1965 Movie Review

For F*** Magazine
 
1965

Directors: Randy Ang, Daniel Yun
Starring: Qi Yiwu, Joanne Peh, Deanna Yusoff, Sezairi Sezali, James Seah Mike Kasem, Lim Kay Tong
Genre: Drama/history
Run time: 130 minutes
Opens: 30 July 2015
Rating: PG-13
            There’s been no shortage of events commemorating Singapore’s Golden Jubilee – most of us won’t say it, but we are kinda burnt out on SG50, and it’s not even National Day yet. Historical drama/thriller 1965 is probably the most-hyped SG50 film. Set against the backdrop of the lead-up to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, 1965focuses on police inspector Cheng (Qi), whose young daughter Xiao Yun (Sun Yi En) goes missing. Khatijah (Yusoff), blames Cheng for failing to save her son during a racial riot, and suspicion arises amongst the Chinese that the Malays have kidnapped Xiao Yun in retaliation. Khatijah’s remaining son Adi (Sezali) is a rookie policeman working under Inspector Cheng, complicating matters. Also caught in the fray is Zhou Jun (Peh), the daughter of a coffee shop owner and Pakistani reporter Raj (Kasem).

            Over the course of 1965’s development, producer and co-director Daniel Yun has had to repeatedly clarify on what the film is not: “it’s not a political film”, “it’s not a biopic about Mr. Lee Kuan Yew”, “it’s not a propaganda film” and so on. Let us issue a disclaimer of our own: this opinion on the quality of the film hasn’t got anything to do with politics. 1965 is a bad movie when judged as, well, a movie. Intended as a sweeping historical drama of great import, it instead comes off as heavy-handed, clumsy and dramatically inert. Andrew Ngin, who co-wrote the screenplay with co-directors Randy Ang and Yun, said that the script required more than 60 revisions. It could have done with 60 more. Film is a visual medium, but 1965 is all telling and zero showing, comprising a flagrant overuse of voiceovers, wall-to-wall exposition and platitude-laden speeches. It’s poor storytelling and it’s a slog.

            We won’t deny the credit that the film’s production design is due; there is a palpable effort made to capture all the tiny details of life in Singapore circa 1963-1965. Period-accurate sets were constructed at Infinite Studios’ facility in Batam and there are many little nostalgic touches that those who grew up in that era will appreciate, in between copious amounts of F&N product placement. That said, the Singapore we see in 1965 is little more beyond a couple of stretches of shophouses, a police station and a kampong (village) – it’s a corner, not a world, sometimes convincing but never wholly immersive. The sound mix is also off, making most of the dialogue sound like an announcement over a public address system.

            The characters are uniformly dull, intended to be a microcosm of Singapore at the time, but always feeling several steps away from being fully fleshed-out. Generally, the acting is fine – Qi Yiwu’s police protagonist is as bland as wet cardboard but he tries to inject some intensity into his performance. Deanna Yusoff’s turn as a grieving, anguished mother is sufficiently compelling. As her son, Singapore Idol winner Sezairi Sezali is earnest but not overeager and is one of the more likeable characters in the film. Joanne Peh does stick out at times, her character never really coming off as authentically from that time period. Former opposition politician Nicole Seah, playing the wife of Qi’s character, turns in a more natural performance, surprising given it’s her first acting gig. Mike Kasem is an odd casting choice for Raj, requiring a whole lot more than that beard to come off as a believable Pakistani. While there is some degree of competence, nothing fits together and everything feels incomplete.

            Of course, the spotlight is trained directly on veteran stage and screen thespian Lim Kay Tong, who shoulders the responsibility of playing the recently-deceased first Prime Minster of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Lim does a dutiful re-enactment of the iconic televised speech Lee gave when Singapore separated from Malaysia, but his screen time is extremely limited and Lee’s role in the plot has no direct bearing on our main characters. Lee passed away on 23 March 2015 and the film includes footage of his funeral procession cut to a sappy power ballad. This may seem like a respectful tribute at first, but this reviewer found it to be opportunistic, tacky and manipulative. Instead of constructing emotional stakes from scratch, the film opts for the easy way out, attempting to get audiences to feel something by presenting them with a recent event that will resonate with most of them. This would have been perfectly acceptable if 1965 were all about Lee Kuan Yew, but as Yun empathically stated, this is not a biopic. The further implication is that the story of every Singaporean is the story of Lee Kuan Yew, and that’s a slippery slope this reviewer does not want to slide down.


            Singapore has endured more than its share of tumult as a nation and its history is definitely ripe with heart-rending true stories of courage and tenacity. 1965 ignores all that and serves up a painfully dull, preachy, simplistic and condescending fictional story set against the backdrop of the country’s struggle towards independence. There are elements of the film that may resonate with Singaporeans of a certain vintage, but as a cogent, sweeping historical drama, 1965 is a failure.
Summary:If you enjoy being hit on the head with a social studies textbook for two hours while someone tries to cut open your tear ducts with a scalpel, 1965 is the movie for you.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong
            
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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

For F*** Magazine

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

Director : Christopher McQuarrie
Cast : Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Zhang Jingchu
Run Time : 132 mins
Opens : 30 July 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence And Brief Nudity)

These days, it seems that every year is the “year of the superhero” at the multiplex. From Kingsman: The Secret Service to Spy to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Spectre – not forgetting the fifth instalment in the Mission: Impossible film series – 2015 is well and truly the “year of the spy”. 

Here, we find CIA director Hunley (Baldwin) disbanding the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), leaving our heroes Ethan Hunt (Cruise), William Brandt (Renner), Benji Dunn (Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Rhames) in the lurch. Ethan crosses paths with the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), supposedly an MI6 agent deep undercover. Ethan uncovers evidence of the Syndicate, a “rogue nation” comprised of secret agents thought to be dead, the dirty underbelly of the dirty underbelly. With the treacherous Solomon Lane (Harris) in charge, The Syndicate’s tendrils reach far and deep. Pressed on all sides and with dangerous enemies in pursuit, Ethan and his associates embark on their most crucial mission yet.

In an age where hype counts a great deal, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has not been hyped as much as other summer blockbusters. It also faces heady competition at the cinemas this year – Paramount shifted the film up from a Christmas release date to late July to avoid facing Bond film Spectre head-on. Helmed by Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation proves the franchise has wind in its sails yet. This film series is unique in that there have been five different directors over five films, counting this one. McQuarrie manages to quickly find his footing, acknowledging the events of the previous film, tying it all together quite nicely (though there’s curiously no mention of Ethan’s wife). This is an exhilarating, superbly constructed action thriller, a palpable affection for and understanding of the genre evident throughout. 


          Structurally, perhaps it is a misstep to pile all the action set-pieces on to the front end of the picture, meaning the pace lags a little as the film nears its conclusion. That said, the set-pieces are uniformly marvelous, so credit to stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood and second unit director Gregg Smrz is due. Right out the gate, McQuarrie and star/producer Cruise show they mean business with an opening sequence in which Ethan clings precariously to the exterior of an Airbus A400 M, a stunt Cruise performed for real. The film doesn’t feature globetrotting so much as “globe-galloping” – From Belarus to Austria to Morocco in addition to the United Kingdom and the United States, the exotic locations and the scale of the film lend it a very appealing throwback quality to the heyday of spy-fi. The scene in which Ethan grapples with a Syndicate operative in the rafters of the Vienna Opera House while Puccini’s Turandot is in progress on the stage below is pure class. A white-knuckle sequence with Ethan swimming into an underwater data storage facility called the “Taurus” while holding his breath the whole time is strikingly unique, adding a futuristic touch that makes it seem as if Cruise has temporarily stepped back into Minority Report. There’s also the motorcycle chase that’s far less silly than the one in M:I II. All this is wrapped in Joe Kraemer’s electrifying musical score, which weaves in both the iconic Lalo Schiffrin M:I theme and Nessun Dorma

           His peculiar personal proclivities notwithstanding, Cruise has held his own as a megastar for decades while others have come and gone. From the moment he enters the movie – sprinting, of course – the 53-year-old shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever. The charisma, intensity, spry athleticism, it’s all intact. Cruise has had several duds in recent years (the baffling sub-Mission: Impossible flick Knight and Day comes to mind) but with Rogue Nation, his trademark star vehicle franchise remains right on track. 

The Mission: Impossible television series from the 60s had an emphasis on teamwork. The movies have certainly been all about Cruise, but it is great to see the returning IMF members back in the field. This film gives Simon Pegg’s Benji in particular a meatier role – since the character’s introduction in the third movie, he’s gotten a nice upgrade from the designated techie comic relief, an evolution which continues ahead in this film. Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell, this team’s original techie, is back as well. While Jeremy Renner has a little less to do, spending the first half of the film duking it out with Alec Baldwin in front of a senate oversight committee, he gets his moments to shine too. Speaking of Baldwin, it was a little difficult for this reviewer to see him as anything but Jack Donaghy in some spy movie-inspired fever dream of Liz Lemon’s on 30 Rock. In future movies, it would be great to see some of the female IMF agents return – Maggie Q and Paula Patton on the same team would be awesome! 

Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, best known for her leading role in period series The White Queen but otherwise not a big-name star just yet, was apparently hand-picked by Cruise to star in Rogue Nation. Her Ilsa Faust is meant to remain an enigma throughout, ostensibly an ally yet someone we are never sure whether or not to fully trust. There’s a femme fatale element she doesn’t overplay, as well as a sophistication and intelligence that Ferguson balances out the requisite sex appeal with. Still, she doesn’t quite stand out as strikingly as, say, Eva Green did in Casino Royale. We’ve seen villains like Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane many, many times in this genre – he’s the quietly menacing guy pulling the strings, playing everyone from a distance. It’s not an outstanding character, but he’s functional and his part in the grand scheme of things makes sense.

McQuarrie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, weaves an intricate plot of gambits and double-crosses which the audience has to make a conscious effort to follow, but which stops a safe distance from being pointlessly convoluted. It harks back to a bygone era of stylish spy movies, but is also a straight-ahead contemporary thriller rather than self-reflexively playing with the tropes of the genre the way Kingsman and Spy do. The chases, shootouts, fisticuffs, daredevil Houdini escapes, ticking bomb suspense and Cruise’s unwavering star power – Rogue Nation has it all.

Summary: Carried by a propulsive momentum and packed with meticulously-assembled thrills, going Rogue has never been this entertaining.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ant-Man

ANT-MAN

Director : Peyton Reed
Cast : Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian
Genre : Action/Comics/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens: 16 July 2015
Rating: PG
    

        Following the behemoth Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is undergoing a downsizing of sorts to close out its second phase. Retired scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), the inventor of the Pym Particle, has been fighting for decades to keep his Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands. This suit allows its wearer to shrink down to the size of an insect while retaining his normal strength. Darren Cross (Stoll), Hank’s former mentee who has ousted Hank out of Pym Technologies, is close to perfecting the Yellowjacket, his own militarised version of the Ant-Man suit. Hank and his daughter Hope (Lilly) enlist the help of reformed thief Scott Lang (Rudd), who takes on the Ant-Man persona to put a stop to Cross’s evil machinations.



            Ant-Manarrives in theatres carrying a great deal of scepticism on its insectoid shoulders. Many scoff at the inherent silliness of the premise, and then there’s the matter of original director Edgar Wright leaving the project, to be replaced with Peyton Reed. Marvel Studios has cleverly played the underdog card, just as they did with last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, creating a fast-paced, raucously funny, very entertaining little beast. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has attempted to stave off superhero movie fatigue by dipping its toes into various subgenres, including conspiracy thriller with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and high fantasy with Thor. Ant-Man is a comedic heist caper with a healthy amount of sci-fi stirred in. The screenplay, credited to Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd, is packed with belly laughs. The light-heartedness assists in the suspension of disbelief required to go along with the premise and admirably enough, does not undermine the more emotional beats of the story.

            This is not to say the film is flawless by any stretch of the imagination. Even as it valiantly tries to offer up something fresh, Ant-Man succumbs to formula at every turn. There’s the ex-con trying to make good for the sake of his young daughter, the evil new CEO who has betrayed the man who believed in him, the tough, no-nonsense female lead who despises our hero but eventually warms to him, the comic relief trio who form the hero’s motley crew and a training montage or three to cap that off.  While most of the jokes land, some of the comedy carries with it a smart-alecky, post-Apatow affectation that comes off as trying too hard. However, Ant-Man packs in a dazzling amount of visual invention, trucking out extremely clever sequences in which the mass-shifting technology is put to ingenious use. Reed has acknowledged the lineage of “shrinking” special effects-driven films that include The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fantastic Voyage and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Ant-Man earns its place in that pantheon. The visual effects work on the ants, who serve as Scott’s little helpers, are not hyper-realistic, but perhaps that is to help them become a little more endearing – and endearing they are indeed.

            Paul Rudd, primarily known as a comedic actor, slips into the shrinking suit with ease. After Chris Pratt’s resounding success as a leading man in GotG, casting a funnyman in a superhero part no longer seems like that much of a gamble. Rudd’s charm, charisma and mischievous streak, including his ability to play the more heartfelt moments of the film with appropriate sincerity, allow him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MCU’s now-venerable pantheon of leading men. Unlike several respectable big-name actors have in the past, Michael Douglas doesn’t look like he’s begrudgingly doing this big blockbuster just for the paycheck. There’s a wisdom, weariness and hint of playfulness to his Hank Pym and his presence elevates the material without seeming like he’s yelling “look at me and my prestige!”

            Evangeline Lilly has several ass-kicking female characters under her belt, coming straight off playing Tauriel in the Hobbit films. Beyond the severe bob and the proficiency in martial arts, there’s Hope’s conflict with her father. Her distaste for Scott stems from her belief that she herself is far more qualified to inherit the shrinking suit, and while the character’s arc is basic, it will make more than a few misty-eyed. The trio of misfit crooks with hearts of gold who form Scott’s team provide more than a few laughs, led by Michael Peña doing his best Luis Guzmán impression as the awkward, garrulous, earnest Luis. David Dastmalchian, hitherto known as “that creepy guy you kind of recognise from The Dark Knight”, is a revelation as Kurt, rocking an over-the-top Russian accent and ridiculous coiffeur, showcasing spot-on comic timing.

The film’s one major misstep is its egregious waste of Corey Stoll’s considerable talents, relegating him to the role of a staggeringly mono-dimensional villain. Stoll eats up the part with great relish, but the Marvel movies have mainly drawn criticism for their dearth of truly compelling villains, and unfortunately, Darren Cross is no exception. As the new CEO with evil designs on the hero’s technology, he strongly echoes Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man flick. That said, other Marvel films have sacrificed well-developed villains for the sake of well-developed heroes, a gamble that has paid off and that does pay off here.


Ant-Manproves itself as more than just the sorbet course to follow up the big steak dinner that was Age of Ultron. It’s an enjoyable romp that stands nicely on its own but is also packed full of nods and Easter Eggs to the other MCU movies and the comics at large. A friend of this reviewer was very excited at the inclusion of Scott’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and a string of cameos provides connective tissue to the rest of the films. As is de rigeurwith these movies, be sure to stick around for two stinger scenes during and after the credits. Ant-Man may not break the mould, but it offers enough fresh morsels for long-time fans and doesn’t alienate neophytes by requiring the in-depth knowledge the Avengersflicks warrant to fully enjoy. Now that’s ant-ertainment.
Summary:Bet on the little guy.
RATING: 4out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

San Diego Comic-Con International 2015: The Booths/Exhibits

A huge part of the dazzling sensory bombardment that is the Con floor (and, increasingly, spilling out beyond the Convention Center itself) are the booths and exhibits, the fact that they stand in the way of the flow of human traffic notwithstanding. It’s always a treat to take a peek at props from movies and TV shows that are being put on auction – I’m proud to admit I got a genuine thrill out of seeing Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft gun belt from the first Tomb Raider flick. More significantly, there were Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman’s costumes from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and there was also the original Rebel Blockade Runner model used in the famous opening of the first Star Wars

THE BOOTHS/EXHIBITS

Hasbro’s epic, epic Marvel Legends diorama has EVERYYYOONNNNE fighting Ultron drones!

Including, for some reason, the Lizard, in the, uh, sewer on this jungle island.

“HULK RIP PUNY ROBOT IN HALF!”

Natasha looking cool as all get-out, as usual.

Do want this Amazon four-pack!

Terminator Genisys wasn’t great, but this statue looks badass, particularly lit like that!

Guyver bust by Cinemaquette

Medusa bust

Wonder Woman Barbie – pure class!

Digging the wooden grappling gun handle.

Mattel’s Wonder Woman

Mattel’s Superman

Mattel’s Batman

Mattel’s armoured Batman

The Reverse Flash’s screen-used costume!

Captain Cold

The Flash himself
Jay Garrick’s helmet

The Arrow’s outfit

The Dark Archer

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman outfit

Ben Affleck’s armoured Batman outfit

Henry Cavill’s Superman suit, with the colours brightened up a tad 

Black Canary
 
Felicity Smoak’s glasses, as worn by Emily Bett-Rickards.

Said the X-Wing to the TIE Fighter, “come at me bro!”

The Rebel Blockade Runner model used in that iconic, awesome opening shot.

The Winnebago Space Ship from Spaceballs!

Sideshow’s Premium Format Power Girl statue

Ledger Joker

Arkham Knight Batman

Yoda

Space Jockey 
Still waiting on Hot Toys figures of the rest of the HIMYM crew.

Bewitched

“It’s awfully well-balanced.”

Loki loves Comic-Con, especially after invading Hall H in 2013.

The Gotham figure I’m most excited about. You go lil Catwoman!
Captain Solo is home.
Man that’s a handsome, handsome John Barrowman headsculpt!
Brace yourself for a super punch!
Come on in, it’s roomy!
Captain Archer’s beagle!
The Rocketeer’s helmet
One of many, many Enterprises.
Original flavour Stormtrooper helmet
“You call thish archaeology?”
Oscar-winning glasses!

Arrrrr.
Kick-Ass’s scuba suit headpiece!
Hey, USA Today doesn’t look like that in 2015!
The First Order Stormtrooper, an exclusive I did not want to wait in line for.
The Book of Vishanti Doctor Strange figure set, ditto.
A wacky Lego dimensions sculpture. Samurai mech-suit Homer assisted by Wonder Woman? Hell yeah!
Hold up a second, that’s just Hawkeye’s head with red glasses instead of purple ones!

Hot Wheels’ Batman v Superman Batmobile – this beast is a beauty!

NECA’s always-impressive line-up, kicking off with Quarter-Scale Christopher Reeve Superman.

Pengy!

Arkham Knight Batsy

Terminator 2 Pescadero Mental Hospital diorama

Badass Sarah Connor is badass.

“Old, but not obsolete”

The egg crate packaging is a hilarious touch. Bishop isn’t as thrilled about it as I am though.

“Get away from her you…UNPLEASEANT WOMAN!”

Kaiju in cardboard city

Interstellar dolls! Amelia Brand can go hang out with Catwoman

Speaking of which, here’s the Michelle Pfeiffer version from Sideshow. Mrrow.

Jurassic Park art prints! They were also selling reproductions of the map pamphlets from both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

XM Collectibles’ shiny Iron Men.

Was there anyone who watched the end credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron and said of that marble marvel, “I don’t want that”?

Surprise! Remote control opening hatch!

The DC artists have doodled on the table in-between autograph sessions – just like in school, then!

“Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination”

That gun belt.

No photos of the Doctor Who figures you say? I too like to live dangerously.

Worry not, Sherlock’s got POSEABLE ARMS!

American Horror Story: Hotel‘s hotel. Not actual size.

When being in the doghouse isn’t such a bad thing after all

 
♫I fought the law and the law won♫

Heroes that fit in the palm of your hand!

“Eyes on me!”

It’s the LEGO Jurassic World Raptor Squad! Adorable.
Clever girl.

And as I’m caught in between the wrath of the Science Bros, it’s a wrap!

San Diego Comic-Con International 2015: The Celebrities

This year, I camped out overnight in line for Hall H. Thanks to my brother Tedd for holding a spot in line for the afternoon and earlier part of the night! I’ve gotta say, it was worth it. As Comic-Con gets bigger and bigger each year, the studios roll out more and more of –

THE CELEBRITIES

Had the opportunity to interview Zachary Levi! Seriously one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever met. Laid-back, charming, absolutely no airs about him at all. Super cool.

Thanks for obliging my request for a photo!
William Shatner and David A. Goodman, author of the James T. Kirk autobiography

Doctor Who! Moderator Chris Hardwick, stars Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez and showrunner Steven Moffat

The Doctor-Donna asking the panel some questions!

Chris Hardwick attempts to stop Jenna Coleman from hearing Peter Capaldi’s answer to a fan question about what other companions the 12th Doctor would like to travel with other than Clara.

Wil Wheaton is excited for the Con Man panel.

“I am a leaf on the chair!” Alan Tudyk in costume as Wash.

Mindy Sterling, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and special effects artist Barry Bishop

Nathan Fillion, Michael Trucco, Seth Green, Alison Haislip and Nolan North

Wash and Mal reunited

A rambunctious bunch

Felicia Day. Swoon.

Special effects artists Barry Bishop and Billy Brooks got engaged to each other in front of the Hall H crowd!
Writer Alan Burnett, producer Bruce Timm and voice actor C. Thomas Howell of Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Casting and voice director Andrea Romano, director Sam Liu and Burnett again

Howell again with fellow voice actors Paget Brewster (Lois Lane) and Tamara Taylor (Wonder Woman)
Okay, I’ve waited in line all night, it’s time for the Warner Bros. Hall H panel on Saturday.

The men and women of U.N.C.L.E.

Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill, Ilya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, The Lone Ranger and Superman

Director Joe Wright and titular star Levi Miller from Pan.

Garrett Hedlund (Hook) and Hugh Jackman (Blackbeard)

The Suicide Squad enters Hall H!

Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn)

Task Force X assemble – including Will Smith as Deadshot! 
Moderator Aisha Tyler and director Zack Snyder

The cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice takes their places. Holly Hunter, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck

Lex Luthor and Lois Lane

Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)

Gal Gadot

“The red capes are coming! The red capes are coming!”

The World’s Finest

Ben Affleck

The Eleventh Doctor himself, Matt Smith

From Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: author Seth Grahame-Smith, director Burr Steers and actors Douglas Booth and Jack Huston.

Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet)

Natalie Dormer and Matt Smith of Patient Zero

Clive Standen, John Bradley-West, Natalie Dormer and Matt Smith

Moderator Chris Hardwick and Quentin Tarantino, in Hall H to present his latest film Hateful Eight – to be shown in glorious 70 mm! 

The very impressive cast of Hateful Eight assembled. 

Beatrix Kid-do asking a question of Mr. Tarantino! 

Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern

Legendary Pictures studio chief Thomas Tull

Guillermo del Toro, director of Crimson Peak

Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain

Guillermo del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain

Director Michael Dougherty with stars Toni Collette and Adam Scott of Krampus.

The cast of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft.

Paula Patton

Clancy Brown, Ruth Negga and Daniel Wu

Dominic Cooper and Rob Kazinsky

The Women Who Kick Ass panel: Moderator Sara Vilkomerson, Gwendoline Christie, Hayley Atwell, Gal Gadot, Jenna Coleman and Kathy Bates

Gwendoline Christie and Hayley Atwell

Gal Gadot

Jenna Coleman

Jenna Coleman and Kathy Bates

When Agent Carter met Wonder Woman

Joss Whedon receiving his Icon Award. “Very kind of them to scratch off JJ’s name and write mine,” he joked. 
The cast of The Maze Runner

Dylan O’Brien, Rosa Salazar, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Giancarlo Esposito

Director Paul McGuigan with stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe of Victor Frankenstein.

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe getting a little touchy-feely

And Tumblr went wild

Director Josh Trank, writer Simon Kinberg and stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell of Fantastic Four.

Our Fantastic Four

Reed and Sue

DOOM!

Ryan Reynolds

The cast and director of Deadpool

Morena Baccarin

Gina Carano

T.J. Miller and Brianna Hildebrand

Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin

Brianna Hildebrand

Director Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds

Hughverine!

Hugh Jackman and Bryan Singer

The cast of X-Men: Apocalypse takes their places

Hugh Jackman jumps in Jennifer Lawerence’s lap

Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse) and Olivia Munn (Psylocke)

Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto)

Evan Peters (Quicksilver), Lucas Till (Havok), Lana Condor (Jubilee), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops)

A young Scott Summers and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner)

Surprise appearance from Stan the Man!

Attempt at the largest comic book movie selfie ever

The night’s DC TV program kicks off with an appearance from the Green Arrow, formerly known as the Arrow. 

Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, John Barrowman and producer Wendy Mericle

Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy

Father-daughter goofiness

David Ramsey, zen as always

Olicity!

Candice Patton, Grant Gustin, Tom Cavanagh and Danielle Panabaker from The Flash.

Iris and Barry

Caitlin and Cisco (Carlos Valdez)

Legends of Tomorrow

Caity Lotz, returning as The White Canary

Ciara Renee, Victor Garber, Brandon Routh and Wentworth Miller of Legends of Tomorrow

Camren Bicondova and David Mazouz, young Catwoman and Batman from Gotham

Ben McKenzie as Gotham’s heroic Jim Gordon

Donal Logue and Robin Lord Taylor

Sean Pertwee and Camren Bicondova

Melissa Benoist, Supergirl herself

The cast and creators of Supergirl

Jeremy Jordan

Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks

Jimmy Olsen: scrawny no more!

Moderator Ian Somerhalder with Melissa Benoist

Acrobatics performance inspired by the DC TV shows

The cast and writer of Lego Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom!

Voice actors John DiMaggio and Troy Baker

Voice actor Kary Payton

Voice actor Dave B. Mitchell and writer Heath Corson from Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem

Yuri Lowenthal

Will Friedle and Yuri Lowenthal

San Diego Comic-Con International 2015: The Cosplay

Hey everyone, I’ve just returned from my third year at San Diego Comic-Con. While I didn’t have as good an experience as last year, I’m not taking the privilege for granted and as with the two previous years, here is my series of mega picture posts. Here we go with – 

THE COSPLAY

Kicking it off with a cosplayer as Jay Garrick, the original Flash! In the bottom left hand of the display case, you’ll see the prop helmet from that amazing moment in the Flash season finale when it tumbled out of the portal.

“I will break you!” “I will make you tell the truth!”

Gender-flipped Joker and Poison Ivy
Gamora! 

Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, with Bat-mite in a baby bjorn. Or maybe that’s Bat-mite with Zur-En-Arrh as a backpack

5 + 11!

Ridiculous abs. Just ludicrous. Unbelievable. Other superlative adjectives.

With LeeAnna Vamp

GlaDOS

Zatanna attempts to keep Batman out of Deadpool’s grasp

Pretty hard for Deadshot to miss because Batman’s right there in his hand.

Reverse Flash: “grr, curse you Barry!”

Fourth Doctor!

This gentleman can’t help but give a far more amiable smile than the Joker’s known for. Still cool!

The chainmail section on this Green Arrow’s costume is neat!

Look close enough and you can see the Batman figure blush.

Hey Kristoff!

Lots of Mad Lovin’ couples, as with most years.

It’s Slumber Party Harley! D’aww.

Agent Carter’s a little thrown by someone who’s fallen in from the wrong universe.

Stormin’ it up

This Comedian has the psychotic grin nailed pat!

Hey 11! 

Fraggin’ great Lobo!

Hooked on a feeling and shooting straight!

“Mr. Fredricksen, may I please have a photo?”

There’s the War Doctor in the middle! NO MOAR! 

Arkham City Harley!

KidPool

One of many Harleys rocking the Suicide Squad movie look.

Sisterhood of the con-going dresses

I am the one who knocks! And is the first in line for the exclusives!

Mega-Man!

Raven

Well hello there Amy Pond!

Bat-villains, including a gender-flipped Harley Quinn!

The Arkham Knight look for Harley’s one of the favourites so far.

11 is 10’s mum? Awesome!

The Boy Who Waited and his Kissogram beau! 

Steampunk Poison Ivy!

Pretty much the best Spider-Gwen cosplay I’ve ever seen. I think she might be Maid of Might cosplay. 
“Who’s scruffy-looking?”

Hey 12! How about a hug!

Don’t blink. Blink and you’re…

TOO LATE!

Why yes, I would kiss that Ms. Quinzel.

Just the sweetest-looking Ariel!

The Black Queen, Jean Grey

Loki and Black Widow looking great together!
Love this Barry’s good-natured grin
X-cellent! And an Adorable Cyclops leading the charge, too!
Another lovely Arkham City Harley!
No disintegrations Boba!
Steph Batgirl!


I was wearing just the right shirt for it, too!

Jurassic World Margarita Guy! Just about my favourite cosplay this year.
Squirrel Girl’s guns
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Wonderful World


Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver group cosplays were very popular this year!

Captain Cold and Golden Glider have Ollie in their sights!
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Sith Lord
Cruella de Vil, Cruelle de Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will…
Darth Revan
Ash celebrating the release of Ash vs. The Evil Dead raising his boomstick!
Capable from Mad Max: Fury Road
Love this Gamora’s costume and makeup, and it helps that she looks like Zoe Saldana too!
This gender-flipped Quicksilver from Days of Future Past is adorable!
Cutest little Berserker rage
Lady Deadpool
Boba Knievel
Hey Poison Ivy! Hmm, that looks a lot like an Ariel wig. 
Eye candy for all.
Knirhs!
Double serving of Owen with a print of T. rex concept art!
Triple Pratting at Comic-Con
Back to back Pratt!
Really rad Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch – that Quicksilver in particular has quite the likeness to Aaron Taylor-Johnson!
This George Lucas cosplayer was carrying a sign that said “Jar Jar 4 Life” on one side and “Greedo Shot First” on the other.
The World’s Finest – doesn’t matter that Batman’s six inches tall.
Awesome throwback with Batman and Joker from Batman ’89!
Immortan Joanna and Nux
Lady Sif and Thor
John Hammond, who has spared no expense.
Red Hood

Arkham Knight Red Hood

Check out the back of that jacket!
Ring ring! Shame!

Hey kids, it’s Mikey!

Gender-flipped Indy

And gender-flipped Han!

A.I.M. soldiers – for science!

An appropriately sinister Jafar

Gender-flipped Daredevil taking on the Kingpin

Claire has had it with Owen’s antics

Let it not be said that I studied theatre for nothing!

Cap and Widow

Flash and Batgirl

More Poison Ivy

Lara Croft

And a Lara based on the reboot game!

Great Scott, it’s Doc Brown!

Double dose of mini-Ahsoka, joined by Boba Cap

Beyond.

Cutest lil Thor

The mum’s Ursula and the daughter’s Ariel…messed up but wonderful!

Poison Ivy

Black Mask

’66 Catwoman

Comic-Con wouldn’t be complete without a Slave Leia!

Excellent Daenerys cosplay!

Mother of Raptors

Gender-flipped Green Arrow

Morpheus offers the red pill or the blue pill.

Jem! Truly truly outrageous!

Think McFly!

Great Scott, it’s a timey wimey confluence of temporal voyagers!

Another Margarita guy carries his beloved cocktails away from the Pterosaurs

Black Widow and the Winter Soldier

Rogue and Angie from Agent Cater

Galactus, right before devouring that world

Casey Jones, with an Arrow figure since Stephen Amell’s playing the character in the next film.

Ace Ventura, Mutant Detective

Uncharted: Drake’s Convention

Zoey and Mal from Firefly

And we cap it off with a tale as old as time. Gorgeous Belle (which is a tautology)

Hit ’em High – On the set of Hitman: Agent 47 in Singapore

As published in Issue #66 of F*** Magazine

Text:
HIT ‘EM HIGH
F*** is on the set of Hitman: Agent 47 in Singapore
By Jedd Jong
The bald head, the barcode tattooed on the back of it, the red tie, and the black overcoat: the figure of Agent 47 is immediately recognisable to gamers everywhere. Developed by IO Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive and later Square Enix, the successful Hitman video game series spawned a loose feature film adaptation in 2007. The iconic gun for hire is being given a new lease of life on the screen with Hitman: Agent 47, starring Rupert Friend in the title role, and F*** was on the set for an exclusive look behind the scenes.

In the video game series, Agent 47’s missions have taken him around the world, to countries including Romania, China, Hungary, Russia, Chile and Malaysia. Hitman: Agent 47 was shot in two major locations: Germany and Singapore. 12 days out of the 48 day shooting schedule were set aside for filming in the South-East Asian nation, the crew’s stint in Singapore making it the first major Hollywood production to shoot there. Various locations were used, including tourist spots such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Gardens by the Bay. Production was based in the newly-opened Infinite Studios soundstages at Mediapolis, which was where we were brought to that day.

Unit publicist Michael Umble greeted our group of journalists, explaining the scene we were about to witness. Agent 47 had captured and tied up the main female character in the film, named Katia and played by Hannah Ware. He had suspended her in front of a giant jet engine which would “Cuisinart” Katia, as Umble put it, if she couldn’t escape. It sounded like a modern-day variation of tying the girl to the train tracks. Now, what was the “hero” of the film doing what sounded like typical bad guy business? An oft-repeated phrase used by various personnel when describing the film was “not is all as it seems”, and that the moral landscape of Hitman was indeed an ambiguous one.

We were given our first hint of the teething problems the first major Hollywood production to film in Singapore would inevitably face when Umble somewhat apologetically explained that the scene was originally to be shot in an actual jet engine factory, Pratt & Whitney’s Singapore manufacturing plant. Unfortunately, the crew was denied permission to film there at the last minute, and what we would see instead was markedly less spectacular, with the scene being shot against a green screen on the soundstage.

We were taken into one of the smaller stages where craft services was setting up for lunch later. In the corner of the room sat a gleaming new red Audi RS7, partially hidden beneath a tarp. A series of large production stills taken on set in Berlin and some pieces of concept art were put up on the wall. These images offered a clear look at Rupert Friend as Agent 47 – his iteration was not completely bald and the barcode on the back of his head was much subtler, design changes made in the name of having the assassin blend in a little better with the crowd. The stills also featured Zachary Quinto and Hannah Ware, Quinto guarding Ware in one photo and shooting at 47 in a Berlin Metro station in another. A conceptual rendering featured the familiar Singapore skyline with one addition – a computer-generated citadel sitting on the Bay. We were told that this building was the headquarters for sinister multinational corporation Syndicate International, headed up by a character called Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann).

After a good deal of waiting around, we were finally ushered on to the set where the scene in question was being filmed. We walked past a partial set of Le Clerq’s office; apparently most of the scenes set there had already been completed in Berlin. We arrived before a large green screen set up where Ware, in a black long-sleeved shirt and black trousers, was being rigged by the stunt team and having her makeup touched up. She was hoisted into position, suspended by orange ropes. Director Aleksander Bach was seated behind some monitors with producer Alex Young next to him. Rupert Friend was just off-camera, feeding Ware his own lines. In this scene Agent 47, would be in the control room of the engine factory and those parts of the scene would be shot separately.

As the scene began, a camera on a technocrane pulled up, capturing Katia awaking and realising the nature of her predicament.

“The more you struggle, the tighter it will get,” Agent 47 warned Katia ominously.

“I’d beg but somehow I know it wouldn’t help,” Katia answered.

“It wouldn’t.”

“I’m tired, so f*** you,” she retorted.

We saw several takes of the same scene, Ware tripping up on the line “…the cell phone, they knew the system would identify my voice and track the signal.” We’d probably forget a couple of lines if we were suspended in mid-air for a whole day too.

After lunch, production designer Sebastian T. Krawinkel came by to talk about the locations featured in Hitman: Agent 47, showing us a slideshow of conceptual images as he talked. Krawinkel’s credits include Inglorious Basterds, V for Vendetta and Speed Racer. He explained that they had considered using Reflections at Keppel Bay, designed by architect Daniel Liebeskind, as the headquarters for Syndicate International, but “of course the restrictions in Singapore are very tight. When they heard we wanted to crash a CG helicopter into the building, nobody was interested to give us the building. So, the only way to achieve that was basically to build the building ourselves in CG and make it a CG gag.”
Krawinkel was visibly distraught about the change in location of the engine factory scene. “It occurred to us that a word given didn’t mean anything and at the last minute you couldn’t get the locations,” he sighed. He referred to the situation as a “disaster” and added “I’ve enjoyed being here and the architecture is amazing, but it’s just not, um, not been very easy to proceed.” A believer in using contrasting environments to create a distinct flavour, Krawinkel said of the famously clean Singapore “I must admit that I was disappointed that everything is so slick and clean that I wanted to cheat a little bit, and when we shot in Chinatown we did some shots through some steaming pots and I deliberately put some dirt on the road which wasn’t there just to give a bit of contrast that not everything is like slick and boringly clean.”
Krawinkel spoke about shooting on location in Berlin, in the Metro station in Alexanderplatz. The production had also converted a German university into a U.S. embassy. In Singapore, the crew filmed at locations such as the Parkroyal hotel on Pickering and the Star Vista at One-North. We were shown concept art of a car chase scene which would be shot on McCallum Street. Despite being disappointed at some of the locations falling through, Krawinkel spoke very positively of the 15 young attachés from Singapore who travelled to Berlin as part of an attachment program, two attachés being assigned to each department. “We had two girls who worked with us in Berlin and they’re here as well, and that was very nice because obviously familiar faces make it easier to come to a foreign country and generally I can only speak very highly of the crew here because what they have missing in experience, they make up for with character and enthusiasm,” he said.
Next, actor Zachary Quinto, who plays “John Smith”, came to speak to us. Described as an “adversary” rather than a “villain”, Quinto said “I think my character is really driven by a need to prove his value and his worth and he is maybe to a fault ambitious and needs other people to recognise his power. He’s unwilling to relinquish that power and I think that is something that is a major flaw of his,” describing the moral landscape of the film as “blurry”. He spoke about his training regimen for the film, which included training in the martial art Silat. He added that he was relieved to get away from the paparazzi, saying “like in Berlin for example where we’ve been for the last couple of months, people there are not really that interested in celebrity and there is no paparazzi there and it’s really nice to be in an environment where people aren’t following you down the street or waiting outside my house or whatever the case may be. It just keeps me at peace, I don’t have to be outside of myself.”

When asked what would set Hitman: Agent 47 apart from other video game movies that have gone before, Quinto said “I think there’s a lot of attention to detail in this film, I think that there’s a lot of attention to character, I think Rupert and I are both actors that operate in similar ways and come from similar backgrounds and try to bring some element of depth and multi-dimensional reality to our characters. I think that we’re trying to come at this movie from a different point of view and make it substantial as an action film can be.” When comparing the action and stunt work on this film to that on the Star Trek movies, he observed “we had a lot more time to do it on Star Trek, we had a lot more money so we were accomplishing a lot here with less resources and less time and I think that everybody involved has done a very impressive job of working with what they have to make it look really incredible.”

Reflecting on where he was in his life, Quinto said “I feel like I’m at a real crossroads right now, I’ve been working pretty consistently for the past two years and I’m ready to take some time to let all the lessons that I’ve learned through the last Star Trek movie through American Horror Story through The Glass Menagerie through this to just settle and these other movies that I’m going to do this summer are quiet enough so I’ll have some time between them. I think it’s a real period of re-evaluation for me and I’m excited by that, I’m really kind of like looking forward to taking time for myself to figure out what my steps will be for the longer range. I’m so grateful for the experiences that I’ve had and I’ve accomplished so many of the goals that I set out for myself when I was younger, I feel in a way like I’m really asking myself ‘now what, what’s next?’ I’m shifting into this larger phase in my life where I really feel like I’m not a kid anymore and I’m entering into my late 30s and I’m really asking myself ‘what do I want to accomplish in a larger sense in a larger scale, in my business life, in my creative life and in my personal life?’ and those are three things that I really want to examine and figure out, so we’ll see where it all takes me.”

Producer Alex Young stopped by after Quinto left and was bubbling over with enthusiasm about shooting in Singapore. “It’s such a glorious, incredible city and absolute distinct visuals that you can find nowhere else in the world.” On the opportunity of presenting Singapore as a new location that hadn’t been seen in Hollywood movies, he said “a hard part about making a movie these days is to be fresh and distinct and to give the audience something they’ve never seen before and so many movies are made and so many have huge ambitions that they explore every corner of the world so to find a place that’s as modern and as big as this that hasn’t been shot is one of those…I’ve never experienced it in my career before. All the other big cities, London, Paris, Hong Kong, New York City, Tokyo, San Francisco they’ve all been shot on film extensively before so it’s very rare as a filmmaker that you get the opportunity to come to these places and find something that hasn’t been shot gloriously on film before. You’re not going to shoot Paris in some new way that everything from Gigi to Inception hasn’t done before. You’re not going to shoot New York City better than Martin Scorsese has done before, you’re just not. So to be the first ones to put something on film is just great.”
Young attempted to downplay the difficulties of being denied the use of the factory location, saying “that’s a normal exigency of moviemaking, sometimes locations fall through and you have to go to your backup plan. We always had a plan to do this on green screen just because you have an actress strung up, like the engine part and all that was always going to be visual effects. If you go to one of those test cell rooms, it’s essentially just a big room like this (the soundstage) anyway, and unfortunately we just couldn’t work it out with the company and that just happens, that happens in every city and that happens in every location and some of them fall through, such is life, you just roll with it.” He insisted that for a location as “untested” as Singapore, things have been going well on the whole. “For a first-time experience, it’s been glorious. I’ve had experiences with film commissions that are far more entrenched, that are far more restrictive, so it’s been great.”
Young said the filmmakers were convinced that Rupert Friend would be the ideal candidate to play Agent 47 after seeing his work as Peter Quinn in the TV show Homeland. “47 is not a nice guy,” Young stated bluntly. “He’s never going to be a ‘nice guy’, he’s never going to be in touch with his own feelings and hoping the audience likes him but he’s pure, he has a code he lives by, he has a job, he has a mission, he’s the smartest guy onscreen and I think what we’ve done is we’ve kept it a little bit ambiguous, who we should be rooting for but in every sequence, he really is smart and clever and is the puppet master of the entire movie. That’s what Rupert can play so well, he’s got a soul to him but he’s so smart, he’s the sort of calculating guy and you can really buy into that he’s orchestrated the whole thing.” Movie producers will invariably describe their projects in “X meets Y” terms, and sure enough, Young said “the touchstones of this movie are the very first Terminator and Luc Besson’s The Professional.”
Young mentioned that Chinese star Angela Yeung a.k.a Angelababy would have a pivotal cameo in the film as a character from the games. When asked if Hollywood is ready to see more Asian faces, Young affirmed “not just ready, I think they’re eager to”. “I think Hollywood is desperate to tell more authentic Asian stories,” he said. “Every studio now has multiple projects in development that are Asian-themed or that are international and take place in this part of the world.” He also revealed that the visual effects work for the film will be done by ILM in their facility in Singapore. “It’s not a $200 million movie, it’s a really modest movie, but to have a company like ILM doing the visual effects will make it feel like an even bigger movie because the quality will be so incredible and the facility they have here is truly extraordinary and I believe is as big if not bigger than the one in North America.”
We then got to talk to Agent 47 himself, Rupert Friend, clad in a grey t-shirt. He was charming, unassuming and who referred to the Marina Bay Sands hotel as “that hotel with that sort of boat stranded on the top”. Friend was cast after the untimely death of Paul Walker, who was originally chosen. He stated that he had played all the games, an encouraging sign that he was taking the character seriously. About the game series, he said “the exciting thing for me is that yeah, he’s tough as all s*** and he can beat the hell out of you but if you try to play the game by shooting everything and beating everyone up, you’ll just lose. If you don’t use your brain, you lose, and I thought was a very interesting premise because, as I said, I’m not into just shoot ‘em ups. If I was going to play a game, there has to be an element of strategy, tactics, intelligence, even, dare I say it, soul, because I think those days of that kind of Doom, whatever, I think gamers are smarter than that now.”
On the question of whether or not it was possible that Agent 47 has a soul, Friend said “Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve been very keen on and really insisted on, the guy’s a clone. He’s not a droid, he’s not a cyborg, he’s not a robot, he’s a human.” Friend has not taken many action-oriented parts and said he didn’t want to portray Agent 47 as a mindless, invincible killing machine. “My interest is not, believe it or not, in just looking cool, much as I’d love to,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just those cracks in the surface to let us see the actual man underneath. I love the idea that yeah, he feels things, yeah, he likes music, yeah, he likes spaghetti Bolognese, it’s just that we don’t know that. His job is killing people for money, that’s all you need to know, it’s just that he knows other things.” He said it wasn’t a big deal shaving his head for the part, since acting is about physically and otherwise transforming into the character after all, though he did reveal that it was “f**king cold” in Berlin, his scalp left vulnerable to the low temperatures.
Explaining the significance of that barcode, Friend explained “it’s his birthday, then it’s the series of clone he is, the class of clone he is and the order in which he was cloned. Looks pretty good for being born in 1964, don’t you think?” Justifying the changes made to Agent 47’s appearance, particularly the more discreet barcode, Friend said “have you ever seen a white ink tattoo? Actually, it kind of raises the skin, I love the idea that rather than something overt, the guy’s walking through a crowded metro station. Someone who’s super, super bald, when they actually have hair and you skin the thing like that, is very conspicuous, and he’s wearing like a suit and a red tie, it’s very like ‘you’re supposed to be the covert assassin guy,’ whereas this guy in the crowd over here,” he said pointing to a production still on the wall, “you’re like ‘yeah, he’s a businessman, whatever.’” Another journalist joked that Agent 47 could be mistaken for a Manchester United team manager. “There were ideas about the costume, making it more fancy and a bit more Karl Lagerfeld and I was like ‘no, classic, classic, classic,’” Friend insisted. “This is hand-tailored by a guy out of Madrid to fit me and there’s just ten of them, ten shirts, ten ties, finest cotton, everything’s expensive and well-tailored, then you don’t need bells and whistles and scarves and hats and chains and bracelets. It’s supposed to be blending in and then efficient, you know?”
Before leaving, we went back on set where the second part of the scene in which Katia gets tied up in front of the jet engine was being shot. In this sequence, Katia would try to free herself from her bonds as the engine started up, wind machines simulating the blast of wind. The director instructed Ware to make it look like it was more of a struggle to free herself. After several takes, he came over to speak briefly to us.
A director of television commercials, Hitman: Agent 47 was the first feature film project Aleksander Bach was helming. “How does it feel? Crazy. It’s a crazy honour, but of course, I’m working on this project since two years (ago) now and it took so much time of preparation to make this project really happening,” he said in halting English. He described the character of 47 as “a kind of Terminator in a James Bond suit”. Summing up the title character, Bach said “47 is a killer. You don’t love him, you don’t hate him but you understand him.”
And with that, our tour behind the scenes of Hitman: Agent 47 drew to a close. F*** hopes that the Hollywood film’s visit to our shores will be something of a boost for Singapore’s fledgling industry and who knows, perhaps Tom Cruise will be free-climbing the exterior of the Singapore Flyer in a future Mission: Impossible instalment.
Hitman: Agent 47 hits Singapore theatres on 27 August 2015

Mike and Friends’ XXL-ent Adventure

As published in Issue #66 of F*** Magazine

Text:
MIKE AND FRIENDS’ XXL-ENT ADVENTURE
F*** gets the low-down on the sexy sequel from the hunks of Magic Mike XXL 

By Jedd Jong
2012’s Magic Mike, a comedy-drama set in the Florida male revue scene, was a box office hit and received largely positive notices from critics. Naturally, most of the audience was there to admire the sculpted bods on display, and those that say they weren’t probably were as well. Drawing inspiration from the real life experiences of star Channing Tatum, Magic Mike was directed by Steven Soderbergh and saw Tatum revisit his early career as an exotic dancer.
This July, audiences can look forward to an upsized serving of eye candy courtesy of Tatum and his co-stars, many returning from the first film. Gregory Jacobs, who was the first assistant director on Magic Mike, takes over the directorial reins from Soderbergh. Writer/producer Reid Carolin also returns, sharing screenwriting credit with Tatum himself. This time, our loveable band of male strippers embarks on a voyage from Tampa to Myrtle Beach to attend a massive stripper convention.
F*** speaks exclusively to Tatum, Carolin, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer over the phone from Los Angeles. The different time zones mean the telephone conversations take place at around 5:40 am in the morning on our end, but we really can’t complain.

CHANNING TATUM AND REID CAROLIN

“XXL” is a good way to describe Channing Tatum’s career – the actor is rapidly climbing the A-list ladder and is bigger than ever, with successes like the smash hit action-comedy 21 Jump Streetand its sequel 22 Jump Street under his belt. He’s also secured a place in the X-Men pantheon, possibly appearing in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse before getting to headline a solo spin-off film as Gambit a.k.a. Remy LeBeau. Tatum garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of wrestler Mark Schultz in the dark sports drama Foxcatcher and will be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s next film, The Hateful Eight.

Tatum speaks to us alongside Reid Carolin, co-writer and producer on Magic Mike XXL and a close friend of his. Tatum and Carolin first worked together on 2008’s Stop-Loss and they have since become producing partners. Tatum and Carolin discuss whether the sequel will tie up some dangling plot threads from the first film, what it was like with Jacobs at the helm instead of Soderbergh, how the sequel is more of a road trip while also grander in scale and how the stage musical adaptation of Magic Mikeis progressing. 

The first Magic Mike ended on a cliffhanger with the fates of Adam “The Kid” and Brooke up in the air. The sequel takes place three years later and it seems that storyline isn’t being continued. What was the reason behind that decision?

Channing: Well no, it is being continued. We pick up three years later and certain things happen that you have to see the movie to be able to get those cliffhanger answers [laughs].
Reid: One of the things that’s fun about this movie is that a lot can happen to somebody’s life in three years between one movie and another. And so, I think part of the movie when you go see it, is dealing with exactly what your question is suggesting.
What is it like having Gregory Jacobs directing but having Steven Soderbergh remaining on board as cinematographer and editor?

Channing: You know, to be honest, it was a lot like the first movie [chuckles]. They really do work in such a way that…they’ve made movies together for over 20-25 years or something, it’s really close to that. It’s been for a very long time and Greg was always Steven’s line producer, he was the first AD (Assistant Director) and his producer. And Steven has always been his own camera operator and his own DP (Director of Photography), his own editor and obviously the director. And the only hat Steven didn’t wear [on this film] was pretty much the directing hat and Greg put that one on and it really kind of works seamlessly. You know, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but it really just did. Those guys, they just love each other and they’ve been doing it so long, they just speak the same language, they really do.
Reid: Yeah, I think movies are signatures of their directors and you’ll notice the distinct difference between the two movies – not in terms of the style or the way that the camera’s moving and the aesthetic vibe of the movie, but tonally and in the shape of the movie, you’ll notice a pretty big difference between the two films which I think is really exciting for us to be a part of because sometimes when you make sequels, they’re just sort of obligatory. They exist because the first movie was a success and they don’t necessarily feel like stories that are new explorations and deserve to be told in and of themselves.
The great thing is that I think we got to tell a story that is maybe much different from what people were expecting, and that was interesting to us not just because it’s a sequel but because we like the story. And also, you get to tell it through the eyes of a new person who wants to put a new stamp on the story. And what we got, like Chan said, was even surprising to us. It was awesome watching them work together and figuring out this new collaboration.
There have been many sequels that try to up the ante and go as big as possible and in the process lose the essence of what made the first film enjoyable; 22 Jump Street parodied that type of sequel. How does Magic Mike XXL retain what audiences liked about the first movie while changing it up just enough?

Channing: Well basically, when we read the message boards for the first movie, they were like “the only thing we really liked about the first movie was the guys getting naked, so do less of the story and less of everything else that wasn’t nakedness.” We just basically followed that. [Laughs] No. [Laughs] Don’t think we didn’t think about it. We really did have a unique opportunity to completely…and I actually said this in the press for the first movie, I said “I just want to, like, do a completely different film.” And I think it is such a uniquely different film in so many ways, even having a different director but a same sort of vision and understanding of the movie, just with a different heart and a different soul in a way, but with the same characters and the same spirit, but I think when you watch the second one, it’s way more of an adventure than it is, I don’t know, a cautionary tale or…the first one was very “slice of life”, to give you a window into the very weird subculture of that world. We had to really prove that we know what that world was, it is a real world with danger and very illicit sort of fun but ultimately with a real person in it that wanted more than that and that’s why I got out. This one is more of a…it’s a road trip. I think these guys realise that this life, Mike is kind of realising that his run is over. His time was over doing this. They’re realising it now.
Reid: I was just going to add to that, I think if you look at 21 and 22 Jump Street, obviously 22 did a good job satirising what it means to make a sequel but the actual essence of the story was obviously the same as the first one. It was about two people trying to navigate this relationship that they have and grow together and stay with each other through all these obstacles that present themselves. And so, while the second movie was making fun of itself, it was still basing itself off the same story paradigm. And I think when you look at our movie, obviously we’re not taking this bigger satirical, more meta approach, but the story’s changing a lot.
In the first one, it’s a lot about a guy who feels unfulfilled by his work in the world of stripping and he’s looking at all the things that stripping represents that are dark or negative or reasons for him to feel like he’s not growing as a person so of course, he leaves. And the second one, is a lot about the embracing of the other side of this world because after you’ve stepped away for a few years and you let that go and you move on with your life, you’re starting to feel fulfilled, then you start looking at some of the things in that world that were really fun, that you could celebrate, that you were really good at. And so, when he goes back into it in the journey of this movie, it’s a lot about “what are the great things about this world? What are the ways that these guys can represent women freeing themselves to have a great time and to open up?” And that’s why I really love this movie and I’ve always wanted to make it because it’s a complete and total departure from the first one into the absolute other side of this world.
Channing, the first Magic Mike can be described as “semi-autobiographical”. Did you continue to draw from your own life experiences for the sequel?

Channing: You know, the first movie…you know, look: the only real thing other than that I know what the world is like and kind of what these guys are like, the only thing that was really, I guess I could call mine or say was my story was I was 19, I had a sister, and I entered the stripping world. There wasn’t an older figure that ushered me in or anything like that, it was another story altogether. This thing, the only thing that was actually factual was I went to a stripping convention twice during my year of stripping.
Reid: You just danced in a wood shop to “Pony”?
Channing:[Laughs] in my infinite time dancing around the garages and stuff in Florida, for sure factual. [Laughs] but…sorry. So yeah, really it’s just we took the set piece of this convention that these guys go to, it’s just a destination for them to go on this…it’s an Odyssey, it’s Greek [laughs]. We go on this long journey and like learn stuff and use that to better themselves.
Reid: We took the narrative of Chan’s real story of driving up to this convention with a bunch of crazy guys doing a bunch of crazy stuff and tried to turn it into our own little stripper road trip odyssey. Stripper Easy Rider.
How is the progress going on the stage musical adaptation of Magic Mike, which I think Reid, you are writing?

Reid: I’m not writing it, actually, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is writing it and we’re going to see a full reading of it with all the musical numbers and stuff later this month. We don’t know where it’s at, we’re going to discover pretty soon.
Channing: Yeah, I mean that specifically is just not…not our world [laughs]. Look, I mean man, I’ve probably only seen in my life, God, maybe three musicals? So we’re really looking to them for this thing and kind of leaning on them, you know? I just wouldn’t even know to begin [laughs]. What’s odd is I know they’ve done a lot of work on this first concept we’ve presented them with, but I kind of think this second movie really suits itself better to an actual musical. We’re going to, again, let them do the hard work [laughs]. 


JOE MANGANIELLO

The actor best-known as the often-shirtless werewolf Alcide Herveaux on TV’s True Blood is back to send women (and many men) everywhere into a frenzy. He looked considerably different than then he did now, but the first thing most audiences saw Manganiello in was probably 2002’s Spider-Man, in which he played school bully Flash Thompson. He recently became a published author, writing the bodybuilding manual Evolution. Manganiello’s personal fitness regimen has been called “Hollywood’s hardest workout”, and the results are evident. Manganiello is reprising his role as “Big Dick Richie” – he’s probably very pleased with the character’s nickname and is just shy about admitting it out loud. Manganiello shares about a rather painful mishap he experienced on set, the similarities between a stripper convention and Comic-Con and the responses men in general have had to the first Magic Mike movie.
You’ve done action-oriented films and TV shows. Which is more physically challenging, dancing or action sequences?

[Laughs] Um, well, they’re very similar actually. They’re both somewhat choreographed routines… they’re very similar, I guess is the answer. I don’t know what’s more challenging, [but] I do know that I’ve shot a million action sequences, fight scenes, and never been injured but during my finale routine in Magic Mike XXL, the first take there was an accident and because of the accident, my bicep was torn and I had to have surgery to repair it.
I hope you’re feeling much better now!
Yeah, after about ten…you know, seven weeks in a cast and brace, three months of not being able to put weight on it, it’s starting to get better.
While promoting the first Magic Mike film, you mentioned how your True Blood contract prevented you from taking the role of Superman in Man of Steel. Are you continuing to pursue comic book movie parts can you comment on the Suicide SquadDeathstroke rumour?

No, um…there’s a lot of rumours that float around about me. I can’t uh, I don’t know. There’s a lot of rumours. None of them are rooted in anything real.
Do fans see you on the street and yell “yo, Big Dick Richie!”?
Uh, yeah. That happens, sure.
You famously rocked a firefighter get-up in the first movie. Are there any particularly interesting costumes this time around?
Uh, yes, very much. I think for this film, for the characters, was about taking stripping to the next level. It was about evolving past the archetypical “fireman, cop, cowboy” routines and really, really getting to the heart of what makes women happy and what is sexy for women. That’s really the arc of the characters and their journey as we’re going on this crazy trip together where we all come to our own individual conclusions about how to take male stripping to the next level.
What was the camaraderie like between you guys, especially with the new cast members for the sequel?
Oh man…I mean, first of all, the guys, all of us from the original movie, are best friends. We just love each other, love spending time with each other, so that was a pleasure. The new cast members, they fit right in, but it was really fun for all of us, the veterans, to watch the new rookies do their new routines on camera [laughs], a lot of fun. We got to watch them go through the emotional roller coaster that we all go through doing our first routines, so it was fun.
Like an initiation?
Yes, very much, it was like a fraternity.
You’ve been to Comic-Con several times and in this movie, the characters go to a stripper convention. They’re inherently different but can you compare what both types of conventions are like?
They are similar in many ways. I think any sort of convention or fan gathering, people want an excuse to get excited. And…this is…I would say a male stripper convention is a lot louder, a lot rowdier, than say your average Comic-Con. We were performing in front of more than 900 women a night during our finale routines and uh, it was *phew*, I mean it was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard or ever been witness to, 900 women screaming and throwing dollar bills.
Were the 900 women paid extras? I’m pretty sure they volunteered and would turn up anyway!
Yeah, they got paid for it, I think [laughs]. It was an experience, like none I’ve ever had.
Have there been guys who’ve come up to you and said “my wife/girlfriend dragged me to see Magic Mike but I ended up really liking it”?
Every guy I’ve ever met. Every guy, every guy. There’s not a guy that I met who saw Magic Mike who didn’t like it. Every guy who’s seen it gets it. It’s really funny, and it’s about men. It’s a story about men. I think guys get scared away from it because they think it only appeals to women but we are men’s men. We’re a bunch of dudes and it does appeal to guys because we’re guys. Any guy that saw Magic Mike 1that I’ve met, thought it was great thought it was hilarious, and I think they’ll find it even more so this time around.
They are very different films, but both have very high testosterone levels; can you compare working with the ensemble in Magic Mike XXL and the ensemble in Sabotage?

Um, wow! That’s interesting. In Sabotage, I met my childhood idol who’s now become one of my best friends, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was incredibly fortunate for that because I’ve met a friend for life in him. With Magic Mike, I’ve been friends with Matt Bomer since we were both 18 years old, freshmen in drama school, so I kind of came into this film with a best friend already in the cast and certainly all the other guys in the cast have become best friends as well. I consider them all my best friends. You know, honestly I think with Sabotage it was more dramatic, more serious, whereas with Magic Mike we just laugh all day, every day. Arnold Schwarzenegger really worked out hard in the gym, Arnold and I have worked out, the entire cast of Magic Mike, we all go to the gym. Long day of filming, 16 hour day, it doesn’t matter, we all head to that gym afterwards. We all push each other to be the best versions, to put in the best performance.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of your male co-stars, who would it be?

You know, Matt Bomer and I, like I said, we’ve been friends since he was 18 and I was 19 and we were freshmen in drama school. Matt is like a brother to me and he’s just become one of my best friends over the years. [Chuckles] he and I share so much history so I’m gonna have to go with Matt.  
MATT BOMER

The dashing Matt Bomer, with that chiselled jawline and baby blue eyes, was unfailingly charming during his five-year run on the TV series White Collar, in which he played the lead role of conman Neal Caffrey. Bomer is also a charming interview subject, expressing friendly concern for the early hour for this writer at which the phoner is taking place. Besides his good looks, Bomer boasts considerable acting chops, bagging a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for the HBO television movie The Normal Heart. Bomer returns in Magic Mike XXL as stripper Ken, who got to perform a memorable routine as, what else, a Ken doll in the first film. He discusses the camaraderie and competition between the cast members, whether he will keep his focus on feature films or return to the small screen and what it was like filming a routine in front of nearly 2000 screaming women.

What’s been going on in the life of your character Ken in the three years between Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL?


Like a couple of the other guys, Ken is at kind of a crossroads…figuring out what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not [chuckles]…he knows that a certain chapter of his life is closing and he’s figuring out what he’s going to do next. He’s a part-time actor and right now he’s stripping to pay the bills and he knows that that sort of security he has in the job is going away. His marriage has sort of not worked out the way he thought it was going to and he has to figure out what the next chapter of his life is going to be. Thankfully, he has Mike to help him out.
Assistant choreographer Teresa Espinosa said that of the cast in the first film, you picked up the choreography the quickest. Did that remain the case on the sequel, now that tWitch is in the cast?

[Lauhgs] I paid her to say that. A small fee. I don’t know if that was true or not. I love Teresa and [lead choreographer] Alison [Faulk] and what makes them so amazing is not just the amazing choreography they give everybody but that they were really good at finding the choreography for everyone that showed them in their best light. By no means am I the best dancer in this movie, so maybe they gave me simpler choreography in this movie and I learned it fast. I know that they have a pretty amazing work ethic on this movie and I like to work pretty hard too, so one of the most fun things about working on the film was getting to do rehearsals with them so early on. We were in dance rehearsal spaces about a month, a month and a half before we started filming, just practising every day. That was such an incredible learning experience, it also prepares you for that moment when suddenly, there are 2000 people there, cameras rolling. You obviously want a lot of spontaneity to stay in there but you feel like you’re prepared for whatever’s gonna happen.
In the first film, you had the memorable Ken Doll routine. Without giving too much away, do you have a big set piece routine in Magic Mike XXL?

I wouldn’t say it’s a “set-piece” routine but there’s definitely a big surprise routine coming from Ken, what that I don’t think people would expect.
When discussing the first film, you told The Hollywood Reporter that “Steven’s not gonna do a movie that doesn’t have some substance to it, outside of just a bunch of guys taking their clothes off.” Where do you feel the substance in the sequel lies?

I think it’s a different movie – the first one was much more a meditation on business ethics, does your choice of career define your destiny. This really is a stripper Odyssey, it’s a road trip movie where these guys who were thrown out of their usual element when they go out on the road, they find out things about themselves that are going to serve them later in life when their life changes direction. For me, it was much more of a road trip movie in the vein of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or The Last Detail.
Channing and Reid referred to it as “Stripper Easy Rider

I like that too. [Laughs]

Was it a relaxed set with everyone joking around and at ease or was it more focused and intense because of the choreography involved?

I think it was a little bit of both. Just depending on what the substance was on any given day. But mostly one of the really fun things and I think one of the reasons why everyone came back into the sequel was because we had so much fun working together and we had a really fun group dynamic where everybody got along well and we fell back into that really easily. There was always an inherent sense of fun underneath everything but there were days where you had to take it a little more seriously. The nice thing was, even though we’re all really competitive guys, we were very supportive of each other and it’s one of the few film’s I’ve been on where somebody would stay after their work day was done to watch somebody else’s routine and support them. It was a little bit of everything, but underneath it all, a real sense of fun.
So there was a sense of camaraderie that carried over from the first film?

Absolutely. I think all the guys are really great guys but so much of it stems from Channing. Even when it wasn’t an ensemble movie per se in the first one, he made everybody feel so important and special and valued, so in a movie like this, where the ensemble is so important, it just kind of carried over.
In what way did the competitive nature of the cast manifest itself? Were there spontaneous push-up contests?

[Chuckles] Well, it’s more a team dynamic, it’s not “me vs. you”, it’s us as a team being the best we can be. I would compare it to locker room jokes and humour. At the same time, we really held each other accountable in terms of what we were allowed to eat, how often we worked out, what we were doing to stay in shape. We were really supporting each other; it was kind of a group competitive dynamic, I guess.
What was the vibe in Myrtle Beach like compared to that in Tampa?

Um, they’re different towns, that’s for sure. A lot of the exteriors we did in Tampa were beach-oriented, like the sandbar party, whereas in Myrtle Beach, a lot of it were the exteriors leading up to the convention. I think if you’re talking about the events that transpire as opposed to the actual location, all I can say is one of the reasons it’s called “XXL” is definitely because of the convention that takes place in Myrtle Beach. On the first movie, we had close to 200 extras, maybe 300? I know it was a small club. But in this film, I think there were literally 2000 women in the room when you did a number. It just magnified the energy of the room when you did the performance, just electrified.
 
Joe said it was the loudest noise he’d ever heard in his life.

[Laughs] I don’t know about that, I’ve been to some pretty big concerts. But I understand what he’s saying, it’s a really kind of intense exchange of energy that’s going on between the performer and the audience. I’ve heard some louder concerts in my lifetime, but it really was mind-blowing. It took me a take or two to remember what my name was, to be able to do my thing [laughs].
The first film has really struck a chord with the gay community. Have people come up to you to say how they were affected by the movie?

Um, I wouldn’t say specifically from that community. I think what’s great about the movie is I hear things from all different kinds of communities: men, women, straight men, gay men, gay women, straight women…it really runs the gamut. The immediate response was from straight women and gay men, probably, but I think one of the interesting things about the movie having a life on cable, I think it was picked up by HBO where a lot of straight guys had the chance to see it, and I hear from them and they go “you know man, that was actually a really cool movie!” [Chuckles] I don’t know what it was that they were expecting, but when they watched it from the safety of their home, they realised it wasn’t just a bunch of dudes getting naked the whole time. So I hope those guys who saw it on HBO will come out and support it this time as well, because there’s definitely a lot of fun to this movie and hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Joe said something along those lines; that a lot of straight men have come up to him to say they enjoyed the film in spite of their expectations of it.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t think people knew what to expect. The first film dealt a lot with the world of business, with profession and destiny, and I think that’s something any men can related to. And obviously, there were things in there for women as well. I think the sort of group male dynamic in this is something guys can relate to and there’s obviously a lot for the women as well, so I hope that carries over.
White Collar concluded a little while ago. After Magic Mike XXL, would you take up a lead role in a TV series again or are you choosing to focus more on feature films?

Well, I’m playing opposite Lady Gaga in American Horror Story. I don’t discriminate between mediums. I think the notion that “film is best” or whatever it is, I think that’s kind of an antiquated notion. I think now people just go where the story and the writing is the richest, and sometimes that’s in a film if you’re lucky, and sometimes that’s on cable TV or regular TV. It’s really about the story. That’s what has always interested me as an artist, the story, not “how is this going to be marketed” or “how many people are going to see this”. When I sat down to do the first Magic Mike, it was a very small independent film. I just thought “wow, this is such an interesting world, this is a filmmaker I’ve always wanted to work with.” I was a big fan of Channing and Matthew’s [McConaughey] work and thankfully it became something bigger. To me, I’m always interested in the story. So whatever the medium that the story I’m interested in is on, I can be there.
You provided the voice of Superman in the animated film Superman: Unbound – after playing the character in a Japanese car commercial. As an actor, what is it like using only your voice compared to, well, using mostly your body, as you do in the Magic Mikemovies?

[Laughs] You know, it’s a really unique challenge and I hope it’s something I get to continue to do, because there’s something really free about it. I get crazy man, in the recording booth. I’ll begin to do it physically as well, in any way I can. I think it reminds you as an actor how important it is to use your voice. It’s definitely a different kind of challenge, I’ve learnt so much from doing it and I hope I get to continue to do it.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of your male co-stars, who would it be?

[Laughs] Oh my goodness, gosh! From both films or just this one?
From both films.

I would say…probably Joe, because I’ve known him since we were 18, we went to college together. We’ve known each other for so long that there’s no bulls***, we’re pretty direct with each other, we can tell it like it is. He’s also a really solid guy who I think would remain sane under the crazy-ass circumstances of being stranded on an island [laughs]. And he’s yoked enough that he could take down any wild animal who would attack. I would say Joe.
You’d be pleased to know that Joe said you as well.

Yay! 
Magic Mike XXL opens 9 July 2015.

Hollywood Adventures (横冲直撞好莱坞)

For F*** Magazine

HOLLYWOOD ADVENTURES (横冲直撞好莱坞)

Director : Timothy Kendall
Cast : Zhao Wei, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Sarah Li, Sung Kang, Rhys Coiro, Stephen Tobolowsky, Simon Helberg, Robert Patrick, Kat Dennings. Tyrese Gibson, Missi Pyle
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 9 July 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use)
These tourists turn tinsel town topsy-turvy. Say that three times fast. In this action comedy, Huang Xiaoming stars as Beijing car salesman Xiaoming, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Yan Yan (Li) when she up and leaves him to become a production assistant in Hollywood. Xiaoming frantically grabs the last available ticket to L.A., inadvertently joining the “Hollywood Adventures” tour group with garrulous movie buff Dawei (Tong). They arrive in the City of Angels, meeting up with tour guide Wei Wei (Zhao). In the process of his quest to win back the love of his life, Xiaoming stumbles into a smuggling operation, running afoul of various colourful characters including shady motel proprietor Manny Love (Kang), irascible movie director Wronald Wright (Tobolowsky) and diva movie star Gary Buesheimer (Coiro).

            This China-U.S. co-production is half showbiz satire, half “idiots abroad” comedy. Helmed by small-time TV director Timothy Kendall and co-written and co-produced by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame, Hollywood Adventures is Lin’s attempt at breaking into the lucrative Chinese film market. The film plays into China’s growing consumption of and fascination with American popular culture, stuffed to the gills with references to movies and TV shows. The creative team, including Lin, Kendall and co-writers Brice Beckham and Philip W. Chung, are all American, casting three of China’s biggest stars in a bid to appeal to Chinese filmgoers. Unfortunately for Lin and company, the film raked in far less than expected upon its opening in China.

            There is the sense throughout the film that the filmmakers are eager to pander to their target audience’s larger-than-life perception of the United States in general and Hollywood in particular. Hollywood Adventures is filled with depictions of ludicrous film industry shenanigans and it portrays Americans as simpletons easily appeased by mindless violence – in-story, a reality TV show called “Punch Me” is sweeping the nation. There are also several surprise celebrity cameos – Dawei has a massive crush on Kat Dennings, whom he naturally runs into on a movie set, and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg shows up as a translator. The highlight of these is an appearance by a certain Terminator star, who leaves dignity at the door and skewers his most famous role with amusing aplomb.

While often unfocused and very, very broad in its comedic stylings, the film does have a fair number of laughs. The Dawei character is one of those guys who speaks exclusively in movie references and quotes and is the source of fourth-wall breaking meta-fictional humour – you’ll notice that all three protagonists share the names of the actors playing them. It’s often very on the nose – upon first seeing Manny, Dawei remarks that he “looks a lot like Han from the Fast and Furious movies” – both characters are played by Sung Kang. However, this type of winking self-awareness is rare in Chinese comedies and fits right in with the L.A. setting of the movie. The film trades in various well-worn formulas, but every time a familiar trope shows up, Dawei is there to remark on it. That doesn’t excuse its lack of originality but it does make it easier to go along with the romp.

The three leads are excellently cast – Huang Xiaoming plays the strait-laced straight man, Tong Dawei is the silly sidekick and Zhao Wei is the plucky, world-weary lass who has to guide the duo through the unfamiliarity of Hollywood. Tong in particular is admirably game for a variety of embarrassing/dumb scenarios – we somehow wind up witnessing him in drag astride a motorcycle during the film’s climactic action sequence. As is often the case, the de-facto main character is the least distinct, but Huang manages to make Xiaoming adequately appealing. Zhao showcases the comic timing she’s become known for and as she plays the only one of the three leads conversant in English, does most of the interacting with the other characters for the other two. On the other hand, Rhys Coiro is not even a tiny bit convincing as a big-shot movie star involved in some illegal business. We also find it puzzling that the character’s name is a play on “Gary Busey”, of all the “top movie stars” to lampoon.

Hollywood Adventures is stupid, but for the most part, it’s amiably so. As a send-up of typical Hollywood excesses, the film ends up partaking in those same excesses, taking a hard right in its third act into thriller territory. There are still gags, but these take a backseat to a kidnapping, a showdown at an exclusive shindig and lots of cars crashing into each other and flipping through the air. The three main characters also rather conveniently become expert sharpshooters, martial artists and stunt performers by the time the denouement rolls around. Even given all that, there’s a fair amount to enjoy and despite its various shortcomings, the movie has enough raucous energy for it to pass as a somewhat entertaining diversion.

Summary: This rampage through Hollywood is brash and very silly, but the strength of the three leads and a good dose of self-aware humour carry it to the finish line.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

SPL 2: A Time For Consequences (杀破狼II)

For F*** Magazine

SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (杀破狼II)

Director : Soi Cheang
Cast : Tony Jaa, Louis Koo, Wu Jing, Simon Yam, Zhang Jin, Philip Keung, Ken Lo
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 2 July 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Drug Use)
Tony Jaa has no more time for elephants, only a time for consequences in this Hong Kong-Thai action thriller. Jaa plays Chai, a prison guard whose young daughter Sa is battling leukaemia. An unlikely new prisoner lands in the jail where Chai works: Hong Kong undercover cop Kit (Wu), who has had his cover blown while on the trail of organ trafficking ring kingpin Mr. Hung (Koo). Mr. Hung, himself terminally ill, is in Thailand for a heart transplant to save his life, forcing his younger brother (Jun Kung) to be the donor. Kit’s supervisor and uncle Wah (Yam) tracks his nephew down and travels to Thailand to retrieve him. It turns out that Kit is the only bone marrow match for Sa, so Kit and Chai must become unlikely partners to save their own lives and the life of little Sa as fists and bullets fly.


            SPL 2 is rather confusingly named – it is almost completely unrelated to the 2005 film SPL, starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, even though both Simon Yam and Wu Jing were in the earlier movie too. This is a “spiritual sequel”, i.e. some other script with the “SPL” name slapped onto it. The film’s grammatically-impaired English tagline is “Real action. Real fight.” There are fights aplenty and action director Li Chung Chi choreographs some intense battles, including a shootout at a ferry terminal and a stylish climactic showdown in a pristine high-end medical facility. It is also a boon that Tony Jaa, Wu Jing and Zhang Jin are all highly skilled martial artists in their own right and are able to perform their own fights. Those looking purely for “real fight”, however, will probably come away slightly disappointed at the usage of stylised wirework for several of the sequences.

            While it contains enough fisticuffs to satiate action junkies, SPL 2 is burdened with an unexpectedly convoluted, labyrinth story. A key plot device is that of a terminally ill little girl and the search for a bone marrow donor – this seems more at home in a soap opera than in a martial arts flick. The plot has to straddle both Hong Kong and Thailand and this is often done quite clumsily. It seems as if screenwriter Jill Leung Lai-yin was tasked with finding a way to work Jaa into the story and ended up spinning a far knottier yarn that was needed. This is a film in which the two protagonists do not speak the same language, and have to communicate via smart phone translator app. If that doesn’t drive a wedge in the buddy chemistry, we have no idea what will.


            Tony Jaa is very likeable as an action hero and is experiencing something of a career resurgence after completing his stint as a Buddhist monk, making inroads into Hollywood with Fast and Furious 7 and the Dolph Lundgren-starrer Skin Trade. He has the earnestness and intensity down pat but of course, it’s his impressive Muay Thai-trained athleticism that makes more of an impact than anything else. Wu Jing comes from a different martial arts training background and they do complement each other, even though their partnership never feels complete because of the invisible cultural/language barrier that’s always there. Rocking a waistcoat, Zhang Jin is slick and dangerous as the prison warden and main henchman to Mr. Hung. Louis Koo puts aside his usual handsome, healthy appearance as the sickly master criminal; his portrayal sinister but never wholly threatening.

            Instead of having a little fun and being truly inventive with the action sequences, SPL 2 takes itself far too seriously – the faux-portentous subtitle “A Time for Consequences” should have been indication enough. Instead of being gritty and hard-hitting, the film is often frustratingly maudlin, melodramatic and hard to follow. The cliché use of very recognisable pieces of classical music in an attempt to elicit pathos, including Mozart’s Requiem and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Summer), further mires the film in unintentional hilarity. The filmmakers clearly had access to the resources and talent to make a truly entertaining, breath-taking martial arts extravaganza, but have instead tangled themselves up in too much plot.


Summary: Even though it contains a fair amount of neatly-choreographed action, SPL 2 is slow, difficult to follow and fails to deliver a cohesive team-up between Thai action star Tony Jaa and Hong Kong action star Wu Jing.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong