe at the airport and takes a liking to her, coincidentally boarding the plane her father is flying. In the midst of the trans-Atlantic flight, passengers suddenly vanish. This seems to be a worldwide occurrence, with Christians and all children disappearing. With his co-pilot also gone, Captain Steele must land the jeopardised flight as those left behind struggle to figure out what has taken place.
            We have to feel sorry for whoever went “right, we’re rebooting Left Behind and we want people to take it seriously this time. I know, we’ll get Nicolas Cage!” The three films, starring actor/evangelist Kirk Cameron, were low-budget affairs that flew mostly under the mainstream radar. The thing is, whether one agrees with the eschatological viewpoint within or not, there’s potential in the story for a thrilling, intriguing film. Among Left Behind’s myriad problems is how this potential is squandered with its small scope and poor production values. Director Vic Armstrong is a respected stunt coordinator and second unit director, known for being Harrison Ford’s stunt double in the first three Indiana Jones movies. It’s a shame to see him directing something as embarrassing as this; the vehicular action carrying a distinctly artificial “stunt show” feel about it. At no point does it actually seem like this sudden global catastrophe is really that big of a deal; the budget not allowing for any Roland Emmerich-style vistas of destructive spectacle. The film also ditches the character of Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist, losing the international thriller aspect of the book.

            Instead, the film puts its focus squarely on the Rayford Steele character; Nicolas Cage really looking like he’d rather not be in this – and that’s saying something, given this is Nicolas Cage we’re talking about. Anyone coming into this purely to see Cage deliver some of his signature so-bad-it’s-good overacting will be disappointed – you’d think there would be at least one big freaking out scene. Chad Michael Murray, playing the role Kirk Cameron did in the previous films, seems to have difficulty figuring out how to go about his post-teen idol career. Cassi Thomson is bland and whiny as Chloe, but she’s still not as annoying as every last one of the stereotypical passengers on board Rayford’s flight. Nicky Whelan is the pretty blonde flight attendant Rayford plans on cheating on his wife with and there is very little more to her than that.

            From the moment we get a long look at a horribly-Photoshopped family photo, the film is a parade of unintentional comedy. That melodrama is exacerbated by Jack Lenz’s atrocious score, all the music cues overly-maudlin, obvious and cheap. It’s also a drag, the Rapture only actually occurring at around 35 minutes in. At some points, the filmmakers seem oddly out of touch – one character is surprised that another owns a mobile phone, yet the devices depicted are modern-day smartphones. Let’s face it, films catering especially to Christian audiences have generally been poorly-made and cringe-worthy. Unfortunately, the new Left Behind is no exception. The worst part of it all is that it didn’t need to be this way – after all, the HBO drama The Leftovers, set after the Rapture (albeit without the evangelical Christian focus), has managed to be thought-provoking, intelligent and sombre, if often downright depressing. Calling a Christian film “preachy” may sound like a moot point, but a subtler touch could have done Left Behind a world of good. We reckon audiences will be too busy laughing to do any real soul-searching.

Summary: In the Bible, 2 Peter 3:3 warns that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth…” – well, the ineptly-made Left Behind will only serve as a giant scoffer magnet.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong