Jason Bourne

For F*** Magazine

JASON BOURNE

Director : Paul Greengrass
Cast : Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 58 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Jason Bourne posterIt’s been nine years since his last appearance onscreen, and Jason Bourne (Damon) slips out of the shadows and back into cinemas in the fifth instalment in the Bourne franchise. Nicky Parsons (Stiles), Bourne’s former contact, hacks into the CIA, discovering documents detailing a family connection that Bourne has to the Treadstone project. CIA director Robert Dewey (Jones) makes hunting Bourne down a top priority, as Heather Lee (Vikander), the head of the CIA’s cyber division, contains the damage done by the hack. Ironhand, a black ops project run by Dewey, is at risk of being exposed. Dewey assigns an assassin known only as the Asset (Cassel) to kill Bourne. In the meantime, tech billionaire Aaron Kalloor (Ahmed) is having second thoughts as Dewey demands access to the private information of the 1.5 billion users that Kalloor’s social network Deep Dream has accumulated. Bourne finds himself caught up in the shifting intelligence landscape, where even his resourcefulness and wits might not be enough for him to stay ahead of the curve.

Jason Bourne Matt Damon on bike

Jason Bourne sees Damon reprise the character he has become most closely associated with, bringing The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass back with him. Greengrass co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Rouse (also the film’s editor), with the story straining for timeliness by tackling topics including the U.S. government infringing on private digital data in the name of security. The Bourne Identity revitalised the spy movie genre with its realistic approach, but years later, Jason Bourne seems like it’s struggling to keep up. The story never becomes outright ridiculous and there is a degree of joy in seeing Damon play Bourne again, but a sense of going through the motions pervades Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne Matt Damon and Julia Stiles

Greengrass is somewhat notorious for his use of shaky-cam, which rears its jittery head again in Jason Bourne. There’s a trade-off between coherence and visceral thrills. In several scenes, the approach yields results: a riot in Athens feels authentically chaotic, with Greengrass’ direction placing the audience in the thick of the mayhem. The big action set pieces however suffer noticeably – the climactic car chase down the Las Vegas strip would’ve looked downright spectacular if we could make head or tail of what’s going on. That said, Greengrass sustains a healthy level of tension throughout, and there’s enough for audiences to grab on to such that we want to find out where the story takes Bourne next.

Jason Bourne Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones

The first Bourne film made an unlikely action hero out of Damon, and while he doesn’t seem particularly excited to return here, he isn’t phoning it in either. One does get a kick out of seeing Bourne outwit his pursuers and devise diversions so as to slip by unnoticed. The bit of personal history that’s revealed here does seem rather convenient and clichéd, but this revelation doesn’t overwrite or undo the events of the previous instalments. Jones is a great casting choice for the head of the CIA, unscrupulous and insidious yet ill-equipped to deal with the new frontiers which crop up in the digital realm on a daily basis.

Jason Bourne Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander

Vikander is believable as an ambitious, savvy intelligence agent adept at employing technology to confound her targets, but she gets precious little to do and for the bulk of the film, stays a distance away from the action. Cassel’s ice-cold, ruthless contract killer isn’t too much of a departure from the operatives Bourne often finds himself eluding. He does come off as a credible, sinister threat to Bourne, but the Asset’s personal vendetta against Bourne is formulaic and underdeveloped. Stiles’ Nicky is the only other character from the original Bourne trilogy to return, and serves as a catalyst in drawing Bourne out. For this reviewer, the subplot involving Ahmed’s Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech darling was the most intriguing, with the connection between Silicon Valley and Langley, Virginia as depicted in the film ringing eerily true.

Jason Bourne Vincent Cassel

The events of The Bourne Legacy are not alluded to, apart from a folder titled ‘Outcome’, the black ops project central to the plot of that film, being glimpsed on a computer monitor. Oddly enough, that spinoff was more entertaining and felt like less of a cash grab than Jason Bourne does. There are plenty of talented people involved and this is far from being a mess. Greengrass and Rouse demonstrate a decent understanding of a brave new world fraught with paranoia, a sentiment echoed by Oliver Stone when he warned against “surveillance capitalism” during a panel for his upcoming film Snowden (the whistle-blower is name-dropped twice in Jason Bourne for extra zeitgeist-y effect). Jason Bourne is competent, but the character’s return to the big screen should’ve been more – it should’ve been triumphant.

Jason Bourne Alicia Vikander and Matt Damon

Summary: While Jason Bourne is a serviceable spy thriller, it’s tackling of timely themes feels like a desperate bid to prove the franchise’s relevance and staying power, which is flagging here.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Sing Street

For F*** Magazine

SING STREET

Director : John Carney
Cast : Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherly, Lydia McGuinness
Genre : Drama/Musical
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

Sing Street posterAfter a brief sojourn into Hollywood glamour, writer-director John Carney returns to the green, green grass (and cigarette butt-strewn alleyways) of home with this musical comedy-drama.

It is 1985 in inner-city Dublin and Conor Lalor (Walsh-Peelo) is the new kid at Synge Street CBS, having switched schools due to his family’s financial difficulties. Conor’s dad Robert (Gillen) and his mum Penny (Doyle Kennedy) are constantly at each other’s throats, Conor’s elder brother Brendan (Reynor) and sister Ann (Thornton) caught in the crossfire. In the hopes of impressing Raphina (Boynton), an aspiring model on whom Conor immediately develops a crush on, he forms a band. The enterprising Darren (Carolan) positions himself as the band’s manager and introduces Conor to talented multi-instrumentalist Eamon (McKenna), who begins to collaborate with Conor on writing songs. Roping in other Synge Street students, the group calls themselves ‘Sing Street’, with Raphina becoming the star of their music videos and their makeup artist. With input from Brendan, the band experiments with looks and styles as Conor runs afoul of principal Brother Baxter (Wycherly) and comes to terms with his affections for Raphina.

Sing Street the band rehearsing

Carney’s calling card is 2006’s Once, the breakthrough indie sensation that was eventually adapted into a stage musical which swept the Tony Awards. As alluded to earlier, Carney hopped the pond for Begin Again, set in the L.A. music business and starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. Sing Street strikes a happy medium between the grainy guerrilla filmmaking of Once and the glossy polish of Begin Again. The coming-of-age tale is a straightforward and familiar one, but is told with boundless conviction and earnestness. Synge Street was Carney’s boyhood alma mater, and it’s abundantly evident that this is a heartfelt personal project. Sing Street’s spirited optimism is tempered with honest observations of how young Dubliners were migrating en masse to England in the 80s, fearing their lack of prospects back home. The phrase “feel-good movie” is wont to induce an eye-roll or two, but Carney doesn’t so much melt away the viewer’s cynicism as disintegrate it with a blowtorch.

Sing Street the band performing Riddle of the Model

Carney recently came under fire for his unflinching criticism of Knightley, saying “I’ll never make a film with supermodels again.” He’s since apologised for those comments and in the light of that, it seems Carney is more at ease working with relative unknowns. In Walsh-Peelo, he has found an endearing star brimming with “aww shucks” charm. There’s nothing phony about Walsh-Peelo and in portraying Conor’s tentative steps in his journey of self-discovery and through the garden of young love, the actor never overplays Conor’s awkwardness. That said, it’s rather convenient how Conor goes from guessing at guitar chords to a fairly proficient lead singer and guitarist pretty much overnight.

Sing Street Lucy Boynton and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo

Audiences have become all too painfully wary of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, so rest assured that through Carney’s writing and Boynton’s winning portrayal, Raphina is very much an actual character. Instead of being an icy unattainable trophy, Raphina quickly becomes invested in Conor’s musical endeavours and the romance between the two unfolds in an idealised yet believable fashion. Reynor may have come off as a generic pretty-boy in Transformers: Age of Extinction, but as the disaffected ne’er-do-well who disguises his love for his brother in snarky aloofness, he is the bearer of the film’s most emotional moments.

SING STREET

Sidekick/wingman duty is shared mainly among Carolan’s Darren and McKenna’s Eamon, and cheesy though it may sound, there’s an irrepressible joy to be had in seeing like-minded friends join hands in pursuit of a common dream. Gillen’s presence is a mite distracting to anyone who can’t see him as anyone but Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger. It’s also a bit of a missed opportunity that Doyle Kennedy, a singer-songwriter who broke into acting with The Commitments (to which Sing Street has been favourably compared), doesn’t get to break into song herself.

Sing Street walking

The nostalgia that permeates Sing Street is justifiable at every turn and it never feels like Carney is invoking beloved 80s pop culture hallmarks just for the sake of it. A large part of the movie’s appeal can be found in its cultural specificity, but the story’s bell-like resonance transcends any such boundaries. Songs from Duran Duran, The Cure and Hall & Oates populate the soundtrack, sitting alongside original compositions by Carney, 80s pop composer Gary Clark, Northern Irish rock band Relish’s Ken and Carl Papenfus as well as Graham Henderson and Zamo Riffman. Adam Levine co-wrote and performs the song Go Now, for this reviewer at least, his involvement undercuts the authenticity somewhat.

Sing Street the band posing

Oddly enough, Sing Street reminded this reviewer of Super 8: both films are coming-of-age tales revolving around artistic pursuits, affectionate throwbacks to a bygone era infused with nostalgia. Instead of B-movies, the kids here are making their own music videos, and it’s served with more potatoes and less alien monster mayhem. Reminiscent of John Hughes’ work in the best possible way while also proudly and unmistakably Irish, Sing Street is a joyous ode to being young and foolish.

Sing Street the band posing 2Summary: This heartfelt tale of music makers and dreamers of dreams will put a song in your heart and a spring in your step.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bad Moms

F*** Magazine

BAD MOMS

Director : Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast : Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumulo, Jay Hernandez, Emjay Anthony, Oona Laurence
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 41 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Nudity & Sexual References)

Bad Moms posterOne would think if anyone knew a thing or two about letting one’s hair down, it would be the screenwriters of The Hangover. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have turned their attention to the demographic of women who feel the pressure to be perfect mothers; juggling careers, caring for their children and obligations as part of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Amy Mitchell (Kunis) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In between working at a coffee co-op and ferrying her kids Jane (Laurence) and Dylan (Anthony) to and from school and various co-curricular activities, she’s just about had enough of being taken for granted. Amy befriends brash single mum Carla (Hahn) and the mousy, awkward Kiki (Bell), and together they make a pact to rebel against established standards and be ‘bad moms’ for once. This earns the ire of Gwendolyn (Applegate), the PTA president who rules over the other parents with an iron fist. Always accompanied by her lackeys Stacy (Smith) and Vicky (Mumulo), Gwendolyn becomes vindictive towards Amy and her newfound friends when Gwendolyn finds her authority threatened.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the bar

Teaming up actresses as funny and entertaining as Kunis, Bell and Hahn and setting them loose should’ve yielded far less disappointment than Bad Moms delivers. Above anything else, this feels lazy and insincere. Clichés and stereotypes flood the film, which begins with Kunis’ Amy addressing the audience in voiceover. “He’s a successful mortgage broker, but sometimes he feels like my third child,” Amy says of her schlubby husband Mike (David Walton). Many of the jokes sink like a stone, and the cast gets to improvise a little, but the results are mostly leaden.

Bad Moms Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn in the supermarket

The R-rated comedy subgenre of “ladies who can be as lewd and callous as the guys” is already growing tired. It’s difficult to shake the sense that the many, many jokes about genitalia both male and female are a futile attempt to make a mostly safe comedy shocking. The one scene of full-frontal nudity, built around a pubic hair visual gag, is wholly gratuitous. There’s also a miscalculated attempt at diversity, with Muslim women wearing headscarves depicted attending a party with free-flowing booze and weed.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the movie theatre

Kunis is reasonably convincing as a woman who had her first child at 20 and whose entire life has been consumed by work and kids since then, and she’s well able to convey the character’s understandable frustrations. Bell plays the maladroit, square oddball and it registers as a severe case of miscasting, since she doesn’t get to display her usual effervescence. Most of the film’s dirty jokes come courtesy of Hahn’s Carla – the actress is considerably funnier when she’s more nuanced, and the confident, aggressive and overtly sexual character is gratingly one-note. Applegate bites into the part of the control freak queen bee with entertaining aplomb, but Gwendolyn is yet another example of how the exaggerated characterisation is more annoying than it is actually funny. While Anthony doesn’t get too much to do as Amy’s son Dylan, Laurence manages to be amusing as Amy’s high-strung daughter Jane. 12-year-old Jane’s preoccupation with getting into an Ivy League college does hit a little close to home. And naturally, there’s a requisite attractive guy in the form of Jay Hernandez’s Jessie, who is bluntly referred to as the “Hot Widower” amongst the mums. Classy.

Bad Moms Jay Hernandez and Mila Kunis

There’s supposed to be a heart at the centre of the bawdy gags and copious swearing, but Bad Moms is unable to blend aww shucks sentimentality with its production line crudeness. The main-on-end titles, which feature several surprise guest appearances, are obviously meant to tug at the heartstrings, but this saccharine glop at the end is blatantly manipulative. Lucas and Moore toss in a vertigo-afflicted dog – the device of a pet with a medical condition that is played for laughs is such a hack move. There’s certainly a statement to be made about the societal expectations foisted on mothers and children, and the relatable premise will resonate with any number of overworked mums. It’s too bad then that any sliver of poignancy is buried deep beneath sludgy layers of filth.Bad Moms Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumulo

Summary: Funny actresses are left floundering in this pointlessly crass comedy, which misses the “rude but sweet” mark by a fair bit.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

My Feral Heart

For F*** Magazine

MY FERAL HEART

Director : Jane Gull
Cast : Steven Brandon, Shana Swash, Will Rastall, Pixie Le Knot, Eileen Pollock, Jill Keen
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 83 mins
Opens : 30 July 2016, 1.30PM @ GV Plaza

My Feral Heart posterA man with Down’s Syndrome adjusts to an unfamiliar new life and stumbles across a mystery in this indie from the U.K. Luke (Brandon) has been caring for his elderly mother (Pollock), his life thrown into disarray after she dies. He has to move into the group home Blossom House, and despite the best efforts of caretakers Eve (Swash) and Yvonne (Keen), Luke struggles to acclimate, feeling his independence has been taken from him and grieving after the loss of his mother. He eventually befriends Pete (Rastall), a community service labourer repairing the home’s greenhouse. While wandering through the field one day, Luke discovers a seemingly feral young woman (Le Knot), whom he carries to an abandoned barn and nurses back to health. He keeps this a secret from Eve, who doesn’t know where he’s disappeared to.

My Feral Heart Steven Brandon and Eileen Pollock

The warm, beating heart at the centre of this low-key film is Brandon himself. Like the character of Luke, Brandon has Down’s Syndrome; he was discovered through his work as part of the Mushroom Theatre Company, an inclusive dance and drama group that integrates able-bodied performers with children with disabilities and special needs. Screenwriter Duncan Paveling is a professional counsellor who has extensive experience working with special needs children and their families, and a palpable thoughtfulness and sensitivity is evident in his screenplay. First-time feature film director Jane Gull shows admirable restraint, and at no point does it feel like there’s any emotional manipulation of the audience at work.

My Feral Heart Luke carrying the girl

Unfortunately, the mystery element is what lets My Feral Heart down the most. The premise of Luke coming across this unidentified woman and sneaking away to care for her is intriguing and the interaction between the two characters is tender, with actress/contortionist Le Knot (born Jennifer Keith) bringing great physicality to the part. However, the mystery fails to reach a satisfying conclusion. We understand the desire for ambiguity in storytelling, and perhaps a touch of weirdness without any attempt to make sense of it is just fine, but this reviewer did come away frustrated. It can’t help but come off as a gimmick, that instead of making a straightforward drama about a man with Down’s Syndrome and the people he befriends, a slightly fantastical plot point was needed to hook audiences’ attention.

My Feral Heart Shana Swash and Steven Brandon

Brandon’s innate sense of humour and his subtlety as a performer make him an immensely watchable presence. The film wisely avoids the pitfalls of eliciting pity from viewers by presenting them with a disabled person and at no point does Luke feel anything less than a three-dimensional person. Swash, who acted in the U.K. soap East Enders as a teenager, is warm and appealing as Eve, yet never artificially sunny in her disposition. As the ne’er-do-well with a heart of gold, Rastall brings a dash of roguish charm to the proceedings. It is truly heartening how readily Pete accepts and befriends Luke, and while certain misunderstandings arise between the two, their friendship brims with positivity. A moment when Pete recites a dirty limerick to Luke is a little cringe-worthy, though.

My Feral Heart Steven Brandon and Will Rastall

My Feral Heart succeeds in that it doesn’t come off as a political statement or an overwrought after-school special, and it would be wonderful if more opportunities for actors with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities could arise. Attitudes could be changed and stigmas upended if there were more platforms for differently-abled performers to express themselves, which is why the Mushroom Theatre Company and groups like it are so important. If Hollywood movies in which recognisable able-bodied actors attempt to portray characters with disabilities leave a bad taste in your mouth, My Feral Heart is worth seeking out. It’s a pity that the 83-minute film concludes quite abruptly, when there should have been more room for the relationships depicted within to develop and for the mystery to be addressed, if not completely resolved.

My Feral Heart Steven Brandon in barn

Summary: There’s great warmth and authenticity in the performances here, but the initially-intriguing mystery seems to hit a dead end, with the feeling that a rich story has been suddenly truncated.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Visit http://www.sfs.org.sg/event.php?id=568 to learn more about the MINDS Film Festival.

 

Heart to Heart: Jane Gull interview

For F*** Magazine

HEART TO HEART
Jane Gull, director of My Feral Heart, speaks exclusively to F*** about the indie film
By Jedd Jong

My Feral Heart Jane Gull and Steven Brandon

The inaugural MINDS Film Festival is being held from 29 July to 6 August 2016, and the U.K. indie production My Feral Heart has been chosen as the opening film. Jointly organised by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and the Singapore Film Society (SFS), the festival will showcase movies centring on the theme of intellectual disability, with the aim of fostering acceptance of and understanding for this community.

My Feral Heart is an intimate character study with a dash of mystery. It stars Steven Brandon, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, as Luke, an independent man with Down’s Syndrome whose life is upended after his elderly mother passes away. Luke is relocated to a group home, where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. A kindly caretaker at the home named Eve (Shana Swash) endeavours to ease Luke into his surroundings, as Luke befriends a troubled young man named Pete (Will Rastall) who is doing community service work near the group home. Luke discovers a seemingly feral young woman (Pixie Le Knot) lying in the field, and takes her to an abandoned barn where he cares for her in secret.

This is the feature film debut for director Jane Gull. Her short films include Sunny Boy, about a young man with a skin condition that prevents him from going out into the sun, and the documentary Our Street, about pensioners whose homes are threatened by the construction of a high-speed railway. The screenplay for My Feral Heart was written by professional counsellor Duncan Paveling. The film has been screened to wide acclaim at film festivals in San Jose and Fargo in the United States, as well as in Edinburgh and London. My Feral Heart was also screened as part of the disability-themed film festival Entr’2 Marches in Cannes, with Gull serving as the President of the Jury for the 2016 Entr’2 Marches competition.

My Feral Heart Steven Brandon and Jane Gull 3

Despite several technical difficulties over the course of the conservation, Gull was warm and patient throughout the interview. Speaking to F*** from England, Gull discussed working with Brandon, the experiences she had showcasing the film at different festivals, her views on the casting of able-bodied actors as characters with disabilities, and her suggestions for how the stigma associated with mental disabilities can be overcome.

At the centre of this film is the luminous performance of Steven Brandon. How was Steven cast in the film and what was it like working with him?

I looked all over the U.K. for an actor to play this role. I found Steven at a local drama group in my home town – after searching all over the U.K., I found him under my nose. I auditioned him and spent time getting to know him. He had never done any acting on screen before, but I could see he had natural talent. He was wonderful to work with, really hardworking and great fun.

Duncan Paveling, the screenwriter of the film, is a counsellor who has extensive experience in working with special needs youth and their families. What drew you to his perspective on the special needs community?

Duncan was introduced to me by a friend, who is one of our executive producers. Duncan had seen my short film Sunny Boy, and then he came to me with the idea of My Feral Heart to see if I was interested. I was, so he went away and wrote a first draft. We then spent 18 months developing it. I loved the characters and thought it was original. I have also spent time working with young people with learning difficulties so that was helpful.

Was Duncan on set during the making of the film?

Yes, he was one of the producers so he was on set but he let me get on with it. It can be tricky with a writer on set so we set the rules in advance. It was of course really helpful to have him on set if we needed to discuss story and he could go off and write extra scenes. He was very trusting and gave me the support and freedom.

The mystery element of the feral girl whom Luke finds and cares for is quite intriguing and never fully explained. Were you worried that audiences would be unsatisfied because this plot thread is unresolved?

I knew that this was always going to be something that would divide the audience. We are used in cinema these days to having everything explained. I think it’s good to make the audience do a bit of work, but [I] understand this might not please everyone. This is Luke’s story so I wanted to make sure the whole story was seen through his eyes. For the audience to know information about the girl that Luke didn’t, then that would not be right.

My Feral Heart Jane Gull, Steven Brandon, Pixie Le Knot and Will Rastall

There’s always the danger of cynics regarding a project like My Feral Heart as a “Very Special Episode” or “After-school special”, in which audiences are hit over the head with a particular message. How did you hold on to the sincerity and earnestness while avoiding treacly sentimentality in making this film?

Basically, the character of Luke, we never mention in the film that he has Down’s. It’s his story, and getting the audience to see the world through his eyes. There are themes and messages that run throughout the film, but I hope they don’t bang people over the head too much. He’s a character and a human being.

There are many people and organisations to whom you render special thanks in the credits. In what ways did the community support the making of My Feral Heart?

Ah, very much so. The film was shot in the very small village that I grew up in, where my parents still live and I have many friends there. We had real support from the community there, the local council and people giving us locations. Luckily Steven, who plays Luke, I searched all over the U.K. for an actor to play that part, but he actually was from that same area, so that was really lucky. Sometimes things are right under your nose and you just need to look.

What are some of the memorable reactions you have witnessed at the various festival screenings?

We’ve been over to America, to Cinequest. That was wonderful, actually, because that was our world premiere. It was an American audience and we had four screenings in San Jose at Cinequest. When you think of films in America, you always think that everybody wants to see the big blockbusters with the explosions. I was really overwhelmed by the audience there, who after they’d seen the film, said “it’s so lovely to see something like this, it’s really refreshing, it’s really different.” They really embraced it, so much so that we won the audience award for Best Drama, and I think there were about 97 feature films screening at Cinequest, so it was pretty amazing.

That’s awesome! Where else has the film travelled to?

After Cinequest, we went to Fargo. I didn’t go, but Steven went with the producer James Rumsey, and he had a fantastic time there. He got a standing ovation at the end of the film, he loved that! We’ve just been to Edinburgh, where we had our U.K. premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Then we went to the East End Film Festival in London, where they sold out, so they had to put on an extra screening.

The feedback must’ve been very overwhelming.

Yeah, it’s been fantastic! People have really embraced the film, really loved it. The elements of the film that are not tied up in a bow at the end, not everything is resolved in the end like we’re used to. That can divide an audience and not everybody is going to like everything, so I do think there is an audience for this film, and that has been proven in the festivals we’ve been to so far.

Can you speak about your lead actresses Shana Swash and Pixie Le Knot?

Sure. Shana actually trained at the same class I went to; she comes from a background I really identify with. We actually had about 700 actresses apply for the part, which just goes to show how many actresses there are in the U.K. I thought Shana was brilliant, absolutely brilliant and perfect for the part, and a lovely person as well. I think she’s got a big future ahead of her. And Pixie, she auditioned and I really needed to find an actress who obviously looked the part, who could do the physicality and who could show the emotions through her expressions and not through dialogue, because she [the character] doesn’t speak. So they were both perfect for the parts.

What are your thoughts on mainstream films from Hollywood and the U.K. in which able-bodied actors portray characters with disabilities? Do you feel that in general, their hearts are in the right place, or do you find it distasteful?

I don’t find it distasteful, I think where possible, if you can cast somebody who has the disability that’s portrayed in the film, [you should]. I think sometimes when you’re casting, you might need to look a little bit further. For example, when I was looking for somebody to play the character of Luke, I did put an advert out to the casting network, to agents and casting directors, but I only actually had three actors apply who had Down’s. There were 67 agents who put actors forward who didn’t have Down’s, and I wanted to find an actor who did have Down’s. Sometimes, you need to look beyond the usual casting places. I think, with big-budget films, and this is regardless of whether the characters have disabilities or not, they often want a name who can sell the film.

Even now, I’m looking at my next project and people are saying to me “oh, you need to have a name because it’s hard to sell.” I don’t necessarily agree with that, because I think every star has to start somewhere. With Steven, I think he’s an amazing actor and this was his first film, so I think everybody has to start somewhere. I think it really depends on the film and the story. If you’re playing a character who’s got an illness which slowly deteriorates through the story, it’s quite difficult. I definitely think there should be more roles written for people. That’s where it comes down to the script. Writers tend to write what they know about, so we need more writers to write more interesting characters for people to play. We need more interesting characters for women as well, and I think that’s changing. Different ethnicities too, it all comes down to the script, finding a good script with interesting characters.

PICTURE MARK CLEVELAND 09/07/10 ©Yellow Advertiser 2010 1st Day filming of Funny Boy at Rochford Director Jane Gull

PICTURE MARK CLEVELAND 09/07/10
©Yellow Advertiser 2010
1st Day filming of Funny Boy at Rochford
Director Jane Gull

What was it like working with composer Barrington Pheloung, and how did he come to board the project?

He came aboard the project because Duncan the writer had actually worked for him; I think it was one of Duncan’s first jobs. That was wonderful to have Barrington, he’s a hugely experienced and wonderful composer. It worked really well, even though we were in different countries. He’s from Australia and he composed the music in Australia. We had email correspondence and telephone calls. I was quite clear where I wanted the music in the film, and he pretty much agreed with me, which was great, and there were a few little extra places where he quite rightly said there should be music and that worked quite well. The music was exactly how I wanted it, so I was really happy.

One of the things I liked about the film is how much kindness Luke is shown, by his new friend Pete and by the staff at the group home. Was there a discussion about having Luke come up against more typical conflict in the form of bullies and general meanness?

Obviously, that was something that Duncan and I spoke about when he was writing the script. Especially in the care home, we always hear about all the bad things that happen in care homes and you only ever hear the bad news, but we’ve both met some amazing people who work really hard and they’re on really low wages as well. We wanted to portray the people in the care home as really trying to do the best that they can. That was quite a conscious decision actually, there are good people.

In the beginning of the film, we see Luke caring for his elderly and sickly mother. Have you come across people with disabilities who are themselves caregivers?

I myself haven’t come across people in that situation, but I know of people who have. I think it is a real concern. If you’re a parent, I’m not a parent but if you are a parent, I’d imagine that you’re always worried about your children and scared about what’s going to happen to them when, if it goes in the order that we imagine, that the parents die before the child, of course it’s not always that way around. Any parent would be concerned about their children, and that’s even more so when you’re a parent who has a child with special needs. In Luke’s situation, he really is looking after his Mum, and that’s what makes it even harder when she passes away, he loses his independence as well. His routine with his Mum is what kept him going, that was his purpose in life. When everything’s taken away from him, it’s really traumatic for him, dealing with the grief and dealing with his new surroundings.

And when we see him care for the feral girl, he’s found somebody to look after again and that gives him purpose.

Exactly.

Here in Asia, while organisations like MINDS have been hard at work in the area of outreach education, developmental and intellectual disabilities still carry a very strong stigma. What do you feel are the best ways such a stigma can be combatted?

I think by getting out and meeting people I really think that breaks down the barriers. We’re all human beings at the end of the day, and I think sometimes the stigma and the barrier is fear. I think if you spend a day with people getting to know them, I really do think that can break down barriers. You’ll see that we’re all human, we’ve all got the same concerns, sense of humour, no matter who you are.

A fear of what you might not understand.

Yeah. For example, the Mushroom Theatre Group which Steven is a part of, that’s an inclusive theatre group. It’s [only] for people who have disabilities, as long as you’re a human being – well, actually, they have a dog there as well, a beautiful, beautiful dog. I think having more inclusivity, not having ‘this is this group, and that is that group’, [but] everybody getting to know each other.

Opening up the boxes.

Absolutely.

Finally, why should people go to see My Feral Heart?

It’s a film that has a big heart, that has great performances, it shows you a different side of the U.K., if you’ve not been to England before you’re seeing some of the lovely countryside, the mix of people, it’s a film hopefully that will make you think about humanity. It’s an original story, there’s lots of reasons to come and see My Feral Heart.

Visit http://www.sfs.org.sg/event.php?id=568 to learn more about the MINDS Film Festival.

 

Skiptrace

F*** Magazine

SKIPTRACE

Director : Renny Harlin
Cast : Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Michael Wong, Zhang Lan-Xin, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 22 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Skiptrace posterThe boy who cried wolf would be really great friends with the actor who cried “I’m retiring from action movies.” Jackie Chan knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is back in another action comedy, playing Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Chan). Following the death of Bennie’s partner (Tsang), Bennie has been pursuing billionaire Victor Wong (Zhao), whom he believes to be a criminal mastermind known as ‘The Matador’. Bennie has been caring for his partner’s daughter Samantha (Fan), the head of guest relations at a casino in Macau who gets mixed up with Victor’s thugs. Wheeler-dealer American gambler Connor Watts (Knoxville) happens to be in the casino at the same time, accidentally coming into possession of evidence that could prove Victor’s guilt. Bennie tracks Connor down to Russia, freeing him from Russian mobsters so Connor can be taken back to Hong Kong to testify against Victor. With Samantha in danger, Bennie and Connor become unlikely partners, traversing across China and racing against the clock.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan at the border

Skiptrace hasn’t had a particularly smooth production process: Sam Fell was initially set to direct the film but was replaced by Renny Harlin, Seann William Scott dropped out for Johnny Knoxville to take his place, and cinematographer Chan Kwok-Hung drowned off Lantau Island on the set of the film. Jackie himself had a near-death experience filming in a roaring Guilin river. There’s an awkward herky-jerkiness to the pacing of Skiptrace, and teaming Jackie up with a fast-talking American sidekick couldn’t reek more of Rush Hour’s leftovers if it wanted to. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. A fight in a Russian packing plant that sees Jackie use an oversized Matryoshka doll to fend off ex pro-wrestler Eve Torres’ generic henchwoman is moderately fun, but serves more as a reminder of Jackie’s past glories than anything else.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan on the river

Picturesque locations including China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia add a travelogue element to the bog-standard buddy action comedy premix. Bennie and Connor get mixed up with locals and are both fishes out of water as they wander through the middle of local festivals, traverse raging rapids on a raft made from inflated pig skins and play drinking games with Mongolian tribespeople. It all looks intended to make Western audiences exclaim “Oh, how exotic!” Even then, Skiptrace often looks embarrassingly cheap. A sequence in which Bennie and Connor escape their pursuers via zipline features some painfully subpar green screen work.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan in broken cart

Jackie’s no-nonsense detective driven by revenge, who is encouraged to loosen up throughout the film, is quite the bore. “It’s all the same: cop from Hong Kong, cop from China,” Jackie bemoaned of his Hollywood film roles in an interview he gave in 2004. How little things change. Knoxville gets stuffed into a trashcan, splashed with mud and has a horse defecate mere inches from his face, but then again, the former Jackass star is probably best friends with indignity. The wily American who tries to talk his way out of everything is a tired trope that Skiptrace fails to put even the slightest spin on. The dynamic between the two characters is predictable: chalk and cheese have to become unwilling partners to stay alive, overcoming initial distrust of and dislike for each other. A large amount of the comedy falls flat, but the emotional beats are absolutely dead on arrival, and there’s nothing to either of these characters for the audience to grab on to. There is a bit when Jackie performs quite the unexpected cover of a hit song that did bring a smile to this reviewer’s face.

Skiptrace Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan

Despite getting third billing behind Jackie and Knoxville, Fan’s time onscreen is brief and she plays little more than the damsel in distress. The cardboard villains (thugs in business suits, tattooed Russian street toughs, a corrupt official or two) are unable to amount to compelling challenge for our heroes. While Harlin’s earlier filmography includes the relatively entertaining likes of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, he’s also responsible for such infamous bombs as Cutthroat Island and The Legend of Hercules. With Skiptrace, it seems like Harlin was putting together a flat-packed Ikea-esque action comedy but missed a few steps during assembly. In the grand scheme of things, the 120-minute running time is far from merciless, but this still comes off as a slog rather than a romp.

Summary: Sure, it’s impressive that Jackie Chan still kicking at 62, but Skiptrace feels long past its sell-by date, laboured and clumsily made instead of light on its feet.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Star Trek Beyond

For F*** Magazine

STAR TREK BEYOND 

Director : Justin Lin
Cast : Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 21 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Star Trek Beyond poster          The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are marooned in the third instalment of the rebooted Star Trek movie series. It is three years into the Enterprise’s five-year deep space exploration mission, and Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) is beginning to feel fatigued. Kirk, Commander Spock (Quinto), Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Saldana), medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Urban), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Pegg), helmsman Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (Cho), navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov (Yelchin) and the rest of the ship’s crew arrive at the Federation’s new Yorktown space station for a well-deserved break. However, they are abruptly called into action again on a rescue mission, and are suddenly besieged by an unknown enemy. The ruthless alien Krall (Elba) is after an artefact held aboard the Enterprise, and stranded on the planet Altimid with no means of escape, the crew must fend for themselves. Luckily, they have the help of a warrior named Jaylah, who has a long-standing vendetta against Krall.

Star Trek Beyond Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine

The rebooted Star Trek films, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in particular, have proven divisive amongst audiences. Stalwart fans of the originals 60s TV show decry the reboots as being too action-oriented and straying from the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi creation, while general audiences and the majority of critics have lauded the films for revitalising the franchise. Owing to his duties helming the seventh instalment of that other sci-fi juggernaut, J. J. Abrams passes the directorial baton on to Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame. Screenwriting duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who have not exactly been popular amongst fans, are replaced by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Star Trek Beyond is very much a straightforward adventure, close enough to the spirit of the original series, while also showcasing the wham-bam action spectacle Lin has become known for.

Star Trek Beyond Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella and Karl Urban

Star Trek Beyond does feel a little scaled down from Into Darkness, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s still an epic sweep here: we’re treated to a jaw-dropping establishing shot of the gleaming, futuristic bauble that is the Yorktown space station, accompanied by a stirring, uplifting score from composer Michael Giacchino. The scene in which Kirk pulls off some rad motorcycle stunts did induce its share of eye-rolling when it was glimpsed in the trailer, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the movie itself. The climactic zero-g melee is reasonably inventive too. The destruction of the Enterprise is suitably intense and dramatic, but is marred by an overuse of shaky-cam, which affects most of the close quarters fights in the movie.

Star Trek Beyond Krall vs. Enterprise crew member

The biggest shortcoming here is the central villain Krall. One can’t help but feel that the layers of prosthetic makeup somewhat diminish Elba’s innately towering presence, and as a brutish baddie chasing a MacGuffin that our heroes have in their possession, he’s a somewhat generic action movie villain. Say what you will about the big twist in Into Darkness, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances was that film’s centre and was nothing short of electrifying. Yes, there is an element of mystery to Krall, but when his back-story is revealed, it can’t help but come off as underwhelming.

Star Trek Beyond Enterprise crew on the bridge

Fortunately, Star Trek Beyond makes excellent use of its returning characters. The cast for Star Trek ’09 remains one of the finest remake/reboot casts ever assembled, with each actor grasping the essence of those iconic figures without doing a mere impression. The camaraderie and banter amongst the crew continues to feel earnest. Urban’s cantankerous Bones has always been this reviewer’s favourite character in the rebooted films, and here, he gets to steal the show on multiple occasions, with Urban delivering several side-splitting lines. Pine is allotted multiple moments to be the dashing action hero, while Quinto masterfully parses the humour inherent in Spock’s obtuseness and the character’s dedication to the crew.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine and John Cho

There has been considerable furore surrounding the decision to establish Sulu as gay in this continuity, with original Sulu actor George Takei himself being one of the biggest opposing voices. In the film, we see Sulu greeted by his husband and their young daughter as he arrives at Yorktown spaceport. It’s a sweet scene and is really no big deal. The passing of Leonard Nimoy, who originally played Spock and appeared in the first two reboot movies as Spock Prime, is handled with admirable sensitivity within the film. The ending credits include dedications to both Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who recently died in a freak accident. We missed Spock Prime, and will definitely miss Chekov when the fourth film arrives.

Star Trek Beyond Sofia Boutella and Simon Pegg

Jaylah was apparently inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Winter’s Bone (say the name ‘Jaylah’ out loud). The character’s design is striking and Boutella, best known as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service, possesses the requisite physicality to play the badass warrior. Unfortunately, the character can’t help but come off as a standard-issue tough, resourceful woman at times – a studio-mandated ‘strong female character’. That said, Jaylah feels like a natural addition to the Star Trek universe and allows Boutella to further exhibit the star quality which served her so well in Kingsman.

Left to right: Zoe Saldana plays Uhura and John Cho plays Sulu in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Star Trek Beyond is generally entertaining and thrives on the excellent chemistry this particular cast has fostered, but it does tend towards the generic. There aren’t too many surprises in store, but Lin’s valuing of the emotional beats in addition to the action does benefit the tone. It’s also reasonably self-contained, and newcomers unfamiliar with volumes of Trek lore won’t feel left out.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin and Chris Pine escaping explosion

Summary: Star Trek Beyond strives to reach a compromise between the feel of the original series and the rebooted films, generally succeeding in this regard. A lack of surprises and an uninteresting villain are made up for with entertaining character dynamics and well-executed action.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters

For F*** Magazine

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy García, Charles Dance
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 56 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

Ghostbusters posterA new gang dons the jumpsuits and the proton packs in this reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a particle physics professor at Columbia University who had a falling out with Abby Yates (McCarthy), a paranormal researcher who co-authored a book with Erin. Abby is now working with nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and an unexplained occurrence at New York’s historical Aldridge Mansion forces Erin and Abby to make amends. After witnessing a ghost on the train tracks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Patty Tolan (Jones) volunteers to join the trio, rendering in-depth knowledge of New York’s history and geography. The dim-witted but handsome Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) is hired as the crew’s receptionist, and they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’. The team traces the recent spate of paranormal activity back to Rowan (Casey), an unhinged hotel bellhop bent on unleashing hell on earth. The Ghostbusters take on both malevolent spectres and repeated attempts to discredit them as the city is brought to its knees by the ghastly apparitions.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

It’s impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without bringing up the spectre of negativity that has clung to it from the moment the idea was mooted. Across the internet, there were innumerable cries of childhoods being ruined, and dismay that the four members of the classic team had been replaced by women. Vitriol including death threats was spewed at all involved. The cast and filmmakers hit back, with McCarthy opining that all opposed to the Ghostbusters remake were man-children living in their mothers’ basements. It just kept getting uglier, on all sides. The original cast endorsed the reboot and several of them have cameos, but leaked emails revealed that Sony was threatening “aggressive litigation” against Bill Murray if he didn’t promote the film. Murray was famously reticent to appear in 1989’s Ghostbusters II and his refusal to co-operate with Dan Aykroyd was what put the nail in the coffin of a third film in the original series.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Sure, some of the arguments against the Ghostbusters reboot have merit, and this is yet another demonstration of how heavily Hollywood banks on recognisable, marketable franchises. It’s not so much that there are no new ideas, but that studio executives largely refuse to put faith in said ideas because they aren’t proven. There’s a lot to strip away, but when one gets down to it, this can’t help but feel like a storm in a teacup – or an ectoplasmic vortex in a ghost trap, if you will. Stop the presses: Ghostbusters ’16 is nowhere near as disastrous as its detractors have been hoping it would be.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon suited up

Director Feig and his cast have a proven track record of bringing the funny, which they do in spades here. The style of humour is brash and in-your-face compared to the more sardonic jokes in the original Ghostbusters films, but a good amount of jokes land. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. Abby, Erin, Jillian and Patty are not merely gender-swapped versions of Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. An adequate balance has been struck between respectful tips of the hat to Ghostbusters movies past and comedic stylings that are unmistakably Feig’s, with Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s affection for the source material readily apparent. As such, it is a bit of an ironic shame that so many die-hard fans have long decided to boycott this reboot when more than a few morsels of fan-service are tossed their way. The cameos are generally pretty fun and had this reviewer wanting to see more, but they’re brief enough so as not to be wholly gratuitous.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on the train tracks

This reviewer thinks McCarthy is funnier when she’s more understated, so it’s great to see her ably take on the position of team leader. This is a cast that absolutely clicks, and we never thought we’d say it, but their camaraderie does rival that of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson in places. Jones’ Patty is plenty loud and sassy and might come off as a racist stereotype, but her character actually feels more like she’s a part of the team than Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did. And hey, a regular everywoman who’s not a scientist is a Ghostbuster; that’s absolutely fine. It is McKinnon who handily steals the show, getting some of the best lines as the team’s resident wacky wild card. McKinnon’s spot-on impressions of Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber amongst others on Saturday Night Live have garnered her considerable attention, but Ghostbusters just might be what rockets her up the comedy actor A-list, where she belongs.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth

Hemsworth is game and entertaining as the receptionist who’s practically too dumb to function, slightly reminiscent of Jason Statham’s sendup of his action hero persona in Feig’s previous film Spy. The characterisation does seem like it comes from some place of resentment though, seeing as Annie Potts’ memorable Janine from the original films wasn’t an airhead at all. The film’s villain is obviously not where the focus lies, but while Casey’s Rowan is creepy, he doesn’t cross over into being legitimately threatening and amounts to a regrettably forgettable foe. It’s also less than ideal that the film’s climax is pretty much a bog-standard big ole CGI-infused melee in Times Square, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. It doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man rampage of the first film, or even the Statue of Liberty marching through New York in the second.

Ghostbusters climactic battle

Is the Ghostbusters reboot the best idea to come out of Hollywood? No. But thanks to the efforts of Feig and his talented, watchable cast, it succeeds where many reboots haven’t, as just enough of its own thing. Feig, Dippold and the other filmmakers have been given enough free rein such that this doesn’t come off as just a studio-mandated cash grab. There’s also no indication that there was any desire to supplant the original films or deny their legacy exists. Stick around for extra clips interspersed through the end credits, plus a post-credits stinger to cap it all off.

Summary: It’s not too hot to handle nor is it too cold to hold, but Ghostbusters is largely funny and well-made. Despite being stuck in the shadow of the towering original, it’s pretty enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Purge: Election Year

For F*** Magazine

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR

Director : James DeMonaco
Cast : Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Sora, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Kyle Secor, Edwin Hodge
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 49 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

The Purge Election Year posterThere’s a death toll at the polls in the third instalment of the Purge series. It’s two years after Sergeant Leo Barnes (Grillo), the protagonist of the second film, forsook vengeance for forgiveness. He is now the head of security for senator Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Mitchell), a front-running candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Roan is running on an anti-Purge platform, vowing to do away with the annual 12-hour period in which all crime in America is legal. The sinister Minister Edwidge Owens (Secor), running against Roan, is a member of the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) party who instated the Purge. On the night of the Purge, Roan and Barnes are forced to go on the run as Roan is targeted by the NFFA. They meet up with convenience store proprietor Joe Dixon (Williamson), his employee Marcos (Sora) and paramedic Laney Rucker (Gabriel), supporters of Roan’s trying to make it through the night as all hell breaks loose on the city streets.

The Purge Election Year Mykelti Williamson, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Sora, Betty Gabriel and Elizabeth Mitchell

The Purge franchise is built upon quite the preposterous premise, that one night of unchecked wanton mayhem per annum is sustainable basis for a stable society. Sure, speculative fiction is filled with outlandish “what ifs?”, because that’s what the genre is for – but the fact that these films are set in the very near future warrants quite the buy from audiences. The Purge: Election Year is packed with the grim violence genre aficionados would lap up, but writer-director James DeMonaco also aspires to be topical and make a political statement of some kind. 2016 is, after all, an election year in the U.S., with the ongoing presidential race by turns farcical, riveting and quite depressing.

The Purge Election Year Purger with Kiss Me mask

Far be it from anyone to demand subtlety from a production line action-horror flick like this, but the political analogies are painfully clumsy and on-the-nose. The NFFA is depicted as a hard-line religious right sect who ritualise the annual Purge. While the opportunity to make observations on extremism and fanaticism presents itself, the film’s villains are laughably over-the-top. The Purge: Election Year is the latest example of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ satire, condemning indiscriminate violence while also shovelling it into audiences’ mouths. A leftist exploitation film brimming with blood-soaked violence seems like a contradiction in terms, and DeMonaco’s writing and direction isn’t nearly smart enough to thread that needle, instead coming off as hypocritical.

The Purge Election Year Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell

The Purge: Election Year does succeed in providing likeable heroes to root for. Grillo’s performance in The Purge: Anarchy made many wonder why he hadn’t become an A-list action star earlier in his career and his presence is more than welcome. As great as Jon Bernthal is in the Daredevil series, this reviewer believes Grillo would’ve been the perfect actor to play the Punisher – alas, he was cast as Crossbones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead. We’ll have to settle for the character of Sergeant Leo Barnes, who is satisfyingly close to the Marvel vigilante. Here, standing guard over a presidential candidate, there are shades of Snake Plissken of the Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. films, which Monaco is clearly trying to emulate.

The Purge Election Year Kyle Secor and Elizabeth Mitchell

Mitchell’s Roan possesses a blend of idealism, fiery passion and a dash of naiveté, such that she is fairly believable as a presidential candidate who would pose a threat to the status quo. Williamson embodies the scrappy everyman with the easy warmth and charm he brought to Bubba in Forrest Gump all those years ago, though a good deal of the character’s racially-charged dialogue is cringe-worthy rather than snappy. Marcos is a Mexican immigrant, and yes, it’s the minorities vs. the rich, murderous white guys, and that sketch of a character is all we get. Laney is made out to be a badass good Samaritan, but doesn’t get quite enough screen time to strut her stuff. The NFAA’s hired muscle is led by Earl Danzinger (Serpico), a skinhead sporting scalp tattoos, with Confederate flag and Nazi swastika patches sewn onto his uniform. It was very difficult to tell he was supposed to be the bad guy.

The Purge Election Year Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell vs. Abraham Lincoln Purger

Like many of the franchises from production company Blumhouse, the Purge movies are relatively inexpensive to make and yield high profit margins. Unfortunately, it’s evident that many corners have been cut, and the far-reaching chaos that one would expect given the scenario is scaled back a far bit. Setting the film against the backdrop of a presidential election is far from a bad idea, and certain visuals including the letters “P-U-R-G-E” painted in blood on the pillars of the Lincoln memorial are surprisingly potent. However, DeMonaco favours carnage over any semblance of wit at every turn, any timely commentary buried beneath a flurry of bullets and arterial spray.

Summary: The Purge: Election Year takes stabs at political satire and showcases Frank Grillo in fine action hero form yet again, but it’s too cheap and mind-numbing to be anything more than a middling action-horror exercise.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bounty Hunters (赏金猎人)

For F*** Magazine

BOUNTY HUNTERS (赏金猎人)

Director : Shin Terra
Cast : Lee Min-ho, Wallace Chung, Tiffany Tang, Jeremy Jones Xu, Karena Ng, Louis Fan
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Bounty Hunters poster“Bounty hunters. We don’t need their scum,” so sneered Admiral Piett in Empire Strikes Back. In this Hong Kong/China/Korean co-production, the bounty hunters in question are a great deal more attractive than Bossk, 4-LOM, Zuckuss, Dengar, IG-88 and Boba Fett. Lee San (Lee) and Yo (Chung) are former Interpol agents now working as bodyguards. When they accept a job to protect a reporter, they are framed for a hotel bombing in Incheon, the third following attacks in Singapore and Tokyo. Lee San and Yo throw in with a team of bounty hunters led by heiress Cat (Tang), also comprising tech expert Swan (Ng) and jack-of-all-trades manservant Bobo (Fan). The team has also been implicated in the attacks. In a mission that spans across Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jeju Island, our motley crew must track down Tommy (Xu), the actual culprit, and put an end to the serial bombings.

Bounty Hunters Lee Min-ho, Wallace Ghung, Tiffany Tang, Karena Ng, Louis Fan

Bounty Hunters definitely looked like it could be a lark: a gaggle of good-looking guys and gals strutting their stuff in-between shootouts, car chases and explosions – what could go wrong? Alas, Bounty Hunters turns out to be quite the bust. Shin Terra, who has also directed action-comedies Runaway Cop and My Girlfriend is an Agent, displays equal ineptitude in serving up laughs and thrills. Bounty Hunters is plagued by an awkward, arrhythmic goofiness: much of the humour is of the cringe-inducing slapstick variety, and because large stretches are so silly, any sense of peril is unable to take hold, nullifying whatever high-stakes international intrigue there’s supposed to be. The musical score is straining for spy movie chic but comes off as self-parody and the globe-trotting seems modest rather than glamourous.

Bounty Hunters Lee Min-ho and Wallace Chung

Lee San and Yo spend a large amount of their screen time bickering with each other, which is tiresome instead of amusing. There’s no denying that Lee Min-ho packs a potent amount of boyish charm and he’s certainly a watchable performer, but we’re not entirely convinced of his action hero chops. It could just be a misguided stylistic choice, but the excessive shaky-cam and whiplash editing during the fight scenes seems suspiciously like it’s intended to disguise a stunt double. Chung gamely goes for the pratfalls, but he and Lee do not make a particularly memorable buddy duo.

Bounty Hunters Tiffany Tang, Lee Min-ho and Karena Ng

The circumstances under which Lee San and Yo join up with Cat and her gang seem awfully convenient, and although there’s the expected animosity at the outset, they’re accepted into the fold with relative ease. Each member of the crew is a one-dimensional stereotype: there’s the wealthy, mysterious leader, the burly, dim-witted muscle and the hip millennial hacker who wears a backwards-facing baseball cap in case you didn’t know she’s cool. Sporting a shock of red hair and a preppy outfit, Xu looks like he’s stepped out of an anime. He plays a villain of the most insufferable variety: the cut-rate Joker, prancing about, cackling, then casting a faux-creepy dead stare. It’s campy, obnoxious and not threatening in the slightest.

Bounty Hunters Jeremy Jones Xu

There are glimmers of entertaining chemistry from the crew to be glimpsed, but when everyone’s playing a stock character and there’s no urgency or forward momentum to be found, it’s difficult to get invested in the proceedings. This reviewer tuned out during the protracted climax set in a Jeju Island hotel suite. At one point, Lee fends off hordes of business suit-clad thugs. Of course, they attack one at a time, with the others dancing about in the background, a textbook example of the “conservation of Ninjitsu” trope. Apart from the regrettable design choice of using blue cartoon lightning to represent taser shocks, the production values aren’t bad and a skydiving sequence is surprisingly believable. However, sporadic competence just won’t cut it. Bereft of twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes, a movie that should be light on its feet instead turns out to be quite the drag.

Lee Min-ho and Louis Fan fighting thugs

Summary: Sure, it’s a pretty-looking cast, but audiences in search of deft comic timing and edge-of-your seat thrills will have to take the Hunt elsewhere.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong