Spectral Emotion: Ghost The Musical Press Preview

 
SPECTRAL EMOTION
F*** takes a sneak peek at Ghost The Musical
By Jedd Jong
The dead are alive in Ghost The Musical, based on the 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. The romantic fantasy that swept audiences off their feet with a tale of love transcending death has taken a new form as a stage musical. We were at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore on Wednesday morning to catch a press preview of the production ahead of its opening night in Singapore.
Ghost The Musical tells the story of Sam Wheat, a Wall Street banker hopelessly in love with his artist girlfriend Molly. Following a violent mugging, Sam dies and finds himself stuck in limbo as a restless spirit, caught between this world and the next. As he uncovers the truth behind his murder, he attempts to warn Molly. He eventually reaches her through Oda Mae Brown, a con-artist and phony medium who comes into genuine contact with the deceased for the first time. Molly, along with Sam’s best friend and colleague Carl, are initially wary of Oda Mae, and Sam has to come to grips with his newfound afterlife as he watches over Molly from beyond the grave.
Ghost won two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Goldberg and Best Original Screenplay for Bruce Joel Rubin. Rubin adapted his own script into the musical’s libretto, with original music and lyrics from multiple Grammy Award-winners Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. Stewart is known as one-half of Eurythmics and Ballard co-wrote Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, amongst other well-known pop hits.
In order to portray the other-worldly effects so integral to the film, Ghost The Musical employs much buzzed-about illusions designed by Paul Kieve. One of the signature scenes of the musical has its protagonist Sam walk through a solid door. Another has subway train commuters flung out of their seats by paranormal activity. Moviegoers will know Kieve’s work from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Hugo, for which he served as a magic consultant. Kieve holds the distinction of being the only illusionist to net the New York Drama Desk Award, which he won for Ghost The Musical.

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of the illusions at the press preview, which was a bit of a bummer after hearing so much about them. Thankfully, there is far more to the production than the novelty factor of its special effects, and three musical numbers were staged for us. These comprised the iconic pottery scene featuring The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody, Nothing Stops Another Day and Oda Mae Brown’s big show-stopper I’m Outta Here. I’m Outta Here, in which Oda Mae fantasises about what she can do with an unexpected windfall, put some fancy choreography on display, with back-up dancers clad in glittery sequined suits and sunglasses.

After that, we got to talk to the cast, including Liam Doyle as Sam, Lucie Jones as Molly, David Roberts as Carl and Wendy Mae Brown as Oda Mae. The touring cast and crew, the majority of whom hail from the UK, have just arrived from the China tour, which took them to Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Chongqing, Zhuhai and Taipei. Preparations were in full swing for the show’s Singapore engagement in the background as the interviews were conducted, and while jet-lagged and exhausted, the performers were friendly and, if you’ll pardon the pun, in good spirits.
Doyle’s big break came when he won the reality competition show The Search for Troy Bolton as a teenager and got to play Troy Bolton in the UK touring production of High School Musical 2. Since then, Doyle’s credits have included Link Larkin in Hairspray (there’s a bit of Zac Efron theme going) and Fiyero in Wicked.
“Whether you’ve seen the film or not, it doesn’t matter,” Doyle told us, calling Ghost “a timeless love story”. Discussing the emotional content of the show, he said “Everybody’s had that one person, or God forbid, might have that person that they didn’t get to say goodbye to and it helps so many people in the audience, you can hear them every night.”
Doyle remarked that the show is physically and vocally demanding and it does take a lot of out of him, since he’s the lead. “I’ve worked it out: I’m off stage for three minutes in Act 1 and seven minutes in Act 2 and the show’s two and a half hours long,” he stated. “The music is very hard to sing, but so rewarding to sing.”
Jones’ career also has its roots in a reality TV singing contest, albeit a higher-profile one: she was a finalist in 2009’s season of The X Factor. She has since had roles on the TV shows Midsomer Murders and The Sarah Jane Adventures and has been a cast member in musicals like Les Misérables and American Psycho.
Jones’ preparation for the part of Molly in Ghost included taking pottery lessons and visiting a medium. She has not had any supernatural encounters of her own, but was open to learning about various beliefs in life after death. “The more you understand the mind-set of people who believe in these things, people who don’t believe in these things, people who have had experiences, people who think it’s all a load of rubbish, it’s so amazing to then find your journey through it and understand it yourself,” she said. Jones told us that she was rejected for many jobs “because people said I couldn’t act, and now I’m doing a huge acting role and am really enjoying it.”
Roberts’ West End credits include Mamma Mia and Assassins. “He’s a character that you could feel sorry for,” Roberts said of Carl. “He’s jealous of Sam and what he has and even though they’re two best friends, they’re like brothers, he’s not happy with that. He’s always wanting more, such is his life, he’s always striving for that.
When asked what advice he would give to actors considering a theatre career, he said “Don’t give up, if it’s what you love to do, stick with it. You need to love it, because otherwise it can be a very, very hard thing to do, hard business.”
Roberts isn’t a fan of the way reality TV contests like X Factor promise instant stardom. “It’s a cattle market, it’s getting worse and worse every year. You’ve got an audience screaming numbers of people they don’t want.” He clarified that he doesn’t blame the participants (his co-star Jones was an X-Factor finalist after all), but rather the process, which he likens to “a machine”.
One could say that Wendy Mae Brown was destined to play Oda Mae Brown, based on her name. Brown has acted in productions such as Rent, Porgy and Bess, Little Shop of Horrors and South Pacific. The character of the phony mystic who is suddenly contacted by an actual ghost is arguably the most memorable in the movie.
Brown said she was given “absolute freedom” to make the role her own, adding “Your first thought is ‘oh, this is Whoopi Goldberg, I’ve got to top this,’ but then you have to let it go. So I let it go.”
She had a particularly memorable story about her first time watching the film. “I remember really clearly because I’d just done a terrible audition for Trevor Nunn,” she recalled. Dejected after failing in front of the renowned theatre impresario, she slinked into the cinema to watch the film Ghost, which moved her to tears. “It takes a lot to make me cry at a movie. I’m not really a crying woman, but…I went on the journey from the start.” Possibly displaying a hint of psychic ability, Brown told us “I always said to myself, ‘this would be a great musical’.”
From what we’ve seen today, ditto.
Lucie Jones (Molly) and Liam Doyle (Sam)
Ghost The Musical is produced by GWB Entertainment in association with BASE Entertainment Asia and is running from 4 – 15 November 2015 at the Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Ticket prices are from S$85.

 

Spectre

For F*** Magazine

SPECTRE

Director : Sam Mendes
Cast : Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 2 hrs 28 mins
Opens : 5 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
The world’s greatest superspy returns to tackle his most dangerous foe yet in the 24th Bond film. While in Mexico City, James Bond (Craig) discovers the existence of a shadowy terror network known as “Spectre”. Back home, Bond’s boss M (Fiennes) is locked in a power struggle with Max Denbigh aka “C” (Scott), head of the Joint Intelligent Service who aims to abolish the Double-O program. Bond’s allies Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) render their support as Bond pursues Spectre. Through Lucia Sciarra (Bellucci), the widow of a Spectre hitman, Bond finds his way to a figure from his distant past, the sinister Franz Oberhauser (Waltz). Bond must protect Dr. Madeleine Swann, a psychologist with familial links to Spectre who’s working at an exclusive private clinic in the Austrian Alps, from Oberhauser and his hulking henchman Mr. Hinx (Bautista). As the staggering reach of Spectre’s tendrils become apparent, Bond races against the clock to prevent Oberhauser from enacting his devastating schemes.
After winning a long legal battle known as the “Thunderball copyright ownership controversy”, the Bond movie producers finally secured the rights to depict the criminal organisation Spectre, integral to the Bond mythos. Fans were excited at the prospect of seeing James Bond come face to face with the éminence grise apparently lurking behind the shadows since the events of 2006’s Casino Royale. Skyfall director Sam Mendes returns for Craig’s fourth outing as 007, and it is evident that he is trying to hit as many mile markers associated with classic Bond as possible. Craig appears in a white tuxedo for the first time, there’s a scene set in a snowy locale, a scary henchman in the Oddjob and Jaws mould and a tricked-out Aston Martin. Sure enough, there are many moments in Spectre that made this reviewer cheer, but alas, after the smoke clears, it seems that the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
On the level of spectacle, Spectre certainly is an accomplishment. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, succeeding Skyfall’s Roger Deakins, crafts many shots that are striking in their elegant composition and breath-taking in their scope. The film’s pre-title sequence begins with a long tracking shot which follows Bond and his companion Estrella (Stephanie Sigman) through a massive procession as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Second unit director Alexander Witt and stunt coordinator Gary Powell, both Bond veterans, assist Mendes in assembling major eye candy set pieces including a skirmish to the death aboard a helicopter spinning out of control, a car chase that roars through the streets of Rome and a spectacular plane vs. Land Rover convoy battle in the Austrian Alps – not to mention the single largest explosion ever detonated for a film. This reviewer, along with the majority of Bond fans, doesn’t fully enjoy Writing’s on the Wall, the rather limp theme song performed by Sam Smith. Thankfully, the Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles do enhance its effectiveness. However, there is some imagery that undermines the overall haunting effect of the sequence: expect to hear some tittering from audience members cognisant of Japanese tentacle erotica.
While Craig (in)famously told journalists that he’d rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, he delivers an intense, committed performance, with the character finally getting into the swing of things. As expected, he acquits himself well in the many action sequences and handles the moments of humour better than he did in Skyfall. His portrayal of Bond has sometimes been decried as too self-serious, so it is amusing to see him partake in several well-judged moments of levity that are almost Roger Moore-esque. There is some brooding, to be sure, but Bond gets right in the thick of it and stays there for the duration of the movie.
Christoph Waltz’s casting was met with much fanfare and speculation as to the true nature of his role. Waltz is fine as Oberhauser, but there’s very little here the Oscar-winner hasn’t done before in other roles and this reviewer was expecting him to have more of an impact. All of the primary villains in the Craig-starring Bond movies have been creepy European dudes, and Oberhauser is no exception. The Spectre meeting at an Italian palace, designed to evoke an arcane secret society ritual, is a genuine nail-biter of a scene and is marvellously acted by Waltz. However, when Oberhauser states his motivation, it is disappointingly contrived given all the build-up, since he’s been positioned as this ultimate baddie. Even though there’s obviously more to the character than is told to us in Spectre, the feeling of “wait, that’s it?” is pretty hard to shake.
Seydoux’s turn as the lead Bond girl is understatedly affecting, even if the character isn’t one of the more memorable women in the Bond canon. With Madeleine Swann, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth are aiming for a character who isn’t either extreme of “fragile wallflower” or “kicker of ass who can give Bond a run for his money”. Even then, the arc in which she is initially sceptical of and almost hostile towards Bond but eventually warms to his charms is very predictable. It is a wonder that the sultry, glamourous Bellucci hasn’t been in a Bond film until now, so it is even more of a let-down that she is criminally underused in an all-too-brief appearance. The Lucia Sciarra character is also little more than the “kept woman” archetype we’ve seen many times throughout the Bond films, from Domino Derval to Solitaire to Andrea Anders.
The support system of Bond’s allies M, Moneypenny, Q and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is integrated into the plot instead of coming off as ancillary, which is to Spectre’s credit. The crisis at MI6, secondary compared to Bond’s tangle with Spectre but still pretty serious stuff, is rooted in topical security concerns, with C planning an invasive universal surveillance program. Whishaw gets several humorous moments and Q does go out into the field in this one, but it isn’t taken too far (see Octopussy). Scott, best-known for playing the dastardly Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, is far more restrained here, which means the character is believable but often dull. Bautista as the silent, musclebound Hinx is excellent casting. Henchmen with silly gimmicks are one of the most often-parodied elements of Bond films, so it’s commendable that Bautista manages to hark back to that without taking one out of the movie by being silly.
This reviewer found Spectre agonising, not because it’s a bad film – not by a long, long shot – but because of how unsatisfying it is once one takes a step back. There are a few references to Bond films past that cross the line from “cute” to “smug”. In the moment, it is entertaining and thrilling and there are action sequences which stand up to the most memorable in the series, but the overarching plot, especially where it pertains to the villain, leaves a fair amount to be desired. For a film that hits so many high points, true, sublime greatness remains out of Spectre’s grasp.
Summary: There are thrills and instantly classic scenes galore, but on peeling back the layers of Spectre, it isn’t quite the ghost with the most.
 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Burnt

For F*** Magazine

BURNT

Director : John Wells
Cast : Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Lily James
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 100 mins
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language)

Can you smell what the Rock(et Raccoon) is cooking? Raccoons are known for foraging for food in the trash, but this drama takes place in the rarefied realm of haute cuisine. Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a former rising star in the Paris culinary scene who crashed and burned due to his self-destructive tendencies. Now clean and sober, Adam is hoping to make a fresh start and earn his third Michelin star with a new restaurant in London. He coerces maître d’ and hotel heir Tony (Brühl) to help him manage the front of house, with his old colleague Michel (Sy) as his sous chef. Adam takes a shine to single mother Helene (Miller), whose talents he feels are not put to proper use. The opening of the Adam Jones at the Langham earns the ire of Adam’s fierce rival Montgomery Reece (Rhys), and Adam has to keep his demons at bay as he strives for that coveted third star. Matters are further complicated by drug dealers to whom Adam still owes a great debt, as well as the presence of his former flame Anne Marie (Vikander), the daughter of Adam’s late mentor Jean-Luc. 

The title ‘Burnt’ conjured up images in this reviewer’s head of an alternate-universe Disney animated film starring a pyrokinetic princess named Elsa. Burnt was earlier named ‘Adam Jones’ and before that ‘Chef’, but that title was taken by Jon Favreau’s 2014 film. Since Chef was the last major narrative feature centred on making it in the kitchens of restaurants, Burnt does invite comparisons with it. Sure, Chef was more than a little self-indulgent, but it did have warmth, soul and earnestness and was clearly a passion project of Favreau’s. Directed by John Wells, Burnt is cynical and formulaic, a rock star redemption tale set in the high-stakes world of choleric chefs smashing plates on the floor and yelling at their underlings. Adam Jones is established as being obnoxious and obsessed, and the underlying message seems to be that if you’re good at something, it doesn’t matter how awfully you treat everyone around you. 
Steven Knight’s screenplay packs in the contrivances and somewhat clumsily attempts to explain kitchen lingo to the layman. There is a joke in which a plastic sous vide pouch is derisively called a “fish condom”, and this joke is apparently funny enough to repeat. This is a slick, well-paced film which paints a tantalising picture of a glamorous world while also emphasising how challenging it is to become a star in said world. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman’s camera glides from one cook’s station to the next, capturing both the frenzied activity and the aesthetically-plated dishes that leave the kitchen. Michelin Guide reviewers are presented as secret agents and everyone is struck by awed panic when they think these critics have arrived. The food, plated by food stylist Nicole Herft, looks very tempting indeed, with celebrity chefs Marcus Wareing and Mario Batali serving as consultants. 
Cooper dons his chef whites again after starring in the short-lived TV show No Reservations, based on Anthony Bourdain’s autobiography, ten years ago. Both Bourdain and the fictional Adam Jones struggled with substance abuse in the past, with Burnt chronicling Adam’s quest to rise from the ashes. Cooper is charismatic as usual and gets to break out the French (both Français and swearing), but the character is aggressively unlikeable. The film doesn’t try to make his driven nature endearing, explaining it away with a tragic back-story and everyone around Adam makes concessions for him because he’s that talented a chef. The film’s attempts to humanise the character come across as treacly and manipulative. It’s a character who’s difficult to root for, and this is supposed to be charming in and of itself, when it isn’t at all. 
Cooper is backed up by a good supporting cast, though the characters aren’t drawn with too much depth. Brühl is an endearingly if cartoonishly prickly fussbudget as Tony. There’s an obvious homoerotic subtext between him and Adam that is acknowledged but of course, played very safe. Instead, Adam’s love interest is Miller’s Helene, marking a reunion for the American Sniper co-stars. The film goes the eye roll-inducing route of having Adam treat Helene condescendingly, even humiliating her in front of the other kitchen staff, but Helene eventually warms to him because he’s just that sexy. It seems that the main purpose Sy serves is as a volley partner for Cooper to bounce his French dialogue off of. Rhys’ portrayal of the chef whom Adam is at loggerheads with is stops a safe distance short of being the stereotypical bully, though it does lack nuance. Vikander may be one of this year’s breakout stars from her roles in Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but she gets really little to do here as the one that got away. Emma Thompson is called upon to dispense gnomic advice as Adam’s therapist and Uma Thurman shows up in what is essentially a cameo as a food critic. 
After Gordon Ramsay’s fiery temperament has been ingrained into popular culture, at this point, it seems like a movie about a chef who’s quiet and calm and treats his co-workers politely would, ironically enough, be more interesting than a film about an unstable hair-trigger culinary wunderkind. Cooper is watchable, but no matter how strongly the movie wills it, it’s tough to get in his corner. It’s a “rise-fall-rise” narrative with few twists and additions to the formula, but if good-looking people and even better-looking food is what you’re after, Burnt has got you covered. 
Summary: We’ve gotten through the bulk of this review without any corny food metaphors, so allow us this indulgence: Burnt is lukewarm at best. 
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong