Sunday, April 27, 2008

Butt-pickin' Barbeque, NO RESERVATIONS review, more!

Great week! My supervisor (Tommy) and his wife held a good old fashioned "Butt-pickin' barbeque" at their place this week for faculty, therapists, students, and friends. I'm with you: I didn't want the words "Butt-pickin'" in the title of any food event I would be attending! Turns out it had nothing to do with wedgies. "Butt" is because we were eating rump meat, "pickin" is because everyone picked and ate the tender, shredded meat straight off of the grill (we washed our hands first!) It was fantastic, actually, and they had a lot of other sumptuous stuff to round out the meal. It was great to relax with friends.

In other news, I am now a therapist...with training wheels. I'm always supervised, but I meet with my own clients and handle my own cases, both here at our clinic and also at a juvenile detention center. I really love it, its the highlight of my week. We had a statewide conference for the Alabama Association of Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists this week. I am at the bottom of the ladder, but I did feel like part of a larger community. I even met a therapist who was involved in film-making before he switched over (sound familiar?) The man did a low-budget Civil War bodice-ripper in the 80's about a Southern widow who falls for a wounded Union soldier in a movie called Rebel Love. Though he didn't seem particularly proud of the finished product, we had a good laugh together. What a genuine and friendly bunch of people.

In other news, we had a powerful Young Single Adult sacrament meeting about the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost was absolutely poured out, and I felt my spirits renewed.

Finally, in a week I will officially have a year of graduate school under my belt. We're having an open-air cinema premiere of CTU:PROVO here! Best of all, my BFF Tim will be here visiting his parents in Georgia, and we're gonna party here in Auburn!

Favorite "Office" quote of the week:

PAM: "We only have one master key and one spare key to the office. Dwight has both of them. When I said 'Dwight, if you die, how will we get into the office?' he said: 'If I die the rest of you have been dead for weeks.'"

DVD REVIEW: No Reservations

The Gist:
Charming little romantic comedy breaks no new ground, but wins major points for not pandering to melodrama, but instead giving its audience an honest, touching, and yes, uplifting little story. **** (out of five) Rated PG (mild language and innuendo).

The Full Scoop: I am convinced that professional movie critics often will not like something if it is simple, straightforward, and has an uplifting message. Many appear to only like something "edgy," "new," or envelope-pushing. How else can one explain the lukewarm critical reception for the charming little film No Reservations, a romantic dramedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, BYU-grad Aaron Eackhart, and Signs' wonderkid Abigail Breslin (who, BTW, looks startlingly like my niece Abby)?

Overlooked in theatres, this is a good "date night, couch cuddle" movie. I will stay away from spoilers, but suffice to say that I very much enjoyed this movie for its realistic and thorough approach to grieving, family, healing, and falling in love. On paper, the plot seems formulaic and typical Hollywood, but it works because the three main characters, who admittedly seem like one-dimensional caricatures initially, are all fleshed out subtly and believably as the film goes on. Zeta-Jones (often far too glamorous for me to see her as anything but a sex symbol) gives a solid, very grounded performance in this film: she's selfish and selfless, she's confident yet vulnerable, she's bright but can be short, she's human. Abigail Breslin continues to be the best child actor working today (sorry, Dakota Fanning) with a performance that is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and very real. Aaron Eckhart (to be seen in The Dark Knight this summer), is extremely likable, charming, and, as is often the case in chick flicks, an obvious blue-print for what women want men to be, act like, say, and feel. That's okay; we're men, we work well with blueprints.

His romance with Zeta-Jones plays out without a lot of fanfare, which is why I liked it. It feels like the type of unforced process that happens in the real world. Of course it starts with the standard "love-hate" scenario and near the end there's a crisis that threatens to drive them apart, but to the film's credit, neither cliched plot device occupies a lot of screen time. Instead, the bulk of the drama comes from the more realistic tragedy that brings these three people together. The comedy, as well, plays out more like the comedy that occurs in real life. This is not a knee-slapping, hilarious romantic comedy a la While You Were Sleeping, but it's not meant to be. No Reservations doesn't break any new ground, but it does display the beautiful aspects of our humanity without forcing it. Most romantic comedies are fairly predictable; you know exactly what you're going to get, and if you like the genre (and I do), you are rarely disappointed. No Reservations, however, has the distinction of being a bit more subtle, more straightforward, more real, and carries a bit more depth than most. Like the food of the film's plot, it's very much the same as similar dishes you've enjoyed; this one is just particularly good.

NEXT WEEK: CTU PROVO's Southern premiere, Iron Man review, more!

Monday, April 21, 2008

THE PAST pictures

Okay, I realize I've been going to town with this blog thing, but after this, my plan is to do a short blog entry once a week. But before that, my affectionate family has been badgering me for Alabama pictures. So here goes. The past year of my life in pictures.

It was bittersweet. I wish Mom could've been there (and perhaps she was), but Dad, Tim, and my grandparents came to cheer me on, only to find themselves in a three-hour reading of names. I brought two Harry Potter books to pass the time.

In Southern Utah (one of my favorite places; gorgeous!). From hikes to natural spring swims to talent shows and visits to The Tuacahn Theatre. Good times. Love this family.

CTU PROVO PRODUCTION (download the movie free at
Basically how I spent my summer. Man, this was a blast to make (but that's probably because I only had to worry about acting and fight choreography. Ask Alan if he had fun as director/producer/actor/co-writer/editor).

The final fight sequence is one that I'm immensely proud of. Poor Jenna. She was barefoot in that disgusting parking lot. We shot it over two days, and it was freaking exhausting.

Yes, that is a green screen in the background. Filming a three-person fight in the confined space of a moving van was too impractical. What IS real is when I'm hanging from the van door at 40 mph with no safety cables or nets. We did a lot of really fun, daring stunts in this movie. I jumped from a moving vehicle, Alan got hit by a car, I got pulled down a flight of concrete stairs, he spent a day freezing and wet in the snow with nothing on but a t-shirt and jeans, I did a jump from 12 feet up onto cement (twice), he had his head smashed through a window (the window actually explodes milliseconds before his head connects, but the glass does really burst and shatter all around his head), and I walked on a narrow stip of concrete 20 feet above the ground with no safety net.

This was the first day of filming for me. Tim is so funny.

Honoring what turned out to be Mom's final wish, we all took a trip to Nauvoo together. It was truly special to be in the City of Joseph, to go to Carthage and to the temple, just my siblings, their spouses, and my dad. We even managed to find sitters for the nieces and nephews for a few days! So much fun.

This was built for four people. We crammed nine of us into there!

I guess we were mocking that statue.

The House of the Lord. Holiness to the Lord.

My very last act in Provo was a DC show. Literally! I performed Saturday night, and I left for Alabama on Sunday morning. We did a special all-musical show, gathering cast members from as far back as 13 years for an unprecedented event. All four shows sold out; I can't think of a better way to end my time in Utah.

Dad and I drove across the country. It was disgusting humid when I got here, and bugs were everywhere. But Alabama soon grew on me. For one, football is religion here. Like you wouldn't believe!

On game day, tens of thousands of people flock to Auburn, set up their tents on any patch of grass they can find (lining the streets, covering the campus), and start grilling meat! These were the best ribs I have ever had.

Southern hospitality is very real. Friends are made quickly and easily among a genuine, open, social people. I roll basically with two crowds. The YSA's from Church and the friends I've made at work/school (I'm employed by the University).

I work for the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, a government-sponsored program designed to lower divorce rates. We also work to increase statewide awareness of how to have healthy marriages and families through free relationship education courses, ad campaigns, electronic and print media, and initiatives with youth. ACHMI rules. We're a pilot program, and our template will likely soon be adopted by other states. We had an essay contest where 8th-graders wrote about "The Healthiest Marriage I Know." Winning essayists from across the state, and the couples they wrote about, were invited to a banquet at the governor's mansion (where we all hid from a tornado. True story).
We have about 70 active members in a mixed single/family branch (we're all university students). Our building is gorgeous, and it's brand new. Before last year, the branch met above a bar! We had a great Christmas choir concert, and two weeks ago we had a really fun campout. I teach Sunday School and love it.

Went to Arizona for Dad and Carol's temple wedding. My family size just doubled. Carol is my mom's cousin, so her kids are my second cousins. After the ceremony, I put my foot in my mouth when I said to my stepsiblings: "Well, I guess we're family," to which they responded: "Dude, we were already family." I'm not the sharpest guy.

My buddy's dog. I once saw him run headfirst, full-speed, into the side of a moving vehicle. He just shook it off and kept bounding around!

The Marriage and Family Therapy students and the Human Development/Family Science students had a class party. Graduate school became elementary school for one glorious day. I was Rocky Balboa. My bud Alyssa (next to me) was a "Deviled Egg." Brian (kneeling) had the day's best costume.

This is a gorgeous city. The school flew us to an amazing conference for the National Council of Family Relations. We stayed at a posh place, ate well, and had some cake at a Greek place that Jacquelynn Kennedy Onasis called the best cake in the nation!

200 acres of Christmas lights. You ride a tram, drink hot cocoa or wassal, listen to carols (and sing them). Great times.

Highlights included dirtbiking with family in Arizona and snowboarding up at Sundance, Utah.

Not much, but it almost never happens, so it was a fun day.

Went to a rockin' church service at the Dexter Avenue church, where MLK was a pastor. Followed by a sobering visit to the Civil Rights Memorial, dedicated to those who stood up for equality and were killed by the Klan during the movement.

Spent a couple of days in Florida, hit the beach, saw real human bodies on display at a Mobile museum (no photography allowed), went for a hike with Alyssa, celebrated Easter with a big dinner at my buddy's family's farm/ranch.

In preparation for The Forbidden Kingdom, my buddy (and fellow martial-arts enthusiast) Tiffany and I threw a party at my apartment, cooking Chinese food, eating fortune cookies and Chinese candy, decorating the place Asian-style, and watching a Jackie Chan/Jet Li double feature! We actually had about nine people crammed into my one-man apartment for the event, but she and I were the only ones who dressed up (hence the photo).

And there you have it! You're now caught up, and I can go week to week. I'm actually doing therapy now, and I absolutely love it. Thanks for reading!



In a Nutshell: come for the Jackie Chan/ Jet Li face-off, but stay for the surprisingly enjoyable fantasy tale. Not a perfect film, but certainly a fun night out at the movies. If you don't like fantasy or martial arts, you may be turned off, but those who appreciate either will have a ball.
* * * 1/2 (out of five)

The Full Scoop: If you expect me to hold a predisposed favorable bias toward a movie pairing Jackie Chan and Jet Li, you'd be right. Knowing that this film had a 7-minute brawl between these two icons, I was prepared to pay full admission for that one scene alone, even if the rest of the movie were total crap. To my surprise, however, the rest of the movie is actually a very enjoyable fantasy, a journey in the vein of The Wizard of Oz (if Dorothy were a Boston teen, the red-slippers were a fighting staff, and the villains weren't disposed of by water, but by a huge, tag-team a**-whooping!). The film has the tone of the great family-friendly adventure movies of the 80's, the ones that captured the imaginations of kids and adults alike. I'm talking The Goonies, The Karate Kid, The NeverEnding Story, Willow, and to a lesser extent, The Flight of the Navigator. This movie reminded me of the movies that I loved as a kid (and still love today.) Stir that up with 70's kung-fu movies, a little dash of Disney morality (the movie was directed by The Lion King helmer Rob Minkoff), gorgeous cinematography of rugged Chinese landscapes, fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping (who did the fights for Crouching Tiger and The Matrix trilogy), some Chinese mythology, and a handful of comedic scenes ranging from amusing to hilarious, and that's what this movie is.

The screenwriter is an American who is also a student of Jet Li's, and it's obvious that he loves Chinese culture, mythology, and cinema. This film is an obvious love letter to all of that, and you should know going into it that it's meant to introduce Western audiences to the characters of Chinese legends. The Greeks had Hercules and Zeus, Americans have Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. The Chinese have their own mythical heroes and villains (mostly unfamiliar to us) who are thrown together in this movie: The Monkey King, The Bride With White Hair, etc. If you watch it with the wrong mindset, these characters might seem silly; however, if you watch it the same way you'd watch a film like The Wizard of Oz, the characters are great fun. I loved Jet Li's playful performance as The Monkey King (both he and Jackie Chan have dual roles in this), and The Bride With White Hair is such an enjoyably evil villain, I want to learn more about her mythology. I especially loved the musical motiff for her; the movie's score is often beautifully symphonic, but whenever she comes on screen, it sounds more like a riff for the villain in a spaghetti western or in a Tarantino film. It was intentionally campy and over the top and I loved it.

The other villain is played by Collin Chou, who Matrix fans will recognize as Seraph in the two sequels. He and Jet Li have a sweet little brawl. Which leads me to the main event. The action! I must admit, I was worried. Jackie Chan is now 54 years old, and Jet Li is in his mid-40's. The paltry action in Rush Hour 3 had me sadly resigned to the belief that Jackie was now officially too old to do good action scenes. Thank you, Yuen Wo Ping, for proving me wrong (and curse you, Brett Ratner, for dumping on the Jackie Chan legacy!) Jackie is at least 10 years past his prime (maybe 15), and Jet is 5-10 years past the same himself. However, I compare them to the Millenium Falcon: there's years' worth of wear and tear, but they've still got it where it counts and can jump into hyperdrive when necessary. Both can still throw some mean kicks, but it's the fisticuffs (especially when they go head to head) that had me in awe. There are some gorgeous punching/blocking combos going on here! All of the fights are very good (heck, even the kid holds his own after some amusing Karate Kid/Young Master-style training). Jackie's fight in a tea house and Jet's fight vs. Collin Chou are both noteworthy. But its the long-awaited, 7 minute-long rumble between Jackie and Jet that is the film's highlight. Yes, it's seven minutes, but it only feels like three, it goes by so fast (I mean that as a compliment). True, this showdown might have been even better ten years ago, but both athletes are obviously pushing each other here, and they bring out the best in each other. Die-hard Chan devotees will thrill at seeing him briefly bust out his famous "drunken boxing" style against Jet Li, though casual film-goers may not recognize it.

Normally I'm opposed to any type of wirework in a movie with Jackie Chan. His raw athleticism speaks for itself (he don't need no stinking tricks)! However, I'll make an exception here, because Yuen Wo Ping's wirework: 1) actually accentuates his actor's athleticism, rather than compensating for a lack thereof, and 2) is often in the fantasy realm, so supernatural moves are more acceptable. The fights in this movie are definitely in Wo-Ping's style; sorry Chan-fans, there's not a lot of comedic prop-fighting, wall climbs, or death-defying stunts here. On the plus side, people who think Chan is an acrobatic clown who can't do real martial arts can finally shut up after this, as he expertly demonstrates various styles here. Jet Li, of course, kicks all kinds of trash. The film is very much a Jackie Chan film in terms of comedy (Jet Li even has a few wonderfully funny moments), but the fights are more in the Jet Li, Yuen Wo-Ping sensibility. The sound design on the fights is wonderful, with some meaty punches. Chan's English is noticeably improved, broadening his comedic abilities beyond physical comedy and into the realm of legitimately well-delivered English dialogue.

Of course, the film is not perfect. I don't want to gush on and on about what is, after all, nothing but a fluffy popcorn movie. Some of the dialogue is laughable. Much of the story is cliche and has been done before, both in other fantasy movies and in the collective Chan/Li canon. And the film drags at times. What matters, though, is that it always picks itself up. Just when nothing good has happened for a few minutes, a great comedic scene or fight occurs. The cast is all obviously having fun. Jackie Chan and Jet Li have a natural screen repoire. And yes, I even liked the teenage kid. All in all, this is a fun fantasy adventure that certainly doesn't have the depth of a Lord of the Rings, but has more than enough charm to merit a watch on the big screen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008



Hey y'all. Welcome to my blog. This is designed for all of you who have an insatiable appetite for all things Jono. But since such people don't really exist, my contingency plan was to make it accessible to everybody else as well. Here you will find all the things you would typically find on a blog, with an extra twist: everything here is laced with that oh-so-subtle Jono wit and charm which you've come to know and love. Didn't do it for you, huh? Hmmm. Okay, well the real extra twist is that this blog will be frequently updated with my media reviews (mostly movies, but TV, music, books, and funny or noteworthy web sites will make occasional appearances). Today I'll also be giving you my review of the first Jackie Chan/Jet Li collaboration The Forbidden Kingdom, and an update on my new movie CTU: PROVO


I lived the first 18 years of my life in Mesa, Arizona, the youngest of five children in a happy Latter-Day Saint family. Growing up I had several obsessions, among them Superman, Batman, sharks, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In high school I ran cross-country and track and became involved in film-making. (In fact, I am the pioneer of a new genre: the martial arts seminary film. Unfortunately it never took off like I wanted it to).

I had a great bunch of friends in high school ("The Regulators"), one of whom, Tim Whiting, has been my friend since time began.

I served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Southern Chile, spending two years sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving the people. Everyone says they loved their missions, and they mean it; I am no exception. It was on my mission that I started to really develop a love for helping people to better their lives and their relationships.

Afterwards I received my bachelor's in Psychology from Brigham Young University, further developing my love for social service as a youth counselor for at-risk teens for three and a half years. Great kids. I channeled my creative impulses into several film projects and was an actor/writer for two years with the popular BYU comedy troupe Divine Comedy; the highlight of which was performing in Hawaii! I didn't want to leave. My experiences performing with DC are among the happiest and most fun of my life.

During my last semester at BYU, my dear mother passed away. I won't delve into such a deeply personal matter here, but suffice to say I am grateful for a close and loving family, for the Gospel and the hope we gain through our Savior, and for good friends. I have always been blessed with good friends. I miss her very much. She continues to exert such a positive influence on me, and was a great mother, a dear friend, and, frankly, a pretty awesome therapist for all intents and purposes. I miss her laugh and humor. I am reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln: "All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."

My father has since remarried, and I couldn't be happier about his choice. Carol (my stepmother) is my mother's first cousin, was one of her best friends, and is a widow herself with five boys. Carol is a wonderful woman, a great companion for my dad, and a caring, compassionate, bright, and fun woman. Her kids are married and having children, as are my siblings, so all told there's something like 35 of us now! Yikes.

Graduating as an anomaly (unmarried from BYU; they wouldn't even refund my tuition!) I applied to and was accepted by Auburn University in Alabama. Auburn has a prestigious marriage and family therapy program, and I am blessed and honored to be going here. The South is growing on me, definitely, but I'll always be a Westerner in my heart. The South has excellent BBQ, but I need ready access to quality Mexican food! However, I absolutely love Southern people, culture, and living. The hype about their hospitality and friendliness is well-represented by the actual reality.


The biggest news I have is that CTU PROVO, the independent action-comedy I acted in last year, is finally done! The film is a 90-minute homage/parody of the TV show 24, though it's designed to entertain non-24 fans as well, and co-stars Donny Osmond, Rick Macy ("The Testaments"), Jimmy Chunga ("The Singles Ward"), many current and past cast members of Divine Comedy, and local talent like my friend (and "High School Musical" dancer) Charan Prabhakar. The basic premise: the United States Counter-Terrorist Unit (The titular "CTU") has a branch in Provo, Utah. Since no terrorist would target Utah Valley, the government uses the site as a dumping ground for inept (or at least underrated) agents. When a crazed eco-terrorist threatens the city, the understaffed CTU reluctantly accepts the help of a pair of die-hard "24" fans, whose knowledge of the show may come in handy. My friend (and co-star) Alan Seawright is the director; he and my Divine Comedy bud Ryan Croker penned the script. I served as lead actor and as principal fight choreographer.

The great news is the movie is available for free download at our website, for you to watch and share with friends! Just go to, click on "Download," and get er done! I think it turned out really well, and you'll be entertained. You can also check out our trailer at the site.