Helios (赤道)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Longman Leung, Sunny Lok
Cast : Jacky Cheung, Nick Cheung, Shawn Yue, Janice Man, Ji Jin-Hee, Choi Siwon, Wang Xueqi, Chang Chen
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16
The best and brightest counter-terror experts from Hong Kong and South Korea have to join forces in order to foil a nuclear catastrophe in this action thriller. Wanted terrorist Helios (Chang) has stolen the compact nuclear device “Davy Crockett 8” and 16 uranium spheres from a facility in South Korea. The authorities believe Helios’ right-hand woman “the Messenger” (Man) is responsible for downing an airliner in Liaoning. Chinese envoy Song An (Wang), Inspector Lee Yin-ming (Nick Cheung) of the Hong Kong Counter-Terror Response Unit, South Korean weapons expert Choi Min Ho (Ji) and NIS agent Park Woo Chul (Choi) converge in Hong Kong to recover the weapon. Physics professor Siu Chi-yan (Jacky Cheung) joins the team as a consultant. As they race against the clock to prevent a sale of the DC-8 device from going down, a far-reaching conspiracy begins to unravel.

            Helios is written and directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk, the pair behind 2012’s crime thriller Cold War. Things look promising enough: it’s handsomely shot, the production values are solid, the action sequences pack a punch, the visual effects are better than most Hong Kong productions – but it’s not long before Helios falls apart. The film’s style comes off as very self-conscious, but the harder Leung and Luk try to get the audiences to take the film seriously, the more unintentionally funny it becomes. Just like gritting one’s teeth too hard can make one look silly, Helios often ends up embarrassing itself in its attempts at being tough and cool. The writing-directing duo also try to make the plot too convoluted for its own good; running in circles with what should be a straightforward thriller storyline, the film coming off as generic in spite of itself as a result.

            With its attempt to insert geopolitics and ideology clashes into a “stop the nuke from going off” story, Helios often feels like a below-average season of 24, with Nick Cheung in place of Kiefer Sutherland. Nick Cheung’s character is so hard-core, he waterboards a suspect with their shirt – this is silly rather than threatening. Jacky Cheung plays the stereotypical professor, complete with beard, glasses, bow tie and sweater vests. 

Chang Chen is not quite scary enough as the titular big bad, but model/actress Janice Man is surprisingly convincing as an ice-cold assassin. Ji Jin-Hee as a nuclear physicist – at least it’s more believable than Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough. Choi Siwon’s legions of fans will probably be thrilled to see him toting a shotgun and kicking ass as the agent in charge of protecting Ji’s character.

            Helios wants to be smarter than your average shoot ‘em up flick but it falls on its face one too many times. One of the elements that really took this reviewer out of the whole thing is the magic translator earpieces that allow the characters from Hong Kong and Korea to communicate seamlessly. This device, reminiscent of the Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, instantly kills any realism or grit the movie is aiming for. One can’t help but wonder what the consequences of a mistranslation resulting from a glitch in the software at such a high level would be. Peter Kam’s musical score is also incredibly unsubtle, blaring and almost pouncing at the audience. It’s meant to create tension, but is so obtrusive it detracts from the atmosphere. The final nail in the coffin is the movie’s ending: there’s a huge plot twist really late in the game, only for the movie to end on an infuriating and frankly quite shameless sequel bait note. By the time said sequel rolls around, we probably would have all but forgotten this one.

Summary: Solid production values and a watchable cast can’t salvage this generic, sometimes unintentionally funny thriller that thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong



For F*** Magazine


Director : Levan Gabriadze
Cast : Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Heather Sossaman
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 83 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
A leaked personal photo or a dropped Skype call is far from the most terrifying thing that can happen to you online in the horror flick Unfriended. It is a year after high school student Laura Barns (Sossaman) commits suicide after an embarrassing video of her passing out a party is posted on YouTube. Six of her classmates, Blaire (Hennig), Mitch (Storm), Jess (Olstead), Val (Halverson), Ken (Wysocki) and Adam (Peltz) are having a routine Skype call when a mysterious seventh caller enters the conversation. The six friends initially believe that this is some kind of cyber prank, but as eerie happenings unfold both within and beyond the online realm, it appears that Laura may be back from the dead and out for revenge, meaning that they’re up against a high-tech haunting.

            There are many major motion pictures that just don’t feel right when watched on a laptop or smart phone screen. A small screen does undercut the grandeur of something like Interstellar or Skyfall. Here’s a film that is likely at its most effective when viewed on a laptop or smart phone screen. The gimmick here is that the entire movie unfolds on the monitor of protagonist Blaire’s MacBook. The story progresses through interactions on various websites and social media platforms, the likes of Skype, Facebook, iMessage, YouTube, Spotify and even Chatroulette figuring into the plot. One element that makes horror movies particularly scary is the “this could happen to you” factor, Unfriended playing on the ubiquity of a life lived online. “Connection Lost”, a recent episode of Modern Family that plays out entirely on Claire Dunphy’s laptop, uses the format to elicit laughs instead of shrieks.

            Unfriended is directed by Georgian-Russian filmmaker Levan Gabriadze and comes from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions. While Blum is an Oscar nominee for producing Whiplash, his primary stock in trade is low-budget, franchise-ready horror flicks – after all, he has made a killing from the Paranormal Activity series, with The Purge and Insidious poised to spawn several more films. As a Blair Witch Project-type movie for the new media generation, Unfriended has a novelty to it. However, this gets old really fast, and just as how found footage horror movies are now regarded as a nuisance, a whole string of “computer scream” movies could easily become unbearable. Naturally, sequels are already being planned. Still, the effort put into creating a convincing online milieu is praiseworthy. Plotting out the desktop ecosystem and online interaction history of a fictional character isn’t as easy as it sounds and the attention to detail and continuity here is on point.

            While Unfriended’s presentation sets itself apart from the teen-aimed horror movie pack, it still succumbs to one of the most common shortcomings of this subgenre: unlikeable characters.  Strip away the bells and whistles of its format and you’re left with a pretty typical “teenagers get picked off one by one” horror flick plot structure. To begin with, our characters are complicit in cyber-bullying that brings about a girl’s suicide, so they aren’t exactly the nicest kids in town. Still, they are adequately relatable and low-budget horror movies can get away with a cast of relative unknowns – only Renee Olstead is a somewhat recognisable name. There’s the teen high school drama and the skeletons in the closet each friend is hiding from the next but none of this is particularly original or compelling. There are individual moments brimming with tension and a cool ticking clock device, but when you step back and look at Unfriended from a macro viewpoint, there isn’t a lot of overarching suspense. The main “mystery” is perhaps if Blaire and her friends are being targeted by a hacker troll or a literal ghost in the machine, but that question is answered pretty quickly.

            With its cyberbullying theme, Unfriended is topical if more than a touch exploitative of a sensitive subject. The title also walks the line between “moderately clever” and “goofy”, and works marginally better than the rather 90s original title, “Cybernatural”. The specificities of the film’s style means that it will soon become dated and in as little as ten-odd years, will become an amusing time capsule of how we live our lives online circa 2014-15. It is inventive and refreshing, but given a couple of sequels, we have a feeling those heaping praise onto Unfriended now might feel a twinge of regret then.

Summary:Those Meddling Millenials: The Horror Movie” achieves an admirable level of verisimilitude with its portrayal of online interactions, but whatever originality there is in its presentation cannot offset the teen horror clichés that serve as the movie’s backbone.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong


For F*** Magazine


Director : Michael Almereyda
Cast : Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Dakota Johnson, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Ed Harris, John Leguizamo, Delroy Lindo, Bill Pullman
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Violence)
Shakespeare is the gift that keeps on giving, artists of all kinds continuing to find inspiration in the Bard’s work centuries after his death. The play Cymbeline provides the basis for this crime drama, which updates the setting of Ancient Britain to the present day. Instead of being the King of Britain, Cymbeline (Harris) is the leader of the Briton biker gang. His daughter Imogen (Johnson) is in love with the lowly Posthumus (Badgley), whom Cymbeline has taken on as a protégé, and has married him in secret. An enraged Cymbeline exiles Posthumus. Iachimo (Hawke) bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring him proof. In the meantime, Cymbeline’s wife the Queen (Jovovich) hatches a plot to murder Cymbeline and have Cloten (Yelchin), her son from an earlier marriage, marry Imogen so he can usurp Cymbeline’s place as head of the gang. Also under threat is the fragile truce between Cymbeline and corrupt policeman Caius Lucius (Vondie Curtis-Hall), the King’s empire slipping through his fingers.

            Cymbelineis adapted and directed by Michael Almereyda, known for his 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet. Almereyda’s Hamlet, which starred Ethan Hawke in the title role, was also a setting update – Hawke delivers the “To be or not to be” soliloquy while wandering the aisles of a video rental store. With Cymbeline, Almereyda was clearly inspired by Kurt Sutter’s TV series Sons of Anarchy, which revolves around a biker gang and takes inspiration from Hamlet. Cymbeline was even titled “Anarchy” at one point. Alas, it’s very clear that Almereyda is struggling to jam a square peg into a round hole, but not for lack of trying. The film strains to make its re-contextualisation a successful one, ultimately failing. Cymbeline is generally not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greater plays and it has been noted that it recycles elements from the Bard’s earlier works, including Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet.

            Second-rate Shakespeare is still high art, and this adaptation retains most of the original dialogue. Hearing the signature iambic pentameter outside of its intended context can be jarring if handled clumsily, and this take on Cymbeline has butter fingers. The original text has been abridged but not streamlined, the dense, labyrinth plot still pretty confusing. While Ethan Hawke looks like he knows what he’s doing, Penn Badgley and Spencer Treat Clark often deliver their lines as if they were reading the ingredients off the back of a shampoo bottle. Anton Yelchin bites into the Cloten role with glee, but his whiny performance gets annoying pretty fast. Regardless of how good an actor one is, it’s impossible to make the line “On her left breast/A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops/I’ th’ bottom of a cowslip” sound naturalistic in a contemporary context, and perhaps it was never meant to be that way.

            Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang? Sure, we’ll buy that. Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang trying to make the line “Thou took’st a beggar; wouldst have made my throne a seat for baseness” sound like something the tough leader of a biker gang would actually say? That’s a harder sell. Both Milla Jovovich and Dakota Johnson are very stiff throughout the film, Johnson playing Imogen with an “ugh, whatever” air. Jovovich does get to perform an appropriately moody cover of Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes”, one of several atmospheric touches that are limited in their effectiveness thanks to everything else.

            We know we sound like a broken record, going on about how awkward and stilted the film comes off in its presentation, but that’s because Cymbelinecould have been saved. It could have worked as a dramatic romance set against a war between a biker gang and corrupt cops, had Almereyda not been so precious about retaining the original text. There’s an attempt at verisimilitude, with characters scrolling through photo galleries on their iPads and looking up locations on Google Maps, but it still rings false. Re-contextualisations can work, if they’re handled deftly enough or if they revel in the silliness of the premise and spin a colourful alternate world around the story. Cymbeline is neither and falls flat because of it.

Summary:Some excellent actors and several mediocre ones are all left high and dry by this unwieldy adaptation that most audiences will find alienating and odd.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Danny Collins

For F*** Magazine


Director : Dan Fogelman
Cast : Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Katarina Čas
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 23 April 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use and Nudity)

“Rock and roll dreams come through” – so sang Meat Loaf all those years ago. What comes after that? Danny Collins (Pacino) is an aging rock star, a fading shadow of his former self. With a trophy fiancé (Čas) on his arm, a touring show mostly attended by senior citizens and a third Greatest Hits album on the way, Danny is feeling unfulfilled. Danny’s manager Frank Grubman (Plummer) gives him a life-changing birthday present – a handwritten letter from John Lennon that Danny was meant to receive 40 years ago. This gives Danny a second wind as he cancels his tour, checks into a hotel near a New Jersey suburb and tries writing music again. Danny tries to mend bridges with his adult son Tom (Cannavale), attempting to win over Tom’s wife (Samantha) and young daughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) and do right by the family he’s only now getting to know. In the meantime, he strikes up a possible romance with Mary Sinclair (Bening), the manager at the hotel.
            The film beings with the text “the following is kind of based on a true story a little bit”, a winking, honest admission. The true story in question is that of Steve Tilston, a folk singer from Bristol who discovered that after reading an interview Tilston did with a music magazine, John Lennon had written him a letter that Tilston only received 34 years after the fact. Writer-director Dan Fogelman takes that starting point and spins into a rock star redemption story, its protagonist part-Rod Stewart, part-Tom Jones, with a dash of Barry Manilow for good measure. With its message of “staying true to yourself”, Danny Collins is mostly predictable and it’s clear that Fogelman is valiantly straining to temper the sentimentality with some edginess in the form of swearing, drugs and nudity. The material is still mawkish, most noticeably when Danny bonds with his granddaughter, a stock hyperactive, precocious moppet. At times, the film reminded this reviewer of the Hannah Montana movie, of all things. Annette Bening’s Mary keeps encouraging Danny to write that one song that means something to him, just as Travis did with Miley, the result in that film being “The Climb”.  

            Al Pacino isn’t an actor one would expect to deliver a nuanced performance – this is Mr. “HOO-AH!” we’re talking about, after all. As a rock star desperately trying to recapture his glory days, Pacino does get to be a little flamboyant but thankfully reins it in for the most part. Danny’s pre-show ritual consists of snorting cocaine, downing whiskey and dabbing his face with self-tanner. The casting seems apt, since Pacino himself is past his prime, and it’s actually okay that his singing voice is terrible, since it adds to the washed-up quotient. He probably is miscast, but Pacino makes the most of it. It’s not quite a glorious comeback for the actor, but it’s definitely better than slumming it in something like Jack and Jill.

            Pacino is backed up by an accomplished supporting cast. Annette Bening channels Diane Keaton adequately, it’s the stock type of the no-nonsense boss lady set on resisting the charms of our protagonist but Bening is nonetheless endearing and strikes up good chemistry with Pacino. Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner make for a convincing upper-middle class couple at the end of their rope and trying not to let it show for the sake of their kids. The conflict between father and son, however fierce, still lacks bite because we know how it’ll all end up. It is Christopher Plummer who steals the show as Danny’s blunt, level-headed and reliable manager/best friend. Plummer has gone on record saying that though it’s the thing everyone remembers him from, The Sound of Music was too saccharine for his tastes. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Captain Von Trapp drop more than a few F-bombs and utter the words “sore-tittied African ladies”, this is the movie for you.  
          The biggest coup here is that Fogelman was able to secure Yoko Ono’s permission to insert nine John Lennon songs into the film’s soundtrack, a rarity in the music licensing world. Unfortunately, the use of some of these tracks is heavy handed – “Beautiful Boy” plays just after Danny first meets his son, because of course. The theme of artistic integrity vs. commercial appeal was addressed with more panache in Birdman – come to think of it, the handwritten letter from John Lennon here could be compared to the handwritten note from Raymond Carver in that movie. Still, it counts for something that Fogelman demonstrates an awareness that jaded audience members are not that easy to win over, instead of diving head-first into the schmaltz.

Summary: Acknowledging his status as a washed-up star, Al Pacino is on fine form here and is backed up by a great supporting cast, but the rock star redemption story is still too formulaic to soar.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Avengers: Age of Ultron

For F*** Magazine


Director : Joss Whedon
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 141 mins
Opens : 23 April 2015

(The following review is spoiler-free)

Earth’s mightiest heroes boldly step forth into a new age in the closing chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second phase. The Avengers, comprising Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Thor (Hemsworth), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) have unfinished business to attend to. Loki’s sceptre is being held in a Hydra stronghold, and in the process of retrieving the otherworldly weapon, the team confronts the twins Pietro (Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Olsen) Maximoff, the products of Hydra genetic enhancement experiments. Stark and Banner have an experiment of their own, the artificial intelligence system Ultron (Spader), intended as a security net for the world. However, the sentient robot has nefarious plans of its own, violently rebelling against its creators. The Avengers’ only hope may lie in Vision (Bettany), an old friend in a new form. 

            2012’s The Avengers was a monumental event, the glorious apex of Marvel Studios’ diligent world-building. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has truly earned the right to call itself a “universe”, Age of Ultron uniting a multitude of familiar faces while introducing new players. There’s the welcome feeling that the gang’s all here, but not just for the sake of it. This is a significant achievement on multiple levels; writer-director Joss Whedon taking on the Herculean challenge of topping the first Avengers film while charting a course forward for all of these characters. Once again, Whedon demonstrates a remarkable command of the tone, peppering the screenplay with delightfully zippy witticisms (Stark references playwright Eugene O’Neill and the practice of Prima Nocta) yet establishing the stakes and delivering genuine drama when it is required. 

What stands out as the most impressive element of this blockbuster isn’t the wham-bam spectacle, it’s the character development. While many action movies are marketed as being “character-driven”, more often than not, the plot seems like a minor inconvenience at best, fiddly bits of story standing in the way of stuff blowing up. This isn’t the case here. Whedon cleverly builds upon the relationships established in the previous films, including the “science bros” bond between Stark and Banner and the dysfunctional family dynamic within the team as a whole. Whedon is unafraid to have sizeable stretches of the film driven solely by drama or comedy in between the action, without the movie feeling like it’s spinning its wheels until Hulk next smashes something or Cap tosses his shield. The conflict has its place, there is angst but not moping and the bristling tension that arises from disagreements within the team is balanced with the sheer satisfaction of seeing our heroes work in conjunction with each other.
This is not to say that the spectacle is in short supply – far from it. This is a major tentpole release that was guaranteed to do gangbusters even before a single word of the screenplay was written, but if Avengers: Age of Ultronis anything to go by, producer Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel Studios are not about to rest on their laurels or just let these movies “make themselves”. The film’s opening, which involves the Avengers storming Baron Von Strucker’s (Thomas Kretschmann) mountain fortress, reintroduces viewers to our heroes in the thick of it with a slick, unbroken long take. There’s also a fair bit of globe-trotting, the story taking the team from their home base in New York to the fictional Eastern European city of Sokovia, South Africa and South Korea.

The movie’s signature set piece is the battle between Iron Man in his heavy-duty Hulkbuster armour and the Hulk. Stark is reluctant to fight Banner, shading the knock-down drag-out brawl with more emotional hues than a typical beat ‘em up. The climactic showdown, while familiar in the sense that it’s the plucky good guys against a horde of bad guys while trying to get innocent citizens to safety, is sufficiently different from the “big fight in a big city” finales that have become the norm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After defeating Loki, the Avengers’ primary adversary in this sequel is the titular Ultron, voiced by James Spader, who also performed some motion capture work to play the 8 foot tall robot. Ultron is both a physical and intellectual challenge to the Avengers and his motivations are set up quickly and efficiently. Malevolent artificial intelligence is something of a hoary sci-fi trope and one could argue that 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 still stands at the top of the heap, but Ultron certainly fulfils all the big bad pre-requisites. Spader is a casting coup; his sonorous, supercilious line delivery both threatening and entertaining. There’s also the appeal of the “I’ve got no strings” motif, even more amusing given that Robert Downey Jr. is rumoured to be playing both Geppetto and Pinocchio in an upcoming live-action version of the story.

Whedon has put admirable effort into improving the characterisations we were presented with in the first film. Hawkeye in particular gets his moment in the sun; Renner having voiced his disappointment that the character spent most of the first Avengers under Loki’s mind control. Paul Bettany finally steps out of the recording booth to play cyber-butler JARVIS’ corporeal form, Vision, lending the character an elegant combination of strength and serenity.

The character of Scarlet Witch, with her ability to play dangerous mind games as she enters into the memories and feelings of those under her thrall, presents the audience with an opportunity to explore the deepest, darkest fears of our heroes. Elizabeth Olsen is a haunted, ethereal presence as Wanda, her powers taking their own toll on her psyche. The hallucinatory scenes also shed light on Black Widow’s past, these unsettling sequences feeling straight out of a horror movie.

Much was made about how Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past beat Marvel Studios to the punch when it came to putting speedster Quicksilver on the big screen. While Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro doesn’t quite have a bit as memorable as the “Time in a Bottle” kitchen run from DoFP, his Quicksilver is still pretty cool. The bond between the twins is conveyed convincingly by both Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. Mark Ruffalo continues to be an excellent Bruce Banner, this film showing how the character is at once Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster and the inner turmoil that results from this dichotomy. There’s also a romance between Banner and Romanoff which can feel a little forced at times but is for the most part really quite sweet. A scene early on in which Black Widow tries to calm the savage beast reminded this reviewer of the interaction between King Kong and Ann Darrow.

It pains us a little to say this and we don’t want to come off as dismissive of the efforts of the army of visual effects artists who slaved away on this film, but the CGI does border on the excessive. It’s not sloppily done and there are a mind-boggling number of visual effects shots, but at times during the Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight, the two computer-generated characters going at it seem like just that, as if one were playing a video-game. Still, this is a minor quibble and if the film were nothing but pixel-heavy battles, then we’d have a problem. Instead, we have a compelling, dramatic story, characters that are fleshed-out and easy to get invested in, plenty of morsels for hard-core fans and lots of quotable lines and some imagery courtesy of cinematographer Ben Davis that’s destined to become iconic. While there is no post-credits stinger, there is a tag after the main-on-end titles sequence that’s as tantalising as ever. Bring on Phase 3!
Summary: Avengers: Age of Ultron can boast that it’s about the Avengers as characters and Joss Whedon’s ability to deliver excellent dialogue and moving storytelling in addition to earth-shattering spectacle remains unparalleled.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Hulkbuster Unveiling at Ion Orchard

On the evening of Saturday, 18 April, the life-sized Hulkbuster statue created by Hot Toys was unveiled in front of Ion Orchard shopping mall in Singapore. I was there with a bunch of friends, many of whom were cosplaying characters from the Avengers films. Photo mega-post begins…now!

It begins.

Smoke! Confetti!

A sight to behold.

All-American cheer!

Shaun made this IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!

Thrice bitten four times shy.

The craftsmanship on that costume is in. Sane.

The famously muscley Drefan as Thor!

Put the hammer down now!


Bewitched, bothered and bewildered

Agent Hill! 

Captain Photobomb

Never-miss on the left, Miss Marvel on the right.

Draw back your bow

Science bros come to blows


Like, ohmigawd, twinsies!

Nothing says “thug life” like a Black Widow action figure in your belt.

pre-requisite “ASSEMBLE!”

Fellow blogger and Singapore’s premiere geeky lady, Red Dot Diva!


ION Man 
Confetti release in 3…



That’s the face of geek joy right there.

Star Wars Celebration Singapore Fan Event

For F*** Magazine

By Jedd Jong 17/4/15

Over 400 eager Star Wars fans were huddled in the IMAX hall at the Shaw Lido Cineplex in the wee hours of Friday morning. They were undeterred by the lateness because the anticipation far outweighed any fatigue. Singapore was one of 23 countries selected to join the Celebration, held from April 16-19 at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California. Tickets for the Singapore fan event were all taken within 20 minutes. 
The highlight of the event was the panel attended by director/writer/producer J. J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and actors including John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and stalwarts Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew.
Before the live streaming began at 1 am Singapore time, fans took pictures with cosplayers, including Stormtroopers from the Singapore Garrison of the 501st Legion. The performers from Fightsaber also demonstrated their Jedi combat technique. Those who knew the answers to questions like “what was the rare element being mined on Cloud City” won prizes sponsored by Hasbro and GnB Comics.  Even though it was past their bedtime, several Jedi Younglings were present, part of the next generation of Star Warsfans.
The panel was moderated by Anthony Breznican, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly. The crowd in the Anaheim Convention Centre were joined by multitudes more of their brothers and sisters in the Force from around the world, watching the live stream. Abrams recounted his childhood memories of the Star Wars franchise, saying “11 was a great age to have my mind blown,” emphasising the immersive nature of the world created by George Lucas in those original films and the sentiment of hope woven into them.
Kathleen Kennedy, who took over as head of Lucasfilm, called spearheading the new Star Wars movies an “incredibly daunting task”, but she had the experience of working on the Indiana Jones films and many other major motion pictures under her belt. Kennedy also promised more female characters in prominent roles for Episode VII and beyond.
Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, the mechanics in charge of bringing loveable droid R2-D2 back to the big screen, were welcomed onstage. Towersey and Steeples are examples of “promoted fanboys”, as it was their work in building functional replica droids that caught Kennedy’s attention and got them the plum gig. Abrams’ emphasis on an old-school approach using in-camera elements as much as possible was met with whoops of approval from the crowd. It was assumed that BB-8, the spherical droid seen in the first trailer, was a computer-generated creation. Therefore, the crowd was awestruck when a practical BB-8 rolled onto the Celebration stage, its “floating” head seemingly defying the laws of physics.
The three newcomer protagonists of Episode VII were next to take their seats at the panel. John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley – or Finn, Poe Dameron and Rey – all expressed their enthusiasm for the project and how star struck they were on the set. Boyega recounted how he wanted Harrison Ford to autograph his action figure of Han Solo in stormtrooper disguise. Ford grumbled “this is weird, but I’m signing it for you.”
The actors revealed a little more about each of their characters. Rey is a scavenger who lives on the desert planet Jakku (not Tatooine as fans initially thought), leading a solitary existence hunting for machine parts, when she meets another character and is flung into an epic adventure. Boyega remained vague on whether his character Finn was indeed a stormtrooper who had defected and joined the side of good, but that seems the most likely scenario. Finn crosses paths with Poe Dameron, an ace pilot sent on a mission by “a certain princess”.
A procession of stormtroopers then marched onto the stage. The stormtroopers, grunts of the Imperial army, are familiar to all Star Wars fans, but these sport a new look which seems inspired by the original designs of the late concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill – or C-3PO, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker – rounded out the panel onstage. Hamill acknowledged what he called the “UPFs” – “Ultra Passionate Fans”. Mayhew, who used a replica of Luke’s lightsaber as a walking stick, said it was nice to get back into that familiar, furry suit. Carrie Fisher, who carved out a career as a screenwriter, dropped the slightly naughty line “thank you for playing with me”, in reference to the Princess Leia action figures many of the fans owned.
Finally, Abrams and Kennedy presented the pièce de résistance – the second full trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We panned across the barren landscape of the planet Jakku, a crashed X-Wing fighter in the foreground and looming in the background, the massive carcass of a derelict Star Destroyer. “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it, I have it, my sister has it, you have that power too,” Luke Skywalker says in voiceover as we glimpse the remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet. The trailer offers up exciting, awe-inspiring visuals including X-Wings skimming the surface of a lake, TIE Fighters screeching in pursuit through the crashed Star Destroyer, a Nazi-like assembly of stormtroopers and our heroes running away from an explosion.
But it was the final scene of the trailer that truly sealed the deal.
Han Solo, older but still clad in that trademark vest, stands in a hallway within the Millennium Falcon alongside his trusty Wookiee co-pilot.
“Chewie…we’re home.”
Chewbacca roars an affirmative response.
By the time the proceedings had concluded, it was 2:30 am, but buzzing with excitement, nobody would get much sleep that night.

We did indeed feel like we were at home, sharing this great thrill with fellow fans, and the lead-up until Star Wars Episode VII hits theatres on 17th December has just gotten that much more tantalising. 

Rise and Rise Again – interview with Dead Rising: Watchtower director Zach Lipovsky

As published in Issue #63 of F*** Magazine


Dead Rising: Watchtower director Zach Lipovsky chats exclusively with F***
By Jedd Jong

The zombie invasion is far from over. Thankfully, said invasion is confined to the realm of pop culture – for now. Dead Rising: Watchtower, the film adaptation of Capcom’s Dead Rising videogame series, offers up another helping of the undead, served with a side of the twisted humour found in the games. The movie, which is being released online via Crackle, is the first digital film from Legendary Digital Media, a division of Legendary Pictures. Dead Rising: Watchtower stars Jesse Metcalfe, Meghan Ory, Virginia Madsen, Dennis Haysbert and Rob Riggle and is directed by Zach Lipovsky.
Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Lipovsky is a former child actor who appeared in TV shows such as Goosebumps and films like the Disney Channel’s Zenon: Girl of the 21stCentury. Lipovsky developed a passion for being behind the camera, eventually becoming a visual effects specialist and director. He caught his big break as a finalist on the filmmaking reality TV show On The Lot in 2007 at age 23. The show was co-produced by Steven Spielberg and the short films Lipovsky made as a contestant include Danger Zone, consisting of a single 360 degree shot depicting the mishaps that befall a science lab, and Sunshine Girl, about a little girl who plucks the sun out of the sky.
Lipovsky went on to direct the horror movie Tasmanian Devils for Syfy and the reboot of the Leprechaunfranchise Leprechaun: Origins for WWE films. He is also developing Dogs of War, a stylised historical action film set during the War of 1812. In his spare time, Lipovsky runs the software company Reel Apps. He came up with the shot listing app Shot Lister, which helps filmmakers use their smartphones to plan what they have to film for the day.  
Speaking exclusively to F*** over Skype, Lipovsky explains how Dead Rising: Watchtower sets itself apart from the other zombie movies and TV shows, discusses making movies on a limited budget, shares how he approaches visual effects and reveals what it was like working with the cast of the film.
Are you a fan of the Dead Rising videogame series and how did you land the directing job on this film?

Of course, yeah. I got to know the game very, very well and absolutely became a huge fan of it. The way that everything started was Tim Carter, who wrote the film, also the producer, he’s a big videogame writer and does lots of big videogames and writes their stories and got to know the people at Capcom very well. And so [he] pitched them an idea for what the film could be and was able to get them on board, and then Legendary on board and then I came on board.
Video game movies have not generally had a very successful track record. Why do you feel that’s the case and how is Dead Rising: Watchtower different?

I think it’s a bunch of reasons, I think the first one being a lot of the time, the people making the movies weren’t big fans of the games. They just kind of took a property and ignored everything that was good about it and just tried to turn it into a film. I think also, sometimes it’s tough with videogames because the main character is not that interesting because you’re kinda supposed to put yourself into it, they’re like a cipher for yourself.
Like the comic book movies, they used to be really bad and then now, people who grew up with the comic books are making the comic book movies and they’re turning out to be really good. I think it’s the same thing with videogames, the generation that’s starting to make movies now are the generation that grew up loving videogames. I think that’s really going to make a big difference because it’s really starting to be made by people who love the heritage and all those cool things that make those games awesome.
A desire to do it justice.

Yeah, it’s being made by fans now whereas before, it was being made by people who didn’t really get what videogames were.
Frank West is a beloved character for many gamers. What was it like trying to find the ideal actor to play him?

Frank West is kind of the character of the franchise. I was super-excited when we were able to get Rob Riggle to play him because he has all of the elements that Frank West needs. He’s obviously hilarious and has a great wit to him which is one of the funniest parts of the whole movie, but also he has…from his stuff on The Daily Show, and even before that he was a soldier. So he has that ability to be a newscaster and kind of a celebrity and journalist, but also what I love about Frank West is he also has this dark side to him because he’s seen some pretty terrible things [chuckles] and he kind of covers that up with humour. But he’s also lived through killing hundreds and hundreds of people. It was really cool being able to bring that to life and I think Rob Riggle ended up being the perfect Frank West, I think people are gonna totally love him and want to see more of him.
You were a contestant on the filmmaking reality TV series On The Lot several years back; I particularly enjoyed the short film Danger Zone that you made as part of that. What was the experience being a part of that show like?

Well, it was my first big break and it was my first time being able to make a whole bunch of movies, it was kind of like the ultimate film camp. I got to come to L.A., I’m from Canada, and make a new movie and a new genre every week. It was pretty exceptional. It ended up being the thing that got me all my agents and all the things that you kind of need when you’re starting out on a film career in Hollywood. It also happened to be at the worst possible time because after the show was the writers’ strike and then after that was the recession [laughs]. The entire film industry decided to stop making movies for a few years; it was pretty tough. But, I’ve been kind of working my way back up and making a few films and this one, I think, is really gonna be my next big thing because I think it’s the best thing I’ve made and I’m really proud of it.
Zombies have become a really big part of popular culture in recent years, especially with The Walking Dead. Do you think audiences are burned out on zombies and if so, what sets Dead Rising: Watchtower apart from the undead pack?

Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of zombie stuff. That’s why I was really excited about Dead Rising, because it’s quite different. Not only is the tone different, it’s very fun and adventurous and silly at times, but also just the setting of what they do with zombies and the zombie world is very different. Zombies are a regular thing that happens and it happens a lot. It’s not like people are going “what are those things over there?” They know what a zombie is but also the whole idea that the rest of the world is watching the zombie outbreak on television. In The Walking Dead, the rest of the planet is gone, basically, whereas in this, people are in the newsroom talking about what’s going on. It has this kind of very surreal feeling to it.
And also, we really went far with the concepts that Dead Rising 3 had, as far as the zombies still having a bit of their life still in their memory, like their muscle memory, so they’re still kind of able to use guns and use objects and do the things they were doing all the time in their past life, which gives it this very cool, haunting feeling. It makes it quite original.
The last thing is the whole idea of Zombrex, it’s really the core of the film. That is a really unique idea that Dead Rising has, the idea that there’s a drug that if you take it every day, can keep you from turning into a zombie. Obviously that’s a game mechanic in the game, but what we really explore is what does that mean for the people that have to use it every day? What does that do for their lives? They don’t turn into a monster, but any day they could if they run out of drugs. And then also, everyone around them, how do they treat them, do they treat them differently knowing they’re infected with this virus? Almost like HIV or Ebola or something like that. They’re kinda treated in a different way. They stay human but can’t have the life they had.
There’s that metaphor which could be a somewhat heavy topic. At the same time, it’s in a light-hearted film with surreal comedy elements. How did you balance that?

That’s something I was worried about because you need both, I think. You need to have total adventure, silly, awesome action, then you need to have a story and characters that really engage people. And we kind of went for it, we made the action the best it could be, we made the drama as meaningful as it could be, and the characters, there are some really dramatic moments and then there are some crazy action moments and it just kind of all worked [laughs]. I didn’t really worry about it because I knew that was what we had to do and it the end it all kind of balances out.
You are known for using visual effects in your short films. What are your views on practical vs. computer-generated effects?

My background is in compositing, it’s the art of combining real elements in the computer. So rather than generating from scratch, you’re photographing lots of different elements and then putting those real elements together. I find that that’s where I like my visual effects work to happen, because it’s a lot easier and it looks a lot more realistic when you’re using real elements and compositing them together. I try to do as much as I can practically, and usually the visual effects are something that extend what we couldn’t do practically. So, we would still have someone die and we would have a whole bunch of blood, but in the computer, we’d add more blood, things like that, where we could cut bodies in half – we would cut an actual [prosthetic] body in half and we would add more gore and stuff to it. I find that that’s what looks the most real.
I think the best examples of effects use is in films like Jurassic Park or Terminator 2 where you can’t tell what’s been done practically and what’s been done in the computer.

Jurassic ParkJurassic Park is probably my favourite movie of all time. It’s kind of the movie that made me want to make movies and there’s only 60 visual effects shots in that whole movie. All the rest of the stuff is animatronics and if you look at the visual effects today, they still look just as good and the reason is because they were cutting between something real and something CGI, they could tell if it didn’t look real because they had an example of what it should look like on set. And then, almost right after that movie, everyone stopped doing that, they were like “great, now I don’t have to build anything” and it all started looking fake. So having real elements on set is kind of the key.
What were some of the technical challenges you faced in the making of this film?

Well, it’s a web film, we’re distributing online which means it’s a huge film but we didn’t have a huge budget [laughs] so we wanted to make it feel big and make it feel like it fit the franchise but it was a very tiny movie and so we didn’t have a lot of time and we didn’t have a lot of resources, but everyone brought extra effort to make sure everything was as good as it could be. Everyone loves being in a zombie movie so we had hundreds and hundreds of zombies that just came out and volunteered. Everyone wanted to make it as big as it could be. The biggest challenge was that it’s a small movie but we tried to make it feel as big as we could.
Robert Rodriguez has his “Mariachi-style”, one man film crew philosophy of low-budget filmmaking. What is your approach to making films on a limited budget?

I always try and think of how we can make a few things that look incredible and then kind of cheat around them, rather than try and do a whole bunch of stuff that kind of looks medium. I think the audience remembers only a handful of shots from the movie, maybe 10. Let’s identify what those 10 things are and make them as good as in any movie, the most iconic visuals you can think of. And then around them, let’s use movie magic to kind of surround it with things so that it still feels part of the film but we don’t have to do huge, big-budget things in every shot. Just make sure you get a few things right and the rest of the film should kind of fit around it [laughs].
Can you speak a little about the cast in this film, which includes Jesse Metcalfe, Meghan Ory and Dennis Haysbert?

And Virginia Madsen as well, who’s an amazing actress, she was nominated for an Academy Award. The whole cast was kind of great, they all have very unique characters. The thing I like about Dead Rising is that each videogame takes place in a new city with a new set of characters and a new situation. So, we were able to do the same thing for this film. It takes place inside of the story world, so it takes place between Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3. This tells the story of what took place between those videogames.
We have our own new characters; Jesse Metcalfe plays the lead character and he’s an online reporter…something like Vice [News]. He’s trying to get the scoop from the ground and he’s almost like a vlogger. He’s trying to be the next Frank West. Frank West was a character who went in behind enemy lines, back in the day when you had a still character, and Jesse Metcalfe’s character is trying to do that with his cell phone [laughs] and hopefully not dying because of it.
Meghan Ory plays a character who has a lot of hidden things about her, so I don’t want to say too much because it’ll ruin the movie. She basically plays a very tough, very cool chick…she was in the Fortune City outbreak from Dead Rising 2, so she’s been through it all before and Jesse has to basically follow her around to make sure that he doesn’t die [laughs].
And then Virginia Madsen plays a mother who has lost her daughter in the outbreak and is really kind of losing it mentally because of all the craziness that’s going on and kind of has to learn how to fight her way out. She plays a really fun character because she basically goes bananas.
And then Dennis Haysbert plays the general in the film, General Lyons. All the Dead Risingvideogames, they all have an element of conspiracy, the government taking over, the corporation taking over, there’s always kind of like the feeling that “the man”, the governments and the corporations, are against the people stuck inside, and that’s kind of what Dennis Haysbert represents. 
The Soska sisters have a cameo in the film. What was it like working with them?

Jen and Sylvia [Soska] are good friends of mine because we are both filmmakers in Vancouver, where I’m from. And they are huge films and we got to know each other well because we both made films for WWE. It just seemed like the obvious thing [chuckles], Dead Rising is known for having all these iconic zombies, like these character-specific zombies, and so it seemed like identical twin zombies had to be in the movie. We named them “massage parlour zombies” so they’re like stripper zombies. They just had a crazy time on set. They’re part of one of the action scenes in the middle of the movie, where we did a five-minute one-take action scenes where Jesse basically has a sledge saw and goes on a killing spree for five minutes [laugh which I created to be like playing the game, where you get an awesome weapon and you charge into the zombies. We had cameos with them all the way through. I think they’re in the trailer as well. They just were awesome, great energy on set. They just have such an excited love of film and horror and that day, we have over 100 zombies and they were just kind of like the “zombie cheerleaders” that just kept everyone excited and working all day.
With Leprechaun: Origins, what was your history with the film series, were you a fan of the Leprechaun movies and how did you come to do that film for WWE Studios?

I wasn’t a big fan, I hadn’t seen a lot of the Leprechaun movies, I became familiar with them a lot but that in the end was kind of okay because the studio really wanted to try and do something new and something fresh. The past Leprechaun movies did such a good job at being kind of that campy, funny version, and that’s not what they wanted to do at all, they wanted to do kind of a new, grittier, darker version. So I became familiar with them but the idea was trying to find a new way, seeing if there was a way of making a film that had legitimate scares in it and made you actually scared rather than something that was more of a comedy.
Tell us a little bit about Dogs of War.

Yeah, Dogs of Waris a very cool film that I’ve been working on for a few years that is kind of like an action movie set in the 1800s, almost like The Avengers but in 1814. It takes place in the War of 1812, which was a war between Canada and the United States, and not a lot of people know that story. It’s a story where basically America wanted to take over Canada so they outnumbered the Canadians trying to defend the country and the Americans burnt down the capital of Canada. With eventually the British defeating Napoleon, the Canadians and the British invaded Washington and burnt the White House to the ground. And so it’s that story, but it’s done in a very action-adventure, superhero way. There are characters that are basically superheroes that are born out of the burning of York, which was the capital of Canada of the time. It’s a fun, crazy movie [chuckles].
When might we expect to see that released?

We’re still working on it so it’s still a few years away, we don’t have an exact date yet.
Finally, you acted in Goosebumps when you were a kid. Are you looking forward to the upcoming film with Jack Black?

It’s funny, you’re the second person to ask me about that today!
And here I thought I was being original!

[Laughs] That was my first time in an acting job and I think I was 10 years old when I did that. Anyway, it was right at the time where everybody was reading those books. I remember in my school, every single kid was reading Goosebumps. So then to get a job as an actor on a TV show was like the biggest job you could ever imagine, it was so cool. It was very cool to go to a big film set and be chased around by vampires for a few weeks. Very interested to see what they do, because I remember those books being very good. Cliffhanger every chapter. The thing with those books is there’s so many books and so many stories, so I’m curious to see do they pick one story or how do they put them into one movie, because there are so many books?
I think the idea is Jack Black is playing R. L. Stine himself and all the monsters are contained in a book and they escape

[Laughs] Well, there you go. Maybe I can get a role in the film.
Dead Rising: Watchtower is available via Crackle from March 27. 

The Gunman

For F*** Magazine


Director : Pierre Morel
Cast : Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Peter Franzén, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 105 mins
Opens : 9 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Scene of Intimacy)
Middle-aged, grimacing, gun-toting heroes seem to be in vogue. Sean Penn probably looked at Liam Neeson’s recent output and went “hey, I can do that.” In this action thriller, Penn plays Jim Terrier, a former private military contractor hired by a mining corporation to assassinate the minister of mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo circa 2006. Also a part of the team were Felix (Bardem) and Cox (Rylance). Eight years later, Terrier believes he has escaped his former life, working for a non-government organization in the Congo, when his past comes calling, reopening old wounds. With the help of his old friend Stan (Winstone), Terrier tracks down his former partners to get to the bottom of things, trekking from the Congo to London to Barcelona to Gibraltar. In the meantime, he has caught the attention of Interpol agent Barnes (Elba). Caught in the crossfire is Annie (Trinca), Terrier’s ex-girlfriend whom he has never quite managed to forget.

            From beginning to end, The Gunman just feels like a wholly cynical exercise. First, there’s the matter of its name – the film is based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman and that is a cooler, more distinctive title. We know we’re not supposed to let our personal attitudes towards actors’ off-screen personas colour our critique but here, it’s impossible not to think the only reason Sean Penn did this is because he smugly thought it was just that easy. This is Penn’s first action movie, and we can just picture him looking at Taken and saying “pfft, I can do that in my sleep”. He’s even hired the director of the first Taken film, Pierre Morel, to helm this project. Penn sports bulging biceps and looks to be in fighting fit shape, but somehow, he can’t quite pull it off, his physique coming off more like an ill-fitting suit than anything else. It appears that this particular archetype is a mite trickier to convincingly execute than Penn first thought – even for an Oscar-winner like himself.

            There is nothing special to the action here at all. With the bog-standard shootouts, fisticuffs and explosions, it’s a snooze for anyone who’s seen more than a couple of action flicks in their lifetime. The climactic confrontation takes place in a bull-fighting ring, which seems like a great setting for a unique set-piece, but the finale is still quite anticlimactic. It’s also difficult to take this self-styled gritty, contemplative action movie seriously thanks to the half-baked, sometimes hilarious dialogue. The screenplay, credited to Don MacPherson, Pete Travis and Penn himself, contains some jaw-dropping clunkers. For example, Idris Elba, who can usually make anything sound awesome, is given an unwieldy speech which begins with the line “ever have one of those days where every law is Murphy’s Law?” This then segues into an incredibly clumsy treehouse analogy, and ends with Elba quipping “get my drift, cowboy?”

            Likely thanks to its status as a vanity project, what looks on the surface like a top-shelf supporting cast plays second fiddle to Penn – big time. Elba gets the shortest shrift, his talents woefully underused here. Javier Bardem also isn’t in this for as much as the trailers imply, squeezing in a hammy performance before his time onscreen is up. Ray Winstone plays the same character he always does – the street-smart, wizened Brit tough guy, except here he’s “trustworthy ally” rather than “scary gangster’. Penn had apparently wanted to work with Mark Rylance so much he moved the shooting schedule around to accommodate him. The acclaimed stage and screen actor, who’ll next be seen in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, does have fun with the limited material he’s given to work with. Jasmine Trinca’s Annie is a female lead of the most stereotypical sort – she works for an NGO, as antihero mercenaries’ girlfriends often do, and knows nothing about her ex-boyfriends dangerous past, needing to be rescued at every turn.

            The Gunman is neither entertainingly explosive enough to pass as escapist spectacle nor is it sufficiently cerebral and intense to be a dramatic action thriller. Our lead character could’ve been played by anyone really, but ironically enough, Penn with all his plaudits just can’t carry this action movie.

Summary: Sean Penn makes for an awkward action hero and the film wastes its supporting cast, The Gunman shooting mostly blanks.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Fast & Furious 7

For F*** Magazine


Director : James Wan
Cast : Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Lucas Black, Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 137 mins
Opens : 2 April 2015

Big wheels keep on turning, the rubber keeps on burning and Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew are rolling, rolling, rolling down the road in the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Dom and his “family”, comprising Brian (Walker), Letty (Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Gibson) have been pardoned for their crimes in the previous films. Now, they’re sent hurtling back into their dangerous, high-speed existence when the lethal Deckard Shaw (Statham), looking to make the crew pay for almost killing his brother Owen, comes calling. With the assistance of spymaster “Mr. Nobody” (Russell) and Special Agent Hobbs (Johnson) of the Diplomatic Security Service, Dom and co. ride for their lives, this adventure taking them from L.A. to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back.

            We’ll get straight to the point – the untimely passing of star Paul Walker has cast a dark pall over a franchise built on pure escapism. What should have been yet another fist-pumping, all-out action spectacular is now a bittersweet affair. Director James Wan, taking the baton from Justin Lin, has managed to create a flick where the audience is reassured up front that it’s okay to have fun, it’s okay to just go along for the ride – and yet Brian O’Conner’s exit from the series is handled with as much grace and sincerity as the series can muster. The film displays a level of self-awareness – early on, Brian tells his young son Jack that “cars don’t fly”. Later in the film, they absolutely dofly. Screenwriter Chris Morgan supplies dialogue that is as overripe and clichéd as ever and yet, there is an undeniable charm to it all. Surprisingly, the 137 minute run time passes at a decent clip.

            There’s something that makes this franchise very different from the Transformersmovies, even though they are aimed at exactly the same demographic and contain cool automobiles, explosions and leery shots of scantily-clad women. There’s an earnestness here as opposed to the cynicism that pervades the Transformers films. This is movie #7 and yet there’s the sense that all involved are still invested and are determined not to phone it in, embracing the over-the-top stunts with all they’ve got.

Wan must’ve broken out in hives trying to devise vehicular set-pieces that would top those of Fast & Furious 6, which involved a tank and a massive cargo plane. Here, we have cars inserted into a treacherous mountain pass via air drop, a Lykan Hypersport sailing out a skyscraper window and crashing into the adjacent building, and a finale in which our heroes are pursued by a stealth attack helicopter and a souped-up Predator drone. Props go to second unit director and stunt coordinator Jack Gill for putting it all together – those cars were dropped out of a plane for real. Unfortunately, as adrenaline-pumping as these signature sequences still are, there is a conspicuous increase in the reliance on computer-generated imagery, especially for the Etihad Towers jump and the helicopter attack. The scenes in which Paul Walker is digitally doubled also stick out. It’s not enough to pull one out of it completely, but it does lack polish.

For all of screenwriter Morgan’s unsubtlety, he’s done a fine job of distributing the spotlight among the ensemble cast. The moments of pathos are cheesy – Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is still coping with her amnesia – but all parties involved know that’s not why the audience is present. Even then, the loss experienced by the crew following the deaths of Gisele and Han in #6 is palpable and does lend the proceedings an emotional backbone, however slight. The film serves a great swansong for Walker; he gets to go mano a mano with Tony Jaa in two blistering martial arts showdowns. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue to have amiable chemistry as the constantly bickering Tej and Roman, but Tyrese’s comic asides border on the excessive here.  

Jason Statham is a fittingly intimidating villain, essentially Frank Martin from the Transporter series if he had no moral compunction whatsoever. There’s a nice appearance by Djimon Hounsou as a secondary baddie even though the character doesn’t do much. Dwayne Johnson revels in the exaggerated action hero persona the material presents him with, trucking out one-liners like “you’ve earned yourself a dance with the devil, boy” and “I’m gonna put a hurt on him so hard, he’ll wish his mother kept her legs closed.” Ronda Rousey shows up as a bodyguard to furnish the requisite catfight with Michelle Rodriguez, a role fulfilled by fellow MMA fighter Gina Carano in the previous film. The show is well and truly stolen by Kurt Russell. The 80s action icon has still got it and looks like he’s having a ball. When he slips on the night-vision shades and draws twin pistols to get in on the fun himself, prepare to cheer.

As film critics, we hear the “it’s not meant to be Oscar-worthy high art” defence a whole lot. Well, for the Fast and Furious films, especially #5onwards, it applies. We’re not about to give the cheesy dialogue and sometimes-intrusive visual effects work a free pass, but Wan makes sure it all comes together nicely and delivers what was promised – a really good time for action junkies. In addition, the director shoulders the responsibility of fashioning this loud, brash extravaganza into an emotional send-off for its recently-deceased star. Vin Diesel has been open about how truly distraught Walker’s death left him and we do see some of that laid bare on the screen. We’re not ashamed to say we were left misty-eyed and in that respect, Wan has succeeded. There are no stinger scenes during or after the end credits and while this does seem like a great place to call it a day, Universal is intent on doing at least three more. Better to ride off into the sunset while you’re ahead, but that’s not how studios work, we suppose.

Summary: The spectacle is as bombastic as ever and the laws of physics are as irrelevant as ever; the series continuing to entertain. Fast & Furious 7 also manages to provide some genuine heart amidst all that cheese, bidding a fond farewell to Paul Walker.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5Stars
Jedd Jong 

We are fast. We are furious. We are Groot.