Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

For F*** Magazine

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR 

Director : Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Cast : Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Juno Temple, Jaime King, Bruce Willis, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 8 August 2014
Rating : R21 (Violence, Nudity & Sexual Scenes) 
Running time: 102 mins
SC2_1sh_FINALBasin CITY. A cesspool dripping with BLOODand ALCOHOLand SEXand GRIME. A grimy CESSPOOL. NINE years after the FIRSTmovie, we RETURN. FOUR interlocking stories. “Just ANOTHERSaturday NIGHT” – Marv (Rourke) BEATS up PUNKS and hangs off the side of POLICE CARS. “The Long BAD Night” – Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), a self-assured young gambler, beats Senator Roark (Boothe) in a GAMEof POKER. Big MISTAKE. “A DAMEto Kill For” – Ava Lord (Green), sly WICKEDNESS taken the form of a WOMAN. She CASTSher SPELLupon former flame Dwight (Brolin) once more. Can he ESCAPE this enchantress’ GRASP? “Nancy’s Last DANCE” – stripper Nancy (Alba) is victim no MORE. She seeks to AVENGE the death of Hartigan (Willis), her PROTECTOR. AVENGINGhis DEATH. Her crosshairs are SET on Roark.
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            This reviewer had planned to write the whole thing in the style of Frank Miller but gave up after that paragraph. The first Sin City film broke its share of ground by hewing closely to the stylisation Miller had drawn into his graphic novels, using visual effects and cinematography to replicate the striking aesthetic of the Sin City books. Black and white with occasional violent bursts of selective colour, often lapsing into animated silhouettes. Miller was initially reluctant to allow an adaptation to be filmed, but Robert Rodriguez won him over and they became co-directors on both movies. It’s nine years later and it’s not quite so novel anymore. In-between then and now we’ve had the likes of 300 and the dismal The Spirit, the latter directed by Miller himself. It’s still a great gimmick and we bet this movie is stunning in 3D (we saw the 2D version). However, any gimmick can only carry a film so far.

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            The movie is clearly striving for a noir feel but so much of the Frank Miller dialogue, in reaching for a hard-boiled attitude, comes off as laughably silly. “It’s another hot night. The kind of night that makes people do sweaty, secret things,” Dwight says in voiceover. When he gets kicked in the crotch, he describes it as “an atom bomb go(ing) off between my legs.” The intensity of all the brutal, wince-inducing violence in the film ends up being undercut by the writing. “A Dame to Kill For” has as its central character an evil, manipulative, often-naked seductress. Eva Green vamps it up entertainingly as is her speciality, but there’s not much more to Ava Lord than that – she’s a textbook femme fatale. The character’s speech about the nature of insanity and evil from the graphic novel, which would have added a layer or two, is cut. “Nancy’s Last Dance”, an original story written for this film, also undoes everything the character went through in the first film. Nancy, that narrow beam of light that was able to escape the darkness of Sin City, is now just another avenging angel. “The Long Bad Night”, the other original story, is carried by Gordon-Levitt playing against Boothe but is never wholly compelling.

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            The film’s ensemble cast gets to play it up in ways few other movies would let them, to mostly entertaining results. Josh Brolin, playing Dwight before the character had plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen, is convincingly tough and grizzled. Powers Boothe is a hoot as a “love to hate” villain of the most extreme variety. Gordon-Levitt sinks his teeth into playing Johnny in his transition from cocksure and feeling untouchable to wounded and seething. The afore-mentioned Green, taking the role long-linked to Angelina Jolie, does look like she’s having a ball and seems extremely comfortable with the nigh-gratuitous nudity. Speaking of showing skin, Jessica Alba famously has a no-nudity clause but given Nancy’s get-ups in this film, she might as well be naked. Her attempts at playing an angry Nancy galvanised into taking up arms against Roark are ropey at best. Bruce Willis plays a ghost. Odd sense of déjà vu there.

            In 2005, before the full-on boom of movies based on comic books and graphic novels that we’re experiencing now, Sin Citywas unlike anything else out there. It was striking, bold and impactful. Now, the cool factor of the film being shot on a digital back-lot with everything but the actors and key props computer-generated has subsided. As over the top as A Dame to Kill For is, it falls short of the visceral oomph the first film had. Comic book fans know Frank Miller as a writer and artist who helped define the medium with the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, but who seems to have lost his mind, judging from the atrocious likes of Holy Terror and All Star Batman and Robin. His misogynistic attitudes and obsession with dark faux-poetry are on full display in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez serving as little more than his errand boy.

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Summary: There’s no kill like overkill –Sin City: A Dame to Kill For brims with eye-catching imagery and uncompromising depictions of violence and sex, but there is little beneath its glossy, lurid surface.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 
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The November Man

For F*** Magazine

THE NOVEMBER MAN

Director : Roger Donaldson
Cast : Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Catherine Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Lazar Ristovski, Patrick Kennedy
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 28 August 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scenes and Violence)
Running time: 108 mins

           In The Tailor of Panama and Matador, Pierce Brosnan played on his persona as the world’s most famous fictional spy. He does it again but in a markedly more serious manner here, as retired CIA agent Peter Devereaux. Devereaux violently barges out of his quiet retirement in picturesque Lausanne, Switzerland to embark on a very personal mission. Social worker Alice Fournier (Kurylenko) has valuable evidence that could topple the political career of Federov (Ristovski), poised to become the next Russian president. Devereaux must protect her to uncover the far-reaching conspiracy but this brings in him conflict with David Mason (Bracey), his former pupil at the CIA. The further Devereaux digs, the more danger he puts him and the few he keeps close to him in, especially when it transpires that a CIA official may have been in cahoots with Federov.

            Based on Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies, the seventh in the November Man book series but the first to be adapted, this is a film that is competently made but is filled with elements that aficionados of the espionage thriller genre are likely all too familiar with. The film is built upon the theme of spies entering relationships and having families, only for those they hold dear to become casualties in wars that are not theirs to fight. Veteran director Roger Donaldson has tackled the genre before with No Way Out and The Recruit, now turning out a post-Bourne spy movie that is tough and gritty without being self-consciously so. In the States, this is rated R. The blood, swearing and requisite gratuitous scene set in a strip club go some way to separate it from the PG-13 action thriller pack, if only superficially.

            Brosnan is actually even more convincing as a spy here than in his Bond films over a decade ago. Eschewing the wink-and-a-smile charm he is so famous for, Brosnan plays Devereaux as grizzled and lethal. If he’s planning a Liam Neeson-style “man of geri-action” career ahead, he’s going about it better than, say, Kevin Costner is. He plays the heated confrontations with a surprising amount of intensity, especially given that his Bond was never known for being particularly tough. It’s a pity then that Luke Bracey is bland as Mason, the Australian actor never rising above “standard issue imported Hollywood pretty boy”. A better actor could have made the strained mentor-mentee relationship between Devereaux and Mason more compelling.

            Let’s face it, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is known more her exotic, striking appearance than her acting chops. However, she brings a good deal of vulnerability and is also able to bring out the canniness beneath the surface of the Alice Fournier character, offering hints that there is more to her than she is letting on. Lazar Ristovski is also a sufficiently slimy and unlikeable as Federov without overplaying the stereotype.

            While many spy thrillers fall apart as they head into their conclusions, The November Man actually becomes a good deal more interesting in its last act, the twists and reveals effective and somewhat plausible. This doesn’t change that it follows many conventions of the genre and that it is poorly paced, the action sequences few and far between. Some visual clichés are employed too – there’s actually a scene of someone jumping sideways through a door into a room, firing a gun in slow motion. Ultimately, it is Brosnan who makes this worthwhile, kicking ass and taking names far more his wheelhouse than struggling through Abba songs.


Summary: A conventional espionage thriller that mitigates its sense of “been there, done that” by ramping up the tension in the third act. Brosnan’s late-career action hero resurgence also makes this worth a look.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Lucy

For F*** Magazine

LUCY

Director : Luc Besson
Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Analeigh Tipton, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 21 August 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Some Drug References and Violence)
Running time: 90 mins

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson kicks a lot of ass as Black Widow but doesn’t have any actual superpowers to speak of. As the eponymous Lucy, she has all the superpowers. Just your average girl abroad, Lucy gets mixed up with the wrong crowd in Taipei and is made an unwilling drug mule for Korean crime lord Mr. Jang (Choi). Inserted into her abdomen is a packet of blue crystals known as CPH4. When the drugs enter her system following an encounter with some thugs, Lucy begins to tap into the unmined potential of her brain. She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman), the leading expert in this area. According to Prof Norman, humans use only 10% of their cerebral capacity. As the drug’s effects strengthen, Lucy inches towards optimizing 100% of her mind, giving her the power over her own body, the bodies of others and matter itself. As she heads towards omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, what’s next?

            From The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc to La Femme Nikita to The Fifth Element and to a different extent The Lady, writer-director Luc Besson’s forte is making extraordinarily skilled, powerful women look awesome. He’s at it again in Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson stepping in the shoes once filled by a young Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich.  We’ll give Lucy this: it’s ambitious and it’s different. Besson could’ve been content with churning out a run-of-the-mill actioner and apparently, he isn’t. This strange beast of a sci-fi action fantasy flick has been only semi-facetiously compared to Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Mixed in with the requisite gunplay and car chases through Paris are scenes of an Australopithecus drinking from a prehistoric lake. This touch also imbues the name “Lucy” with extra significance.

            Unfortunately, it is very often evident that Besson has bitten off more than he can chew. “Humans are concerned more with having than being,” Professor Norman says during an expository lecture. This sort of faux-portentous philosophising is served with a side of heavy-handed symbolism: Lucy being recruited for the delivery job in the beginning of the film is intercut with footage of a mouse approaching a mousetrap and of a cheetah hunting gazelles. Cue the eye-rolling. Sometimes, it’s hard to discern if Besson truly thinks this is a deep, contemplative masterpiece or if he is aware that Lucy is simply a gleefully silly romp. The answer to “life, the universe and everything” makes even less sense than “42”, the answer famously put forth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And let’s not forget that the “10% of the brain” myth is discredited, misleading pseudo-science.

            Johansson zones in as the superhuman Lucy and plays the transition from scared, naïve girl in over her head to single most powerful being in the world with entertaining élan. Lucy engages in more than a few morally dubious acts, but Johansson makes us cheer the character along regardless. Morgan Freeman once again does that thing he’s been doing lately: showing up in a movie to lend authority without doing any real acting. But hey, when you’ve got Morgan Freeman spouting all that techno-babble, it probably subconsciously lends it some credence. Choi Min-sik, Oldboy himself, is a suitably commanding presence as a downright scary career criminal who, after slaughtering a room full of innocent hotel guests, washes his hands with a bottle of Evian. Amr Waked is good as Captain Del Rio, the hapless cop dragged through Paris by Lucy as a “reminder” of her humanity. Fans of British TV will also get a kick out of Julian Rhind-Tutt hamming it up as he forces the drug mules’ mission upon them.

            While a lot of it can be seen as wrongheaded and embarrassing, Lucy is very entertaining once the CPH4 is in her system and the plot gets into gear. There’s also lots of trippy imagery (strands of light over Paris! Shapeshifting arms! Nebulae in deep space!), created by Industrial Light & Magic, Rodeo FX and other visual effects houses. A scene set in an airplane is quite intense. Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer Theirry Arbogast and composer Eric Serra make the film a rather sumptuous sensory feast, in a way different from the biggest, most explosive blockbusters out there.


Summary: It’s high-falutin’ and quite silly, but dazzling visuals, fun action and a commanding lead performance by Scarlett Johansson make Lucy a halfway-decent diversion.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

The Expendables 3

THE EXPENDABLES 3

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 14 August 2014
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Some Coarse Language)
Running time: 126 mins

 “If you’re looking to get the job done/ Be it murder or rescuing ladies/ You cannot do better than old guys/ Who were popular back in the 80s…” so go the lyrics to comedians Jon and Al Kaplan’s musical spoof of The Expendables. Those grizzled guys are back with some young blood to add to the crew. Barney Ross (Stallone), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Lee Christmas (Stallone), Toll Road (Couture) and Hail Caesar (Crews) break old team-member Doctor Death (Snipes) out of prison. In the ensuing mission, they encounter Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable-turned weapons and dealer and war criminal, hitherto thought of as dead. Barney brings in a younger bunch of mercenaries (Lutz, Rousey, Powell, Ortiz), with Spanish Armed Forces veteran Galgo (Banderas) insistent on joining. He is also assisted by Trench (Schwarzenegger), Yin Yang (Li) and Major Max Drummer (Ford), going up against the army Stonebanks has in his pocket.

This entire film series exists as a loving ode to 80s action films, featuring those who starred in said films proving they’ve still got the right stuff. As such, there was something of an outcry over this movie’s PG-13 rating – as the Kaplans put it later on in their song, “PG-13 is for pussies”. This reviewer wasn’t too bothered by that – while bloodless, the body count in this one is still very high. Also, the one f-bomb is given to just the right actor. No, this movie’s problems lie elsewhere. Succeeding Stallone and Simon West at the helm is Australian director Patrick Hughes, known for his neo-Western Red Hill. His direction here is mostly rote and journeyman-like; while competent, the action sequences lack flair or drive. There is a curious dearth of urgency or intensity in this action-thriller, even when an actual ticking bomb is introduced. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of shooting, punching or stuff blowing up, but the film often feels like it’s spinning its wheels, going nowhere fast.

            Why do action film junkies go to the Expendables movies? To relive the glory days of their cinematic heroes. As such, anytime the “Young Expendables” are onscreen, this reviewer was counting the minutes to when the actual Expendables – you know, the guys we came to see – would return. Even without Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, the roster is already pretty crowded. There’s no time for us to get to know anyone and in place of characterisation, there’s bickering, mutual ribbing and general macho bro-ey-ness. We’re not expecting Chekhov or Mamet but just give us something to hang on to! The action sequences are fine, they aren’t infested with shaky-cam as most contemporaneous action sequences tend to be, but the sub-par visual effects work is carried over from the last two films. If it’s meant to evoke the cheap look of 80s action movies, then that’s the wrong nostalgia bone to tickle.

            The film is at its best when it goes for nostalgia in the right way, with its stars winking and nodding at the audience via references to their past work. Snipes’ character loves blades and jokes about being jailed for tax evasion. Schwarzenegger gets to say “get to the choppa!” Kelsey Grammer’s character makes a crack about ex-wives. However, in-jokes alone do not a good movie make. In spite of the humour, this go-round just seems a whole lot less fun. Indeed, Stallone often looks as though he’s grimacing through a heavy, dead-serious thriller. Nothing in this one matches Chuck Norris spouting his own “Chuck Norris fact” in the second film. Also, Harrison Ford does not say “get off my plane”. That’s a missed opportunity right there.

Mel Gibson is apparently paying penance for his myriad indiscretions by appearing in genre schlock like this and last year’s Machete Kills. He does go crazy-eyed Mad Mel but fails to be as memorable a baddie as Jean-Claude Van Damme was. Somewhere between the writing and direction, the potential for Conrad Stonebanks to be a spectacular bad guy is lost. Jet Li doesn’t bust a single kung fu move. What’s up with that? And yes, Ronda Rousey is a badass UFC champion, but this film is yet another example of “The Smurfette principle”, with one lone woman among a bunch of guys. Where are Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh?

      
      A good chunk of the film seems to exist as a rather petty raised middle finger to Bruce Willis, with whom Stallone had a falling out with over the former’s salary. It’s a good thing then that Harrison Ford is an upgrade and seeing him chew Stallone out earlier in the film is as exciting as the biggest action scenes are. “I haven’t had so much fun in years,” he says. We almost believe him. Antonio Banderas as the talkative comic relief – that’s an odd choice, but he’s still fairly entertaining. The Expendables 3 never amounts to more than the sum of its parts and even when Kellan Lutz’s stunt double jumps a motorcycle off the tail of a crashed helicopter, it falls short of effectively harkening back to the 80s action films it wants to homage.

Summary: There’s less vim and vigour in this third go-round for Stallone and co. and worse, they have to jostle for screen time with those meddling kids.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Shoutout from Lexi Alexander

When I was part of Zoe Saldana’s round-table interview during the Guardians of the Galaxy Singapore press tour, Saldana spoke about the dearth of women in creative roles in Hollywood (you can read the article here). I brought up Lexi Alexander, director of Punisher: War Zone, Oscar-nominee for her short film Johnny Flynton and a World Point Fighting/Karate champion. In short, an all-around badass.

This piqued Saldana’s interest and I was really thrilled that Ms. Alexander herself came across the article and mentioned it on Twitter. Here are some screenshots of her Twitter feed and the responses it received:

“Femme Malheureuse” is French for “Unhappy Woman”. Thanks Ms. Alexander for considering me an #ally! 

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: The Booths/Exhibits

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Batman, so the main draw on the convention floor for me was WB/DC’s display of artifacts from the Batman film anthology, including all those Bat-cowls, Batarangs, the Joker thugs’ masks, the memorial statue from The Dark Knight Rises and even Martha Wayne’s necklace. Of course, there was an abundance of cool displays in addition to Caped Crusader-related paraphernalia – take a look!

Legendary is pretty happy about Godzilla’s box office success.

The Hilton is not safe from the Kaiju’s wrath!

A super-armoured storm chasing vehicle from Into The Storm.

Original muppets at the Profiles in History prop auction booth.

Keep punching, America!

Original Chaplin hats.

SNIKT!

The famous Patton helmet.

Om nom nom.

Oh yes, Mystique.

And from the back, because why not?
Hobbit feet for sale, get your Hobbit feet right here!

“Hello. I want to play a game.”

Apparently, these costumes are Expendable as well.

Affleck’s cape and cowl from the upcoming Batman v Sueprman: Dawn of Justice.

“no no no no, I shoot the bus driver.”

Jungian archetypes, yay!

St-st-st-st-sticky bomb (gun)! 

“WHY DOES HE WEAR THE MASK?!” 

The Sonar Suit cowl that was scanned into the computer for the visual effects in Batman Forever.

Hey Selina!

Design by Brian Azzarrello, artists of Batman: Noel and Joker.

Sideshow’s booth can always be counted upon to display some really gorgeous statues.

“I’m gonna need that guy’s bandanna!”

More props for auction! Not the biggest fan of this Batmobile design but in person, this thing is gorgeous! 

The Joker and helicopters don’t mix.

Sandworm! 

A Kaiju skin mite! 

That’s a piece of Threepio.

The door-knocker on Jabba’s Palace, next to a cap with the fake production working title for Return of the Jedi, Blue Harvest.

Racist stereotype notwithstanding, Nute Gunray’s mask is well-made.

The extras that come with Bond’s cars.

Holy crossbow, Constantine!

Jaeger pilot suit from the back. 

Lord Business towering over the Con floor.

Her name was Lola…
…She was a showgirl…

The pod from GotG.
Hot Toys makes my wallet weep. 

Judge Death.

Batman takes a moment to pose in front of cardboard Gotham.

Clues! 

Clues! 

Clues!

Clues!

Ziplining! 
Whee!

Costumes from the upcoming Max Steel film.
NECA has, as usual, some great dioramas.
A Ripley figure?! Finally, finally, finally! 
Apes now.
Apes then. 
You know the only thing anyone who buys this is going to do is painting it to be movie-accurate.
Because there’s always a thick crowd around the Marvel booth, I snapped this picture of Loki’s scepter from a distance.
Someone’s gonna get a facehugging.

The Goliath, from Evolve. 

Catwoman ridin’ her hog, design by Dustin Nguyen. 

Nope, nothing untoward is gonna happen to Cap in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing untoward at all.

Look out for those stairs!

Signature of stop motion puppet artist and later visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett. Also famously the “Dinosaur Supervisor” on Jurassic Park (you had one job, Phil!) 

Keeping the peace. 


Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: James Gunn

As published in Issue #55 of F*** Magazine

At the time of this posting, GotG is a massive success and Gunn has written an open thank-you note to the fans and to Marvel which can be read here.

Text: 
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY INTERVIEWS
JAMES GUNN
By Jedd Jong
The guy who will lead the Guardians on their cosmic journey from the director’s chair is James Gunn, whom some pundits are saying could be the next Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. Like those two, Gunn comes from a background of deliberately schlocky horror films but is poised to hit the big time with the massive Marvel movie that is Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn cut his teeth on the low-budget kitschy gore-filled flicks of Troma Entertainment and wrote the screenplays for films like Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Deadremake. He made his directorial debut with the sci-fi horror comedy Slither, which has become a cult favourite among horror aficionados and is known for its disgusting body horror effects. There’s also James Gunn’s PG Porn, a web series in which he pairs adult actors with mainstream ones, re-creating scenarios from pornographic movies – just without the sex.
Gunn sat down with F*** at the Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference in Singapore to discuss the process of finding his leading man in Chris Pratt, the impact of Star Warsaction figures on his filmmaking career, the decision to have two of the biggest stars in the film voice CGI characters and the design philosophy behind the film’s aesthetic.
Are you concerned about how the film will perform at the box office?
Am I worried about the box office now? Of course! I hope the film does well, it looks like it’s going to do okay, it’s a different thing, we’re trying to build a franchise so the first movie is about creating a group that people want to go and see. But yeah, I’m always concerned about that mostly because I want the opportunity to do another one and if the movie does well, I’ll get to do that. If we make $4 billion, I’ll be really happy (laughs).
What would happen if Beezel from Movie 43 met Rocket Raccoon?
(Groans, then laughs) It will be very strange because one’s CGI and one’s animated. I’ve never even seen the final movie, so I have no idea.
What is the biggest difference between Guardians of the Galaxy and the other Marvel movies?
The biggest difference is me and the cast of weirdoes we have involved with this film, and I don’t only mean the cast as (just) the actors, I mean the cinematographer, the production designer, everyone involved with this movie – we really wanted to create something completely new and completely different, a huge action-adventure set in space that hearkened back to older films but was also like something nobody had ever seen before. So that need to make it, it wasn’t like “oh, we’re doing this in relation to Marvel”, it was like “no, we’re making this movie in relation to all movies as a whole”. We didn’t feel very restrained by Marvel, we were trying to make a movie that was completely itself and that’s probably the biggest difference.
You compared the Avengers to the Beatles and the Guardians to the Rolling Stones…
Yes, that is true. We’re a little bit looser, a little bit more rock and roll and little bit screwier than the Avengers, they’re kind of the clean-cut good guys and we’re the scraggly that will come in and save the day but steal your wallet on the way out.
Is Chris Pratt Jagger?
Uh…I don’t think it breaks down like that! (Laughs)
You wrote a novel called The Toy Collector. How does it feel to have action figures of a movie you’ve directed, and what do you think of the Guardians toys that have been produced?

I love it you know, because when I was a kid, I loved Star Wars figures. I liked the ability to be able to love a movie and then have a little piece of it that I could play with and with those figures, I was able to create my own Star Wars adventures and my own Star Wars stories that were different from the ones that I had seen, and maybe in some ways, that was part of the birth of my filmmaking career, because I was learning how to be a storyteller. And so the idea that kids will be able to own a Drax and a Star-Lord and a Rocket and be able to tell their own stories with that and in that way become more a part of the film and have more of an intimacy with the film, I think that’s a really exciting thing.
Were you into 70s pop culture even before making this film?
I’m pretty much into pop culture in general. I love good pop culture and I’m sort of fascinated by bad pop culture, so being able to…usually when you have these outer space dramas, there’s nothing resembling pop culture whatsoever because they’re really “out there”. Even Star Wars, which is very human, is very “out there” and above it all. In Guardians, we aren’t above it all. This is a guy who is taken from Earth when he’s 8 years old so to him, this is not pop culture, those are holy relics. He thinks Alf, that’s a masterpiece! He thinks of these songs that his mother gave him, they’re the greatest, they’re Beethoven, they’re Mozart! Blue Swede is the greatest group of musicians of all time! It’s being able to see it through Peter Quill’s eyes, he still has the eyes of a child, which is pretty fun because I feel like maybe I do as well.
How important for you was it to find the right Peter Quill?
It was the most important thing and I tell you, my hardest day on this movie I think was…we searched so long and so hard for Peter Quill, and we read everyone you can imagine: A-list stars, people that no one has ever heard of, everybody, because I really wanted to bring to the movie what Robert Downey, Jr. brought to Iron Man. He came in and he was able to create this character that worked really well within the story but also had something more there and brought something to it that was his own thing and he made it better than what it was on the page, and I knew that that was our bar, we needed to find someone who was as good and we needed to find somebody that if ever he was in a movie with Robert Downey, Jr., we think that he could hold his own and probably kick his ass.
And so, we looked and we looked and we looked, and we narrowed it down to 5 actors, many of whom are very famous people. We did a screen test with all 5 of those actors and they were all very, very good – but I went home that night and I was like “none of them are quite right.” I’ve never talked about this before, but that was my lowest point – I really thought I was going in the next day and Marvel would be like “well, it’s too late, we need to choose somebody” and Kevin Feige would say “we’ve got to go with so and so” and I felt in my heart that none of them were quite right. I went in the next day, we watched the screen tests and Kevin turned to me and said “god, they’re all really good, but I don’t think any of them are quite right.” And I was so, so happy, and that’s when I knew I had a true partner in Kevin Feige who is the producer, somebody who had my back when I needed it, somebody I could trust, somebody who wasn’t going to settle for second best and that was a big relief. And so when we found Chris, which wasn’t too long after that, yeah it was a relief and I knew it within 20 seconds of him auditioning that he was the guy.
What was it about him that made him “the guy”?
Um, that’s a great question…
He doesn’t come across as your typical action hero…
No…I think that’s what it was! I mean, Chris is a personality and he has a certain way of speaking that fit the words I had written for Star-Lord so perfectly and added himself to it, so there was this extra thing. Here’s the thing: Chris Pratt is the biggest movie star in the world, it’s just that people don’t know it yet. There is nobody like him, nobody. He is a big masculine dude like so few movie stars are today, but he’s also very funny. He’s a fantastic dramatic actor and he also has a vulnerability that very few actors have. He has everything that you really want in a leading man and is not only one of the greatest movie stars today, I think he’s in the line of the classics, the Gary Coopers, the Clint Eastwoods…that’s the kind of talent he is and that’s the kind of rare talent he is, so I was extremely happy to find Chris.
Karen Gillan is not the name that immediately springs to mind when one thinks “blade-wielding femme fatale” because she’s best known as Amy Pond in Doctor Who, but she looks awesome in the trailers. What was it about her that made her the right fit for Nebula?
She’s a good actress. I wasn’t there the first time she auditioned, she auditioned for the casting director, and he would send me the tapes of the different actors and he would say the people he thought were good and I was going through it and I saw Karen Gillan. I went “oh, who is that?” and I remembered she was in Doctor Who. I just watched it out of curiousity, like I didn’t think she was going to be that good, and I started watching and I was like “holy s***, that girl’s a real actress!” I thought she was just this goofy, I thought she acted like Amy Pond – and she does kind of act like Amy Pond, she’s a fruit loop in real life. She’s a really nice girl and she’s this really grounded, terrific actress and in fact, I’ve got to say, we screen tested her and out of all the screen tests of everybody, her screen test was really my favourite because she added a lot of depth to the character and it just so happens that when you put that makeup on her and give her a couple of weapons in her hands, she really is a sort of Clint Eastwood character. She’s really terrific.
In the cast, you’ve kind of had the two biggest names, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, voice computer-generated characters. How did it work out that way?
We just try to cast the best person for every role and Bradley I came to because we auditioned a lot of people for Rocket and Rocket was another very, very difficult role because Rocket is very funny, he gets a lot of the laugh lines in the movie but he’s also somebody we’ve got to believe as a real character. The core of who Rocket is is that he’s this sad little mangled beast that’s been screwed over by the universe and you’ve got to feel for him. You’ve got to think he’s funny in the beginning, then when you go through the movie, you’ve got to think “oh man, I feel sorry for him, he’s had a real rough life” and you’ve got to see it through his eyes and see what he sees. Bradley as an actor, in his career, has done comedy really well and he’s done drama very well and he was able to bring that together in the character of Rocket.
I remember when some of the executives saw the first cut of the movie and were like “we love it, it’s great, but Bradley Cooper doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper!” It’s like “we paid him all that money so what about that?”
And I’m like “of course he doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper, he sounds like Rocket!” And that was the end of that and Bradley and I from the beginning were like “what does he sound like, who is this guy, what does he feel?” and so he was great.
And then, Vin is a delight! Did you guys see his video the other day when he was standing on stilts doing the character? He’s crazy (laughs) he wears stilts when he does the voice so he feels like Groot!
How many iterations of “I am Groot” did you make Vin say?
A lot, a lot! Anyway, man, I watch the movie now and I watch Groot speak and I swear, I don’t feel like that’s a human who’s talking! I feel like that’s a tree! And it’s so crazy, people think I’m crazy, they think I’m nuts when I say this but I say to my editor when I’m sitting next to him working on the movie, “I can’t believe how much emotion this guy brings to 3 words that he says 30 times in the movie!” And he really tells the whole story with those 3 words and he’s kind of a fan favourite when they watch the whole movie. Man, he’s great. I can’t imagine anybody…Vin Diesel was born to play Groot! Nobody in the world could have ever done it better!
What were the inspirations for the aesthetic of the film, and what were your directions to Charlie Wen, Ryan Meinerding and the other concept artists when they were designing this film?

Well, I think that when I first got hired to do this movie the first thing that really struck me was the opportunity to create a space action adventure that had its own sort of aesthetic to it. I gave them, everybody involved sort of this booklet of what the rules were of our world. One of the things was, when Alien and Blade Runnerwere made in the late 70s and early 80s, they came in with this sort of dark look and they were amazing for their time, but they also sort of created what all future movies looked like and everything had to be dark and seedy and all of this.
With Guardians, I really wanted to bring back the colour of films from the 50s and 60s, pulp films, and have something that was brightly colourful yet still grounded and dirty and messy and lived-in and real, to sort of combine those things in a way that hasn’t been done before. So I think it really is taking the best from the history of films and also creating something new, and I could talk about that for an hour because there were a lot of things in that document that were…usually in a space movie when you go to a planet, it looks as if every building was designed by the same architect, you know? But go to downtown Singapore and there’s a bunch of different stuff; same thing with any city in the world, there’s a bunch of different looks there, there’s stuff that’s really old and stuff that’s really new, and if something’s been around for a long time, you can bet that there’s something made of stone next to whatever the floating building is next to it.
So it’s trying to create that post-modern world with a mix of different things in it, and to really create that contrast of having something really beautiful next to something that’s sort of ugly and for that, there’s a painting by Magritte called Visions of Light (actually The Empire of Lights), and  I don’t know if you guys know this painting but it looks like it’s daytime on the ground and it’s night-time in the sky and I used that as kind of a guiding force in creating these landscapes that were beautiful skies with these really cavernous, ugly landscapes contrasting each other and using that throughout the architecture, throughout the movie.

San Diego Comic-Con International 2014: Postcards from the H

As published in Issue #55 of F*** Magazine 
Here it is: my 8100-word first-hand account of the major movie panels held in Hall H on Saturday. The other panels held in Hall H this day that are not covered in the following article are The Boxtrolls, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass panel. The article runs long enough as it is and I might save The Boxtrolls and Sin City for closer to when the films are released. The Women Who Kick Ass panel featured actresses exclusively from television shows, and as cool as that panel was, I write for a movie magazine. Starting this article, I thought it would be a fairly quick affair, but with all the transcription involved, I ended up spending 12 straight hours on the first draft alone before getting on the plane. So, really appreciate your reading this article! 

 F1

Text: 
POSTCARDS FROM THE H [San Diego Exclusive]

F*** is at the epicentre of geekdom for Comic-Con’s biggest movie panels.

By Jedd Jong 30/7/14
Photos by Jedd Jong
The air bristles with excitement as thousands mill about, settling into their seats within the cavernous exposition hall. It’s 9:00 am on Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con International, and this means only one thing – those who have waited in line overnight, some from as early as 3:00 pm the previous day, will not be disappointed. Hall H is the Holy of Holies of the geek world. Every year at the convention, those who find themselves huddled in this sanctuary are treated to A-list celebrity appearances, exclusive footage screenings and more than a few exciting surprises. This year, F*** is there to bring you all the latest movie news.
WARNER BROS. PICTURES
First up, Warner Bros. takes over Hall H. “Warner Bros. likes to go big,” states Comic-Con programming director Eddie Ibrahim. On cue, the curtains covering the walls on each side peel back, revealing screens running the length of the massive walls. Moderator Chris Hardwick, dressed as Marty McFly from Back To The Future, runs onstage.
Conspicuously missing from the published schedule of the movies Warner Bros. would be bringing to Hall H was Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. This is clearly the big film on everyone’s mind. So, a half-expected but still very welcome surprise is unleashed upon Hall H, as concept art and animatics for the new DC movie flash across the screens to whoops, yells and gasps. Whoops, yells and gasps are a crucial part of the experience here.
Director Zack Snyder is ushered out by Hardwick. He says that announcing the movie at last year’s Comic-Con feels like it happened “just yesterday” and explains that he has rushed to San Diego after spending the night filming in Detroit. “I couldn’t be happier with the way everything’s going, just super-amazing – the talent, the sets, the special effects and everything is going amazingly well,” Snyder says enthusiastically.

Even though they are still deep in production, Snyder introduces a “teeny little thing” with which to tease the fans. The hall goes dark and the footage rolls. We find ourselves on a rooftop in Gotham City as Batman, clad in heavy armour clearly based off the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, stands next to a shrouded Bat-signal. Batman yanks the tarp off and the Bat-signal turns on, casting the stout Bat symbol into the cloudy sky. The silhouette dissolves and out of nowhere, Superman appears, arms folded, looking none too happy. His eyes glow red. Batman’s lenses glow blue. The screen goes black and the crowd screams.

At Snyder’s behest, the World’s Finest, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, arrive in Hall H to more deafening cheers. They are immediately joined by the woman who makes the World’s Finest the Trinity, Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot. The three stars smile and wave but do not sit down or field questions for they would surely be swamped. Unable to contain his own glee, Hardwick snaps a selfie with the Power Trio. “We gotta go back and finish making the movie,” Snyder says as the teaser gets an encore showing.
Jupiter Ascending’s Channing Tatum makes a quick appearance, accompanied by footage from the space opera. The Wachowskis’ sci-fi adventure has been delayed from July this year to February of 2015 and having to follow Batman v Superman must have been at least a little awkward for Tatum. It does seem like it will be stunning in 3D, though. From dazzling alien cityscapes, we journey to a barren future wasteland. Following its own share of delays, Mad Max: Fury Road will finally careen into theatres in 2015 and long-time road warriors are greatly anticipating this one. Charlize Theron cannot be in Hall H as she is filming in South Africa, but she delivers a pre-recorded message. “It just felt like such a brilliant opportunity,” she says of working with director George Miller, before introducing a retrospective supercut of the Mad Max trilogy, also directed by Miller.
It is the first Comic-Con for Miller, something of a legend for creating Max Rockatansky and the post-apo-car-lyptic world he inhabits. The Australian director expresses how overwhelming it is to go from growing up in a small rural town to presenting his film in front of over 6,000 fans. To continue the numbers game, 3,500 storyboards were drawn for the movie which, being light on dialogue, was meticulously plotted in visual form instead of being first written as a screenplay. Miller describes it as one big, long chase and, like the trilogy that came before it, a “Western on wheels” where there is no rule of law and no honour.


“Who knew Mel Gibson would literally turn into Mad Max at one point?” Hardwick asks to nervous laughter and oohs from the crowd. After pausing nervously himself, Miller answers with an explanation that charismatic actors, in addition to having a loveable and accessible side to themselves, also often have an attractive element of danger, something Gibson possesses. Miller asserts that the new Max Rockatansky – Tom Hardy – has got that in him too, comparing watching Hardy at work to watching a “big, wild animal”. Vehicles play a pivotal part in the world of Mad Max – the two rules being that the vehicles couldn’t have advanced electronics as a part of them and had to be robust enough to look like they could weather an apocalypse and make it out the other side.
Following questions from the floor, the teaser for Mad Max: Fury Road rolls for the first time ever. “My name is Max – my world is fire and blood,” goes the voiceover. A shot features coloured smoke explosions filling the dusty air, gorgeously-filmed desolation on full display. Max is shown getting tortured, his back painfully tattooed and his hair shorn off. Imperator Furiosa (Theron), bald with one metal arm, liberates a group of slave women and sits at the wheel of a giant oil tanker war rig. It’s Charlize Theron going the full Sigourney. The clip ends with a snippet of a truly wild chase through a crimson sandstorm, Max hanging on to the outside of a psychotic rogue’s car as his body is blasted with particles. The footage ends, Miller mentions the rollicking score by Junkie XL and Hardwick sings a line of Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero from Beyond Thunderdome.

To cap off the Warner Bros. presentation, we travel to Middle Earth. Hardwick leaves and replacing him for this segment is none other than the Laketown Spy himself, Stephen Colbert. Appearing in full costume, Colbert assumes his role as moderator for the panel for The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. A life-long Tolkien devotee, Colbert passionately and humorously relates his initial concern for how his beloved books would be adapted and says how his fears were assuaged by the work that Peter Jackson and co. had all done. This eventually led to Colbert beating co-writer Philippa Boyens at a Tolkien trivia contest and later, Colbert, his wife and two sons getting cameo appearances in The Desolation Of Smaug as part of the Laketown spy network. “I hope I have fulfilled Professor Tolkien’s vision”, Colbert jokes about his portrayal.

Following a hysterical blooper compilation from all the previous Hobbitand Lord Of The Rings films, the cast and film-makers take their seats at the long table on the Hall H stage. Director Peter Jackson, co-writer Philippa Boyens, actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis all emerge to greet the fans who have followed them there and back again. Colbert opens by sincerely thanking Jackson; Jackson apologises on behalf of Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen, who are absent due to commitments to theatre and film projects.

Jackson reveals that, in 1995, his first pitch to Miramax was to make a Hobbitfilm first and, if that was successful, to make two Lord Of The Rings movies. “Everything’s changed… it’s an adventure,” Jackson says about the process.

Colbert asks about the evolution of the tone through the three Hobbitfilms. “There is a lot of sadness and tragedy, which is good. It’s always good when you can kill off some of your main characters,” Jackson says with the slightest tinge of George R. R. Martin-esque sadistic glee. He states that the film will leave behind the lighter feel of the first Hobbit movie and approach the tone of The Fellowship Of The Ring.

Cumberbatch is asked to describe the difference between Smaug and Sauron, both of which he portrays. “One’s a dragon…” he begins to laughter. “And one’s an all-seeing non-corporeal entity of evil.” When asked about the performance capture he did for Smaug, Cumberbatch says it was much harder for the others acting against an imaginary Smaug than it was for him in the studio. “I was just throwing myself around a carpeted floor like a lunatic.”
Andy Serkis’ advice? “Just make sure you don’t get carpet burns, really.”
“I’ve often thought that the entire journey is seeking a female dwarf,” McTavish jokes. “It’s nice to be the only representative of my race here today, I feel a little outnumbered by my elven compatriots. It’s been an extraordinary experience being a dwarf when you’re 6’ 3”.”


Cate Blanchett reveals we will see a crack in Galadriel’s serene demeanour this time. “I lose my s***. Elven s***,” the Oscar-winner says.
Colbert chimes in with “I’m sure it sparkles.”
“She gets to kick Sauron’s arse a little in this next film,” Jackson adds.
“I’ve noticed there is a difference in class in Elvendom and Orlando, your father does not want you to date down,” Colbert says regarding the Legolas/Tauriel romance.
“I’m a low-class trash elf, but my s*** still sparkles,” Lilly says.
Bloom says he and Wood were seriously discussing taking up New Zealand citizenship, having been charmed and moved by the real-life Middle Earth.
Colbert asks Wood if he has gone back to read the books after making the films. “Truth be told, I haven’t,” he says to gasps, 6,100 pairs of eyes admonishing him.
“Elijah, do you know how to read?” Colbert deadpans.
Wood says he read The Hobbit as a child but was too daunted to read the LOTR books. “I felt like I was living it in such a profound way that I never really consulted the books,” he rationalises.
Lilly says she treats the stories with such reverence that, until today, she has refused to read the last 25 pages of Return Of The King because “the story must go on.”
Serkis talks about how his life and career have taken an unexpected turn after playing Gollum and then King Kong. “I thought my life was going to go back to normal and I was going to play normal characters in normal films,” he confessed. “I’ve just played a 3.5-foot ring junkie and now I’m going to play a 25-foot gorilla – wow, this means typecasting is no more!” He also acknowledges the artists and technicians at Weta Digital: “They’re the most fantastic, amazing bunch of people to work with.” Colbert flatteringly compares Serkis to Lon Chaney, the famous classic monster movie actor who would transform into various iconic movie monsters with elaborate make-up.
Then, the teaser trailer is screened. “One day, they’ll remember everything that happened – the good, the bad, those of who lived and those who did not,” goes Bilbo’s voiceover. The haunting A Walking Song/The Edge of Night plays in the background as we are greeted with stunning Peter Jackson vista after stunning Peter Jackson vista.
“Will you have peace or war?!” Bard the Bowman challenges.
“I will have war,” Thorin replies.
After the footage ends, Colbert says, “Thank you for not giving away the part where the leader of the spy network saves the day.”
When the discussion turns to props and make-up, Lilly offers, “I know how sexy a big pointy ear can be.”

If you’ve always wanted to hear Smaug say “button lady”, that’s what happened in Hall H when Cumberbatch obliged a request during Q and A from a fan whose outfit was covered in collectible LOTR and Hobbit buttons. She asks if Bard or Legolas is the better archer.
“Both of these guys are really good at archery in real life,” Lilly says. “They’re both thinking ‘How do I tell them that I’m the best? This guy’s okay but I’m better!’”
Bloom throws down the gauntlet, saying of Evans, “He’s got longer arrows and a bigger bow, but I’m the better shot.”
A fan dressed as a gender-flipped Thor asks about the technical aspects of acting opposite nothing, and all eyes on the panel immediately turn towards Serkis. “All you need is the eyes of another actor to look into,” Serkis says. “It’s about embodying the character in a very normal way, even though all you’re wearing is a spandex suit. The ability to lose yourself in a world, to lose yourself in a character, to bury yourself in a part so deep that you believe that you’re that person.”
Blanchett speaks about the lengths Jackson, Boyens and Fran Walsh would go to in order to ensure their actors had as clear an idea of their later-to-be-enhanced scenes as possible. “They’d show you pictures, drawings, plates they’d already shot, the atmosphere you were in.” As an actor whose background is in the theatre, Blanchett says the process is akin to “doing Chekhov…with prosthetic ears”.
Another member of the audience asks the cast where they would take their characters if they came to Comic-Con. “Hall H,” Cumberbatch replies to cheers. “I don’t think he could fit in here, it would be a bit of a squeeze.” This writer immediately imagines a contented, geeky Smaug atop a massive pile of posters, comics, toys, shirts and other assorted Comic-Con swag.

Serkis breaks out his Gollum voice, which we all absolutely go nuts for. “Well, my secret dream, precious/yes, what is it?/I would like to go backstage with Stephen Col-bert and see what he’s got inside his costume, precious!”

The panel concludes with the announcement of an exclusive giveaway in which 75 fans will win a trip to New Zealand, courtesy of Warner Bros. and Air New Zealand. 2 out of the 75 names are announced, the overjoyed winners giddily running to the front of the hall to discuss their holiday plans with a Warner Bros. representative.
LEGENDARY PICTURES

Following Warner Bros. in Hall H is the studio with whom they were formerly distribution partners. Legendary has moved on to teaming up with Universal and is fresh off the monster hit Godzilla. Moderator Jessica Chobot introduces studio chief Thomas Tull, who has Thunderstruck as his entrance theme. “Right here, several years ago in Hall H, is where we kicked off the campaign to bring the King of the Monsters, Godzilla, back.” Tull apologises on behalf of director Gareth Edwards, who is “locked up in a galaxy far, far away” and thus cannot be at Comic-Con. We do get a video message from Edwards, though.


In the footage, the director stands in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. “Due to the destruction caused by Godzilla, Thomas has forced me to personally come up here to supervise the rebuilding of the city,” he explains. Thanking the supporters at Comic-Con, Edwards announces he will make a sequel, but not before taking “a break from all the fanboy opinions” by doing a “small little sci-fi movie… I can officially confirm the creatures that will feature in that movie will be –” The names are bleeped out as the audience groans and chuckles. Fighter jets swoosh overhead in San Francisco. “You’ve got to keep them on the island, I’m not rebuilding this again, seriously!” Edwards says, exasperated. Edwards also appears annoyed with his leading man – make that monster. “He roars and roars like he’s something special, I’m like ‘Get over yourself, you’re not Bryan Cranston!’” Let’s see Godzilla get more roles in Hollywood after that!

Tull announces that he has been able to “pry some classified footage away from Monarch”. The footage reveals that other threats have been discovered beyond Godzilla and the MUTOs. Blurry, grainy shots of three monsters are shown. Their codenames: Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. Applause and cheers. The text “CONFLICT INEVITABLE” appears on the screen, followed by “LET THEM FIGHT”.

Tull says that Legendary has been given permission by the owners of Godzillato widen the playing field. “Toho’s been great to us and now we have more monsters to play with,” he says, and ends with thanks to Comic-Con and a promise of footage for next year’s panel.

Next up, we plunge deep beneath the streets of Paris for the found-footage horror adventure As Above, So Below. In the trailer we are shown, urban archaeology student Scarlet Marlowe leads an ill-advised expedition into the winding catacombs of Paris, in which her team discovers a terrifying, infernal secret. The Dowdle brothers take the stage, John directing and Drew producing, with both writing the script together. They explain that the 200 miles of twisting, hellish tunnels – six storeys underground in pitch darkness, dating back to the 14th century – make for an ideal fright flick setting. “We’ve always wanted to do a found-footage, Indiana Jones-type story and we found the Paris Catacombs would be the perfect place for that kind of epic adventure done in a personal style.” As Above, So Below is the first film given permission to shoot in the off-limits areas of the Catacombs.


Making his Comic-Con debut is renowned director Michael Mann of The Last Of The Mohicans, Thief, Heat and Collateral fame. Lending some insight into his process, Mann says that he meets with professional thieves and other real criminals for research excursions in order to make his crime dramas as authentic as possible. Today, he’s here to talk about his techno-thriller Blackhat, starring Chris Hemsworth as an expert hacker coerced into helping the government tackle a cyber-terror threat.


Having just returned from Indonesia and Singapore, Mann wanted to make a film about cyber-crime set in Asia. At the time the film was conceived, the Stuxnet worm crisis that sabotaged the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran had just unfolded. The film was shot in Hong Kong, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur in addition to Los Angeles. Having spent time with actual black-hat hackers, Mann says that, after 7-8 straight hours of coding, they “zone into it” and the experience provides a “pleasurable, opiating feedback loop”. It is escapism, but escapism that has impact in the physical world.
Mann brings out a teaser trailer, the first-ever look anyone has had at Blackhat. A nuclear power plant meltdown caused by an attack on the computer infrastructure is depicted. “This isn’t about money,” an ominous voiceover intones. “This isn’t about politics. I can target anything, anyone, anywhere.” The last resort for the government agencies investigating this crime is to engage the services of black-hat hacker Nick Hathaway, serving time in federal prison for committing four crimes and incurring $4,600 in damages. He asks to have his sentence commuted.

“This isn’t a negotiation,” a fed tells him.

“I just made it one,” Hathaway fires back.

The footage features Hollywood stars Hemsworth, Viola Davis and Holt McCallany alongside Asian actors Wang Leehom and Tang Wei. We get a few glimpses of some steamy moments between Tang and the computer-savvy Thunder God. Then, Hemsworth himself is invited out by his director to squeals of delight. “He’s so pretty,” swoons a woman seated behind this writer.

Hemsworth says that several films Mann has directed rank among his favourites, and that “nobody does precision and detail like him.” He also confesses that he was intimidated by Mann, but that he admires the amount of research that goes into making his films. “We went to a number of prisons to meet the criminals.” Mann outlines Hemsworth’s character in the film as a blue-collar steel mill worker who is granted a scholarship to MIT and falls into cyber-crime.

“We did 74 scenes in 4 countries in 66 days,” Mann says of the hectic shooting schedule. He also describes his star as not just a talented actor whose career is only just beginning, but “a terrific guy and a real regular fella”.


In the age of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, Blackhatfeels ripped from the headlines. Mann shares that the cast and crew landed in Hong Kong one day before the Snowden story broke. In preparation for his role, Hemsworth studied coding under mathematician Chris McKinlay. “All of a sudden, you realise how vulnerable you are, what you think is safe, information you think secret…” Hemsworth says that a professional told him that, these days, it truly is that easy for someone in the know to gain access to almost anybody’s personal information. Colour us truly paranoid! One hopes that with this training, the hacking featured in the film will be more realistic and less Swordfish-y (hey, that one had as its hacker protagonist a hunk who also plays a Marvel superhero!).

We trek from the contemporary personal cyber-security concerns of our times to the lush Victorian Gothic horror of Crimson Peak, which marks director Guillermo del Toro’s return to a genre he has greatly impacted with his earlier films. Del Toro is a Comic-Con favourite and was greeted with waves of applause. Del Toro explains that, after the tough shooting experience on Mimic, he decided that his painterly horror films would be reserved for his Spanish-language work and that he would direct big popcorn blockbusters in English. However, that changed after Pacific Rim, when Legendary and Universal told del Toro that he had the freedom to make an English-language Gothic horror-romance the way he wanted.


Urging the audience to visit the Legendary booth on the convention floor, del Toro endorses the Crimson Peak walk-through attraction and the popular Pacific Rim Oculus Rift virtual reality experience. “It’s f**king awesome!” he says excitedly. It seems that seeing the “no swearing” advisory on the back of his name card on the table has caused the director to turn rebellious. “We are a year and a half from releasing the movie but nevertheless I wanted to bring you a little bit of a look of the film,” and promised that there would be even more next year.



“I must tell you girls, Tom Hiddleston, for me, is the nicest f**king guy!” he says of Crimson Peak’s leading man to the expected squeals. “It used to be that either you were nice [and ugly], or you were good-looking and an a**hole… this guy ruins everything!”

The footage is gorgeous. It’s an over-used adjective but it fits. Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), in voiceover, describes the titular mansion as a living thing, with “timber for bones and windows for eyes”. As the ghostly manifestations begin, the voice continues, “We hold on to things – some are good, some are bad, some should never be spoken of again.” Imagine American Horror Story but through Guillermo del Toro’s eyes. Now, doesn’t that just sound like heaven for fans of well-made horror that is as beautiful and seductive as it is truly frightening?

“The colours are amazing!” Chobot exclaims. Del Toro tells us that it was a labour of love building an entire three-storey-high Victorian mansion from scratch on a soundstage, every last carving or relief lovingly hand-crafted by artisan set-builders and decorators.

“We spent the better part of a year designing the film and then built everything to the ultimate detail,” del Toro continues. “I wanted the freedom to create a great adult story for a female lead.” This pleases all the women in Hall H, as well as many men who have wanted to see women in leading roles in genre films. Mia Wasikowska will be playing the female lead, Edith Cushing. While there will be a romantic angle, del Toro wants to “see her live past all that. Past getting the guy, okay? F*** that s***!” He promises a romantic aspect but also a thriller one, beautiful moments juxtaposed with “very brutal, very brutal” moments. “We have scary ghosts, but even scarier people.”

“I know we don’t have time for Q&A, but I love the f***ing Q&A,” del Toro says, turning to the audience, preparing to ask two questions to the crowd gathered before him. “Here we go… I have two things to ask from you and you need to react.”

“Number One: Hellboy 3?”

And react we do, for a good long while.

At TheMountains Of Madness?”

More reactions. Del Toro is known as much for his imaginative movies as for constantly having too much on his plate and that he is entertaining the thought of returning to these long-anticipated projects sends Hall H into a frenzy.

Following Crimson Peak is a fantasy flick of a very different stripe: Duncan Jones’ Warcraft. Bowie Jr. himself, clad in a Lunar Industries t-shirt (referencing his earlier film Moon), sits at the table on stage. “I just got a hug from Guillermo del Toro, so I’m feeling pretty good,” he says. Chobot asks if he feels pressure, seeing as the game franchise has millions and millions of fans. “It’s 20 years of storytelling, so there’s a lot of stuff to draw on,” he says, focusing on the possibilities instead of the pressure.


So, how is Jones going to appeal to long-time fans of the Blizzard games while making the film accessible enough for neophytes? “A lot of films want to make origin stories but I think, in this case, it really merits an origin story. We want to show how the world of Azeroth falls into conflict between Orcs and humans.” Jones asserts that those unfamiliar with the games will also be able to enjoy his Warcraft movie, pointing to Comic-Con as a great example of people “getting into” new properties and series – and he’s seeking to make converts out of filmgoers when Warcraft comes out in March 2016. “There are a lot of people who haven’t played the game that I think we can bring in through the film.”

Jones says he is happy that Blizzard Entertainment, who has wanted a World Of Warcraft film for the longest time, will be getting their wish and that he is extremely lucky to be working with Legendary Pictures on the project. “We were trying to bring the set-building and world-building of the Lord Of The Rings and the technology of Avatar, and it really was like trying to make those two movies. It’s a big project and I think it deserves it and hopefully the final result will speak for itself.”

At last year’s Con, Jones brought a teaser trailer prepared before any of the shooting even began. Now, two months after principal photography has wrapped, he has more. The teaser trailer begins. That signature fantasy movie “one-woman wail” is audible. “I spent more time protecting my king than my own son,” a grizzled voice says in the voiceover as we see typical fantasy movie spectacle (knights, armour, horses, magic etc). “Does that make me loyal, or a fool? I’ve led thousands of warriors into battle and I fear being a father,” he continues. “Does that make me a leader, or a coward?” As we glimpse some of the epic battle scenes, the voice concludes. “Is war the only way?”

The panel concludes with Thomas Tull returning to the stage, thanking the fans present. “You’re here, which is why we bring special stuff here.” He has something to add: “My Mexican brother Guillermo posed a question, and the only thing I can say is ‘When you’re done with Pac Rim 2, we’ll talk’.” Thrilled that Hellboy 3 and At The Mountains Of Madnessmight be on the horizon, no matter how distant said horizon might be, the hall falls silent. No, of course we didn’t!


That would’ve been plenty from the studio, but Tull has one last trick up his sleeve, something the studio has been “tinkering around” with. Without any other introduction, the footage rolls. The camera sweeps across a tumultuous tossing sea, a storm raging. “The long stretches of the waterway ran out, cut off forever from everything you had known,” goes a weary voiceover. “It was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.” A misty island is revealed and the camera makes landfall. “When vegetation writhed throughout the earth, the big trees were kings.” In the jungle, a sea monster swims through a lake and monkeys swing through the treetops. Everyone in the room is working at figuring out just what this is. “Its very existence was improbable,” the voice continues. We see a craggy cliff face resembling a giant skull. “Being alone in the wilderness, we had gone mad… we penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.” The camera stops at a range of trees, rustling with loud thumping in the background, something getting closer and closer. An unmistakable giant gorilla bursts through the canopy, thumping his chest. The title card – “LEGENDARY’S SKULL ISLAND”. Now, the possibility of King Kong and Godzilla having a rematch just seems that much more within reach.

MARVEL STUDIOS

The last movie-related panel for the day before a TV showcase later that night is undoubtedly the one for which many waiting in line overnight were the most excited. After all, at last year’s Marvel Studios panel, Tom Hiddleston stormed the stage in full Loki regalia, basking in the adoration of his Hall H “army”. The panel is running 15 minutes late and we are antsy.

Before anything happens though, a supercut assembled especially for Hall H plays, taking a fond look back at all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Fans cheer when they see their favourite heroes on screen. Everyone gets a squeal – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Loki… even Hawkeye. It’s capped off with snippets from Guardians Of The Galaxy, at the time of writing mere days away from its worldwide release. It’s just mind-boggling to think how far the studio has come, and how quickly they’ve been able to do so. Exciting times!

Hardwick returns to the stage and promises that the hour or so ahead will be “well worth the wait”.
He brings out Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, hyping Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio’s tenth film. “It always starts with you guys in this room,” Feige says, as the audience lets him know we appreciate his acknowledgement. Feige says he loves the notion that movie-goers are just as excited for the sequels as they are for all-new Marvel movies. Releasing one sequel and one new movie each year seems to be the plan going forward. “What we’re talking about today is 2015. We’re doing a very similar thing, we have a movie called Avengers: Age Of Ultron coming out and then we have something new – Ant-Man is finally coming out. You want to meet some people involved in Ant-Man?” Of course we do, particularly since the troubled production (original director Edgar Wright was controversially let go) has led fans to require some reassurance.

Replacement director Peyton Reed and stars Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll and Evangeline Lilly walk onstage to massive applause. Lilly’s appearance at the panel confirms long-swirling rumours that she will play Hope Van Dyne, the daughter of Hank Pym. In an attempt to quell fears that Reed is not the right director for the job, Hardwick asks him how many years he’s been attending Comic-Con. Reed replies that this is his 20thtime at the convention. He also reveals that, when he was a drummer for his punk band Johnny Quest back in the day, one of the fliers he had drawn to promote the band was an homage to the cover of Avengers #1 – and it turns out that Reed had drawn himself, flying on tiny drums, as Ant-Man.
It is the first Comic-Con for both Ant-Men, the discussion turning to Comic-Con virginity (this writer would say ‘Oh the irony’, but that would be hypocritical) and “popping cherries”. “I am popping my Comic-Con cherry and it is as advertised,” Rudd says.

“I’ve popped enough cherries,” Douglas adds, playing up his reputation as a bit of a Lothario.
“Don’t think I don’t want to just talk about that for the next hour,” cracks Hardwick.
“It’s a mind-bender, it’s so exciting… it’s kind of tough to wrap my brain around. I’ve been doing this as a job for a while but this is a whole other thing! I’m excited by the challenges and I’m looking forward to working with great people and seeing how it all is,” Rudd says.

“I’ve always looked at Marvel movies from afar with tremendous envy,” Douglas says, explaining that, as he has not done many films with a touch of the fantastical in them, he was excited to be a part of a sci-fi action comedy like Ant-Man. Douglas sums up the premise, describing his character Dr. Hank Pym, an entomologist and metallurgist (he struggles with the word) who has developed a serum with which to shrink a human being to the size of an ant, while retaining the strength of a regular-sized person. The goal is also to communicate with ants. Pym’s partner, played by Corey Stoll, has taken the company “in a different, evil direction” and Pym has found a protégé in Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. He mentions the incredible shape Rudd is in, to a few squeals.

“We’re the first Marvel movie that’s spending a lot of money on CGI to removemuscles,” Reed jokes.
 

“My experience so far has been evading questions about Ant-Man,” Lilly says, happy to be able to break her silence on her involvement in the film. Lilly has had a hectic last six months, between being a mother, producing her children’s book series and working on the Hobbitfilms. She reveals that she actually has taken up meditative breathing just so she can go to sleep. “I’m having a great time! Con is kind of my world; it kind of seems that everything I’ve done on the screen, you guys are in the fray,” she tells the fans. She remembers being in Hall H to screen footage from Lost, a television series that hadn’t even begun airing. “Much love to all of you, my people!” she says, returning the adulation.


Hardwick asks Corey Stoll to describe his character Darren Cross, the antagonist of the piece who takes on the super-villain identity Yellowjacket. “I’m a scientist as well and I have now taken over the company. Some very judgemental people may think it’s in an ‘evil’ direction, but I think I’m just taking it into the future.” Obtaining some Pym particles and putting on the Yellowjacket suit, Cross is able to give Ant-Man a run for his money, causing some serious trouble for our heroes.

On how the cast must stay mum about details of the film until Comic-Con, Hardwick says, “So Comic-Con must be an incredible release for you.”

“Popping cherries, release, this is a family panel!” Rudd protests.

“That’s how families get made!” Hardwick fires back to laughter.

They’ve not even started principal photography, which is still 2 weeks away. “We haven’t started filming the movie yet, but we filmed a little something…” Feige says.  The footage begins; we move through Hank Pym’s lab, hearing his voice and Scott Lang’s but not seeing anybody. Lang protests to Pym that he is not a superhero.

“Which means that you’re not an egomaniac and you’re not an undisciplined moron!” Dr. Pym snaps back. “Causing more destruction than he stops. Superheroes? What a goddamn joke. You, you’re different. You’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.” Scott voices his doubts. “Jesus Christ! I think somebody already shrunk your balls!” Pym says bluntly. “Don’t worry, Scott. It’s a smalljob.”

We then cut to a rooftop where a shrunken-down Lang in his Ant-Man costume is running to the ledge of the building, either in pursuit or being pursued. He struggles to mount his steed – an actual wasp. The helmet is not working and thus is not communicating his thoughts to the wasp effectively. He leaps and catches the wasp as it flies away, pulling himself onto its back. “It’s okay, I got this,” he says as the footage ends.

No offence to Ant-Man, but the Marvel flick everyone is here for is Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Feige apologises on Joss Whedon’s behalf; the writer-director of the giant sequel cannot be at the Con because he is laid up in hospital in London, following serious knee surgery. Feige asks that we offer our well wishes over Twitter. “Look at the photos he’s put up, it’s very pathetic, it’s very sad,” he says. “But, we do have some other people.” Now, that’s under-selling done right.

Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough plays as the entrance theme for our Avengers (and their adversaries). The first to stride onto the Hall H stage is Robert Downey Jr., dressed as Tony Stark and carrying a metallic briefcase. He opens it up, it is filled with roses which he tosses into the audience, after which he does a big dramatic bow. Jeremy Renner, Mark  Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Paul Bettany and new additions James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen walk out, an epic gathering of heroes and villains and those in-between if ever there was one.
“This is good, this is what’s supposed to happen,” Hardwick says, giving voice to all our thoughts.
“It just keeps getting better,” Downey Jr. says. “This is the longest bench of talent I’ve ever been a part of and we’ve got a real nice movie for you guys next year.” On Iron Man’s role in the continuing Marvel saga, Downey Jr. Says, “I’ve become a little less significant each time, which is just fine because they’re all so damn good!”



“It’s always thrilling, man… glad to be here, very honoured,” says Renner. “Meeting this guy over here,” Renner says pointing to Downey Jr., “He’s the one who convinced me and washed my car in a thong… I have pictures, I’m Instagramming that s***.” Renner says that, while he never imagined he’d play a superhero, he could not be more grateful for it.

Hardwick says that, when Ruffalo first made a Comic-Con appearance for the first Avengersfilm, he was bewildered by how the crazy Con machine works but it appears that, since then, he has truly embraced his role as the not-so-jolly Green Giant and that Green Giant’s fans. “They don’t treat me like this at home, that’s for sure,” he chuckles. This causes the audience to whoop and cheer for him even more. “That’s really nice…” he says.

The crowd chants “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk!”
“No, don’t get him excited, that’s when it gets bad!” Hardwick warns. “Keep his pulse rate down!”

On gaining recognition since becoming an Avenger, Ruffalo says, “People don’t even know who I am other than Hulk.” When people on the street shout “Hulk, Hulk!” at him, he says his response is to say “The name’s Banner”.

“You are in exceptionally good shape,” Hardwick says, in awe of Chris Hemsworth’s physique. “That arm is the size of my torso!”  The girls squeal. “What has Thor meant to you all this time?” Hardwick asks.
“Best experience that I’ve had on the set, off the set, to work with this group of people to bring this character to life and to be part of this madness…” On the subject of what he would like to do as Thor that the character hasn’t had a chance to do yet in the films, Hemsworth says, without missing a beat, “turning into a woman”, in reference to the recent explosive announcement that the new Thor in the comics will indeed be female. “I don’t want to speak too early and jinx it, but I think it could be my Oscar,” he says.
“Naw, he’s got that purdy girl hair, he’s gonna be fine,” drawls Hardwick.


Smulders says it was fun getting to do a signing and connecting with fans, if only for a moment. Did she think Maria Hill would recur in this world as often as she does? “I had hoped! Joss is the one who brought me into this world, we just keep going on films and on TV and I’m so grateful,” she says, hinting that we might just see more of ex-Agent Hill in the new season of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


On the eye-patch messing with his depth perception, Jackson says, “I was smart enough to figure that out… I’ve got that down pat, cancel the insurance!” Speaking about the reception he always receives at the Con, Jackson says “Comic-Con is phenomenal, it’s totally amazing… I’ve been coming here since Episode I of Star Wars. Seems like every year I come here and feel like I belong, I get validated with all the love and energy from you guys and it just makes me feel like doing more! We make the movies because we want to entertain you guys and I make movies because I want to see myself in them!”

Next, the Star-Spangled Man himself. Apparently, the two Chris-es compare muscles. “It’s very difficult to stand next to him [Hemsworth],” Evans concedes. “Magic, CGI, stuntmen,” Evans says, downplaying the effort it takes for him to get into super-soldier shape. So, having been in the modern world for a while now, is Steve Rogers totally settled in? “He’s not just amazed at cell phones and the Internet, he’s up to speed, but I think he’s looking for a place to belong.” Following the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers, used to following orders all his life, has to re-evaluate his place in the world. “He’s looking for home,” Evans says.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson finds being a part of the established Marvel Cinematic Universe “overwhelming and surreal”, and is grateful to have been chosen by Whedon for the part. “What Joss did in the first one seemed like a mission completely impossible to do, that everyone had their moment… he has that tone when you can have a journey, be emotional and sad at moments and be light-hearted and action-packed.” He notes that he thoroughly enjoys working on Marvel movies – and that there will presumably be many more to come.

InAvengers: Age of Ultron, Paul Bettany steps out of the recording booth to play Vision. “They’re making me work for my money,” he jokes. “I used to turn up for 45 minutes in a dark room and get a bag of cash. Now I have to work.” He says that his kids are absolutely excited, and that, prior to his playing Vision, “they had no interest in what I did”. He is pretty impressed that his children were able to keep his casting as Vision secret for a year and a half.

“That you know of,” Hardwick adds.

The big bad of the piece, Ultron himself a.k.a. James Spader, has done Comic-Con last year for the TV series The Blacklist. “I’ve always thought my whole life that life could never get weird or crazy enough for me and I’ve got to tell you one thing – this place may be the craziest, weirdest place!”

“You should now pat yourselves on the back everyone, that you are part of James Spader’s weird fever dreams,” Hardwick jokes.

“I’m playing an 8-foot robot in this movie,” Spader says about Ultron. “I’ve always played humans and shooting this film was as startling and surprising and challenging and exciting as coming here, truthfully, for the first time. Doing this film, everything was so entirely new”. He sums up his experience as just “unimaginably exciting”.

Elizabeth Olsen is last but certainly not least to speak on the panel. “What a list of people to follow, it doesn’t feel that great,” she says. Though she was at first intimidated by her potential colleagues, she says everyone was very welcoming. “It’s fun to bring a new element to the game, there’s now magic, there’s mutant – mutated people…”


Oops! The 6,100-strong crowd certainly caught that slip-up. Let’s hope nobody from Fox is at the panel!
“I think it ends up adding something kind of epic to the fights,” Olsen says of the introduction of magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “I practise daily just staring at a pencil and trying to get it to move,” she jokes. “You should see it, it’s like flying, I’m nailing it!”

At this point, Robert Downey Jr. chimes in. “She actually cast a spell on me two weeks ago and hopefully before this is all done, she’ll relieve me. It burns!” The audience gives that kind of laugh you give when you hear a dirty joke. “It could mean anything!” Downey Jr. puts his hands up in the air mock-defensively.
Due to her pregnancy, Scarlett Johansson can’t be here, but sends a video message. “Hey guys, I don’t mean to cramp your style but we’re kind of running out of time here. Hey Kev, you wanna be a doll and roll us that video footage?”

Oh yes. The first look at Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

We open during a party at Avengers tower. Thor puts Mjolnir down on the coffee table. Clint Barton is dismissive of the notion that only Thor can lift the hammer. “Whatever, man, it’s a circus sideshow, a party trick.” This leads everyone to try their hand. Tony Stark goes first.

“If I lift it, do I get to rule Asgard?” he asks. Thor says yes. When Tony is unsuccessful, he enlists the help of James Rhodes – both now wearing their armoured power gauntlets. Still no luck. Even Cap can’t manage.

Thor asks if Natasha would like to try. She declines, saying, “That’s not a question you want answered.”
Tony postulates that it’s some kind of biometric identification system. “Whosoever carries Thor’s fingerprints is, I think, the literal translation?”

Thor has a simpler answer: “You’re not worthy.”

It’s all fun and games until Ultron crashes the party. “How could you be worthy?” the robot asks in a menacing metallic voice. “You’re all killers. You want to protect the world but you don’t want to change. There’s only one path to peace – extinction.”

We then segue into the teaser trailer. “I had a vision,” Ultron says in voiceover. “The whole world screaming for mercy.” We see scenes of the expected superhero mayhem, the highlight of which is a clash between the Hulk and Iron Man in his robust Hulkbuster armour. We also glimpse Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s powers in action as a chillingly creepy remix of I’ve Got No Strings from Pinocchioplays in the background. Another key visual is Captain America’s shield, shattered.

“It’s the end,” Tony says. “The end of the path I started us on.”

“Nothing lasts forever,” Natasha agrees.

At the end of the trailer, Ultron intones, “There are no strings on me.”

Gepetto sure had it easier than Tony Stark.

Hardwick wonders aloud how Marvel will top Ultron in the bad guy stakes.

On cue, Josh Brolin, his left hand covered in a toy Infinity Gauntlet, emerges, jumping on the table and punching the air with his bejewelled fist. Brolin will provide the voice and performance capture for the dastardly intergalactic warlord Thanos, who will appear in Guardians Of The Galaxy before he ever tangles with the Avengers. “Where’s my rose?!” Brolin demands. As RDJ hands him one, Brolin stuffs it into his mouth, sending petals flying.



We’re already all giddy, but there’s one last thing: a video message from Chris Pratt and James Gunn, star and director respectively of Guardians Of The Galaxy. The conceit of this clip is that they aren’t aware that the camera is already rolling and are discussing what they should say to the Hall H audience. Gunn broaches the subject of announcing a sequel. “Too bad we don’t have the balls,” he sighs as the screen cuts to the GotG logo. Over the top is scrawled, chalk-like, the number “2”. Beneath it is the release date – July 28 2017. Early word of mouth for Guardians has been overwhelmingly positive, so it is no surprise a sequel would be coming – though the way in which it is announced is certainly amusing.

And that’s our day in Hall H. We hope that through these 8000+ words, it feels like you, dear reader, were there too. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

For F*** Magazine

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 

Director : Jonathan Liebesman
Cast : Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Mos Def, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Woodburn
Genre : Action, Adventure
Opens : 7 August 2014
Rating : PG (Some Violence)
Running time: 102 mins

Originally created as a one-off parody by comic book artists/writers Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became an unlikely pop culture phenomenon in the 80s and 90s. This film marks their first live-action big screen appearance since 1993.

Leader Leonardo (Ploszek/Knoxville), hot-headed Raphael (Ritchson), jokester Michelangelo (Fisher) and tech wiz Donatello (Howard) are the titular reptiles. Once ordinary box turtles, they were mutated into giant, intelligent humanoid creatures thanks to a laboratory experiment known as Project Renaissance. Their “father” and sensei Master Splinter (Woodburn/Shalhoub), a mutated rat, was also born from the same experiment. Reporter April O’Neil (Fox) discovers the existence of the turtles as they fight back against the militant Foot Clan, led by an armour-clad warlord named The Shredder (Masamune). The turtles befriend O’Neil and they work in tandem to bring down the Shredder and his partner in crime, industrialist Eric Sachs (Fichtner). Sachs’ plan? To engulf New York in a biochemical attack launched from his tower smack dab in downtown Manhattan.


Many kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s hold TMNT very dear, the 1987 animated series still a pop culture staple. As such, shellheads understandably seized upon this new iteration. Everything was troubling, from the revised extra-terrestrial-linked origins to the casting of Megan Fox as April O’Neil to the drastic re-designs to Michael Bay in the producer’s chair. Throughout the film, one gets the sense that director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Bay are smugly going “see fanboys? William Fichtner isn’t Shredder after all. They aren’t exactly aliens. Nothing to worry about, we got it all 100% right!” Well, of course they didn’t, but there is just enough in Turtles ‘14 for some to consider it a sufficiently enjoyable ride. 


The new origin story has shades of The Amazing Spider-Man and, perhaps not coincidentally, the climactic action sequences of both movies take place atop the Condé Nast Building. Thankfully, the defining personality traits of each of the four turtles have been preserved, even though they are often played up to unnecessary extents. Michelangelo doesn’t have to spend the entirety of the film leering at April, does he?  The new looks for the turtles are quite over-designed, not unlike how the Transformers are in the live-action film series. They are hulking, top-heavy, loaded with accoutrements such as shell necklaces, sunglasses and communications backpacks and have unsettling noses and lips. The turtles are meant to be endearing if not downright cute. Here, their appearances are just disturbing. The character animation on the turtles is often dynamic but lacks the photo-realism just put on display in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Some may argue that the versions designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in the 1990 film look dated and silly today. You can rest assured that by 2038, the designs of these turtles will look even more ridiculous than they already do. Shredder comes off poorly too, looking like he was designed by a 12-year-old exclaiming “the more knives, the scarier he’ll be! More knives, more knives!”


Megan Fox is a self-proclaimed TMNT fan and actively pursued the part of April O’Neil, but that does not change the fact that she is woefully miscast. Fox’s acting range is as limited as ever and her eyes seem disconcertingly dead. Malina Weissman, who portrays Young April in flashback scenes, acts better than Fox does. Jane Levy, Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Olsen were considered before Fox got the part – any of those actresses would’ve been a better fit. The yellow jacket is a nice visual reference to O’Neil’s original costume though. Arnett provides hit-and-miss comic relief as the tagalong cameraman Vern and Minae Noji goes all dragon lady as Karai. William Fichtner hams it way up as Eric Sachs. He’s a dab hand at playing slimy villains but fails to make much of an impact as the baddie here, saddled with such lines as “time to take a bite out of the big apple”.

            On the plus side, the film’s 101 minute running time is way easier to stomach than the 165 minute duration of Transformers: Age of Extinction. The action sequences are also more coherent and entertaining here and an extended chase down a snowy slope involving rocket snowboards, an avalanche and a jack-knifing semi-truck is actually quite impressive. That sequence also contains some neat 3D effects. While some of the jokes are annoying, several do land. This reviewer enjoyed a bit in which Michelangelo attempts to serenade April with an off-key rendition of Happy Together – which, of course, was sung by 60s group the Turtles. The film also has a sweet flashback sequence showing the turtles as babies under Splinter’s care and we get a quaint stop motion-style time-lapse image of the turtles growing up.


            In spite of the violence and sexual references, this movie is a whole lot less inappropriate for children than the Transformers films and can be considered a passable action adventure flick for tweens. It should also be some small comfort that the characters of Leo, Mikey, Donnie and Raph haven’t actually been butchered past recognition (even if their appearances have been). It’s silly, but a film called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has every right to be. That said, Guardians of the Galaxy does the irreverent, pop culture-referencing, action-comedy thing with a whole lot more wit, heart and style.
Summary: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has its moments but on the whole, it’s still lagging behind a good number of other blockbusters this summer.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

San Diego Comic-Con International 2014: The Celebrities

One of the key elements of Comic-Con is that it’s where fans get to meet creators, where those who enjoy and consume pop culture have a chance to rub shoulders with those who produce it. Hollywood has seized upon Comic-Con as an opportunity to market directly to the most passionate of target audiences and while that means the formerly comics-centric gathering has gotten commercialized and, some might say, bloated, it also means we get lots and lots of big stars descending on San Diego. This year, I was able to go in with a press pass and was granted access to the hallowed Hall H on Saturday (look out for my article on the experience coming soon). Besides Zack Snyder and his Trinity of Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot showing up, there were lots more famous faces gracing the Hall H stage – and, as is customary, incognito on the convention floor, disguised in a mask or something of that sort.
A dose of the Cumber-chins for Penguins of Madagascar

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!

Unfortunately, Cumberbatch did not stick around for the press conference and we were all really disappointed. My theory is they needed to whisk him away to Hall H through some secret tunnels so he wouldn’t get utterly mobbed.

Author Lois Lowry and star Brenton Thwaites for The Giver

Jeff Bridges and leading lady Odeya Rush

The Paramount panel kicks off with an appearance by the voice of Spongebob Squarepants himself, Tom Kenny.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman throws his full support behind the new movie.

Director Jonathan Liebesman

Our April O’Neil and Vern, Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively

Dwayne Johnson makes a surprise appearance to tell everyone that he’s booked out three theatres to treat us all to a screening of Hercules. First come, first served! 

The Rock demonstrating his “pimp lean”, as per his throwback Thursday Twitter post. Look that one up, fanny packs are involved.

Clark Duke exhorts, “if you see only one Hot Tub Time Machine sequel this year, make it this one.”

The star of Interstellar himself, Matthew McConaughey. Alright x 3. 

For an even bigger treat, his director Christopher Nolan makes his Comic-Con debut.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, showrunners of Sleepy Hollow and screenwriters of Star Trek, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers.

Greg Berlanti (Arrow/Flash), Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries) and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) complete the Showrunners panel.

Ralph Garman moderates the Batman ’66 panel. This November, the entire series is finally being released on Blu-ray, completely remastered in HD! 

Julie Newmar is helped on stage by her minions.

The eternal Boy Wonder.

Lee Meriwether, who was Catwoman for the ’66 film.

Our dynamic duo!

Thank you Burt and Julian for this opportunity! 

And who should we serendipitously run into but Guillermo del Toro himself! 

I told him I wanted to hug him because of how much I enjoy his films. This was a moment. Thanks Tedd for taking the photo.
Kurtwood Smith, Frances Fisher and Devin Kelley from the TV show Resurrection.

Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher sharing an affectionate moment.

Devin Kelley looking lovely.

Omar Epps

Batman comic book writer Scott Snyder

Managed to grab a selfie with Willa Holland, Arrow‘s one and only Thea Queen! 

Press conference for The Maze Runner

Will Poulter and Kaya Scodelario

Director Wes Ball

James Dashner, author of the book series

Kaya Scodelario

Kaya Scodelario and Dylan O’Brien

Guillermo del Toro, producer of Book of Life.

Christina Applegate and director Jorge Guttierez 
Channing Tatum

Ron Perlman

Giggles.

Hannah Ware from Hitman: Agent 47.

Zachary Quinto, main antagonist of Hitman: Agent 47

Artist Dave Gibbons and writer Mark Millar, creators of The Secret Service.
Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson
Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson 
Sofia Boutella and Dave Gibbons

I can tell you that Samuel L. Jackson was not very pleasant at all. The journalists had placed all their phones and other recording devices on the table. When one of the phones rang, he picked it up, yelled down the line and then asked the journalist to “claim your f**king phone.” 

Keagen Michael Key and Nina Dobrev of Let’s Be Cops.

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Rob Riggle

Willa Holland, Stephen Amell and Colton Haynes, stars of Arrow.

John Barrowman and Willa Holland share a cute daddy-daughter moment.

Willa Holland proves she can tough it out with the guys of the cast.

Producer James Tucker, John DiMaggio (King Shark), Troy Baker (Joker), Matthew Gray Gubler (Riddler) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Director Jay Oliva, James Tucker, John DiMaggio, Troy Baker and Matthew Gray Gubler.

We kick off Saturday in Hall H with moderator Chris Hardwick as Marty McFly.
It wasn’t on the schedule, but we were all hoping to see something from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder presents 30 seconds of teaser footage.
And his World’s Finest

Make that the Trinity, plus Hardwick unable to resist snapping a selfie.

Channing Tatum has something of a tough act to follow, talking Jupiter Ascending.
Hardwick with George Miller, director of all the Mad Max films – including the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.

Time to head to Middle Earth with Stephen Colbert, dressed as his cameo character “The Laketown Spy” and seen here with his son.

Director Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens, Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug, Sauron), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Andy Serkis (Gollum)

Jessica Chobot and Legendary Studios chief Thomas Tull open the Legendary Studios panel.

John and Drew Dowdle, the brothers behind As Above, So Below.

Michael Mann, director of Heat, Thief, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral and now Blackhat

All swoon for Chris Hemsworth 

Warcraft director Duncan Jones, wearing a shirt from his earlier film Moon.

Guillermo del Toro talks Crimson Peak.
The voice stars of The Boxtrolls, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning and Ben Kingsley.

Direcotr/animated Travis Knight 
The Sin City: A Dame to Kill For panel begins. Director Robert Rodriguez, comics creator Frank Miller, Rosario Dawson (Gail), Josh Brolin (Dwight) and Jessica Alba (Nancy)

Gotta love Miller’s face here.

The Women Who Kick Ass: Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).

Comic-Con gets antsy: Producer Kevin Feige, director Peyton Reed, actors Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne) and Corey Stoll (Darren Cross)

A rose by any other name…

Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff), Paul Bettany (Jarvis/Vision), James Spader (Ultron), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff)
Where are your Avengers now? Here they are! 

Josh Brolin and his toy Infinity Gauntlet crash the party! 

Hey Jensen Ackles. Lookin’ handsome as always.

The Supernatural panel: Jeremy Carver, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard. 

Special appearance from Osric Chau! 

Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman of the Young Justice animated series

DC Animation producer James Tucker 

Producer Michael E. Uslan, co-owner of the Batman media rights 

Selfie with James Tucker! 

As with last year, my Comic-Con adventure concludes with watching Jim Lee, the master, at work. 

“Alfred, never sext me again.”
Tasteful note to go out on! See you guys in San Diego next year.