Goosebumps

For F*** Magazine

GOOSEBUMPS

Director : Rob Letterman
Cast : Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, Ken Marino, Halston Sage
Genre : Horror/Adventure
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : PG (Frightening Scenes)
A malicious menagerie of monsters is tearing free of the confines of the written page in this comedy-horror adventure. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move from New York to Madison, Delaware, where his mother is taking up a position as the new vice-principal at the local high school. Zach befriends his neighbour Hannah (Rush), daughter of the secretive children’s horror author R.L. Stine (Black). Stine makes it clear that he wants Zach to stay away from Hannah, but Zach suspects that Hannah might be in danger from her father. Together with his new friend from school, goofy misfit Champ (Lee), Zach breaks into Stine’s house and unlocking the original Goosebumps manuscripts, unwittingly unleashes sheer havoc. It turns out that the creatures Stine has written about actually exist, with the sinister ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) leading the charge. It is up to Stine, Hannah, Zach and Champ to re-capture them and save the town from supernatural devastation. 
Robert Lawrence Stine’s Goosebumps series is massively successful and something of a cultural touchstone, spanning 62 books, numerous spin-offs and a TV show. Combining the spooky and the funny, many kids who were in middle school in the 90s regard Goosebumps as a nostalgic favourite. After a feature film adaptation failed to materialise in the late 90s with Tim Burton attached to produce, we finally have a Goosebumps movie. The screenplay, re-written by Darren Lemke from a draft by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, takes a tongue-in-cheek meta-fictional approach. The germ of the idea, with a fictionalised Stine trying to wrangle his creations after they’ve run amok, is a clever starting point and also lets the filmmakers cram all the fan-favourite characters, from the Mummy of Prince Kho-Ru to Murder the Clown to the giant praying mantis, into the movie. 
Apart from a pretty neat central twist, things go very predictably indeed. Goosebumps does what it says on the tin: there are laughs and tame scares and an okay, if not great, time is to be had by all. It does feel like a Disney Channel original movie with marginally better production values, and despite some moments of meta humour, it’s very formulaic. The visual effects lack polish and many of the CGI-created creatures are far from convincing. Perhaps the reasoning is that kids won’t be too picky about that sort of thing, but then again, kids today are used to the level of visual effects seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The most effectively creepy monster is Slappy the Dummy himself, and it is a good move to have him as the evil mastermind. This is due in no small part to the fact that Slappy is a physical puppet instead of a synthetic digital critter. Presumably a vestige of Burton’s involvement, there’s composer Danny Elfman doing a spot of self-parody with a very Elfman-y score indeed.
The cast of characters is as standard for a kid-aimed adventure flick as they come: there’s the new kid, the girl he has a crush on, the goofy best friend, the well-meaning, sometimes-embarrassing mum, the adult with a mysterious secret that the kids uncover, etc. Minnette is not spectacularly interesting to watch, but he doesn’t project that self-conscious “I’m so cool” vibe most teen actors have. Rush is very appealing, looking more and more like Mila Kunis each time she appears in a new movie. Lee has been typecast as the dorky kid, but we’ll be darned if he isn’t the complete embodiment of that trope. 
Of course, the big draw is Black, whose Stine starts out creepy but eventually becomes more sympathetic as we root for him to regain control over the terrifying denizens that populate his books. Stine’s contempt for another famous horror author is the source of some of the movie’s funniest jokes. Goosebumps reunites Black with director Rob Letterman, who also helmed Gulliver’s Travels. Thankfully, Goosebumps is less cringe-worthy than Gulliver’s Travels. Black’s having fun, but doesn’t go too over the top. Black also voices Slappy and the Invisible Boy – his delivery as Slappy is a cross between the Crypt-Keeper and Mark Hamill’s Joker, distinctive and entertaining. 
Genuinely enjoyable kids’ adventure flicks such as The Goonies, Monster Squad and of course E.T.: The Extraterrestrial have kind of gone out of fashion, with young adult novel adaptations taking their place. Super 8, in which Lee also had a role, is probably the closest we’ve come to that in recent years. Goosebumps falls short of that magic, but it’s evident that the filmmakers do have a fondness for the source material and with this premise, they manage to wrap their arms around the vast number of stories in the book series and capture that overall spirit amiably. It’s hard to argue with the appeal of Jack Black trying to wrest a killer gnome off his face. Look out for the R(ea)L Stine himself in a cameo towards the end of the movie. 
Summary: Goosebumps is largely an unremarkable, generic kids’ adventure, but the target demographic will be entertained and the meta-fictional approach does work. 
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 
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The Last Witch Hunter

For F*** Magazine

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER

Director : Breck Eisner
Cast : Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Julie Engelbrecht, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 22 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Something wicked this way comes, and the only thing that can keep it at bay is the last witch hunter. Vin Diesel plays Kaulder, a warrior of the Order of the Axe and Cross who has dedicated his life to pursuing and incarcerating practitioners of dark magic. Kaulder lost his wife and daughter to the Black Plague and, having been cursed with immortality by the Witch Queen (Engelbrecht), has walked the earth for 800 years. His loyal scribe and handler, the 36th Dolan (Caine), is retiring and passing the torch to the rookie 37th Dolan (Wood). As the evil Belial (Ólafsson) carves a path of destruction through New York, Kaulder must team up with a witch, something he never thought he’d do. The “good witch” in question is Chloe (Leslie), the proprietor of a “witches only” nightclub. As he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, Kaulder must battle the powers of darkness to prevent a new plague from being unleashed in New York.

A “did you know?” factoid about Vin Diesel that always pops up is that he is an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and his old D&D character Melkor was a witch hunter. This might be the ultimate form of wish fulfilment for its star, but few others are likely to get anything worthwhile out of The Last Witch Hunter. A ho-hum urban fantasy adventure film that is content with trying nothing new, this is the very definition of uninspired. Recalling the Nicolas Cage duds The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Season of the Witch, this tale of a mystical warrior waging a secret war that the hoi polloi are oblivious to is as rote as they come. Director Breck Eisner, whose most high-profile film so far is the 2005 flop Sahara, comes off as little more than a hired gun whose ambitions here do not extend past making Diesel look cool.

We’ve seen many films laden with heavy-handed exposition. In The Last Witch Hunter, practically every other line is heavy-handed exposition. The history of the secret order, the different powers witches possess, the tragic backgrounds of various characters, it’s all spelled out with much laziness and little finesse. The film’s screenwriters have a track record of hokey supernatural action flicks: Cory Goodman wrote Priest while Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless penned last year’s Dracula Untold. The solitary hero, the ancient council of elders, the long-dormant evil about to rise again, it’s all frustratingly derivative. There are plenty of computer-generated creatures and landscapes and technically-speaking, the film is fine, with veteran cinematographer Dean Semler keeping the movie from looking too cheap. The practical makeup effects on the Witch Queen are detailed and creepy, but whether it’s swarms of bugs, swirling flames or thorny roots springing forth out of the ground, we’ve seen this all before in some form or another and there’s nothing really worth getting excited about.

Diesel doing the tortured action hero thing is as yawn-inducing as it sounds. Unlike the character of Riddick, there is scarcely any mystery to Kaulder. This is meant to be someone with a richly storied past, having witnessed things few would believe over his 800-year-long existence. Instead, Kaulder comes across as pretty boring and for an old hand at this witch-hunting business, he falls for some basic traps throughout the film. We get a sense of how noble he is through an offhand comment about how the Salem Witch Trials were wrong, and there are also frequent dream sequence flashbacks to Kaulder in happier times frolicking with his late wife and daughter in an effort to make us feel something for him. It doesn’t work.

Leslie’s Chloe fulfils the role of the woman who gets pulled into the hero’s quest by dint of possessing an item or skill he requires. There are moments when the alluring feistiness Leslie brought to the part of Ygritte on Game of Thrones can be glimpsed, but the character is mostly perfunctory. Through Chloe, Kaulder comes to learn that “not all witches are evil”, yet another shop-worn plot device. Leslie and Diesel also have no chemistry to speak of.

Caine is only in very little of the movie, playing the mentor figure in all but name because Kaulder is of course a lot older than he is. Diesel calling Caine “kid” is kind of amusing the first couple of times, but this dynamic doesn’t get fleshed out. A film of this type needs a charismatic villain, perhaps someone larger than life, but Engelbrecht and Ólafsson are non-presences as the Witch Queen and Belial respectively. Thanks to his perennially youthful demeanour, Wood is still playing the fresh-faced kid sidekick at 34. This is probably the most conventional project he’s taken on in his quirky post-Lord of the Rings career.

A tepid production line affair, The Last Witch Hunter is an attempt at spinning yet another franchise for Diesel, because the tiny indie project that is the Fast and Furious films apparently isn’t paying the bills. The mythos is half-baked and this doesn’t feel like a substantial world waiting to be explored. The Last Witch Hunter isn’t based on a series of books, comics or video-games, but it still smacks of a crippling lack of originality and audiences will return from this hunt empty-handed.

Summary: Vin Diesel fails to conjure up any magic with this generic urban fantasy adventure flick that ought to be far more entertaining than it actually is.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Walk

For F*** Magazine

THE WALK

Director : Robert Zemeckis
Cast : Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 22 October 2015
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Keep those Dramamine pills handy, because director Robert Zemeckis and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt are taking us on a particularly dizzying walk. In this biopic, Gordon-Levitt plays Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist with, quite literally, a lofty ambition: to walk a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. The moment he first glimpses the structures in a magazine, Petit cannot take his mind off conquering the void between them. He seeks the tutelage of Papa Rudy (Kingsley), the patriarch of a famous clan of high-wire circus performers, and goes about assembling a team of accomplices who will help him break into the South Tower. Street musician Annie (Le Bon), who becomes Petit’s girlfriend, is the first. She is soon joined by photographer Jean-Louis (Sibony), math teacher Jeff (Domboy) and in New York itself, electronics salesman J.P. (Dale) and insurance agent Barry (Valentine), whose office. in the World Trade Centre. Battling doubts, their better judgement and logistical difficulties all the while evading the authorities, Petit and his crew go about preparing for this illegal, dangerous but ultimately breath-taking feat of derring-do. 
The Walk is based on Petit’s autobiography To Reach the Clouds, which earlier served as the basis for the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. After making his acceptance speech, Petit famously balanced the Oscar statuette on his chin. Awards contender biopics, branded as “important movies”, can sometimes be inaccessible and a bit of a chore for the average moviegoer to sit through. The Walk is very far away from that, a straightforward, heartfelt account of one guy’s crazy quest and the lengths he and his friends went to in order to make his dream a reality. There’s an undeniable appeal to the simplicity of the premise which papers over the slightly phony Hollywood sheen the film sometimes has. There are moments that can be twee and cloying, particularly during the nostalgia-heavy scenes set in Paris, but perhaps it adds to the film’s old-school charm in its own way. 
Typically, awards movie season biopics don’t exactly seem like they must be witnessed on the big screen. The Walk’s primary selling point is its spectacle, and the exhilarating sequences of Petit doing his thing 110 storeys up in the air are what Zemeckis and co. hope will convince those who watched the documentary to experience the story again. There have been reports of audiences at screenings actually throwing up from vertigo. We don’t mean to sound insensitive to those viewers, but incidents like that are great publicity indeed, indicating that the film has achieved a sense of immersion for the audience. It’s a little like when horror movies like Last House on the Left proudly proclaimed on their posters that audience members fainted from fright. 
Known for helming effects-heavy films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, in addition to motion capture movies like The Polar Express and Beowulf, Zemeckis has never been one to shy away from gimmicks. Surprisingly, 3D hasn’t been used to accomplish the effect of vertigo as often as one would think. The twin towers themselves and the surrounding New York cityscape circa 1974 are faithfully, stunningly realised by visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie and the artists from effects houses Atomic Fiction, UPP, Rodeo FX and Legend 3D. This is a “based on a true story” affair that isn’t afraid to have lots of fun, and the theme park thrill ride aspect is complementary rather than distracting. 
Gordon-Levitt turns up the charm, bringing lithe athleticism and a mischievous twinkle in his eye to the part of Petit. Yes, his French accent is pretty cringe-inducing and is even more jarring given that Gordon-Levitt is acting opposite actual French actors, but it’s relatively easy to overlook after a while. It’s no mean feat to make obsession endearing, and while there are the expected dramatic beats where we see the toll that Petit’s unceasing drive takes on him and his friends, the film is largely upbeat and free-spirited. His stunt double is former Cirque du Soleil high-wire walker Jade Kindar-Martin. Gordon-Levitt’s take on Petit is almost an imp from another dimension who has materialised on this plane to simply live his dream. Sure, his exploits may seem crazy to the man in the street, but high above that street, Petit seems perfectly at home, and in his projection of this, Gordon-Levitt is irresistible. 
French-Canadian actress Le Bon shares palpable chemistry with Gordon-Levitt. While her introductory scene in which Annie gets upset with Petit for stealing her thunder with his tightrope juggling routine is corny, we do come to buy these two as a couple. Annie definitely has ideas and goals of her own, so her support of Petit is all the more endearing. As the mentor figure Papa Rudy, Kingsley does seem like he’s lived his whole life in a circus, bringing enough personality to the “paternal/authoritarian” archetype. Sibony, Domboy, Dale and Valentine are a likeable bunch and the camaraderie that Petit’s team shares is heart-warming and rousing. Jeff willingly assists Petit on the roof of the South Tower in spite of his own crippling fear of heights. “Squad goals,” as the kids say these days. There is a stoner character who comes off more as inauthentic, unnecessary comic relief than anything else, though. 
The Walk isn’t about a troubled chess champion, a schizophrenic mathematician, a code-breaking genius or women fighting for their right to vote. It’s not particularly weighty, but especially during awards movie season, this reviewer is fine with that. The twin towers stand no more and the film acknowledges this tastefully with a final frame that is wont to give many New Yorkers a lump in their throats. It is occasionally overly schmaltzy, and as Alan Silvestri’s score swells and characters give impassioned speeches about chasing their dreams, one might roll one’s eyes and say “I see what you’re trying to do, movie”. However, the earnestness with which Zemeckis and crew go about things overrides that feeling. A celebration of passion, conviction and artistic expression, The Walk is a thrilling, entertaining and moving journey.  
Summary: While it might give acrophobics pause, The Walk is a heartfelt tale that is easy to get into thanks to its star’s innate likeability and its thrilling spectacle is something to behold. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong 

In-Spectre Gadget: Paying Attention to Q

As published in Issue #69 of F*** Magazine, Singapore

Text:
IN-SPECTRE GADGET
We pay some attention to James Bond’s trusted Quartermaster
By Jedd Jong

The Bond films have always been packed with adventure, danger, glamour, women…and yes, gadgets! The nifty devices at James Bond’s disposal have always been part of the series’ appeal, and there would be no gadgets without Q, the head of MI6’s Q Branch who arms Bond with all the tools he needs for each mission. It became customary for Bond to visit Q’s lab, where Q would demonstrate his inventions and sigh disapprovingly at 007’s immaturity and recklessness. While the focus is usually on the gadgets themselves, with Spectre’s release imminent and Q set to play a fairly significant role in the proceedings, let’s place the attention on Q himself.

“Q” is a title, standing for “Quartermaster”. In Ian Fleming’s original novels, Q himself did not appear, though Q Branch gets mentioned. Continuation novels by other authors did include Q. The novel Dr. No introduces the MI6 service armourer Major Boothroyd, who was named for firearms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd. He had written to Fleming saying he was a fan of the character but not of his choice of weapons, and as a result of their correspondence, James Bond came to use the Walther PPK, a gun which has become indelibly linked to the character. Moral of the story: complain about your favourite books and shows on internet forums and your points will definitely be taken into consideration!
Major Boothroyd was played by Peter Burton in 1962’s Dr. No, the first official EON Productions Bond film to be released. Boothroyd replaces Bond’s .380 ACP Beretta m1934 pistol with a .32 Walther PPK, noting that the Beretta jammed on the last job. Burton was unavailable to return for the second Bond film, From Russia With Love. This turned out to be a stroke of bad luck for Burton, because his replacement went on to play Q from 1963 to 1999.
The actor who played Major Boothroyd in From Russia With Love and who would go on to become the definitive screen incarnation of Q was none other than Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn. From Russia’s director Terence Young had previously worked with Llewelyn on the war movie They Were Not Divided, in which Llewelyn played a tank gunner. In real life, Llewelyn had served in the military in World War II as part of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, surviving five years as a German prisoner of war.
In From Russia With Love, Boothroyd supplied Sean Connery’s James Bond with what is considered the first true “Bond gadget” of the movies, a tricked-out attaché case. Disguised as an ordinary briefcase, it contained a folding AR-7 sniper rifle, held 40 rounds of ammunition, a removable throwing knife that popped out of the side, a bottle of tear gas disguised as a bottle of talcum powder and 50 gold sovereigns. Not exactly cutting-edge, but definitely very cool for the time.

In Goldfinger, the character was first referred to as “Q” and would be known by that title in the films that followed, with one notable exception: In The Spy Who Loved Me, Soviet agent Anya Amasova calls Q “Major Boothroyd”. Q was characterised as somewhat of a curmudgeon, often impatient with Bond’s juvenile antics. Goldfinger introduced Q’s immortal line, “I never joke about my work, 007,” which was Q’s response to Bond’s incredulous reaction when he is told that the Aston Martin DB-5 has been equipped with an ejector seat. Q was also prone to muttering an exasperated “pay attention, 007!” or “oh grow up, 007” on many an occasion.

Q was far from a stereotypical harsh taskmaster, and one got the impression that he had grown very fond of 007 and would just rather not admit it out loud, taking on the role of the disapproving but ultimately kind old uncle. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Q showed up to Bond’s wedding, visibly sad that Bond would be leaving MI6, and in both Octopussy and License to Kill, Q went out and about in the field. Octopussy has the silly but loveable scene of Q flying to Bond’s aid in a hot air balloon and teaming up with Octopussy’s bevy of circus troupe beauties. License to Kill took the more serious tack of Q assisting Bond behind M’s back after Bond has been disavowed by MI6. “Remember, if it hadn’t been for Q Branch, you’d have been dead long ago,” he tells Bond with that trademark blend of warmth and stern fatherly authority.
Despite insisting that he never joked about his work, Q did have a sense of humour – gadgets that were onscreen solely for a visual gag became one of the staples of the Q Lab scenes. In The Living Daylights, we see Q working on a ‘ghetto blaster’, a boom box that can fire a rocket. In GoldenEye, Q enters the scene wheelchair-bound, revealing that his leg cast hides a missile launcher. Surprisingly enough, Q also utters one of the most blush-inducing double entendres in the whole series. At the end of Moonraker, Bond and Holly Goodhead are aboard the space shuttle, partaking in some zero-gravity lovemaking. Bond’s superiors inadvertently witness this via the shuttle’s on-board cameras, with Minister of Defence Fredrick Gray exclaiming “My God, what’s Bond doing?”
“I think he’s attempting re-entry sir,” Q answers slyly.
Q has also donned disguises when meeting Bond, posing as a car rental agent in Tomorrow Never Dies, a Mexican priest in License to Kill and a Greek Orthodox priest in For Your Eyes Only. The latter resulted in this amusing exchange:
Bond: “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”
Q: “That’s putting it mildly, 007!”
While he played a technical whiz in the Bond movies, Llewelyn’s aptitude with gadgetry in real life was a far cry from that. “I am hopeless with gadgets,” he admitted in an interview. “I can’t even get a ticket to work in one of those confounded machines on the London Underground. And I can hardly put on a kettle, let alone set a video.” Llewelyn also saw the character of Q and his gadgets as enabling the crucial escapism that became associated with the series, which leads one to think he might not be the biggest fan of the more straight-faced approach the recent Daniel Craig-starring films have taken. “You must keep fantasy with Bond, and not only fantasy, but pure relaxation, enjoyment. What you see on the screen is something that you don’t have in this world today. You can just sit back and enjoy it,” he said.
By the time 1999’s The World is Not Enough rolled around, Llewelyn had appeared as the Quartermaster in a whopping 17 Bond films including that one, and had dispensed gadgets to Bond as played by five different actors. The World is Not Enough introduces Q’s assistant R, played by Monty Python’s John Cleese. Brosnan’s Bond quips “If you’re Q, does that make him R?”
Carrying on his mentor’s disdain for Bond’s smart-mouthed tendencies, R retorts “Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.”
R was being set up to take over for Q after the latter’s retirement. “Always have an escape plan,” Q tells Bond as a platform lowers him out of his lab. Sadly, that scene would take on a far more sombre tone as just weeks before the film’s release, Llewelyn died in a car crash, driving home from a book signing. He was 85. “There can be forever many Bonds, but only one Q. I’ve lost a great friend, someone who I will miss dearly, someone easy to cry for. And I think the whole world will feel the same. He was a gentle gentleman, this lovely man,” Brosnan said of Llewelyn.
Cleese was promoted from R to Q, holding this post for exactly one film, 2002’s Die Another Day. This Q has the ignominious honour of introducing one of the most widely-mocked Bond gadgets, the nigh-magical invisible Aston Martin Vanquish. Die Another Day was the 20thBond film, released 40 years after Dr. No, thus containing far more references to the franchise’s storied past than usual. In the Q Lab scene, classic gadgets including Rosa Klebb’s bladed shoe from From Russia With Love, the jetpack from Thunderball and the “croco-sub” from Octopussy can be seen.
While Judi Dench retained her role as MI6 head M from the Brosnan films, Q and Q Branch were nowhere to be seen come 2006’s reboot, Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig in the lead. Its follow up, Quantum of Solace, was also Q-free. During a 2008 press conference for his film Defiance, Craig expressed his desire for Q to return to the series. “We’ve finished this story as far as I’m concerned,” he said referring to the plot that stretched from Casino over to Quantum. “Let’s try and find where Moneypenny came from and where Q comes from. Let’s do all that and have some fun with it.”
Both of Craig’s wishes would be granted come 2012’s Skyfall. Naomie Harris took on the role of the reinvented Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw was cast as Q. Aged 32 at the time of Skyfall’s release, Whishaw was by far the youngest actor to play the Quartermaster. It’s a move that makes sense, given how the tech-savvy geniuses in Silicon Valley these days tend to be in their 20s. The dynamic between the characters was reworked, with Bond now being the disapproving uncle to Q. In the character’s introductory scene in the National Gallery, Bond gets to say “you must be joking” – although this time, it’s his reaction to Q’s youth instead of being told his new car has an ejector seat. This Q still seemed tweedy and old-fashioned in the most charming of ways, but this was now wrapped up in a geek chic package, with an unruly mop of hair and vintage-style glasses. Q’s mug, with Q10 on one side and the official Scrabble letter distribution score chart on the other, was just the right accessory for this take on the character.
“It was such fun for me to play an expert in an area where I’m completely not an expert. I’m really hopeless with technology — I don’t even have a computer. But I had to reel off all this technological information as if it were second nature,” Whishaw told The Telegraph, apparently continuing Llewelyn’s legacy of being a technophobe in real life. “It’s great to play someone who has this mysterious understanding of things that are so complex. I also really enjoyed his relationship with Bond. I’m very excited about future films and where we will take that,” he continued. This Q, while still a genius, still slipped up on occasion – plugging the villainous Silva’s laptop into the MI6 mainframe inadvertently allowed the baddie to hack into the system and escape captivity.
At the time of writing, the release of Spectre, the 24th Bond film, is just right around the corner. While some fans were disappointed by Q stating that Q Branch didn’t really go in for “exploding pens” and the like anymore, we will be getting a specially modified Aston Martin DB10 in Spectre, and the trailer features the long-absent “Q showing Bond the new car” scene. The character will have a larger role than in Skyfall. “Moneypenny, M, Q, all find themselves in a surprising situation, which Bond helps them escape from” Whishaw told French movie news site AlloCiné cryptically. We will apparently also get to see Q in the field again, since Whishaw was spotted on location in Austria shooting a scene in a cable car.
“Make me disappear,” Bond asks Q. Like in License to Kill, Bond’s going off-books and needs the assistance of his trusted Quartermaster.
Many long-time Bond fans are pleased that Q has not disappeared and that while the character now comes in a new flavour befitting the times, the intrinsic appeal of the gadget master remains. Bond may be the guy most men want to be, but there’s no way he could’ve done it all alone, with Q proving across the decades to be one of his most faithful allies, repeated admonishment and pleading with Bond to “pay attention” notwithstanding. 

