Resilience Under Fire: Miles Teller Interview for Only the Brave

For inSing

RESILIENCE UNDER FIRE: MILES TELLER TALKS ONLY THE BRAVE 

The actor tells inSing about making the fact-based firefighting drama

By Jedd Jong

Only the Brave tells the harrowing true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters within the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department. In June 2013, the Hotshots battled the fearsome Yarnell Hill fire, resulting in a staggering loss of life. When then-Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial service for the firefighters killed in the incident, he said “all men are created equal. But then, a few became firefighters.”

In the film, Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now, War Dogs) plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a young ne’er-do-well slacker who decides to pull his life together and become a firefighter after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to their daughter. The film also stars Josh Brolin as the team’s leader Eric “Supe” Marsh, Jeff Bridges as Eric’s mentor Duane Steinbrink, and Jennifer Connelly as Eric’s wife Amanda. James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze and Ben Hardy are among the actors who play fellow firefighters. Joseph Kosinki (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directs from a screenplay by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, The International).

Teller spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone from Los Angeles about making the film. He discussed meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough, working with Josh Brolin, the physical preparation he undertook to play the role and working with the stunt team to film the realistic firefighting scenes.

INSING: The character you play, Brendan McDonough, starts out as irresponsible and aimless and embarks on a journey towards heroism. Tell us more about that journey.

MILES TELLER: Brendan, he was a little, I guess ‘aimless’ is a good word. I think he was lacking some kind of mentorship or some kind of guidance, something that at that age is really helpful in terms of helping you to become the person you’ll become later. I think at that age; a lot of people are battling with immaturity and irresponsibility. Brendan, he was into drugs and committing some small crimes. He ends up going to jail, and when he goes back home, his mum throws him out of the house. That was an ultimatum. For him, he realised it’s time to stop being so selfish and get his life together. That’s when he decided to try out for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and he met Eric Marsh, who became such a strong fatherly figure for him, up until the day of the tragedy.

Leading on from that, I think that after enduring JK Simmons yelling at you, nothing would faze you, but was it intimidating having someone like Josh Brolin play your boss?

No, it’s actually kind of the opposite of intimidating. I was really grateful, and I think we all benefitted from Josh’s leadership on the film. He got rid of any kind of divide or any kind of ego that could’ve been there, just because he’s done 50 movies and there were certain guys on the movie that it was their very first film. He was the best, man. He was having guys come to his house to work out and his trailer door was always open. He was really such a leader, not even just in the physical portion of the film. He would always be the first guy in the line, whether we were doing running, racing, cardio workouts. He’s in great shape and we really benefitted in the cast by having Josh as #1 on the call sheet.

What about the story of Brendan McDonough and of the Granite Mountain Hotshots resonated with you the most?

I have so much respect for anybody who’s in the position to be a first responder. The town that these guys came from, kind of a Southwest small town, I grew up in the south in a pretty small town. Especially after going to their hometown, I felt like I would’ve been friends with those guys, those were my kind of guys. Then obviously the tragedy that happened, and to get the opportunity to put a story like that of real-life heroism on screen and to do the story justice and celebrate their lives, then you’re lucky, because not every story has that kind of integrity to it.

With Brendan, I like any character who goes on a journey, a big arc or any character who goes through a big transition. And Brendan, starting out on the drugs and committing crimes to where he ends up being such a high-contributing member of society, that was interesting to me.

What was it like meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough?

I flew down to Prescott, Arizona, where the story takes place. I met Brendan, and it was uh, I’ve played a few real-life people at this point, and the first interaction is always…I was going down there basically to show face, and to show him that I was taking this very seriously. I just kind of allowed him to talk, and say what he wanted to say, and get any weird feelings about making a movie about his life out of the way, and then after that, we just hung out. We just got along and hung out for a couple of days. Apart of the work, it was fun, but it was also beneficial in playing the character.

What was it like working with director Joseph Kosinski?

Joe was great. Joe is everything that you want in a director: he’s extremely prepared, he’s extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and he absolutely wanted to maintain the integrity for these guys, he wanted the authenticity to play. That’s something that, for a movie of this budget, you don’t always get that. He was our captain on this thing, and he was also open-minded. He was open to ideas from the guys as to what they wanted to do with the character, and he’s a master behind the camera, but also in front of, in terms of talking with the actors. I couldn’t have asked for a better director.

In meeting with real-life currently active Hotshots and firefighters, what was the most surprising thing that struck you about these guys?

The actual people, like not too much. The work that they do is extremely tough. It is difficult. I have no idea what these guys go through to be able to fight these wildfires. I guess what surprised me about the guys is that they’re guys, they’re Hotshots and you feel “I’m sure I could lift more weights”, but the work they’re doing is extremely tough. And the guys that make it through, some of them surprise you because on the surface they don’t look like it, but really it’s an inner courage and strength that these guys have, that keeps them going week after week, month after month during fire season.

How does the physical work you had to do for this film compare to the preparation for a movie like Bleed for This?

It was different. For this one, we have like a two-week boot camp, where everybody got their butts kicked and got into shape. It’s a lot of physical labour, whereas boxing is such a different kind of training. Boxers are training to go 12 three-minute rounds in a fight, whereas these guys it’s more cardio, endurance, longevity. So the training was a little different, but both are tough.

What was the camaraderie like between the crew when you were training and filming, and out of all your castmates, who do you think you bonded with the strongest?

We had a great camaraderie, and I think it was very smart of the producers and the director to have that be the first introduction to everybody. To me, that brought us closer than any kind of rehearsing the scenes would have done, because you’re all links in a chain. When you’re doing these workouts, it’s not about the individual at all, it’s all about the group. I felt that was a really smart way to get everybody all in. They brought in some real Hotshots to do the training so we knew it was authentic, and everybody just bonded from the beginning.

It wasn’t necessarily one individual. We all got close. There were 20 guys including Brolin, and we were all hanging out. We were in Santa Fe, fairly small town, and we were all just hanging out.

With any film that’s based on a real-life disaster, there’s a balance between how respectful the film has to be while delivering the spectacle it has to, without being exploitative. How do you feel Only the Brave pulls that balance off?

It’s tough, because I don’t know how many people who are going to see the movie necessarily know what happened with the true story; people can look it up. I think a lot of people are going to see it based on the actors that are involved, the occupation that it is, firefighting, Joe the director, and these different elements, but I think what Joe and our screenwriter Eric Singer did is not rushing to the tragedy, not building this movie on the last catastrophe. They really do a good job of showing these guys and what they stood for, and not exploiting them for their deaths. They did a good job of not skipping through the first two-thirds of the movie just to get to that ending, which you know is going to be emotional and tragic and all those things. They did a really good job, and that is difficult to do – and there is nothing cliché about this movie at all.

What was it like working with the stunt team and the special effects crew, learning how to work with the practical fire elements?

The stunt team did a really great job. I had a stunt double for a few things, really not that much, but the entire stunt team and production too, they were able to construct this fake area of wild lands so that they could control the fire. There were times, absolutely, when the fire was really, really hot, but that’s how it goes. In real life, these guys, that’s what they’re feeling and they still have to focus and do their job. It added a sense of realism for the actor, which is always helpful.

It gives you something to interact with and act off against.

Yeah. The fire, there actually will be some CGI fire just to show the scope of it, but when you see the actors feeling the heat of the fire, that’s real fire.

I’m a big comic book movie geek, and in this movie, there are so many actors who’ve been in comic book movies. Were there any moments when anyone on set went “there’s Mr. Fantastic, there’s Gambit, there’s Thanos, there’s Obadiah Stane” and was geeking out over there?

No…I think when we were filming, Josh had [just] been cast as Thanos, so we would chat with him a little bit about that. This story was so important to everybody, everyone was kind of focused on that and wanted to do these real guys justice.

Finally, do blondes have more fun Miles?

Um, they do. When I dyed my hair blonde, I felt just very free and liberated. I just felt better about myself than when I was a brunette.

That really holds true?

Yes.

Advertisements

American Assassin

For inSing

AMERICAN ASSASSIN 

Director : Michael Cuesta
Cast : Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet, Navid Negahban, Scott Adkins
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 18 October 2017
Rating : NC16

The best-selling Mitch Rapp spy thriller series of novels by the late Vince Flynn has had a long journey to cinemas. Rapp makes the leap from page to screen as played by Dylan O’Brien. After a personal tragedy leaves Rapp scarred and relentlessly seeking revenge against a terrorist cell, he is noticed by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Kennedy places Rapp under the tutelage of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a tough operative active during the Cold War who puts Rapp through his paces. Rapp succeeds, becoming an agent of the top-secret black-ops unit Orion. Alongside Turkish-based American agent Annika (Shiva Negar), Rapp and Hurley must foil an impending attack when 15 kg of weapons-grade plutonium is stolen from a decommissioned Russian nuclear facility. They face off against “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), a rogue former Navy SEAL and Orion operative with a grudge against his mentor, who just happens to be Stan Hurley.

Consent to Kill, the sixth book in the Mitch Rapp series, was originally meant to be the first to be adapted to film. Gerard Butler, Colin Farrell, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth were rumoured to be in contention for the role. American Assassin was chosen to be adapted instead – it’s the tenth book in the series, but is a prequel, and details how Rapp became a spy.

With various book-to-film spy movie franchises out there, including the Jason Bourne, James Bond and Jack Ryan series, American Assassin needs to set itself apart from the pack. Unfortunately, director Michael Cuesta does an inadequate job where that’s concerned. The film doesn’t hold back on the violence, and superficially stands out from its less explicit PG-13 cousins in this genre. However, the character motivations and dynamics at play will be abundantly familiar to anyone who’s seen a couple of spy thrillers. Especially because this film is meant to kick off a series, it’s to its detriment that American Assassin is so unmemorable.

There’s a fair amount of globe-trotting, with scenes set in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Italy. While some moments are visceral enough thanks to the brutality on display, American Assassin never generates sufficient excitement. The climactic sequence is unexpectedly spectacular but also ridiculous, a visual effects-heavy set piece that feels out of place in what is meant to be a grimy, bloody thriller.

O’Brien, star of the Maze Runner series, dials down the boyish charm and turns up the intensity to play a determined, reckless and ruthless young spy. He’s bulked up for the role and looks to be taking things very seriously, but O’Brien can’t help but come off as a little boring at times, when Rapp is meant to be unpredictable and dangerous.

Keaton is in the stage of his career where he’s playing mentor roles, and this is one that he could have easily phoned in. Instead, he delivers an energetic, hard-edged performance. However, even an actor of Keaton’s calibre would have a tough time making lines like “the enemy dresses like a deer and kills like a lion, which is what we’ve got to do” work. The fraught relationship between mentor and mentee has the makings of something electric, but does not develop in a meaningful way.

As the primary antagonist, Kitsch has a difficult time being scary. The villain being a former student of the mentor figure who has since gone rogue is about a cliché a route to go as it gets. O’Brien looks a little like Kitsch, which seems like an intentional way of highlighting that this is how Rapp could wind up if Hurley isn’t careful. Beyond that, the casting doesn’t quite work.

American Assassin lacks the nuance to be taken seriously, but is also too dour to be enjoyed as over-the-top fun. This is a film that wants to be topical – after all, Michael Cuesta directed four episodes of the political thriller TV show Homeland – but American Assassin is more preoccupied with rehashing spy movie tropes than real-world geopolitics.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Geostorm

For inSing

GEOSTORM

Director : Dean Devlin
Cast : Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Amr Waked, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia
Genre : Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 12 October 2017
Rating : PG13

There was a period in the 90s when disaster movies were huge: think TwisterDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep Impact, movies like that. Roland Emmerich attempted to revive that subgenre in 2000s with films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, Emmerich’s long-time co-writer and co-producer Dean Devlin has made Geostorm, which is like one of those movies on steroids.

            In the near future, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is a scientist and astronaut who supervised the creation of a network of satellites that regulates the earth’s climate, nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’. Jake’s younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who works at the U.S. State Department, calls on Jake when Dutch Boy starts malfunctioning, causing freak weather incidents around the world. Jake travels to the International Space Station, working with an international crew of astronauts led by Commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara) from Germany.

            Back on the ground, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), who supervises the Dutch Boy satellite positioned over Hong Kong, informs Max of a possible conspiracy to sabotage the satellite. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, Max convinces his girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent, to help him kidnap President Andrew Palma (Andy García). The President is the only man with the kill codes to shut down the satellite before more damage is caused. It’s a race against time to stop the ultimate calamity: a Geostorm.

            In many ways, movies like Geostorm are why this writer wanted to become a film critic. It’s definitely not a good movie, but is ludicrously entertaining and might just be the best comedy of the year.

The movie underwent a troubled production, and disastrous test screenings led to Warner Bros. ordering reshoots which reportedly cost $15 million. Because Devlin was unavailable, Danny Cannon was brought in to conduct the reshoots, with Laeta Kalogridis rewriting the screenplay, cutting characters from the film and adding new ones. Presumably, the reshoots added more jokes, giving the movie a semblance of self-awareness. As it stands, Geostorm is halfway between a straight-ahead disaster thriller and a full-on comedy. It ends up hitting the sweet spot, in that it is maximally entertaining, never unwatchable and funnier than it would’ve been had it been an intentionally bad movie akin to Sharknado.

One of the punchlines bandied about when the trailers for Geostorm first came out were that it looked like a SyFy Channel original movie with a $150 million budget. It is glorious that so many resources were spent on something this stupid. It’s a little like the Transformers movies, but Geostorm is never as smug, never as insulting, never as unbearable or self-indulgent as those films can be. The visual effects look great, and the spectacle is grand, especially in IMAX 3D. There’s an action sequence in which two astronauts are on a spacewalk and one of their spacesuits begins malfunctioning. It’s genuinely thrilling and staged quite well.

Naturally, the timing isn’t ideal. 2017 has seen several devastating hurricanes in quick succession, making it harder to accept large-scale global destruction as popcorn escapism. This is mitigated somewhat by the sci-fi context and inherent goofiness of the whole enterprise, but it is a touch tasteless that the film opens with what appears to be actual news footage of natural disasters and the dead left in their aftermath.

The movie is crammed full of stock characters, none of whom even remotely feel like they could be real people. Butler’s filmography is filled with awful movies, and Geostorm feels like the ideal use of his talents. Jake is the  totally reckless but ultimately noble hero, a man of action who’s also a super-genius, and Butler is plenty of fun in the role.

Playing opposite Butler as the brother with whom Jake doesn’t quite get along, Sturgess summons likeable earnestness and tries to take the material as seriously as possible. Cornish gets to do a little more than your average ‘designated girlfriend’ in a film of this genre does, taking the wheel and shooting at pursuers during a car chase. Unlike your average Michael Bay film, Geostorm isn’t misogynistic, and Alexandra Maria Lara’s space station commander character Ute is capable and an equal to Jake Lawson.

For his part, García plays a credible president, getting to yell the line “I am the god***n President of the United States of America!” Zazie Beetz, who is playing Domino in Deadpool 2, makes for a fun comic relief hacker character.

Geostorm is the rare mega-budget movie that’s genuinely so bad it’s good. This reviewer burst into fits of laughter any time a character says the word ‘Geostorm’ out loud, or when the word appears on a screen above a countdown timer. Sure, it’s bad, but it moves briskly and is absurdly enjoyable. If you can somehow get discounted tickets to see this in IMAX 3D, maybe as part of a cinema loyalty card program, do so.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 7 Best Moments from Trailer #2

For inSing  

Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer #2 – 7 moments that have us shook
We dig into the much buzzed-about trailer that has everyone excited for The Last Jedi

By Jedd Jong

As Darth Vader put it so well in The Empire Strikes Back, “it is useless to resist”. The second trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi has us, and numerous Star Wars fans around the globe, in its thrall. The eighth instalment in the main series of Star Wars films continues the stories of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), characters who were introduced to audiences in The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his sister General Leia (Carrie Fisher), reeling from the events of the last film and events preceding it, also return.

This being a Star Wars film, secrecy is key, and the marketing for the film must maintain a balance between guarding the details of the plot while doling out enough morsels to maintain high anticipations levels. The trailer for The Last Jedi does just this, demonstrating an expansive scope and giving us a glimpse of the various new locales and large-scale battles that will feature in The Last Jedi.

The trailer also promises intense and emotional arcs for its key characters, especially for Rey. It seems to imply that as Luke Skywalker trains his new pupil, he is taken aback by the power she demonstrates, power that could make her susceptible to the Dark Side. The trailer is tantalising, but also appears to be craftily edited, combining and changing the order of scenes to plant red herrings in audience’s minds.

Best of all, it doesn’t feel as if we’ve seen too much – Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran, who are set to play significant roles, do not even appear in this particular trailer.

 

Let’s dig into seven of our favourite moments from the trailer!

#1: AT-M6 Walkers

The First Order makes no bones about displaying their military might, and the organisations inventory has only grown since the previous film. Early on in the trailer, we see a phalanx of All-Terrain Mega-Caliber 6 (AT-M6) Walkers marching on the surface of the planet Crait. These are new, heavier-duty versions of the AT-AT (All-Terrain Armoured Transport) Walkers we saw in Empire Strikes Back, but those, as well as the bipedal AT-ST Walkers, are still in use – they can be seen being deployed as Kylo Ren looks out onto a loading deck in the trailer’s first scene.

Design Supervisor Kevin Jenkins explained that the AT-M6 is inspired by the stance of a gorilla, walking on its knuckles with a high, arched back. This allows the Walker to support the Mega-Caliber cannon it carries on its back. Jenkins reasoned that these new Walkers would be impossible to take down with Snowspeeders. “I feel that it’s an iteration forward. A spitfire and a modern jet, you can see the link there,” Jenkins said, explaining the in-universe logic behind this design evolution.  “They’re part of the same thing. That was always my intention with the gorilla. It’s not a start from scratch.”

#2: Raw strength

The trailer intentionally establishes parallels between Rey and Kylo Ren, implying they could be cut from the same cloth, and that Rey has the same potential to be turned as Kylo Ren had.

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power, and beyond that, something truly special,” Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) ominously intones, presumably about Kylo Ren. The trailer cuts from this line to Rey igniting her lightsaber on Ahch-To, where she is being trained by Luke.

“Something inside me has always been there, and now it is awake, and I need help” Rey tells her newfound mentor. However, Luke must confront the horrifying possibility that history will repeat itself, as it is wont to within the Star Wars mythos.

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” the Jedi Knight says. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” We are shown a flashback of the new Jedi Order’s temple/training facility being burnt down, an expansion of a scene glimpse in The Force Awakens. This appears the moment in which Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, betrayed his Jedi master Luke by razing the facility. Something about Rey reminds Luke of his apprentice, and that can’t be good.

#3: “Let the past die”

Kylo Ren has already taken down one of his parents – the haunting scene of his confrontation with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens, ending with a lightsaber through Han’s chest, was one of the most talked-about moments in that film. Now, it appears Kylo Ren is intent on killing his mother too. With a high-tech carbon fibre-esque bandage over his scar, Kylo sits at the controls of the TIE Silencer, his personal starfighter. The TIE Silencer swoops towards the Raddus, the Resistance flagship named for the Mon Calamari Admiral who died in the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One. Standing on the bridge of the ship: General Leia. Kylo Ren has the bridge in his crosshairs, his finger on the trigger. He hesitates, and the trailer cuts away.

Does he end up killing his own mother? Or is there the chance of redemption, and that seeing his mother again might reawaken the good that lies dormant within Kylo Ren? It does seems like two separate scenes have been cut together, because the bridge of the Raddus doesn’t look like it’s in the thick of battle. Having been promised a respectful send-off for the late Carrie Fisher, we’re intrigued to see how it plays out, but know that whatever happens with General Leia, we’ll have to suppress tears.

#4: Porg!

The Last Jedi introduces new cuddly critters called Porgs, adorable little penguin-owl-otter-hamster creatures native to Ahch-To, where they have been keeping Luke company during his self-imposed exile. The Porgs seemed designed expressly to sell toys, and a wide variety of Porg-based merchandise is already available. Many Star Wars fans have become stridently anti-Porg, comparing the creatures to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. However, we find their inherent adorableness impossible to resist. At least one of them makes its way onto the Millennium Falcon, perched on the console as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo) sits in the captain’s chair.

Director Rian Johnson was inspired by the thousands of Atlantic puffins who flock to the Irish island of Skellig Michael from April to August each year. Skellig Michael is where the Ahch-To scenes were shot. Ireland will no doubt see a spike in tourism from Star Wars fans eager to visit Luke’s hideout, but only 180 visitors a day are allowed to set foot on Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some organisations, including An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), have expressed worries that the influx of visitors will endanger the site and its ecosystem.

#5: Finn vs. Phasma

Before he was Finn, he was reluctant First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187. It seems that Finn will never be able to shake off his former life, and the trailer shows him facing off against Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who trained him and other members of the FN Corps. Phasma was hyped up as being a cool new character, the first prominent female Stormtrooper in the Star Wars films, but ended up doing very little in The Force Awakens. This trailer indicates she’ll finally get to showcase her badassery: wielding a telescoping spear, Phasma fights with Finn, who is armed with a Z6 riot control baton. There already is a prequel comic detailing how Phasma escaped Starkiller Base, surviving the end of The Force Awakens.

#6: “Fulfil your destiny”

In this scene, Supreme Leader Snoke is torturing Rey. Rey is wearing her Jedi outfit, writhing in pain as she is suspended in mid-air by the tyrannical Supreme Leader. This scene apparently takes place in Snoke’s throne room aboard the Supremacy, the Mega-Class Star Destroyer that is the flagship of the First Order’s fleet. The trailer is edited in such a way as to make us think Snoke’s line “fulfil your destiny” is directed towards Rey, and that after successfully seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side, Snoke now has his sights set on Rey.

#7: Rey turns evil?

The trailer ends with a corker of a scene that has ignited heated discussion. “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Rey says. In the next shot, Kylo Ren extends his hand towards her, seemingly inviting Rey to join him in service of the Dark Side. Keen-eyed Star Wars fans have already seen through this apparent misdirect: the two scenes are distinct, and have been edited together to trick viewers into thinking that this is what’s going on. Since Rey is in her Resistance outfit which she wears earlier in the film while being trained by Luke on Ahch-To, it stands to reason that she is addressing Luke, and not Kylo Ren. The scenes are similarly lit, and that’s why they work cut together. The prevailing theory is that Kylo Ren is really stretching out his hand to his mother Leia, and that we are seeing part of a potential redemption scene.

Either way, all (okay, most – we’ve got to save some secrets for Episode IX) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits Singapore theatres on 14 December 2017.

Blade Runner 2049

For inSing

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Carla Juri
Genre : Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 164 mins
Opens : 5 October 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence & Some Nudity)

The sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films ever made has finally arrived, plunging audiences back into the neon-drenched, rain-soaked, smoky environs of future Los Angeles.

As the title suggests, it is the year 2049. Artificially engineered humans known as ‘Replicants’ live amongst us, but previous incidents with Replicants that sought to break free of their programming have made Replicants the target of prejudice. K (Ryan Gosling) is a ‘Blade Runner’ for the LAPD – he hunts and kills older models of Replicants, tying up loose ends. K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) sends him on an assignment, during which K inadvertently unearths clues to his past.

K is a solitary figure, finding solace only in his girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), with whom he shares an unusual relationship. Since K is a Replicant, he assumes that any childhood memories he has are merely implants. His quest to unravel a decades-old secret puts him on a collision course with the enigmatic and megalomaniacal Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who manufactures Replicants and sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to do his dirty work. K also comes face to face with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who has been in hiding for the last 30 years. What K discovers will change the balance of society forever.

While 1982’s Blade Runner initially received a none-too-enthusiastic reaction from audiences and critics, Ridley Scott’s film has since been acknowledged as a cornerstone of science fiction. The film was based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s work often deals in themes like what it means to be human, the interplay between man and machine in future society, and the subjectivity of memory. Every effort has been made to carry that DNA into Blade Runner 2049. While it’s clear that director Denis Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher (who also co-wrote the original) and Michael Green are aware of the burden they carry in making this sequel, they do not buckle under the weight of it.

Audiences, especially those unfamiliar with the first film or with Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, should be aware that this is not an action movie – even if some of the marketing makes it look that way. This is a deeply contemplative film, thick with philosophy that will alienate more impatient viewers. It is also constructed with great consideration – the cinematography by Roger Deakins, the production design by Dennis Gassner, the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch – it’s all assembled with careful thought and superb skill. The atmosphere is kept consistent with that established in the first film, but Villeneuve doesn’t occupy himself with dishing out fan service, as one might expect from a belated sequel to a highly-regarded film.

Like its predecessor, this is a neo-noir, and K feels very much like a hero one would find in a classic noir film. He is a tragic, hollowed-out figure, numb to the anti-Replicant epithets that are constantly slung his way. Gosling comes off as distant and withdrawn, but never stilted or wooden. There’s humanity lurking just beneath the surface, humanity that K doesn’t quite know how to process. Gosling also handles the fight sequences well – while it’s highly unlikely Gosling would win a throw down with Dave Bautista in real life, it seems credible that K might gain the upper hand over Bautista’s character Sapper.

Ford makes his first appearance roughly 105 minutes into the film. What he lacks in screen time, he makes up for in presence. Ford is no stranger to revisiting iconic roles many years after the fact, but unlike Indiana Jones or Han Solo, Rick Deckard is not primarily a figure of fun. Ford sells the weariness that has accumulated in Deckard’s bones. Deckard is the king of his own domain: a lavishly appointed hotel in what once was Las Vegas, now an irradiated wasteland. Like K, Deckard was a Blade Runner in search of his own humanity, working a job that needed him to deny said humanity. K and Deckard represent loneliness in different forms, with Ford and Gosling playing off each other in a way that’s devoid of cheeky winks and nods.

Much as Blade Runner 2049 blazes a new trail, it conforms to genre archetypes in several ways: Wright’s character is a standard tough boss lady, while Hoeks’ scary henchwoman also is a commonly-seen character type. De Armas’ Joi is, by design, wish-fulfilment incarnate – a fantasy girlfriend with little say in the relationship. The dynamic between K and Joi is heartfelt and sorrowful, and even though their relationship is quite unlike most, is weirdly easy to relate to.

Leto’s appearance is quite brief and largely consists of him spouting cryptic philosophy as he hangs out in his Brutalist architecture lair. Beneath the posturing and overall eeriness that cloaks the character, he’s pretty much a standard sci-fi supervillain.

Blade Runner 2049 does not feel like a studio-mandated sequel. The presence of executives fretting over test screening results is barely felt. It is a work of art, but then again, art is subjective. The film’s 163-minute running time is excessive – 30 minutes of that could easily be trimmed away. However, far as cerebral sci-fi goes, this film certainly does its genre forebears proud.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

For inSing

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

As Blade Runner 2049 is released, we look back at 5 other examples of the ‘sequel gap’

By Jedd Jong

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

What’s the logical thing for a studio to do when a film is successful? Make a sequel! Audiences have become to expect sequels at a steady pace: when the Harry Potter film series was ongoing, there was only a one-two year gap between instalments, and the four Hunger Games films were released one each consecutive year. In its heyday, we got a James Bond film about once every two years – now that has increased to three-four years, but the series is still chugging along.

Sometimes, audiences must wait a little longer to see how stories they’ve become attached to continue. There were eight years between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 12 years between Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, six years between Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, and six more years between Terminator Salvation and Terminator: Genisys. Sometimes, they must wait a lot longer. The 2006 direct-to-video animated film Bambi II holds the record for the longest gap between film sequels – the original Bambi came out in 1942, a whopping 64 years earlier.

Blade Runner (1982)

There are a variety of reasons for sequels or prequels being released many years after the previous instalment in a series: a project can enter development hell with a tussle for creative control ensuing, it can take a while for a film to gain popularity or cult status that would lead to demand for a sequel, or the rights to the original film might have lapsed, with new rights holders making a sequel without the involvement of the original creators.

This week sees the release of Blade Runner 2049, 35 years after the release of the original Blade Runner. The 1982 film, directed by Ridley Scott and based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, did not initially catch on with audiences and critics. However, it gradually became viewed as an influential sci-fi masterpiece, and was re-evaluated as Scott released his director’s cuts of the film. A sequel has been in development since 1999, and has finally come to fruition. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) takes the director’s baton from Scott, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard. Ford is joined by Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.

Here are five other sequels/prequels that took their time in getting to the big screen. We’re not counting straight reboots like the current Planet of the Apes series, but we will bend the rules a little – you’ll see if you read on!

#1: TRON: LEGACY (2010)
28 YEARS AFTER TRON (1982)

Tron Legacy (2010)

1982’s Tron, directed by Steven Lisberger, is a milestone in the development of visual effects technology. The film stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who enters the digital realm of a video game and fights for survival. Tron was a modest success, and gradually became regarded as a cult film. Following the rise of Pixar, there were rumours that the animation studio would pursue a sequel to or remake of Tron. The desire for a Tron sequel was further fuelled by the release of the video game Tron 2.0 in 2003.

Tron (1982)

Development on a follow-up to Tron began in earnest in 2005, with visual effects artist Joseph Kosinksi being hired to direct the film two years later. Kosinski disagreed with Disney’s mandate that the film be modelled after The Matrix, and set about creating a proof-of-concept short film to demonstrate his vision for the sequel. This convinced Disney, and in 2008, a teaser trailer for what was then called ‘Tr2n’ was screened at Comic-Con. Jeff Bridges reprised his role as Kevin Flynn, who had been living in the Grid for many years. Kevin’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes off in search of his father, teaming up with an ‘iso’ named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to defeat Clu (also Bridges), the tyrannical digital duplicate of Kevin. Bruce Boxleitner returned alongside Bridges from the first film. Tron: Legacy showcased cutting-edge visual effects technology, including extensive digital de-aging used to make Bridges appear younger. The film received mixed reviews, but the visual effects and the score by Daft Punk were widely praised. Tron: Legacy spawned the animated series Tron: Uprising, and development on a sequel was underway, but those plans have been shelved in favour of a possible reboot, to which Jared Leto is tentatively attached.

#2: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
19 YEARS AFTER INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Before Harrison Ford made a belated return to Star Wars and Blade Runner, he reprised the role of adventurer archaeologist Indiana Jones in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had originally made a deal with Paramount Pictures for five Indiana Jones movies in the late 1970s, but after 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas decided he couldn’t find a satisfactory plot device to base a follow-up on. Lucas turned his attention to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a prequel TV series in which Indy as a young man interacted with various historical figures and got entangled in world events. Ford made a cameo in the series, narrating an episode as a framing device. This led Lucas to pursue a film sequel set in the 50s, with Lucas setting his heart on making it an homage to sci-fi B-movies.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Spielberg and Ford were initially resistant to the idea of the movie featuring aliens, but Lucas convinced Ford by saying the ‘aliens’ in the movie would instead be ‘interdimensional beings’. A succession of writers, including M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont, were hired. Darabont’s draft, entitled ‘Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods’, featured ex-Nazis hiding out in Argentina. After making Schindler’s List, Spielberg decided he could no longer use Nazis as cartoonish villains, with Soviet operatives chosen as the villains of the piece. Numerous attempts were made to find out more about the secretive production, with an extra violating a non-disclosure agreement, and a separate incident in which photos and documents were stolen from Spielberg’s office. Returning alongside Ford was Karen Allen, who played the feisty Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shia LaBeouf played Mutt, their son. Cate Blanchett turned in an enjoyably over-the-top performance as the villainous Irinia Spalko. Ford is set to don that dusty Fedora again in a fifth film, due in 2020.

#3: STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
16 YEARS AFTER STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

The other franchise Lucas is known for is no stranger to significant gaps between major instalments. The production and development of the Star Wars franchise is as storied and eventful as the mythos of the films and related media themselves. Lucas had originally intended to remake the classic sci-fi serial Flash Gordon, and when the rights were unavailable, set about devising his own space opera, cobbled from influences as varied as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, WWII-era dogfight movies like The Dam Busters and 663 Squadron, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Weathering a torturous production process, 1977’s Star Wars became a smash critical and commercial hit, leading to the sequels The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Lucas said he was “burned out” after working on the original trilogy, but having fleshed out the backstory, did not close off the possibility of eventually returning to make prequels. What became known as the Expanded Universe, consisting of books, comics, video games and other media beyond the films, was developing. A driving force of this was the trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, which took place after Return of the Jedi and introduced the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. These books caused a resurgence in the popularity of Star Wars in the early 90. Lucas became fascinated with the advancements in computer-generated visual effects technology, modifying the original trilogy to create the ‘special editions’, which were released theatrically in 1997. He decided that the prequels would tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, who would eventually become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Attack of the Clones would follow in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith in 2005. The prequel trilogy has generally been derided for its over-reliance on visual effects and its poor writing and stilted performances, but there are those who enjoy it for its depiction of the Jedi and Clone Troopers.

There is a 10-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, which picks up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens was released 32 years after that film, its immediate predecessor in the series’ chronology. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released 39 years after A New Hope.

#4: THE THING (2011)
29 YEARS AFTER THE THING (1982)

The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is often cited as one of the most influential sci-fi horror films ever made. The film was adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, which also served as the basis for the 1951 film The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s version did not perform extremely well at the box office, but went on to become a cult classic. Its gory, inventive and spectacular creature effects were devised by Rob Bottin, with Stan Winston making the dog creature when Bottin’s crew was swamped with the other creatures made for the film. The Thing begins with a Norwegian helicopter pursuing an Alaskan Malamute across the Antarctic ice. The helicopter’s pilot is shot dead by the station commander before he can fully issue his warning – the dog is not what it appears. What ensues is a frightening sequence of mistrust and monster mayhem as a parasitic alien life form wreaks havoc in the American base.

The Thing (1982)

The prequel film, also titled ‘The Thing’, sought to answer the question of what exactly happened at the Norwegian base. Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman convinced Universal Studios that the film should be made as a prequel rather than a remake. Writer Eric Heisserer, who would go on to become an Oscar nominee for Arrival, described constructing the story as “doing it by autopsy”. He carefully went over the original film, working backwards to ensure everything would line up. Director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. insisted on casting Norwegian actors to play the Norwegian characters – you might recognise Kristofer Hivju because he went on to play Tormund in Game of Thrones. van Heijningen also took inspiration from Alien, casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the protagonist. The film’s animatronic effects were created by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc (ADI), but most of them ended up being replaced by computer-generated effects in post-production, much to the chagrin of ADI founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. The film received mixed to negative reviews, but is worth checking out to see how the filmmakers stuck to rigid parameters in creating a film that takes place just days before the events of the original film.

#5: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
30 YEARS AFTER MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Here’s where we’re bending the rules: technically, this is a soft reboot and a sequel, and retains the same director as the earlier three Mad Max films: George Miller. Mel Gibson starred in the three films (released in 1979, 1981 and 1985). Miller refrains from referring to the film as either a reboot or a sequel, calling it a ‘revisit’. The post-apocalyptic action thriller had been mired in development hell for ages. Miller decided to make a fourth instalment in 1998, which was set to begin production in 2001. This was halted due to the economic collapse in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which led to the film’s budget inflating. Miller decided to recast the role, given the controversies that Gibson had stirred up with his increasingly questionable behaviour. The road to making a fourth film was only beginning, with more potholes along the way for Miller and his crew to contend with: production in the Australian desert was about to begin, but unexpected rainfall put in a spanner in those works. Miller was forced to relocated to Namibia, but production was put on hold due to travel and shipping restrictions imposed as the Iraq War was beginning in 2003.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Miller briefly turned his attention to a possible 3D animated film, but eventually abandoned these plans to resume production on a live-action film, which would now be shot in 3D. In 2010, the casting of Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky was announced. Charlize Theron joined him as Imperator Furiosa. Miller originally intended to shoot the fourth and fifth films in the series back-to-back. Shooting was set to begin in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, but once again, Mother Nature had different plans. Unexpected heavy rains caused wildflowers to sprout, ruining the desolate post-apocalyptic setting. The crew picked up sticks and moved back to Namibia, for an arduous 120-day shoot in the desert. Elaborate vehicular action sequences and daring stunts were staged with an emphasis on practical effects. Even so, the film ended up containing more than 2000 visual effects shots. After the R-rated cut tested better than the PG-13 one did, Warner Bros. went ahead with that version. Mad Max: Fury Road was a smash hit, praised for its feminist themes, strong performances and captivating action. It received ten Oscar nominations and won six, more than any other film nominated that year.

Revolt

For inSing

REVOLT 

Director : Joe Miale
Cast : Lee Pace, Bérénice Marlohe, Jason Flemyng, Kenneth Fok, Noko ‘Flow’ Mabitsela, Barileng Malebye
Genre : Sci-fi/action
Run Time : 87m
Opens : 28 September 2017
Rating : PG13

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Lee Pace played the marauding alien warlord Ronan the Accuser. In this film, the tables are turned, and Pace instead plays a soldier defending earth from alien invaders. Pace’s character awakes in a Kenyan jail cell with amnesia – he is referred to as ‘Bo’ because those two letters are written on his sleeve. In the cell next to Bo’s is Nadia (Marlohe), a French medic whose family died when Paris was decimated by the aliens. Bo and Nadia fend off not only vicious extra-terrestrial forces, but also hostile warlords, poachers and mercenaries. The pair makes their way to Nairobi to rendezvous with a group of rebel soldiers, making a desperate last stand for humanity.

Revolt is directed by Joe Miale, from a screenplay by Miale and Rowan Athale. The Dutch production draws inspiration from numerous military science fiction films. Grimy, bloody and often chaotic, Revolt has the aesthetic sensibilities of something like District 9 or Battle: Los Angeles. The war-ravaged African landscape is convincing, and the visual effects by Automatik VFX are excellent for the budget. The design of the aliens themselves is interesting: they’re skeletal and mechanical, and not overly humanoid, but interesting to look at and sufficiently, well, alien.

The main problem with Revolt is just how generic it all is. Many clichés associated with the war movie and sci-fi genres are present and accounted for, right down to the mysterious amnesia-stricken hero. The film is not intended to look gorgeous or polished, but even at a lean 87 minutes, its visual monotony makes it feel like a bit of a slog. This is to say nothing of the fact that the film is set in Kenya and the heroes are white, with the vast majority of the black characters being straight-up evil and vicious.

The biggest novelty factor that Revolt possesses is that Pace is playing a traditional square-jawed action hero role. Pace acquits himself well, and it’s not unlike Adrien Brody bulking up to fight aliens in the jungle in Predators. There are moments when Pace seems out of his element, for the most part, he’s believably tough and even under duress is quite charming.

Marlohe, who was recently seen in Kill Switch, seems to be seeking out low-mid-budget science fiction films. Her line delivery is somewhat stilted, but it’s easy to buy her as someone who can handle herself competently in a combat situation. While it initially seems like an interesting back-and-forth might develop between Bo and Naomi, it does not, and the poorly-developed relationship between the two characters feels like another big missed opportunity.

This reviewer enjoys seeking out smaller-scale sci-fi action films because it can be fun watching filmmakers problem-solve their way around limited resources, while delivering the spectacle associated with the genre. There’s some joy to be derived from Revolt where that is concerned, but the film is overwhelmingly, almost aggressively generic. We would recommend it to all the Lee Pace fangirls out there, though.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Lego Ninjago Movie

For inSing

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE 

Director : Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Cast : Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Michael Peña, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 41m
Opens : 28 September 2017
Rating : PG

After taking a journey to Gotham City in The Lego Batman Movie, this second spin-off of The Lego Movie whisks audiences to Ninjago. This mythical realm, which incorporates elements of Feudal Japan with modern metropolises like Hong Kong, is constantly under threat of invasion by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). As a result, Garmadon’s son Lloyd (Dave Franco) is shunned by the citizens of Ninjago. He finds acceptance in his mother Koko (Olivia Munn), as well as his friends Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen). Lloyd and his friends have secret double lives as ninjas who operate giant mecha and protect Ninjago City from Garmadon’s attacks, under the tutelage of Lloyd’s uncle, the wise Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Lloyd is torn between his duty to defeat Garmadon’s troops and his desire for a normal, loving relationship with his estranged father, with the fate of the city and Lloyd’s bond with his friends at stake.

Lego’s Ninjago theme is one of its more successful product lines in recent years, running since 2011 and spawning an animated series. The film departs from the plot of the series, but Dan and Kevin Hageman, who wrote the TV show, receive a ‘story by’ credit here. Meshing a Feudal Japanese aesthetic with anime-inspired mecha-punk, the underlying design principle provides endless interesting possibilities for toys of all kinds.

The Lego Ninjago Movie, like its predecessors The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, is primarily a long, elaborate toy commercial. However, it’s entertaining enough to justify its existence. The photo-realistic animation by Australian-based visual effects house Animal Logic is vibrant and hyper-detailed – while the process of animating this film must’ve been technically complicated, it looks like the animators had lots of fun doing it.

There are lots of jokes and several delightful visual gags, but parents should bear in mind that the film is heavily geared towards the younger set. The humour isn’t embarrassingly juvenile, but it tends towards extreme silliness. The film has six credited screenwriters, usually a sign that things will be scattershot and cluttered. Like The Lego Batman Movie, it has a bit of a ‘punched-up’ feel to it – the presence of comedians brought in to add jokes after the script has already been written is strongly felt. The Lego Ninjago Movie also borrows heavily from classic martial arts movies, and its moral is as old as the hills – ‘the power was inside you all along’. While The Lego Ninjago Movie winks and nods at its influences, it’s also too straightforward in its plot to come off as particularly inventive.

Our team of heroes is pretty much the Power Rangers – colour-coded teen ninjas who operate giant, awesome mechas themed to each of their personas. As with most movies featuring an ensemble cast, there isn’t nearly enough time to give all the characters enough definition. As such, everyone in the team apart from Lloyd feels defined by their powers and some superficial character traits. This is clearly Lloyd’s story, with everyone else taking a backseat and some talented comedians given short shrift in the voiceover booth.

Franco lends Lloyd enough likeable earnestness such that he doesn’t come as a boring, de-facto hero. Theroux steals the show, relishing the over-the-top villain role and giving Garmadon oodles of personality. Lord Garmadon belongs to the Dr. Evil/Dr. Drakken/Mojo Jojo school of comical supervillain. The strained relationship between pillaging, conquering dad and city-saving son generates laughs and, eventually, warm fuzzy feelings. It is interesting that all three theatrically-released Lego movies thus far have featured father-son relationships so heavily.

Jackie Chan’s wheelhouse might be physical comedy, but he proves adequately adept at funny line delivery. There is very little that distinguishes Master Wu from similar characters like Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu, or indeed The Lego Movie’s Vitruvius. Chan does figure in the film’s framing device, which we shan’t spoil.

Kids are sure to leave the theatre pestering their parents to buy one or more (likely more) of the tie-in Lego sets. Adults might roll their eyes at some of the goofier jokes, but the film moves along quickly and is entertaining enough that you won’t hear too many complaints from accompanying adults.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Stronger

For inSing

STRONGER 

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Patty O’Neil, Carlos Sanz
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : M18

From the ashes of every tragedy rise stories of courage and eventual triumph. This biopic endeavours to tell one such true story. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a Bostonian who works at the deli counter at Costco. Jeff’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) is running the 2013 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the hospital where she works as an administrator. Jeff turns up to wait for Erin at the finish line, when two explosions go off and all hell breaks loose. Jeff is badly maimed in the explosion, and both his legs are amputated above the knee. With the support of his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), his father Jeff Sr. (Clancy Brown), Erin, his boss Kevin (Danny McCarthy) and other friends and family, Jeff embarks on the arduous road to recovery. Becoming a national symbol for the city’s resilience in the wake of the terrorist attack, Jeff must also cope with the attention and scrutiny brought about by his unexpected status as a public figure.

Stronger is based on Bauman’s memoirs of the same name, which he co-wrote with Bret Witter. As an inspirational awards-season film based on a true story, the more cynical among us might approach Stronger with somewhat justified wariness. Director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay by John Pollono, attempts to steer the film away from outright emotional manipulation. For the most part, Green does a serviceable job of depicting the struggles faced by Bauman in the aftermath of the bombing, while keeping the film from being overly solemn or dreary. However, much of the conflict in the film feels slightly contrived and overblown, with the feeling that this has been Hollywood-ised, if only a little.

While Bauman’s story is inspiring, even those who have not read the book or are unfamiliar with the events will already have a rough idea of the trajectory of the story. Stronger offers a detailed depiction of Bauman’s road to recovery, but doesn’t feel particularly insightful. Green does effectively convey how disorienting and overwhelming this sudden celebrity is for Bauman, and depicts the toll that Bauman’s injuries take on those who care for him. There’s a lot of shallow focus in cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s shots, and while the film is sometimes beautiful to look at, there’s a thin sheen of artificiality over it. The visual effects used to make it look like Gyllenhaal’s legs have been amputated is seamless.

Being a performer who often plays characters who have undergone great mental or physical torment, Gyllenhaal delivers a strong performance. As portrayed by Gyllenhaal, Bauman is a bit of a man-child, but is endearing in his own way. He convincingly essays the pain that Bauman experiences, and there are times when the film does get raw. The film’s best scene is the meeting between Bauman and his rescuer, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz). There are no histrionics, it’s a simple conversation, but it’s the most moving moment in the film.

We’re used to seeing the female lead in films of this type relegated to the role of ‘designated girlfriend’, but Erin is portrayed as more than that. Her relationship with Bauman hasn’t gone especially smoothly even before the accident, and we see how the effects that Bauman’s recovery process and newfound recognition have on them. It puts a strain on their relationship, but in weathering the journey together, it also brings the couple closer together. The Orphan Black star puts in a restrained, un-showy performance, balancing out the more over-the-top performance of Richardson as Bauman’s fretful mother.

Stronger might contain many tropes one would associate with awards bait dramas, but it doesn’t sugar-coat things. Thanks to a compelling central performance from Gyllenhaal, glimmers of authenticity shine through. However, more jaded viewers might not be especially moved by the story it tells, especially when the melodrama is ratcheted up.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong