Friday, June 10, 2011

[ScreenSingapore Red Carpet Gala Premiere] Jesus Henry Christ (International Premiere)

The double bill Singapore Night continues with Jesus Henry Christ, a film co-produced by Singaporean Sukee Chew, with its Korean-American director Dennis Lee and cast Jason Spevack in town to promote the movie. Perhaps it was the late Friday night, but there was a marked drop in attendance figures (well, every Gala Premiere screening has always run out of tickets, only for rows of empty seats to be seen), where When The Road Meets The Sun had a relative full house, the attendees for this screening was about halved. In any case here's the trio introducing (in very brief, less than enthusiastic terms may I add) the International Premiere of their film to tonight's audience, hosted by Jean Danker as well:

What You Staring At?

The second film of Singapore Night, Jesus Christ Henry got into the lineup because of Singaporean Sukee Chew's involvement being one of three producers of the film, an indie production that made its World Premiere in the Tribeca Film Festival a few weeks ago, which drew quite a mixed response with comments that it had tried to hard. Written and directed by Korean American Dennis Lee based upon his short film back in 2003, I thought this movie garnered reactions that it didn't quite deserve for trying too hard, being crafted in the same hyperactive mold such as quirky comedies that have been seen around the region such as Citizen Dog and true blue Singaporean film 18 Grams of Love even.

There are a number of focus shifts in the film that tangent off its intended protagonist Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack), a petri-dish baby conceived through in-vitro fertilization technique opted by his feminist mom Patricia Herman (Toni Collette), turning out to be the unintentional genius with a videographic memory, retaining every single little detail that he's experienced since conception. Jason Spevack would probably be yet another child actor to look out for since Freddie Highmore grew up, and this film will serve as his showreel if not for being upstaged by the other cast members given the narrative shifts that put the spotlight on them.

Specifically I thought the film devoted a lot more time (not that I'm complaining) to the Patricia character, beginning with a rather lengthy introduction to the Herman family and the demise of each and every individual character beginning with Patricia's mother right down to her brothers, each in a rather comical manner that you'll likely be surprised at its rather nonchalant manner in which to bump them off, with black comedy by the bucket loads of course. And this set the course of the film to be rather gag filled in almost every scene put on screen, that for some it may be tiring and trying since it could have felt like a water torture treatment being force fed with in-your-face comedic moments. I appreciated what it had tried to do, but opinions on humour especially, and how to deliver it, will obviously be polarized.

Yes like a typical comedic indie film, this one is filled with its fair share of quirky characters. Outside of the mother-son Hermans, and Patricia's father Stan (Frank Moore) who forms a very strong bond with his grandson Henry, the story also goes out to another dysfunctional father-daughter pair when Henry embarks on a mission to discover his biological father. This brings Michael Sheen into the fray as Dr Slavkin O'Hara, a professor whose book "Born Gay or Made That Way?" becomes a living hell for his daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) when she is the subject of his book, and becomes the constant taunt of her schoolmates.

Story-wise, the coming together of these two families in a sort of identity-crisis form the bulk of the situational comedy they find themselves in, but the pairing of both Weinstein and Spaveck together moved the story forward with both putting in strong performances and holding their own against two very powerful thespians in Sheen and Collette, although Weinstein probably upstaged Spaveck a little with her portrayal as the extremely cynical and sarcastic little girl quite unfazed by her tormentors. Again there are plenty of laugh out loud wicked moments that you will probably wonder if you're laughing at the film, or with it especially in its darker moments that could be quite unsettling.

Production values are quite spiffy given the big name executive producer behind this film, though Dennis Lee and Sukee Chew were quite tight lipped on how much this film actually cost since it looked like a multi-million dollar movie. If you're still game for quirkiness in all characters of your indie films, then Jesus Henry Christ will still be your cup of tea if you see beyond, or tolerate some eyebrow raising moments with its less than friendly jibes against lesbians/feminists as well as a white man who thinks he's black, otherwise those jaded will find fault with almost every frame of the film in trying too hard with wild absurdity in characters. Split down the middle, depending on your mood and attitude.

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