STGCC 2015: Adam Hughes interview

As published in Issue #69 of F*** Magazine

Text:
THE AH! FACTOR
F*** talks to pinup artist extraordinaire Adam Hughes at STGCC

By Jedd Jong



Comic book fans everywhere know those familiar initials all too well – “AH!” Adam Hughes is in town for the annual Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), appearing as a special guest in Singapore for the very first time. Hughes is accompanied by his wife and manager Allison Sohn, also an illustrator.

Hailing from New Jersey, Hughes is a prolific comic book artist who has built a reputation for drawing some of the most drop-dead gorgeous women in all of comics. His work harks back to the golden age of pin-up art with its playful sexiness, while also coming across as lifelike, cinematic and vibrant.

Over the course of his storied career, Hughes has drawn for the likes of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Wildstorm, in addition to adult publications such as Playboy and Penthouse. His career highlights include prominent cover artist runs on Catwoman, Wonder Woman and Tomb Raider. Sideshow Collectibles has produced a series of statues based on Hughes’ designs and his original art is highly sought after in the comic art collecting community, running for a pretty penny.

While he initially seemed a little intense and wasn’t prone to smiling a lot, Hughes is engaging, enthusiastic and humorous during the interview, giving witty, well thought-out answers to our questions. Sitting down with F*** at STGCC, Hughes shares his thoughts on the evolution of the pinup, reveals his favourite female and male comic book characters, speaks about the successful partnership he has with his wife and provides insight into the unexpected challenges of being a career artist. He also recounts his fascinating brush with Hollywood in the form of working on the teaser poster for Joss Whedon’s ill-fated Wonder Woman movie.

How has the art of the pinup evolved from the days of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas to today?

As far as a first question goes, pretty tough [laughs]. It’s changed because of the perception of women in society. With very few exceptions, all the great pinup artists were men, there were only a few women doing it, and they were depicting idealised versions of women. As time has gone on, women aren’t meant to just be attractive or just be the mother to your children, they’re their own people; they have their own place in society and can do anything they want. The pinup has changed to reflect women’s power, as far it’s not just them in cute situations. It’s not just them going “oh, a puppy is pulling down my bikini bottoms, ooh!”
That’s one of the things that interests me and challenges me as a pinup artist: I’m hired to draw strong, powerful women and I want to make them look attractive. Nobody ever talks about the fact that when I draw Superman or Captain America, I want to make them look attractive too. My main job is to portray a character and I don’t do as much pure “cheesecake pinup” as I used to, but I still try to inject an element of humour and good-natured sexuality of the pinup into the stuff that I do. I do think the way that it has changed is that it’s trying to be a little more…I don’t know if ‘respectful’ is the right word, but aware.
You’re not just drawing a thing that’s to be looked at, you’re drawing a person, definitely more nuanced, but also more aware that you’re drawing a character, you’re not just drawing something that’s meant to be looked at and appreciated for its beauty. When I draw Catwoman or Wonder Woman or any character, I go “what’s this character thinking? What’s this character feeling at the moment?” not just “how small is this character’s costume today?” It sounds like a strange dichotomy, but it’s the way I work.
You were once named “the greatest cheesecake artist” and in response, you said that instead of “embracing” the title, you were giving it a “warm handshake”. You do more cover art than interior work; would you call yourself a frustrated storyteller?

I’m not an especially frustrated storyteller, I’m only frustrated with the fact that I don’t get to tell stories as much as I want. That’s not because people don’t offer me comics to draw, it’s because I’m so slow. I would love to be one of those people that’s just so prolific and works on everything, I would love to tell a million stories, maybe I’ve only got 20 stories, I’ve only got enough time to tell 20. That’s the part that frustrates me. As far as telling stories in single images, I don’t have a problem with that because I’m allowed to, I’m allowed to use a cover to tell a story instead of just portraying a character in a pretty way.
What’s your opinion on diversity in comics today?

There’s not enough of it. However, I don’t feel that the correct solution is a hammer. When there’s a problem in the world, whether it’s in something as silly as comics or in the real world, the workplace, in education or something like that, a lot of times people tend to go way overboard in their response to it, as opposed to a measured response and an incisive response [that] will actually get the most results. There are two responses to any great social issue: ‘I’m going to sleep through it’ or ‘let’s have a revolution!’ Maybe there’s a response somewhere in between apathy and anarchy, where you can go ‘let’s try to make this better’.
I would love more diversity across the board in all media, but I’m not a fan of ‘artificial diversity’, where you go “let’s just make this more diverse for diversity’s sake.” I believe in everything, whether it’s diversity or characters, locations, storytelling, any aspect of a creative endeavour, I think that it should always be organic, it should always come from “what am I trying to say with this story?” If you’re trying to tell a story and for some strange reason, a character has to be a white guy, then he needs to be a white guy. You should only change it to some other thing if making the character, say, a female Asian, actually makes the story better. You shouldn’t be doing it because “we don’t have enough female Asians in comics,” but because you’re saying “this story would be good if it were a white guy, but it would be amazing if it were a female Asian” or something like that. That’s what I think about diversity.
Unfortunately, today is such a reactionary era that I just realised, while I’m talking to you, that I could get into a lot of trouble and I’m just going to have to take that if it comes my way. I just want it to be for the betterment of story, not to fulfil an agenda. Hopefully we get to a point where people stop looking at, say, the cast photo of a new Star Wars film and counting the white people and black people, counting the men and counting the women, [and instead] see how it plays out.
What issues have you encountered in finding a balance in depictions of comic book women such that they are alluring and sensual while also empowering and dignified?

I haven’t encountered any issues until lately. It’s just a subjective thing – what offends one person is somebody else’s idea of pure art. That spectrum used to be much broader. Nowadays it’s a little rigid – there are people out there, especially in the west, who are getting upset at the way I’ve done business for 20-30 years. It’s like “I haven’t changed, was what I’m doing wrong 20 years ago or is your perception of what’s right and wrong, has it changed?” Sometimes the sheer aspect of depicting someone in a glamorous manner is offensive and everyone should look like regular folk to them. Gosh, I wouldn’t have a job if that were true! For the time being, I’m still safe, but I still lock my doors at night.
Your most popular pieces feature the characters in a more light-hearted context, since many pinups tend to be more playful. What are your views on the “battle” of lighter and happier vs. darker and grittier portrayals of characters?

I think it’s a silly battle. I think it’s not an important battle. I think everything that’s meant to be fun should be fun; I don’t like it when light-hearted characters are made dark just for the sake of shock value. I think there’s an important aspect to the darker side of things as well. I think it’s a non-issue, not a real battle.
How do you overcome artist’s block?

I spend most of my time scratching my chin and looking at the blank sheet of paper than I do actually drawing. It’s either video games, I will sit there and go “I’m gonna go kill somebody digitally and I’m gonna pretend they’re artist’s block”. Either that or I vacuum. I know a lot of artists who go “I’m not getting anything productive done at the drawing table, I’m going to get something productive done elsewhere” – that way, at the end of the day when you didn’t get a darn thing drawn, you still feel like you were a useful part of society because my floors are spotless.
What is the nature of your creative and business partnership with your wife?

Extremely productive. We’re lucky, we both have a lot of the same interests [and] we both like a lot of different things and bring new stuff to each other. My work enables to her to have the freedom to pursue her art; her work enables me to have the freedom to just focus on my artwork. We just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and we’ve been together for just over 13 years – longest relationship for either one of us. We would walk if it wasn’t working, we’re tired of abuse [laughs]. It’s a great relationship, we get a lot more done, it’s much more enriched. If we were on our own, we’d be surviving, we’d be doing okay, but because we’re together, we thrive.
You’ve drawn some of comic’s most beautiful ladies and did a pinup for Fairest from Fables. Who do you think is the fairest of them all?

I would say Catwoman. If I were drawing all the characters at the same time, I would make sure Selina is the prettiest.
What makes Catwoman one of the characters you’re fondest of?

I love damaged goods. I think the reason why people like the Batman universe so much is everybody in the Batman universe is damaged goods. I’ve always said that everybody in Gotham City is awful and the only reason why Batman is the hero is because he’s the least awful person in Gotham. Selina Kyle should have it easy. She’s beautiful, she’s smart and she’s talented, and yet, there’s something inside her that drives her towards a life of crime and she wouldn’t turn away from it. It’s not just thrills, there’s something bent and broken in her, just as it is with Batman and the Joker and probably even Alfred. If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, 100 people have to take care of that house and Alfred is the one guy who has to dust, clean, make the food, clean the sheets and patch up the owner every night he comes home shot. I’d be miserable too. I think that’s why.
Which is your favourite live-action portrayal of Catwoman be it in movies or TV shows?

Oh, in Dark Knight Rises. About 20 minutes into Dark Knight Rises I went “Okay, I don’t care if Batman doesn’t show up, can we just have two hours of Anne Hathaway doing cool stuff?” because it was way better than any of the Batman stuff.
Who is your favourite male superhero?

My favourite male superhero is Captain America. I love Captain America. Last year I drew my first Captain America cover ever and I was nine years old while I was drawing it.
He’s very different from “damaged goods”.

Yeah. Nobody likes a perfect character, it’s finding the character flaws and finding how the character overcomes those flaws. Those character flaws are the same as the obstacles in their careers. It’s like for Captain America, one of his obstacles is the Red Skull and the Legion of Hydra. One of his other obstacles is he doesn’t really fit in – I love him and I would kill to do a World War II Captain America story but I love the idea of a guy who isn’t where he belongs anymore and there’s no going home.
As you get older, all of us are separated from where we were born, not just by distance, but also by time. If you go back to the school you went to, the town or village you’re from, it’s changed and you go “wow, that’s not the way I remember it.” When Cap first came back in 1964, World War II had only been over for 19 years – the only thing different was “well, the Beatles have long hair”. Everybody he knew was probably still alive and I love the fact that as more time goes by, he’s 70 years out of time and soon he’ll be 100 years out of time. He’s becoming Buck Rogers. I find the tragedy of that very appealing.
What is the hardest part of being in the comic book industry?

The hardest part – this is going to sound vague and slightly Zen – it’s all the stuff nobody prepared you for. When you turn your hobby into your job, there’s that initial “oh crap, I have to draw even when I don’t want to draw?” When we’re kids and we’re all doing our favourite creative things, whenever we want, we all wish there was no school so we could do our favourite creative thing every day. The minute someone tells you to do it and says “you have to have all this done by Friday”, it can really become a chore. “Wow, my hobby’s no longer as fun as it used to be.” When you’re a kid and you want to grow up and draw comics, it’s just like “I’m going to sit around all day in my underwear and watch cartoons and draw comics and it’s gonna be great” – [but] there’s a whole brochure of stuff that nobody tells you.
I always think back to nine or ten-year-old me, if I time-travelled and went back, what I would tell him – one, it would be lay off the pizza. Two, I would say “in the future, the same guy who plays Judge Dredd plays Dr. McCoy, and it’s awesome, everybody’s happy” and three, I would sit him down and go “here’s all the stuff you’re not going to be ready for when you break into the business.” The expectations put on you, weird things – this is going to sound like I’m complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight, but career management – nobody teaches you how to manage a career.
I look at genuinely famous people, like politicians or athletes or actors and actresses and I go “your life is no longer your own” and you hope that there’s somebody somewhere that says “here’s what happens the first time somebody takes your autograph and sells it on eBay, here’s what to do the first time somebody stalks you.”
Comics fame is really dubious, but there are issues. We will get stuff mailed to our house, with a letter from somebody saying “oh my god, I love your work, could you please sign this comic that I sent you” to send it back using some self-addressed stamped envelope. The first thing my wife and I do is go “how did they get our address?! Close the blinds and lock all the windows!” It’s weird stuff like that. We worry sometimes, what if some crazy fan who didn’t get a sketch gets upset and decides to do something about it? Gosh, it could happen anywhere!
Nobody tells you when you’re a kid “by the way, you’re going to have to pay your own taxes.” In America, you’re responsible for paying your own taxes, it’s what self-employed artists do. It took me the better part of 18 years to get my tax problems sorted out because I made so many mistakes early on. So much stuff; that’s the hardest part.  
What are your thoughts on old school (pen and paper or watercolours) and new school (programs like Illustrator and Photoshop)

I’ve got my feet in both worlds, because I draw on paper and then I scan it and colour it in the computer. I don’t care, to me, all that matters is the final product. If your best tool is digital, then do it. These purists say “it’s not really painting unless you’re using oil paints” and it’s like “well, for you, but for this other person over here, they sing with a stylus and Cintiq tablet.”
If you make art and you only use ketchup and mustard and you only make these glorious Iron Man paintings by just squirting condiments onto a board because that’s how you’re most comfortable, then do it. I used to try and paint for real all the time, and it never works. Very frustrating. The minute I started colouring digitally, everything gelled into place, because I think that art medium, they should be like your shoes and your car and the chair you sit in. They should be so comfortable, you’re not thinking about it. Imagine walking somewhere and thinking about your shoes every step of the way – you wouldn’t get where you’re going because you’d be going “oh, the left one’s a little tight, the right one’s squeaking” – you wouldn’t think about where you’re going.
As an artist, if you’re thinking about your tools while you’re working, you’re not spending time being creative. You’re thinking about the mechanics of drawing, which you should have worked out already. That’s why every artist should just draw all the time; to get to the point where your pencil or your stylus or your paintbrush is an extension of your hand and you’re not thinking “oh, this paper’s fighting me today” or “I don’t like this pencil” – you’re just sitting there and going “Batman is sad! He needs rain, rain will make him seem sadder.”
That’s why I don’t care about the medium at all. When I see a beautiful piece of artwork, I never seem to ask what the medium is anymore. I used to be concerned about that; now I just go “that is a beautiful, wonderful piece of art that tells a story.” Don’t care where it came from. Unless it’s like “oh my god, I need to steal that, let me find out how that person drew those clouds.”
What was it like working on the Wonder Woman poster for the Joss Whedon film that didn’t pan out back in 2005?



When Joss Whedon was making the Wonder Woman movie, I got a call from DC saying “you’re going to get a call from Joel Silver”, who was the producer of the Matrix films, the Lethal Weapon films. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he was the crazy director at the beginning and I was like “him, he’s calling my house?” So he called, and the character he played at the beginning of Roger Rabbit was way more normal than how he is in real life. I said to my wife, we were just dating at the time, “this guy’s a cartoon!” He then said “hold on, hold on, I’ve got Joss Whedon on the other line.” So, all of a sudden, I’m in a conference call with the producer of The Matrix and Joss Whedon, and I’m going “this is the weirdest day ever.”
I only had a weekend to work on it, I only had two days. They had no costume design, and I knew this film was not going to get made because they were both telling me what to draw and it was all different. Joel Silver’s going “make sure she’s buff, make sure she’s really strong!” and Joss Whedon’s saying “but not too buff!” I felt like a divorce attorney. When they announced that it didn’t go through [it made sense]. It was fun, I wish I could’ve drawn more of Wonder Woman, but there was no costume, there was no actress, and if I had an extra day or so, I could have made it something real special, but now it’s just “hey, I worked in Hollywood for eight seconds! Yay me!”

Crimson Peak

For F*** Magazine

CRIMSON PEAK

Director : Guillermo del Toro
Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Doug Jones, Leslie Hope, Burn Gorman
Genre : Supernatural/Mystery
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Violence)
Guillermo del Toro beckons you to enter Allerdale Hall. Dare you step through its foreboding gates? In this period horror flick, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young author who falls headlong in love with the mysterious stranger Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). Sir Thomas comes from Cumberland, England to Buffalo, New York, accompanied by his sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Chastain). After the tragic and sudden death of her father Carter (Beaver), Edith marries Thomas, while her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) continues to harbour feelings for her. Alan begins to suspect that there is more to the siblings than meets the eye, as Edith is spirited away to Allerdale Hall, the ancestral home of Thomas and Lucille. Situated atop a clay mine, the mansion has fallen into disrepair, its walls hiding restless spirits and arcane secrets. Our heroine must unearth the mysteries buried in Allerdale Hall before it devours her whole. 
Director Guillermo del Toro has said that following the rough time he had making Mimic, he reserves his lyrical macabre fantasy horrors for his Spanish-language films, with most of his English-language movies being more accessible blockbusters. After cultivating a good working relationship with Legendary Pictures’ head honchos on Pacific Rim, del Toro was allowed to unleash his dark imagination in a big Hollywood movie with Crimson Peak. These days, horror movies seem to be predominantly low-budget affairs; found-footage movies proving especially popular with studios. Blumhouse has cornered the market with the Paranormal Activity franchise and its ilk. There is nothing inherently wrong with low-budget horror and there have been several excellent small movies in this genre. However, there is no denying that aficionados of classic horror have been hankering for a grand, lavish fright flick, and Crimson Peak should go a good way towards sating that appetite. 
Crimson Peak is a wholehearted throwback, with del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins citing 1963’s The Haunting and 1961’s The Innocents as primary influences. It also owes a great debt to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic Gothic short story The Fall of the House of the Usher. Clockwork contraptions and dead insects, which the director has a particular fondness for, figure into the plot. The central setting of Allerdale Hall was constructed from scratch at Pinewood Toronto Studios in all its eerily dilapidated glory. Del Toro, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, art director Brandt Gordon and the rest of the film’s creative team can take a bow knowing that they have crafted such a sumptuous, spooky world. Placing the house atop a red clay mine is an inspired touch, allowing for the haunting imagery of the blood-red clay seeping into the snow above, hence the name “Crimson Peak”. The ghosts, rotting carcasses enrobed in wispy, black ether, are suitably grotesque and benefit from the physicality of performer Doug Jones, an oft-collaborator of del Toro’s.
The film is essentially a blood-drenched soap opera, theatrical, highly mannered and often quite arch. As such, del Toro runs the risk of the audience feeling like they are being held at arm’s length, unable to fully sink their teeth into the proceedings. There is very little subtlety to be had – for example, Edith announces upfront that in the story she’s writing, “The ghost is more a metaphor – for the past.” It is possible to step a little too far back and leave the realm of the story. Not entirely dissimilar from American Horror Story or Penny Dreadful, then. One does need to be in the right frame of mind to take in Crimson Peak and this reviewer did appreciate the theatricality; the lurid, saturated palette echoing Italian giallo horror films. In the cut that we watched, a sex scene was truncated, presumably to get an NC-16 instead of an M-18 rating. 
“We have scary ghosts, but even scarier people,” del Toro proclaimed while promoting the film at Comic-Con. A gorgeous set means nothing without a talented cast to inhabit it, so it’s a good thing then that this cast is very talented indeed. Wasikowska, who has played the “ethereal waif” fairly often in her career, is the ideal leading lady for this project. Emma Stone was originally cast, and Wasikowska does seem better-suited to the Edith part. This is a determined woman who would rather be Mary Shelley than Jane Austen, and the balance between strength and vulnerability is one that Wasikowska absolutely nails. She is the outsider who finds herself plunged into an unfamiliar, frightening world – it’s not a new character type in this genre, but Wasikowska does breathe new life into it. 
Hiddleston can play “enigmatically charming” in his sleep, and Sir Thomas Sharpe is enigmatically charming to the hilt. Replacing the initially-cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Hiddleston looks right at home in the period costumes and sets. There’s an immediately appealing warmth that he brings to the part while ensuring we’re still questioning his motives every step of the way. Chastain’s turn could have used a little more ambiguity, but her icily sinister Lady Lucille is threatening and beguiling all the same. Pacific Rim star Hunnam fares a little worse, playing the “nice guy” who lacks the edginess Hiddleston has and whom convention dictates won’t get the girl. He also doesn’t fit into the late-Victorian/early-Edwardian setting as well as his co-stars do. It is pretty fun to see Burn Gorman, also from Pacific Rim, pop up in a cameo.
Crimson Peak is the work of a director who is right in his element, given free rein to indulge his dark imagination and reaping rewarding results while at it. It does veer dangerously close to pastiche at times: Fernando Velázquez’s musical score is very on-the-nose, the climactic confrontation involves somewhat brandishing a giant shovel and there might be one too many uses of the iris wipe transition, which most audiences know best from Bugs Bunny going “th-th-that’s all folks!” However, more than enough of del Toro’s earnestness and adoration for classic horror comes through and the splendid production values are a treat amidst the sea of cheaply-made, grainy, shaky contemporary fright flicks. 
Summary: Guillermo del Toro delivers a handsome, stately horror film that is a throwback to the heyday of the haunted house subgenre, with no shortage of gruesome wince-inducing brutality for good measure.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Bridge of Spies

For F*** Magazine

BRIDGE OF SPIES

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
We’ve had our late-summer fun with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but with fall awards movie season upon us, it’s time to revisit the Cold War in a far more serious manner. It is 1957 and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is captured by the FBI in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bar Association elects for insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks) to serve as Abel’s counsel. Three years later, after U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Soviets, Donovan is tasked with negotiating his release. The deal is an exchange of Abel for Powers. Naturally, things aren’t that clear-cut, and the East Germans have American student Frederic Pryor (Rogers) in custody. With the odds stacked high against him, Donovan flies to East Berlin to bargain for the safe return of both Americans as the threat of nuclear war between the two superpowers looms ever greater. 
Bridge of Spies is based on the 1960 U-2 incident, an actual event, with a screenplay by Matt Charman and rewritten by Joel and Ethan Coen. The title refers to Glienicke Bridge, which was the site for several prisoner exchanges between the Americans and Soviets. The film has been described as a “Cold War thriller”, but it’s more of a courtroom drama and not an action-driven spies vs. spies affair. Director Spielberg’s follow-up to 2012’s Lincoln is another sombre awards contender, but this is more accessible to the average filmgoer, less dense and scholarly. Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned drama, with the bleakness of a rubble-strewn East Germany evoking the gloomy vision of Vienna as seen in the classic spy film The Third Man. There is a stillness about the film, which is very much a slow burn. Spielberg’s films are seen by many as varying degrees of schmaltzy. While Bridge of Spies certainly has its emotionally impactful moments, it is largely restrained and the feeling of frigid detachedness effectively captures the atmosphere of the Cold War.
If the film that surrounds him is cold, Hanks is Bridge of Spies’ warm, beating heart. In this, his fourth collaboration with Spielberg, Hanks is called upon to embody the archetype of a decent man in an indecent time. If there’s anything Hanks can play, it’s “decent” – he does that and so much more here. James Donovan is a consummate professional who is flung into unfamiliar territory but who always stands his ground, his attentiveness and upstanding nature recalling To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. It turns out that Gregory Peck almost played Donovan in 1965, with Alec Guinness set to play Abel opposite him, but the film was ultimately called off as the era was too fraught with political tension for it to be made. When Donovan arrives in East Germany, construction has just begun on the Berlin Wall, and the angle of a relatively ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances is the audience’s way in. As Donovan is accosted by gang members, catches a cold and has to deal with Soviet and East German officials, he remains admirably steadfast, clinging to his principles, the ideal unassuming hero. 
Rylance, a veteran of the London stage, is coolly compelling as Rudolf Abel. Abel is a Russian spy, ostensibly the bad guy, but the film doesn’t demonise him, taking the stance that the Soviets had their spies and the Americans had theirs. Rylance’s Abel is unflappable and inscrutable, and the unlikely bond that Abel forms with Donovan makes for a fascinating and subtly moving dynamic. While audiences are very familiar with Hanks, Rylance isn’t as recognisable a name, and perhaps that unfamiliarity adds to Abel’s mystique. Spielberg apparently enjoyed working with the actor and Rylance will play the title character in Spielberg’s next film, The B.F.G. Defending Abel makes Donovan a very unpopular man indeed, and this takes its toll on his family, especially his wife Mary (Ryan). The scenes involving Donovan’s family and Pryor’s arrest at the border are the closest Spielberg comes to indulging his more sentimental sensibilities, but these moments are necessary to establish the personal stakes involved. 
Spielberg’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn bring the technical polish that we’ve come to expect from his films, but one key collaborator is missing: composer John Williams. Owing to a minor health issue which has now been resolved, Williams was replaced by Thomas Newman. Newman’s score is appropriately dignified, containing his own trademark instrumentation while not sounding a million miles away from what Williams might have written. 
Spielberg has always been an idealist, and along with lead actor Hanks, he brings a reassuring, old-fashioned moral certainty to this tale set in one of the murkiest eras in modern history. Even so, Bridge of Spies avoids being naïve and manipulative in its account of the U-2 incident negotiation process. Perhaps this reviewer just isn’t that much of an intellectual, but the one action sequence in which Powers’ U-2 spy plane is shot out of the sky did make him hanker for another Spielberg-directed straight-up action adventure. Of course, that’s not the kind of film Bridge of Spies is, and it lives up to the pedigree before and behind the camera, succeeding at being a sturdy, well-made historical drama. 
Summary: As prestigious as prestige pictures get, Bridge of Spies is a restrained, quiet drama anchored by Tom Hanks’ reassuring presence, with thespian Mark Rylance stealing the show from him at times. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong  

Pan

From F*** Magazine

PAN

Director : Joe Wright
Cast : Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, Leni Zieglmeier, Adeel Akhtar, Cara Delevingne, Jack Charles, Na Tae Joo, Nonso Anozie, Kathy Burke, Kurt Egyiawan, Lewis MacDougall
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 8 October 2015
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes and Violence)

The boy who would never grow old is also apparently the well that would never run dry, as here we are with yet another return to Neverland, this time to see how Peter Pan began. Peter (Miller) is an orphan in World War II-era England, who alongside his best friend Nibs (Lewis McDougall) bedevils the strict nuns who run the orphanage, holding out hope that his mother will one day return for him. One night, Peter gets spirited away via flying pirate ship to the magical realm of Neverland, where he is forced to work in the mines run by the flamboyant, tyrannical Blackbeard (Jackman). Peter befriends fellow miner James Hook (Hedlund) and along with Smee (Akhtar), they escape the mines. They run into Tiger Lily (Mara), princess of the Piccaninny tribe, who helps Peter discover his destiny and unveils the mysterious truth about Peter’s mother. With Blackbeard closing in, Peter must overcome his doubts and embrace his place as Neverland’s saviour.

Since Peter Pan’s creation by author J.M. Barrie in 1902, the character and the mythos has been adapted and reinterpreted innumerable times for the stage and screen. Pan hops aboard the “revisionist fairy-tale” bandwagon, recounting Peter’s secret origins. “This isn’t the story you’ve heard before,” the opening voiceover by Peter’s mother Mary (Seyfried) proudly proclaims. The thing is, the embellishments add very little to the story as we know it, with allusions to events that will unfold later on coming off less as knowing winks and more as on-the-nose insertions. Peter Pan’s early days as an orphan give the story a Dickensian spin and the visual of a flying pirate ship taking on RAF and Luftwaffe fighter planes during the Blitz is fun, but ultimately relatively pointless. That’s a good way to sum up Pan – “fun, but ultimately relatively pointless.”

Director Joe Wright set out to craft a family-friendly live-action fantasy adventure, and it turns out there aren’t that many of those in theatres these days. It is a positive sign that Pan avoids being dark and grim and embraces the joy that has become associated with Peter Pan. Visually, it is pretty to look at, production designer Aline Bonetto crafting some dazzling mini-worlds. However, it isn’t anything radically inventive, the look of Neverland’s various environs owing a lot to previous versions of the story and other fantasy films. Complaining about computer-generated imagery has become tiresome in and of itself, but the synthetic feel of the settings and creatures undercuts the whimsy and wonder the film is aiming for. There is a frustrating lack of soul behind the visuals, and this reviewer found himself switching off at times because there wasn’t anything to, pardon the pun, hook on to. The most egregious offenders are the skeletal Neverbirds, which look like rejects from The Nightmare Before Christmas and are straight-up cartoony in appearance, never seeming like they convincingly inhabit the landscape.

There are things about the film that work, chief of which is the title character. Australian child actor Miller is a revelation as Peter, fearlessly holding his own opposite Jackman and the other adult cast-members. There’s a fine blend of confidence, impishness and vulnerability in his performance which made this reviewer never question that he was the right choice to play Peter Pan. Miller also has enough personality such that he doesn’t come across as a too-cutesy production line Disney Channel moppet. There’s a messiah element to this interpretation of Peter – his mother is even named “Mary” – but that symbolism isn’t very meaningfully explored. Wait, Mary Darling was the mother of Wendy, John and Michael…it can’t be the same Mary, can it? This is confusing.

Jackman appears to have been paid in scenery, which he wolfs down with gusto, going the full Tim Curry as Blackbeard. He’s clearly having the time of his life, rocking the over-the-top Jacqueline Durran-designed costumes. He even gets to lead a chorus of miners in singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – a delightfully bizarre anachronism that effectively highlights the “outside of time” nature of Neverland. There was never any question as to whether or not he would be entertaining and Jackman’s sinister glee papers over some of the cracks in the well-worn story.

Captain Hook is reimagined as a charming rogue very firmly in the Han Solo mould, with Hedlund drawling and smirking his way through the part. Hedlund is pretty bland, lacking the dangerous charisma that should hint at Hook’s destiny as Peter’s arch-nemesis. The “friend-turned-enemies” plot device is kind of tired and is yet another example of an attempt to put a spin on things that is only semi-successful at best.

Mara is also quite stiff as Tiger Lily, the Princess Leia to Hook’s Han, even though she does get to partake in the action. There was a degree of controversy surrounding the casting of a, well, lily-white actress in the part, seeing as the Piccaninny Tribe are analogous to Native Americans. In the film, the tribe is composed of various ethnicities and we even get Korean actor Na Tae-joo as martial arts fighter Kwahu, who seems awfully reminiscent of Hook’s iconic Rufio. It’s a shame that the role was whitewashed, since there really is no justification for Tiger Lily not being played by a person of colour, especially given the dearth of roles in Hollywood for actors of Native American origin. On the other hand, the typically-white Mr. Smee is played by Adeel Akhtar, a British actor of Pakistani origin. Akhtar displays solid comedic chops, his Smee doing a fair amount of the expected bumbling about.

Under the guise of reinventing the story of Peter Pan, Pan walks a well-trodden path, presenting a bog-standard hero’s journey/chosen one plot that just happens to be set in a fantastical location. There are entertaining sequences, a few genuinely creative sparks and good performances, but the CGI-heavy visuals are insufficiently enchanting and screenwriter Jason Fuchs doesn’t make many worthwhile additions to the mythology. “To live will be an awfully big adventure,” Barrie famously wrote. We guess a medium-sized adventure will have to suffice.


Summary: A middling fantasy adventure that never quite takes flight, Pan is another revisionist fairy-tale that doesn’t fully justify its existence, but should be fun enough for the tykes in the audience.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Infinity Times Three: Disney Infinity 3.0 Launch

Oops, just realised this is pretty late. Anyway, here’s my coverage of the launch of the Disney Infinity 3.0 video-game:

As published in Issue #68 of F*** Magazine

Text:
INFINITY TIMES THREE
F*** leaps into the toy box and emerges in a galaxy far, far away at the Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition launch
By Jedd Jong

F*** was at the Sandcrawler Building, Lucasfilm’s Singapore headquarters, for the launch of Disney Infinity 3.0. Disney Infinity, which had its first version released in 2013, is a “toys-to-life” video game which utilises collectible figurines that can be synchronised with the game, unlocking new characters from various Disney properties that can interact and go on missions. The characters in Versions 1.0 and 2.0 have included Disney and Pixar characters such as the Incredibles, Elsa and Anna and Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney Infinity 2.0 Edition introduced Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. 3.0 marks the much-anticipated arrival of Star Wars characters into the Infinity toy box.

“We wanted people to play much like Andy and Woody played in Toy Story,” Disney Interactive producer Jason Moffitt says of the Disney Infinity concept. “The brand, that’s what’s strong with us – having Olaf sitting on an AT-AT leg and getting taken away because he wants to hug it, this is the only place that can happen,” Moffitt continues, referring to a trailer we were shown that depicted just that – Frozen’s loveable snowman, feeling right at home on the snow planet Hoth, embracing the foot of the Imperial Walker from Empire Strikes Back.

Disney Infinity encompasses various styles of gameplay, with open world sandbox elements alongside platforming, top-down dungeon crawl and cart racing modes. Developed by Avalanche Software, other developers were brought on for 3.0to enhance the gameplay. Ninja Theory of Devil May Cry fame were enlisted to devise the lightsaber mechanics and Sumo Digital, known for Sonic Racers, helped build out the cart racing mode.

The game has been touted as offering the “complete Star Wars experience”, with the Twilight of the Republic playset which covers the prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars, as well as the Rise Against the Empire playset, which covers the original trilogy. The Twilight of the Republic playset comes with Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figurines, while the Rise Against the Empire playset is packaged with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia figurines. Players will get to relive iconic moments from the films, including the Death Star trench run and the Endor speederbike chase and battle villains such as Darth Maul and General Grievous. Fan-favourite Boba Fett is available as an exclusive figurine with the PlayStation bundle.

There will also be a playset for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Finn and Rey were revealed as Disney Infinity characters at the recent D23 expo. There will also be more characters to be announced further down the line. Moffitt revealed that while Star Wars Battlefront will incorporate elements from The Force Awakens, Disney Infinity 3.0 will be the only video game that features the story of the film, at least for the time being.
The Playset Mode can only be occupied by the characters appropriate for their worlds, but in 3.0, any Star Wars character can inhabit any Star Wars world, which means Luke can go back to the Clone Wars. Toy Box Mode is an open world playground where players can create whatever they imagine. Moffitt described a “Lion Kingchallenge”, in which a contestant was able to re-create the famous opening scene to the Lion King using Toy Box elements.

The other main draw of 3.0 is the Inside Out playset, based on the Pixar film. The Inside Out playset is designed as a platformer where players control Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger as they traverse various areas inside Riley’s mind. The Inside Out playset was designed with cooperative gameplay in mind. “It’s an easier game to play when you play co-op,” Moffitt says. “You can be running on top of the level and your friend can be running below the level doing different things.” A Marvel playset called “Battlegrounds” is in the works.
The “Toy Box Takeover” is Moffitt’s favourite mode in the game. The rough storyline features Incredibles villain Syndrome snatching away the player’s magic wand, enlisting the help of other Disney Infinity villains such as Davy Jones and Loki. The player will have to go into each villain’s world to fight them and eventually reclaim the wand. Any character from 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 is fair game to jump right in and play.
Lead character designer Jeff Bunker Inset: Han Solo
During the Q&A session, this writer asks Moffitt if Han Solo was intentionally designed to resemble Flynn from Tangled, since he’s even got the smoulder. Moffitt replies that the development team believes lead character designer Jeff Bunker made Han a little bit of a self-portrait. Another reporter asks Moffitt about his views on Disney Infinity’s competitors in the toys-to-life video game category, such as Skylanders and Lego Dimensions. “They’re all great games, I have nothing bad to say about Skylanders, I hope everybody buys every toys-to-life game but if you’re gonna buy one, buy ours,” Moffitt replies diplomatically. “I think what sets us apart, honestly, is Toy Box. The Toy Box mode, when we were first selling it, we had to say ‘this game is Little Big Planet mixed with Minecraft mixed with Skylanders’…and it’s like that, the logic connections, we just continually grow what you can do.” Referring to the Toy Box mode, Moffitt claims “no other game has that and no other game’s going to have that because it’s just such a huge undertaking for someone to do and I think that’s what sets us apart.”  On the future of the series, Moffitt states “we hope to make a hundred of these [versions] and maybe by then we’ll run out of Disney characters.”

Exasperated parents should prepare their wallets come 1 September 2015, when Disney Infinity 3.0 is released. The Starter Pack includes 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 video game disc, 2 Star Wars figures – Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker, 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition base, 1 Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic playset piece and 1 web code card that unlocks content for PC/mobile. The standard retail price of the Starter Pack is SGD $99.90. Additional Disney Infinity 3.0 playsets, Toy Box expansion games and character figurines are sold separately. The game is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS and Android platforms.