Wild Oats

For F*** Magazine

WILD OATS 

Director : Andy Tennant
Cast : Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, Billy Connolly, Howard Hesseman, Demi Moore, Jay Hayden, Santiago Segura, Rebecca Da Costa
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 32 mins
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

wild-oats-posterGirls just want to have fun, and there’s no age limit on that. Illinois residents Eva (MacLaine) and Maddie (Lange) have been best friends for 40 years. When Eva’s husband passes away, the insurance company Beneficial Life mistakenly pays out $5 million to Eva instead of $50 000. After Maddie convinces Eva to keep the money, the pair jet off to the Canary Islands where they splurge on hotel suites, shopping and run amok at the casino. Eva is approached by a charming but absent-minded Scottish businessman (Connolly) while Maddie enters into a dalliance with the young, handsome Chip (Hayden). In the meantime, Beneficial Life agent Vespucci (Hesseman), on the brink of retirement, is tasked with retrieving the money. Accompanied by Eva’s daughter Crystal (Moore), Vespucci heads to the Canary Islands in pursuit of Eva and Maddie. As it happens, the insurance firm is the least of the women’s worries when they get caught up in a scam orchestrated by local wine baron Carlos (Segura).

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There are movies which have a far more intriguing story going on behind the scenes than the one portrayed on screen. Wild Oats is one of those movies. The film was first announced in 2012, and in that incarnation, the protagonists travelled to Las Vegas instead of the Canary Islands. This looks like an unassuming indie movie, but the troubled production was unable to secure financing, with stars MacLaine, Lange and Moore all deferring their salaries. Jack Black, Jacki Weaver, Sarah Jessica Parker and Alan Arkin were all attached, but departed the project, as did director Howard Deutch. One of the producers would only put down the money on the condition that his girlfriend Rebecca Da Costa was given a substantial part. Director Andy Tennant had to hold the fort and persuade the cast to stick with him. In the end, Wild Oats didn’t even secure a theatrical release in the U.S., premiering on TV on the Lifetime Channel. All this became fodder for MacLaine’s book, Above the Line. A documentary on the making of the film probably wouldn’t be quite as dramatic as Hearts of Darkness, which chronicled the torturous Apocalypse Now shoot, but then again, that was a Vietnam War epic and this is a frothy buddy comedy.

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So, was it worth all the trouble? The end result is largely agreeable but wholly unremarkable, often playing like a paid holiday. It’s not as egregious as Last Vegas, but it struggles to be anything more than a mildly amusing trifle. There is plenty of charm courtesy of MacLaine and Lange’s interaction, but the thin characterisation doesn’t stretch much further than “one’s sensible and strait-laced while the other’s libidinous and fun-loving” – no prizes for guessing who plays which archetype. There are too many predictable ‘old people’ jokes, including an extended sequence in which Eva and Maddie get frustrated with the automated messages when they call the insurance agency. A Chinese man speaking heavily-accented, halting English also shows up briefly – this character is wholly extraneous to the plot.

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Wild Oats greatly benefits from neither of its two leads phoning it in – one could surmise they’d be tempted to do so if they had to defer their salaries. Both MacLaine and Lange are immensely talented, radiant screen presences who complement each other nicely, and Lange does seem to be having a ball of the time playing a foxy woman on the prowl for younger men. Connolly gives an endearingly silly comic performance – it might look like the film is mocking the character’s dementia, but there’s an explanation given later on. Hesseman is sympathetic when it would have been very easy to make the insurance agent trying to get the money back into a moustache-twirling villain. Moore does a great amount of over-acting, while Segura’s Carlos is entirely unintimidating – that’s supposed to be the joke, but it greatly lowers the stakes.

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Wild Oats is too over-the-top and silly to be a realistic comedy, but is too subdued to be a full-on farce, though it veers close to the latter during its conclusion. As a wish fulfilment lark for the Tony Bennett fan demographic, Wild Oats isn’t a complete mess. It’s occasionally funny and while the performances given by MacLaine and Lange are far from their most memorable, they’re adequately entertaining.

Summary: The movie equivalent of that doddering grandaunt who goes off on rambling tangents, but who’s so sweet you don’t have the heart to tell her to stop.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

STGCC 2016: Mega Picture Post Days 1 & 2

As is the annual tradition, here is my mega picture post from the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. This year, STGCC was held on the 10th and 11th September at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. I will be the first to admit that I found this year a little underwhelming compared to last year, and part of it might have to do with the fact that the event was held in the hall in the basement and not the first floor. It’s all enclosed so it shouldn’t matter anyway, but I guess you could feel it. Honestly, I couldn’t get overly excited for the special guests, but I certainly enjoyed interviewing them. I also had fun hanging out with my cosplayer friends and taking in the booth displays. I joined in a group of friends who were cosplaying members from the Teen Titans as a zero-effort Superboy. I’m not a cosplayer, but it was fun kinda sorta pretending I was for that moment. Enjoy!

 

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STGCC Hot Toys Batman v Superman display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Hot Toys display 2

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Hot Toys display 2

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey Speeder Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey Speeder Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Riot Trooper FN-2199 Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars The Force Awakens Riot Trooper FN-2199 Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars villains Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Star Wars villains Hot Toys display

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars The Force Awakens Luke Skywalker figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars The Force Awakens Luke Skywalker figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars The Force Awakens Resistance Rey figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars The Force Awakens Resistance Rey figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars original trilogy figures display

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Star Wars original trilogy figures display

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama 1

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama 1

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama 2

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama 2

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Captain America vs. Iron Man

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Captain America vs. Iron Man

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Hawkeye vs. Black Widow

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Hawkeye vs. Black Widow

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Winter Soldier vs. Black Panther

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Captain America: Civil War airport battle diorama Winter Soldier vs. Black Panther

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Back to the Future display

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Back to the Future display

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Alien Ellen Ripley figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Alien Ellen Ripley figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Netflix Daredevil figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Netflix Daredevil figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Deadpool movie figure

STGCC 2016 Hot Toys Deadpool movie figure

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Ghost Rider Statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Ghost Rider Statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Spider-Man villains

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Spider-Man villains

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Punisher on motorcycle statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Punisher on motorcycle statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Spider-Man and Mary Jane statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Spider-Man and Mary Jane statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Cable statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Cable statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Kingpin statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Kingpin statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Venom statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Venom statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Boba Fett statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Boba Fett statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue Bishop

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue Bishop

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue Psylocke

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue Psylocke

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 3

STGCC 2016 XM Studios X-Men vs. Sentinel statue 3

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Namor statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Namor statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Witchblade statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Witchblade statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Witchblade Statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Witchblade Statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman unmasked statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman unmasked statue 1

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman unmasked statue closeup

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman unmasked statue closeup

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman Beyond statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Samurai Batman Beyond statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue 2

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue closeup

STGCC 2016 XM Studios Catwoman on bike statue closeup

STGCC 2016 XM Studios unpainted prototypes

STGCC 2016 XM Studios unpainted prototypes

Hulk Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. statue

Hulk Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. statue

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STGCC 2016: Artist Phil Noto

STGCC 2016: Black Canary cosplay

STGCC 2016: Black Canary cosplay

STGCC 2016: Arkham Asylum Joker cosplay (Alexander Jamesoun Tan)

STGCC 2016: Arkham Asylum Joker cosplay (Alexander Jameosoun Tan)

STGCC 2016: Arkham City Harley Quinn cosplay (Nyria Nox)

STGCC 2016: Arkham City Harley Quinn cosplay (Nyria Nox)

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STGCC 2016: Quicksilver Avengers: Age of Ultron cosplay

STGCC 2016: Quicksilver Avengers: Age of Ultron cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Hawkgirl cosplay (Niko)

STGCC 2016: Nightwing cosplay

STGCC 2016: Nightwing cosplay

STGCC 2016: Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde Zootopia cosplay

STGCC 2016: Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde Zootopia cosplay

STGCC 2016: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Orson Krennic cosplay

STGCC 2016: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Orson Krennic cosplay

STGCC 2016: Silk cosplay (Theresa)

STGCC 2016: Silk cosplay (Theresa)

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker and El Diablo cosplays

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker and El Diablo cosplays

STGCC 2016: Pocahontas cosplay

STGCC 2016: Pocahontas cosplay

STGCC 2016: Arkham Asylum Joker (Alexander Jamesoun Tan) and Arkham City Harley Quinn (Rina Carissime)

STGCC 2016: Arkham Asylum Joker (Alexander Jameosoun Tan) and Arkham City Harley Quinn (Rina Carissime)

STGCC 2016: Esmeralda cosplay (Belle)

STGCC 2016: Esmeralda cosplay (Belle)

STGCC 2016: Miranda Lawson cosplay (Cara)

STGCC 2016: Miranda Lawson cosplay (Cara)

STGCC 2016: Dr. Harleen Quinzel cosplay

STGCC 2016: Dr. Harleen Quinzel cosplay (Amaya)

STGCC 2016: Wolverine cosplay

STGCC 2016: Wolverine cosplay

STGCC 2016: Jessica Jones (Jenny) and Kilgrave (Frasier)

STGCC 2016: Jessica Jones (Jenny) and Kilgrave (Frasier)

STGCC 2016: Assassin's Creed Syndicate Evie Frye cosplay (Neptys)

STGCC 2016: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Evie Frye cosplay (Neptys)

STGCC 2016: Black Widow and Scarlet Witch cosplay

STGCC 2016: Black Widow and Scarlet Witch cosplay

STGCC 2016: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Jessica Jones cosplays

STGCC 2016: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Jessica Jones cosplays

STGCC 2016: Daenerys Targaryen cosplay (Theodora)

STGCC 2016: Daenerys Targaryen cosplay (Theodora)

STGCC 2016: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy cosplays

STGCC 2016: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy cosplays

STGCC Milo Thatch (Anne) and Kidakagash Nedakh (Caetuna) cosplays - Atlantis: The Lost Empire

STGCC Milo Thatch (Anne) and Kidakagash Nedakh (Caetuna) cosplays – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

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STGCC 2016: Vic as Psylocke with Shaun as Luke Skywalker

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STGCC 2016: Father and son Deathstroke cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Dust from the X-Men cosplay

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STGCC 2016 XM Studios Black Panther statue

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STGCC 2016 Star Wars Plastic model kits

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STGCC 2016 sculpture booth

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STGCC 2016 Deathstroke trio

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STGCC 2016 Deadshot cosplay 1

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STGCC 2016 Deadshot cosplay 2

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STGCC 2016 501st Legion Star Wars booth 1

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STGCC 2016 Star Wars booth 501st Legion 2

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STGCC 2016: my friend, toy photographer Sunny Ang (Zekezachzoom) and I

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STGCC 2016: XM Studios Samurai Batman statues

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STGCC 2016: Kylo Ren cosplayers (Kylin and Ria)

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STGCC 2016: Star Wars Revenge of the Sith Anakin Skywalker cosplay (Alexander Jameosoun Tan)

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STGCC 2016: Band of Doodlers working on the doodle wall

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STGCC 2016: Kai Le Red Hood cosplay 1

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STGCC 2016: Kai Le Red Hood cosplay 2 and me

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STGCC 2016: Two-Face cosplay (Joe)

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STGCC 2016: Red Hood cosplay (Kai Le)

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STGCC 2016: Red Hood cosplay (Kai Le)

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STGCC 2016: Red Hood vs. Two-Face cosplays

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STGCC 2016: The Force Awakens Luke Skywalker cosplay – bad nephew!

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STGCC 2016: The Force Awakens Luke Skywalker cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Star Wars photo booth

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STGCC 2016 XM Studios booth

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STGCC 2016: Special guest digital artist Sakimachan and her Rule 63 Cruella de Vil art

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STGCC 2016: Rey cosplay (Xinyi) and Kylo Ren cosplay (Ria)

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STGCC 2016: Armoured Batman statue

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STGCC 2016: Overwatch Tracer cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Harley Quinn cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Madame Joker cosplay (Darah)

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STGCC 2016: Rule 63 Flash cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Belle (Kuro Koneko), Alice (Celeste), Mulan (Amanda) and Ariel (Matty)

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STGCC 2016: Raven cosplay (Niko)

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STGCC 2016: Spider-Punk cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Wolverine Cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Raven cosplay (Min Lauren)

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STGCC 2016: Black Panther cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Mayday Parker Spider-Girl cosplay (Theresa)

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STGCC 2016: Red Hood Cosplay

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STGCC 2016: King Llane Wyrn cosplay (Joey)

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STGCC 2016: Nightwing and Robin cosplay 1

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STGCC 2016: Nightwing and Robin cosplay 2

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STGCC 2016: Terra cosplay (Ching Hui)

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STGCC 2016: Granny Emma Webster cosplay (Aunty Shirley)

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STGCC 2016: Granny Emma Webster cosplay (Aunty Shirley)

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STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Starfire cosplay (Anne)

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STGCC 2016: Deadshot Suicide Squad movie cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Steven Universe and Rose Quartz cosplay (Charles and Caetuna)

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STGCC 2016: Terra and Starfire cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Terra and Raven

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STGCC 2016: Starfire with Matt the Radar Technician custom action figure

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STGCC 2016: No Terra, stay away from the Slades!

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STGCC 2016: Green Arrow and Arsenal cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Matt the Radar Technican cosplay (Mezame)

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STGCC 2016: New 52 Harley Quinn cosplay

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STGCC 2016: New 52 Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Judge Dredd, Wonder Woman and Deathstroke cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Doctor Who Lady Cassandra cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker (E-Hong) and Harley Quinn (Hana) cosplays

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker (E-Hong) and Harley Quinn (Hana) cosplays

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker (E-Hong) and Harley Quinn (Hana) cosplays

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker (E-Hong) and Harley Quinn (Hana) cosplays

STGCC 2016: Suicide Squad Joker (E-Hong) and Harley Quinn (Hana) cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Batman and Catwoman cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Beast Boy and Raven cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Gar gives Beast Kingdom a free advertisement

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STGCC 2016: Terra x Beast Boy

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STGCC 2016: Fables Boy Blue cosplay (Kie)

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STGCC 2016: Raven cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Darth Talon cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Raven cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Jack Frost and Elsa cosplays

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STGCC 2016: Weapon X Wolverine cosplay (Rocky)

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STGCC 2016: Batman cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Green Goblin cosplay with functioning Goblin glider

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STGCC 2016: Baby Mercy Overwatch cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Constantine and Zatanna cosplay

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STGCC 2016: Omar Dogan and Harley Quinn artwork

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STGCC 2016: Teen Titans and Super cosplay group

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STGCC 2016: Teen Titans group cosplay

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STGCC 2016 Preview Day

For F*** Magazine

STGCC 2016 – PREVIEW
F*** gets a taster of the latest edition of the pop culture maelstrom
By Jedd Jong

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Yesterday, F*** was at Terra in Suntec City’s Sky Garden for the press preview of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC). The annual event, organised by ReedPop, is in its ninth year. Reed Exhibitions assistant project director Lin Koh repeatedly referred to this year’s instalment as “crazy”, “massive” and “insane”. She had the numbers to back it up – a total of 43 invited guests, including writers, artists, cosplay celebrities and musicians, will be meeting fans and holding panel discussions at the convention. We were told that it’s up from last year’s figure of 29. 263 companies will be participating, releasing 193 exclusives and new products at STGCC between them. 45 000 attendees are expected over this Saturday and Sunday.

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This year, STGCC will host its first ever computer game tournament, the STGCC eSports Mountain Dew Cup 2016. An exclusive mystery Be@rbrick figurine will be unveiled, and exclusive Hot Toys figures being sold include Disco Iron Man, Resistance Outfit Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Knightmare Batman from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Hot Toys booth is always a highlight of the convention floor, and this year’s display will include a staggering 1/6th scale diorama re-creating the spectacular clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man from Captain America: Civil War.

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We were introduced to a panel of Singaporean artists, comprising manga artist Rachta Lin, sculptor and toy designer Daniel Yu, illustrator Andy Choo and T-shirt designer Xuanming Zhou of Xmashed Gear.

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Yu had some practical advice for those looking to become full-time artists. “As artists, we need to have the mindset of an entrepreneur, because at the end of the day we’re running our own business and cultivating your brand, you’re trying to establish yourself.” Yu’s resin sculptures and collectibles have been exhibited in cities including Tokyo, Beijing, London and New York.

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Choo related an encounter he had with a member of the public when he was drawing caricatures in a local mall. “There was this rich-looking lady, and she asked me ‘so where did you study?’ I said ‘NUS (National University of Singapore). I majored in economics.’ She replied ‘Economics! Your parents must be so sad that you became an artist, what a pity.’ And I was like ‘I think my parents are quite okay with my job right now.’” He added with a grin that he drew her nose a fair bit bigger in the caricature. “I feel that we need a few Joseph Schoolings in our art industry to really help inspire more young artists,” he continued, referencing the Olympic Gold Medal-winning swimmer. Choo conducts workshops, and remarked that many of his students were able to land spots in polytechnic animation courses from which they were rejected a few years earlier.

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Next, we met four international guests: Spanish comic book artist Emma Ríos, Malaysian illustrator Hwei Lim, American comics writer Nick Spencer and British collectibles designer and sculptor Jon-Paul Kaiser.

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Ríos described the current popularity of comic book movies as a “dream come true”, having read a lot of superhero comics in her childhood and named Captain America: The Winter Soldier as her favourite. However, she also added that she is beginning to feel a little fatigued “because there are starting to be so many of them”. Ríos cited Katsuhiro Otomo, famed for writing and illustrating the Akira manga, as main the artist who inspired her to create comic art. Ríos’ credits include the fantasy horror western Pretty Deadly, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Marvel Titles Doctor Strange and The Amazing Spider-Man. Ríos and Lim met at an art workshop and became best friends – the duo are collaborating on the fantasy series Mirror, published by Image Comics.

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Spencer listed Brian Michael Bendis, Keith Giffen, Peter David and Chris Claremont as inspirations. Spencer was the subject of much ire and raised plenty of eyebrows when he penned the controversial issue Steve Rogers Captain America #1, revealing the good Captain as a Hydra spy. The mystery behind the shocking twist has since been explained, but some fans didn’t wait before sending death threats Spencer’s way. Spencer explained that unpopular story arcs are part of any comic character’s ebb and flow over the decades, making reference to the Winter Soldier story arc by Ed Brubaker that was once reviled for bringing Captain America’s loyal sidekick Bucky Barnes back from the dead and making him into a villain, remarking “People had to live with Bucky being a bad guy for a year!”

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Ríos, Lim, Spencer and Kaiser were presented with a tasting platter of Singaporean food. While Lim was familiar with the cuisine since she’s from neighbouring Malaysia, it was a novel experience for the rest of the panel. They sampled salted egg yolk croissants, mooncakes, egg tarts, bubur cha cha (a coconut milk sweet soup) and Hainanese Chicken Rice. It went over well – Kaiser visibly enjoyed the mooncakes, while Ríos exclaimed “I could live here!”

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The artists performed demonstrations for the press: Lin drew a journalist clad in a Pikachu hoodie, Ríos and Lim painted stunning ink and watercolour pieces side-by-side, while Kaiser customised a blank Munny doll with micron pens.

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Other guests who will be attending the convention include Star Wars: Poe Dameron artist Phil Noto; Lumberjanes creator Brooke Allen; Injustice and All New Wolverine writer Tom Taylor; Macross mangaka Haruhiko Mikimoto, and digital artist Sakimichan, who has a massive online following.

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STGCC 2016 is being held from Saturday 10th September to Sunday 11th September at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore. One-day passes are priced at $19, with two-day passes at $28. Please visit www.singaporetgcc.com for more information.

Sully

For F*** Magazine

SULLY

Cast : Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jerry Ferrara, Sam Huntington
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

sully-posterClint Eastwood takes us behind the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in this biopic. On the morning of January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 is making a routine trip from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina. When bird strikes cripple both engines, the plane comes in for an emergency water landing on the Hudson River, with all 155 souls on board miraculously surviving. At the controls are pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart). Sully is vaunted in the press as a hero and becomes an overnight sensation, but the attention and scrutiny prove overwhelming for him and his wife Lorraine (Linney). The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concludes that according to simulations, Sully could have safely landed the plane back at LaGuardia Airport, calling his judgement into question and putting his career and reputation on the line.

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It’s easy to see why the public gravitated to the story of the Miracle on the Hudson: it was harrowing but ended well, it was a glimmer of good news amidst the usual barrage of negativity, and an endearing everyday hero was at its centre. But is there enough to the story to sustain a feature film? As it turns out, barely. At 96 minutes, Sully is shorter than your average ‘based-on-a-true-story’ drama, but even then, it feels padded out. The film quickly becomes repetitive, and the portrayal of Sully’s self-doubt lacks nuance. Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay trades in caricatures, and while we see what he’s going for with a scene in which a bartender excitedly pours Sully a cocktail he’s concocted in the pilot’s honour, it makes the true story come off as cartoony. A few passengers are highlighted in a folksy ‘aw shucks’ manner; these moments feel like they belong in a TV movie than an awards season film.

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The main selling point of the film apart from its director and star is the re-enactment of the dramatic water landing. The sequence, shot with the new Alexa IMAX cameras, has an appropriate graveness and tension to it, even if the moment of impact itself looks a little like it’s a cut-scene in a video game. Eastwood does an effective job of putting the audience in the cockpit as the situation unspools, but perhaps there’s something questionable about taking an almost-tragedy and turning it into big-screen spectacle. There’s merit to the argument that because it all ended well for everyone on board, nobody will take offense with this depiction, but it can also be argued that Sully is trading on disaster in a similar way to Titanic. Beyond that, there are distasteful, oblique visual references to 9/11 that seem manipulative in trying to elicit emotion through association with the terrorist attack.

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It’s hard to go too wrong when Tom Hanks is the de-facto heart of your movie. The actor brings his trademark affability to bear as an unassuming pilot whose world is shaken by a close call on the job, followed by equal amounts of hero worship and second-guessing. The world fell in love with the earnestness, graciousness, work ethic and humility displayed by Sully in the aftermath of the Hudson landing, and moviegoers in general have already fallen in love with Hanks. He suits the role despite bearing only the slightest passing resemblance to the real-life Sully, even with the white hair and moustache. It’s something of an obvious casting choice and while it might have been more interesting to see an actor who isn’t as established a ‘likeable everyman’ as Hanks take on the role, Hanks does an expectedly fine job with it.

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The conventionally-handsome Eckhart is a different brand of all-American than Hanks is, and they end up complementing each other nicely. Skiles received what some might say is a disproportionately small amount of the credit, but the working relationship and friendship between the two does brim with positivity. Because Eckhart looks more like the hero who would be landing the plane in a Hollywood action movie, it further accentuates the ‘unlikely hero’ quotient Hanks’ Sully has going for him.

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Linney’s abilities as an actress aren’t stretched very far, with Lorraine portrayed as little more than the stock worried wife back home. By design, the NTSB panellists are faceless suits, bureaucracy incarnate, their impersonality serving as a contrast to Sully’s humanness.

Sully is respectable in its own right, but the emotional heft present in the best biopics is lacking here. As the story was extensively covered by the media, we’re familiar with the broad strokes. While there’s some insight to be gleaned from the film and the procedural aspect is easy to follow, it’s nothing that’s remarkably revelatory. Sully is more like a single-engine Cessna than a commercial jetliner: airworthy but slight.

Summary: Tom Hanks’ dignified and likeable performance lifts Sully above the waters of mediocrity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars    

Jedd Jong

Kubo and the Two Strings

For F*** Magazine

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS 

Director : Travis Knight
Cast : Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1 hr 43 mins
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : PG

Kubo and the Two Strings posterAfter taking us to the spooky Other World in Coraline, the Massachusetts town of Blithe Hollow in ParaNorman and the Victorian hilltop municipality of Cheesebridge in The Boxtrolls, Laika transports audiences to ancient Japan in this fantasy adventure. Kubo (Parkinson) is a young boy who is a gifted raconteur, and who delights the villagers with origami figures that become animated when he plays the shamisen, a traditional stringed instrument. Kubo’s sickly mother Sariatu is near-death, and Kubo learns of his higher calling. When he is threatened by his mother’s Sisters (Mara), Kubo sets out in search of the mythical armour of Hanzo, his long-lost warrior father. Hanzo is guided by the protective, no-nonsense Monkey (Theron), a wooden monkey charm transformed into an actual monkey by his mother’s magic. Along the way, Beetle (McConaughey), an apprentice of Hanzo who was cursed to take the form of a humanoid insect, joins Kubo and Monkey. Together, they embark on an odyssey to defeat Raiden (Fiennes) the Moon King, Kubo’s grandfather, who has vowed vengeance on Sariatu after her betrayal.

Kubo and the Two Strings Kubo

Kubo and the Two Strings is a folk tale come to vivid life, an imaginative original narrative woven together from familiar mythical elements. At its core, the film is a straight-forward MacGuffin quest, but its message about the intrinsic power of stories and how invaluable storytelling is to preservation of any culture means that it’s more than the sum of its parts. Laika’s CEO Travis Knight directs from a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, with Shannon Tindle and Haimes receiving a ‘story by’ credit. When Hollywood draws upon Eastern culture, there’s always the danger that something will be lost in translation, with many tin-eared east-meets-west mashup movies as evidence. Kubo and the Two Strings is infused with Miyazaki-esque grace and sensitivity, earnest yet far from staid.

Kubo and the Two Strings Beetle, Kubo and Monkey 1

Stop-motion animation is as painstaking an art form as they come, and Laika is one of the few bastions of this dying art. The technical advancements championed by Laika, including the use of 3-D printed components in their puppets and the integration of computer-generated effects, set their work apart visually from the typical modern animated film. The tactility in the costumes and sets and the staggering range of nuanced emotions that the puppets are capable of conveying is testament to the dedication of Laika’s artists and technicians. Standing at 4.8 m tall, the skeleton demon is the single largest stop-motion puppet ever constructed. All the tireless toiling from Knight, lead animator Malcolm Lamont and the Laika team pays off wondrously.

Kubo and the Two Strings Beetle, Kubo and Monkey 2

Kubo and the Two Strings has expectedly drawn some flak for casting white actors in voice roles in a movie set in ancient Japan. Knight has defended this by saying that the “considerations you have casting a live-action film are different than the considerations you have casting an animated film,” citing “the ability of an actor to capture the emotion with their voice” as the prevailing criterion in casting. Of course, actors like Theron and McConaughey have marquee name value as well, and the Japanese townsfolk are voiced by Japanese actors like George Takei, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa and Minae Noji. In any case, it is a step in the right direction that stories with basis in varied cultures are being told with this much care and artistry. Sure, we would like to hear Asian actors in the lead roles in a film like Kubo, but perhaps chiding Laika for this misses the forest for the trees in the ongoing conversation on diversity and representation in Hollywood.

After Isaac Hempstead Wright’s turn as Eggs in The Boxtrolls, this is the second Laika film in which the protagonist is voiced by a Stark kid. Instead of Bran, it’s Rickon. Kubo is very much your standard issue chosen one, but unlike the typical adventure hero, it’s his artistic abilities rather than skill in combat that are highlighted. While there’s a degree of sorrow and uncertainty that follows Kubo around, there’s also wonderment and the capacity for creativity. The scenes in which Kubo grumbles about his guardian’s unyielding strictness do make him relatable even as he plunges into a fantastical milieu.

Kubo and the Two Strings Monkey and Kubo

Theron’s Monkey has much in common with Angelina Jolie’s Tigress in the Kung Fu Panda films: they’re both adept warriors who take themselves seriously and do not suffer fools, but have a soft side if you can find your way to it. The withering deadpan with which Theron intones lines like “you’re an embarrassment” ideally captures the personality of the character.

The dim-witted but sincere Beetle is reminiscent of the superhero pastiche the Tick generally functions as comic relief. The jokes provided by Beetle often veer too close to the standard type of humour seen in mainstream animated films, and as such can sometimes be incongruent with the general style and tone of Kubo. McConaughey is enjoyably affable in the part and audibly puts in effort in tamping down his signature drawl. While there does turn out to be more to Beetle than meets the eye, his characterisation as a typical animated movie ‘funny sidekick’ is a mite disappointing.

Kubo and the Two Strings Kubo and Beetle

Fiennes’ Moon King doesn’t quite have enough screen time to be established as a threat, with most of the menace courtesy of the creepy levitating Sisters. Even with not especially compelling villains, the quest is still absorbing thanks to the interaction between Kubo, Monkey and Beetle and the assorted predicaments they find themselves in. A film in which music plays such a crucial part in the plot has got to have a strong soundtrack, and Dario Marianelli’s score is lush and evocative. Regina Spektor’s cover of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is transcendent and wont to give listeners the tingles. Don’t worry if you’re confused by the title, it will make sense as the plot progresses – and stick around past the main-on-end titles for the customary peek behind the curtain.

Summary: Sumptuous mixed-media animation make it impossible to look away from Kubo and the Two Strings, a captivating ode to the power and vitalness of storytelling.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Mechanic: Resurrection

F*** Magazine

MECHANIC: RESURRECTION

Director : Dennis Gansel
Cast : Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Sam Hazeldine, Rhatha Phongam
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 39 mins
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

Mechanic Resurrection posterBrace yourselves for another Stath attack – everyone’s favourite bald, grimacing English tough guy with the limited acting range is back as Arthur Bishop. After surviving an attempt on his life by his would-be apprentice, Bishop has retired from being a hitman, or “mechanic”, and is lying low in Brazil. Riah Crain (Hazeldine), an arms dealer with a grudge on Bishop, kidnaps Bishop’s girlfriend Gina (Alba) and coerces him into completing three hits. Bishop’s three targets are African warlord Krill (Femi Elufowoju Jr.), who is holed up in a Malaysian prison that he rules from the inside, Australian mining magnate and sex trafficker Adrian Cook (Toby Eddington), and American arms dealer Max Adams (Jones). With the help of his old contact Mae (Yeoh), Bishop must pull off these nigh-impossible assassinations to ensure Gina’s survival, while also devising a way to get back at Crain.

Mechanic Resurrection Jason Statham 1

Mechanic: Resurrection is the sequel to 2011’s The Mechanic, which was a remake of the 1972 film of the same name starring Charles Bronson. The contentious relationship between Bishop and Ben Foster’s Steve McKenna in the previous film lifted it slightly above the familiar trappings of the genre, but there’s nothing as interesting here. Mechanic: Resurrection pretty much meets all the expectations of your standard-issue Statham-led action flick. Its plot is entirely predictable and the action sequences aren’t staged with lots of panache, but Statham’s physicality means he’s always a convincing action hero. There’s also a decent amount of globe-trotting going on, with Bishop making stops in Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and Bulgaria, taking advantage of the latter’s film production tax breaks. There’s some fun to be had in seeing Statham run through the streets of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia or dangle from a skyscraper in Sydney. However, it’s painfully obvious that no actual filming was done in Brazil, with the opening sequence featuring distractingly phony green screen work.

Mechanic Resurrection Jason Statham arrested

Statham’s virtually non-existent acting chops have never hindered his career, and he’s probably the closest thing we have to the action stars of the 80s and 90s with whom he palled around in the Expendables films. The former national diving squad member gets to reference his sporting past with a dramatic leap into the ocean, and there’s no shortage of our hero stabbing and shooting the bad guys.

Mechanic Resurrection Jason Statham next to helicopterAlba does a lot of frolicking on the beach in sundresses, and despite hints that her character might not merely be a damsel in distress, she spends the bulk of the film held captive by the villain. Gina is meant to be a combat veteran who opens up a shelter for sex trafficking victims in Cambodia, so one would think she’d be able to hold her own. While Gina does help Bishop track her down, she generally comes off as utterly helpless. In the previous film, it was established that Bishop is a ladies’ man who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em, but here, he forms a sentimental attachment to Gina with almost comical speed, and it’s difficult to buy that this woman whom he’s just met is someone he’d go to the ends of the earth for.

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As the lead villain, Hazeldine is gruff but bland, lacking the wily smugness of a master manipulator who has Bishop wrapped around his little finger. Yeoh’s character doesn’t seem to serve too much of a purpose in the plot, and quite disappointingly, Yeoh doesn’t get to take part in a single action sequence. Jones’ appearance amounts to not much more than a cameo. He’s sporting a deliberately ridiculous look comprising red-tinted shades, a soul patch, earrings and a leather jacket, but he’s phoning it in rather than hamming it up for the most part.

Mechanic Resurrection Jason Statham and Michelle Yeoh

Director Dennis Gansel delivers what is very much a production line action flick that’s barely a few notches above something that would be released straight-to-video, but which will meet the expectations of undemanding Jason Statham fans. The overarching plot is formulaic, the romance is trite and performers like Yeoh and Jones are woefully underused, but certain moments when Bishop plans and executes his elaborate assassination plots are interesting to watch. It’s barely satisfying junk food, but that’s what Statham does best.

Mechanic Resurrection Tommy Lee Jones

Summary: Silly and generic but sufficiently entertaining, Mechanic: Resurrection is as predictable as clockwork.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Pete’s Dragon

For F*** Magazine

PETE’S DRAGON 

Director : David Lowery
Cast : Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Oona Laurence, John Kassir
Genre : Adventure
Run Time : 1 hr 43 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Pete's Dragon posterCall it “Re-Pete’s Dragon”: Disney has remade one of the lesser-known films in their canon, changing the setting from a seaside Maine town in the 1900s to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. Pete (Fegley), has spent six of his 11 years alive living in the forest after being stranded there following an accident. He has since befriended a green, furry dragon named Elliott (Kassir), who has the ability to turn invisible. Elderly wood-carver Meacham (Redford) claims to have encountered a dragon in the woods in his youth, but everyone writes it off as a tall tale. Meacham’s daughter Grace (Howard), a forest ranger, takes Pete in after Natalie (Laurence), the daughter of Grace’s boyfriend Jack (Bentley), spots Pete in the forest. In the meantime, Jack’s brother Gavin (Urban) becomes obsessed with capturing Elliott, thinking it will bring him fame. Pete must learn to live as a regular boy, but yearns to be reunited with his friend Elliott.

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Pete’s Dragon is quite the wonder in that in contains nary a shred of cynicism. Director David Lowery strives to recapture the charm of old-school ‘A Boy and his X’ tales, and largely succeeds. Little of the original 1977 musical film remains: there’s a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliott who can turn invisible, and the characters of Nora and her father Lampie are reworked into Grace and Meacham. Pete’s Dragon is what a remake should be: key components of the source are repurposed to fit a new vision and it isn’t a beat-for-beat re-tread of what came before. It’s warm-hearted but does take a while to get into gear, with a few moments bordering on cheesy. Pete’s Dragon stands on the shoulders of kids’ adventure films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Iron Giant, its old-fashioned sensibilities contrasted with the advanced visual effects technology used to bring Elliott to life.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Elliott and Oakes Fegley

Elliott is a supremely loveable creation, with some design cues taken from The Never-Ending Story’s Falkor the Luck Dragon. Lowery justified giving Elliott a furry coat by saying he wanted Elliott to be “the kind of dragon you really want to give a hug to”, and this reviewer did indeed very much want to hug Elliott. The visual effects work, supervised by Tony Baldridge and Eric Saindon, makes Elliott feel like a living, breathing creature. The moments in which Elliott interacts with his environment, knocking over trees, splashing about in the river or sliding into the grass after a rough landing, are uniformly convincing. Elliott possesses multiple doglike attributes, with his vaguely Chewbacca-like vocalisations provided by voice actor John Kassir. Every whimper and growl makes Elliott seem more like an actual animal, and the in-universe explanation of the dragon being regarded as a folk legend cryptid gives this flight of fancy some grounding.

Pete's Dragon Oakes Fegley

The live-action actors expectedly play second fiddle to Elliott, but they all take this quite seriously. Fegley’s Pete is the second feral boy in a live-action Disney movie this year, after Neel Sethi’s Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Fegley brings a wildness and physicality to Pete, whose years in the forest have made him adept at climbing pretty much anything. His interactions with Elliott are the very stuff that warm fuzzy feelings are made of.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley

Between this and Jurassic World, it seems giant CGI creatures just won’t leave Howard alone. She doesn’t get much to do, but her performance does feel straight out of an 80s Amblin movie. Redford’s gravitas, warmth and that perpetual twinkle in his eye give the film plenty of heart. Meacham is an old-timer who never lost that sense of imagination. Laurence was one of the child actresses who originated the role of Matilda in the eponymous musical on Broadway, and glimmers of the precociousness integral to Matilda are present here. She gets to boss Redford around a little, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the living legend getting barked at by a kid. Bentley is passable if not terribly interesting as a blue-collar dad, while Urban sinks his teeth into the antagonist role even though it’s a little thinly written. He sneers the line “the dragon is mine!” with admirable conviction.

Pete's Dragon Robert Redford

While it bears more than a few similarities to that recent Boy and His X favourite How to Train Your Dragon, Pete’s Dragon is charming is different ways too, thanks to its wholesome Americana vibe. Live-action kids’ adventure movies are a bit of a dying breed, but Disney’s recent live-action successes might mean a resurgence for the subgenre. As an avid indoorsman, this reviewer enjoys experiencing the wonders of nature from the comfort of a cinema hall. New Zealand doubles for the Pacific Northwest, and the actual scenery is as pleasing as the computer-generated visuals. Daniel Hart provides a rousing score, and ‘hip-hop violinist’ Lindsey Stirling makes her feature film debut performing Something Wild with Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. It all makes for a simple, wistfully-told story that harks back to simpler times and yet doesn’t drown in schmaltz.

Pete's Dragon Elliott and Oakes Fegley 2

Summary: Despite starting out slow, Pete’s Dragon becomes an absorbing adventure boasting marvellous visual effects work. Toothless has got heady competition in the ‘cutest dragon’ stakes.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Life on the Line

For F*** Magazine

LIFE ON THE LINE

Director : David Hackl
Cast : John Travolta, Kate Bosworth, Devon Sawa, Julie Benz, Gil Bellows, Ryan Robbins, Ty Olsson, Reese Alexander, Stuart Stone, Sharon Stone
Genre : Action
Run Time : 1 hr 38 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Life on the Line posterJohn Travolta has lightning to contend with, and it isn’t of the greased variety. In this thriller, Travolta plays Texas lineman Beau Ginner. Going out on the power lines to perform maintenance is a risky and often under-appreciated job, and Beau knows all too well just how dangerous it is. After his brother dies on the job, Beau cares for his niece Bailey (Bosworth). Bailey is in a rocky on-again, off-again relationship with Duncan (Sawa), a rookie lineman whom Beau disapproves of. Duncan’s mother (Stone) is none too pleased with the idea of her son becoming a lineman, since Duncan’s father was a lineman too and died on the job. Eugene (Robbins) and his wife Carline (Benz) move in across the street from Beau and Bailey. Having returned from Iraq, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder causes Eugene to behave erratically, potentially putting his fellow linemen in danger. When a deadly storm strikes, Beau and his men have to risk everything to ensure power is restored to the town.

Life on the Line John Travolta 1

Life on the Line concludes with a title card bringing attention to the Fallen Linemen Foundation. Now, that might seem noble, but the preceding film is chock-full of inaccuracies and does a terrible job of bringing attention to this occupation and highlighting the everyday heroism of linemen. There have been so many “men at work” films about firefighters, so it seems like a no-brainer to apply that template to the profession of power line workers. Instead of being hair-raising and intense, Life on the Line is an utter slog and is excruciating to sit through. The characters aren’t compelling in the slightest, and it’s over 70 minutes into the movie before the storm actually hits. A disproportionate amount of screen-time is dedicated to overwrought and awkwardly acted soap opera conflict. The camaraderie between the linemen and the steely determination with which they go about their work could have been inspirational and heartfelt, but the only feeling this film will elicit is that of boredom.

Life on the Line John Travolta and friends

Travolta is laughably bad in the lead role. We know you’re tired of hearing us harp about his hair in every movie, but it’s impossible to ignore. Early on in the film, he sports a ridiculous ponytail and a beard that’s tied into a ponytail too. There’s also a flashback in which Travolta sports a full biker mane. Thankfully, for the bulk of the film, his hair and beard somewhat approach looking natural. In an early scene in which Beau kisses a young Bailey (Sidney Grigg) on the cheek and forehead, it comes off as distastefully creepy instead of loving and affectionate. There’s no denying that Travolta is generally considered to be a weird guy, and as such it’s impossible to buy him as a blue collar everyman. He puts on a silly accent and over-acts his way through every scene, delivering a performance that is thoroughly inauthentic.

Life on the Line Devon Sawa

Duncan is supposed to be something of a bad boy, but former teen heartthrob Sawa is bland rather than roguish. Bosworth is just as unremarkable, her character subjected to a string of hackneyed clichés. As Duncan’s weary, haggard mother, Stone is a world away from the sultry femme fatale she defined herself as in the 90s. It’s a small part and the character is written in such a way as to be difficult to sympathise with. One can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness watching an actress whose glory days are clearly far behind her. We’re not saying women in film are expected to stay sexy forever, but surely there’s a better way for Stone to keep her career going than hamming it up and yelling a lot in a thankless part.

Life on the Line Kate Bosworth

David Hackl, a production designer who worked on the Saw films and directed Saw V, generates no tension or urgency whatsoever. The framing device in which Duncan relates his experience to a TV interviewer is wholly unnecessary and after all that build up to the big storm, the climactic sequence is markedly underwhelming. Life on the Line could’ve been a noble tribute to under-appreciated linemen, but is instead a misshapen, practically unwatchable mess.

Life on the Line derailed train

Summary: Even John Travolta’s over-the-top performance isn’t enough to make this dull, trite movie remotely entertaining.

RATING: 1 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong