The Big Sick

For F*** Magazine

THE BIG SICK 

Director : Michael Showalter
Cast : Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, David Alan Grier
Genre : Comedy/Romanc
Run Time : 2h
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Sexual References)

Many couples have probably thought to themselves, “say, our courtship would make a great movie”. Comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon thought this, and they were right.

In The Big Sick, Nanjiani plays himself, a Chicago-based stand-up comic from a Pakistani immigrant family. Kumail’s mother Sharmeen (Shroff) has been trying to arrange a marriage for him, setting him up with as many eligible Pakistani-American women as she can find. Emily Gardner (Kazan) is in the audience at a show in which Kumail is one of the performers, and they hit it off. However, Kumail knows that he will be disowned by his family if they find out he is dating a white, non-Muslim woman. Several weeks into their relationship, Emily is struck by a mysterious illness, and is placed in a medically-induced coma. Her parents Beth (Hunter) and Terry (Romano) arrive from North Carolina to care for her, and while things between them and Kumail are awkward at first, they begin to bond over their mutual care for Emily’s well-being. In the meantime, Kumail hopes to impress a talent scout who is selecting comics to perform in the esteemed Montreal Comedy Festival, but Emily’s circumstances throw him off his game, forcing him to re-evaluate his priorities while he confronts the traditions that he feels bound by.

This romantic comedy-drama is co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon, starring Nanjiani as himself, re-enacting his own love story. This might sound like a vanity project on the surface, but The Big Sick doesn’t feel like one at all. Even if it is a vanity project, it’s the kind we need right now. While made with a niche audience in mind, The Big Sick has gained overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth and has become a critical and commercial success. Key to its success is that this a film that bleeds authenticity. Sure, as with any movie based on a true story, artistic licenses were taken, but at no point that this feel glossy and artificial, nor does the film seem like it’s straining to convince us of its realness. As cliché as it sounds, all of it comes from the heart. Profoundly moving and disarmingly raw, director Michael Showalter packages Nanjiani and Gordon’s shared experiences without them seeming packaged in any way.

This is a comedy first and foremost, and on that front The Big Sick is a gut-busting triumph. Little touches like Nanjiani’s abiding love for The X-Files add nice textural elements – the episode “One Breath”, in which Mulder tries to save Scully from a coma, was a major inspiration for this film. Stand-up comics like Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant fill supporting roles as Kumail’s fellow comedy club performers, sometimes sarcastic but never unbearably smug. At no point does The Big Sick feel smug or ‘funnier than thou’, as movies about comedy with the creative involvement of professional comics are wont to be. Best of all, the tricky tonal balances are executed with a master’s touch. The film makes no hard-left turns into dramatic territory, and when it gets serious, it never blindsides the audience. The subjects of medical emergencies, the prejudices faced by South Asians and other immigrants in the United States, and the prospect of being exiled from one’s family because of whom one chooses to love are not inherently funny. The Big Sick’s treatment of these issues provokes thought without feeling inorganic or like it’s forcing the audience into an uncomfortable spot. The comedy does not undercut or overpower the film’s depth or sincerity.

One could say that Kumail Nanjiani was the role Kumail Nanjiani was born to play. Nanjiani is earnestly dorky, yet charming and altogether endearing, without ever feeling like he’s over-amplifying aspects of himself. He shares sparkling chemistry with Kazan, who is eminently likeable and showcases a range of the most adorable facial expressions. There are conflicts and misunderstandings, but they never feel like stock rom-com contrivances. Emily is in a coma for most of the film’s running time, but Kazan makes her presence felt and the relationship between Kumail and Emily is one of the easiest to root for in all of romantic comedy film history.

 

Kumail’s family does feel a little exaggerated for comedic effect, but they are never the butt of the joke. Given all that Nanjiani has been through, the portrayal of Kumail’s father Azmat (Kher), mother Sharmeen, brother Naveed (Akhtar) and sister-in-law Fatima (Shenaz Treasury) is markedly sympathetic. Kumail might feel stifled by the traditions and worldview upheld by his family, but that doesn’t mean he loves them any less.

Romano and Hunter are impeccably cast as Emily’s parents. Romano brings his trademark slightly beleaguered, Dad joke-spouting everyman persona to bear, but also provides some of the film’s most honest emotion. Hunter’s fiery, no-nonsense Beth is a force to be reckoned with, and the way she eventually warms towards Kumail feels natural and earned. Having a daughter in a coma is an emotionally-exhausting experience, and Terry and Beth are shown warts and all – but then again, so is every character in The Big Sick, a key ingredient in its authenticity.

“Absolutely devastating” is not necessarily the description one would use for a comedy – but The Big Sick is absolutely devastating in the best way. In telling a love story through a unique perspective, skilfully folding in social issues and wrapping all this in bracing, disarming humour, The Big Sick is essential viewing.

Summary: Deeply personal, authentic, warm, heart-rending and immensely funny, The Big Sick will cause fits of laughter and uncontrollable sobbing without feeling incongruous, manipulative or self-indulgent.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Atomic Blonde

For F*** Magazine

ATOMIC BLONDE 

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : R21 (Some Homosexual Content)

Charlize Theron goes from traversing the arid, scorching desert of Mad Max: Fury Road to sauntering into the coldest city in this action thriller. It is 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and MI6 agent James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB operative in West Berlin. Gascoine’s colleague and former lover Lorraine Broughton (Theron), one of MI6’s deadliest operatives, is sent behind the Iron Curtain to recover sensitive information stolen from Gascoine. Lorraine must work alongside MI6’s Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who is often drunk and unreliable. Lorraine’s mission is to track down a mark known only as ‘Spyglass’ (Marsan). She gets entangled with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), and Lorraine’s actions frustrate her superiors Eric Gray (Jones) of MI6 and Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman) of CIA. Caught in a geopolitical firestorm and pitted against the most treacherous of enemies, Lorraine must retrieve the documents at all costs.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. Directing the film is David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski and who is also helming the upcoming Deadpool 2. Leitch employs a great deal of stylisation, crafting a brutal, sexy ‘neon-noir’. However, unlike John Wick, Atomic Blonde doesn’t lean into its heightened absurdity as much, and takes itself a little too seriously.

As with any espionage thriller, the plot is a web of double-crosses, shifting alliances and twisty reveals. Atomic Blonde hints at the fraught geopolitical climate of the time, but is far from substantive. While Atomic Blonde succeeds as a mood piece, it is too coolly detached for audiences to get involved in the story. With its title cards rendered as spray-painted graffiti text and its action set to songs by Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode and Kanye West, Atomic Blonde is sometimes too enamoured with its coolness for its own good.

Coming from a stunt performer/coordinator background and having co-founded the stunt collective 87Eleven Action Design, Leitch knows a thing or two about action sequences. Atomic Blonde showcases several elaborate, wince-inducing combat sequences, and doesn’t skimp on the blood splatter when people get shot in the head. It is inevitable that this gets compared to John Wick – we’ve already done that earlier in this review. As masterfully as the stunts are executed, the balletic gunfights in John Wick were more dazzling, and that film’s juxtaposition of elegance and brutality more beguiling, than the action on show in Atomic Blonde.

Theron is an outspoken feminist, and Atomic Blonde has been characterised as a feminist action movie. The screenplay is written by Kurt Johnstad, who has penned such “manly men” flicks as 300 and Act of Valour, and the film’s female characters are very much sexualised. However, Theron owns the character’s sexuality, and while it can be argued that moments like a lesbian sex scene are exploitative, she displays such conviction that it doesn’t feel sleazy. This is a role that’s right in Theron’s wheelhouse – Lorraine is slinky, lethal and unafraid to get her hands very dirty. We get very little in the way of back-story or meaningful character motivations, but Lorraine is intended to be an enigma and Theron relishes the cloak and dagger machinations her character enacts.

As is expected of McAvoy when he gets to play characters a little on the wild side, he puts in an entertaining turn. David plays second fiddle to Lorraine, and McAvoy has no qualms letting Theron take the spotlight. The openly hostile dynamic between the two ostensible allies contains glimmers of fun, but McAvoy and Theron don’t get to play off each other as much as this reviewer hoped.

Boutella’s Delphine is very much the traditional Bond girl: she’s in her over depth, and is seduced and taken advantage of by the hero(ine). It can be argued that the much buzzed-about lesbian sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is gratuitous, but Theron has argued that it’s an example of women owning their sexuality in a mainstream film, something we don’t see a lot of. In the meantime, Goodman and Jones show up mostly to facilitate the framing device of Lorraine being debriefed/interrogated in the aftermath of her Berlin mission. Unlike Theron and Boutella, they do not have a sex scene together.

As a platform for Charlize Theron to strut her action heroine stuff, Atomic Blonde works well. However, its convoluted spy vs. spy narrative is at odds with its stylishness and devil-may-care vibe. Atomic Blonde gets bogged down with considerable amounts of plot to get through in between the action while not possessing much depth, but Theron’s virtuosic badassery make it worthwhile.

Summary: While not as compulsively entertaining as it could’ve been, Atomic Blonde packs in plenty of style and showcases Charlize Theron in full action heroine mode.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Baby Driver

For F*** Magazine

BABY DRIVER 

Director : Edgar Wright
Cast : Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones, Flea, Lanny Joon
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 52m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

The director of the Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World takes the driver’s seat, and he has the Wright of way. This action comedy follows Baby (Elgort), a getaway driver who is a veritable prodigy behind the wheel. After surviving an accident in his childhood, Baby suffers from tinnitus, and to drown out the ringing noise, listens to pre-selected music on his iPod. Baby is in the employ of criminal mastermind Doc (Spacey), whose gang of bank-robbers includes miscreants like Buddy (Hamm), Buddy’s wife Darling (González), the violent and unpredictable Bats (Foxx) and the surly Griff (Bernthal). The latter two aren’t especially fond of Baby, but Doc insists on keeping Baby as his getaway driver, even as Baby wants out. Baby fears that his foster father Joseph (Jones) and Debora (James), the diner waitress with whom he strikes up a relationship, are endangered by his criminal activities. While he dreams of hitting the open road with Debora next to him, Baby is kept under Doc’s thumb. He might be the world’s greatest getaway driver, but can he escape from his shadowy employer?

Baby Driver has long been gestating in writer-director Wright’s mind. After first coming up with the idea in 1994, Wright directed a music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song”, featuring Noel Fielding as a getaway driver with an affinity for music. Wright has become known for his films’ dynamic, sometimes quirky style, and the comic energy with which he executes them. Baby Driver is supremely entertaining, a funny, romantic thriller crafted with the utmost care. It’s a little like a souped-up version of Carpool Karaoke, in that each action sequence is set to music.

Baby Driver moves with an effortless fluidity; Wright tapping on choreographer Ryan Heffington to help sync the actors’ movements to the soundtrack. Atlanta, Georgia, often doubles for other locations, but in Baby Driver, the city gets to play itself, becoming an ideal backdrop for thrilling, inventive car chases. Baby Driver features such brazen stylistic choices as cutting a gunfight to a drum solo; editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos giving the picture a rhythm that matches the vibe of the story Wright is trying to tell to a tee.

With Baby’s personal mix of songs helping him to zone in while he works, while carrying sentimental significance for him, there are traces of Star-Lord’s awesome mix from Guardians of the Galaxy. It turns out that Wright consulted director James Gunn to make sure there wasn’t any overlap between the tracks featured in Baby Driver and those used in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Artistes like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Commodores, T. Rex, Beck, Martha and the Vandellas and, of course, Simon and Garfunkel all show up on the soundtrack, making this something of a hybrid jukebox musical action movie. It’s a clever, unique effect.

Elgort’s Baby is one of the more memorable original protagonists in recent memory. There are elements to him we’ve seen before in many a crime thriller: he’s got a tragic past, is embarking on the fabled ‘one last job’, has a parental figure who disapproves of his job, and falls in love with a woman from whom he tries to hide his unlawful ways. Even so, there’s a resonant freshness to the character, as if Wright has remixed said elements. Baby is laconic and withdrawn, existing in his own world created with the assistance of music. ‘Tough’ isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind when describing Elgort, but Baby exudes toughness of a non-traditional sort. The character is roguish, charming and endearing with Elgort having to try too hard at all.

The film’s supporting cast is stacked with talent. James exudes a somewhat old-fashioned girl-next-door sweetness, and while the romance between Baby and Debora unfolds predictably enough, it is still achingly romantic. Emma Stone was initially cast in the role, but left due to scheduling conflicts with La La Land. The character isn’t given the greatest amount of agency, and for most of the film remains an observer, but she plays a crucial role in the movie’s conclusion.

Spacey is Spacey: slyly terrifying and having the time of his life, while displaying commendable restraint. Hamm, Foxx and Bernthal all have their moments, with Foxx being especially easy to dislike as a bank robber who is instantly antipathic towards Baby. The characters who surround Baby are over-the-top, but that never undercuts their capability to be truly terrifying. By the film’s climactic confrontation, Baby Driver dispenses with the humour, and that sequence is intense and brutal. It’s a little jarring, but that turn is mostly well-earned. CJ Jones, who plays Baby’s kindly deaf foster father Joseph, is deaf in real life and is an activist for deaf awareness causes.

Baby Driver is the work of an auteur at the top of his game, with Wright’s stamp on it from beginning to end. The filmmaker makes numerous canny, inspired decisions, and pulls them off with stunning aplomb. Instead of coming off as smug and self-indulgent, it packs in a great deal of heart, feeling polished yet personal. It’s a deliriously good time that’s also deliriously good filmmaking.

SUMMARY: Edgar Wright fires on all cylinders, creating a superb slice of entertainment that’s a visual and aural delight. Baby Driver is also the best showcase for Ansel Elgort’s star power yet.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dunkirk

For F*** Magazine

DUNKIRK 

Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Genre : Action/War
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

There have been plenty of films set during the Second World War, and plenty of excellent ones at that, but you’ve never seen a war movie quite like Dunkirk. It is May 1940, and 400 000 Allied soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France have been trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, by German forces. With the waters surrounding the beach too shallow for naval vessels, hundreds of small personal craft are called into service to evacuate the soldiers from Dunkirk. British Army private Tommy (Whitehead) is just trying to get home, while Commander Bolton (Branagh) and Colonel Winnat (D’Arcy) oversee the evacuation on the ground. Making his way to Dunkirk in his boat is Mr. Dawson (Rylance), accompanied by his son Peter (Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s best friend George (Keoghan). On the way to Dunkirk, they pick up the Shivering Soldier (Murphy), a shell-shocked survivor of a German U-Boat attack. In the skies overhead flies Farrier (Hardy), a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot warding off attacks from German fighters. As time runs out for the soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, all they need to be victorious is to survive.

The very notion of Christopher Nolan writing and directing a WWII movie sent expectations for Dunkirk sky-rocketing. The film has lived up to, and maybe even surpassed, those expectations. Cutting through the stodginess that can sometimes plague period pieces, Nolan delivers something revelatory. There’s no glamour, no romance, no treacly sentimentality, no pomp, no circumstance – from the opening moments, viewers are plunged into the thick of unspooling chaos, trapped alongside the film’s characters in a variety of panic-inducing circumstances.

Taut and running a lean 107 minutes, unusual for a movie of this type, Dunkirk unfolds with searing immediacy. Dunkirk is not about the strength and sheer might of its heroes – Winston Churchill characterised the events that led to the stranding of the 400 000 Allied soldiers at Dunkirk as a “colossal military disaster”. Dunkirk is not a chest-thumping ode to a bygone age of ‘true heroism’, nor is it a withering, cynical proclamation that ‘war is hell’. It’s not making any grand statements, it’s transporting the audience into situations so hopeless and so desperate that they’ll be gasping for air.

Putting the film together was a staggering logistical undertaking, and Nolan waited to accrue experience making large-scale blockbusters before tackling this film, which he has wanted to make since he was a student. Nolan makes the massive scope of the film digestible for audiences by dividing Dunkirk into three perspectives: the land, the sea and the air. The Germans are a faceless enemy, making their presence felt through the ordnance they bombard the beach with. With each cluster of protagonists having clear objectives to complete, Dunkirk is easy to follow, and doesn’t contain unwieldy stretches of exposition.

Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography provides both the breathless immersion of being stuck below decks in a sinking ship and the soaring majesty of Spitfires tearing across the sky, an expanse of ocean beneath the planes. Hans Zimmer’s frantic score contains no lush, sweeping melodies, incorporating interesting textural elements including the ticking sound of Nolan’s own pocket watch.

Another thing that sets Dunkirk apart from its prestige drama ilk is that there are no showy performances finely tuned for maximum Academy appeal. Make no mistake, the acting is excellent, it’s just that it doesn’t call attention to itself and character back-stories and motivations are deliberately scarce, so we can focus on the moment. It’s unusual that a thespian of Branagh’s calibre is given relatively little to do, but it works. Newcomer Whitehead aptly captures the wide-eyed innocence and desperation of a young soldier swept up in a colossal conflict, while Harry Styles, to his credit, is barely distracting.

 

Murphy’s turn as the PTSD-stricken Shivering Soldier, who is otherwise unnamed, is probably the closest thing Dunkirk has to a virtuoso turn, and even then, it isn’t overplayed. Rylance showcases the masterful restraint he’s become known for, his character embodying the quiet, everyday heroism displayed by the mariners who came to the soldiers’ rescue. While Hardy is at his best when playing antiheroes, roguish types or straight-up villains, but he’s easy to root for as the pilot who tries to save the day.

Stripping away the stylistic trappings often associated with WWII epics, Nolan shapes Dunkirk into a film that’s visceral and affecting, but is also spectacular and deserves to be seen on as large a screen as one can find. While it’s not the easiest film to watch, Nolan skilfully refrains from gratuitous blood and gore – it’s horrifying without being unnecessarily so. Because of its heavy subject matter and the tension with which it is brought to life, Dunkirk does feel longer than its running time and is not necessarily a film that begs to be re-watched immediately, but it is an effectively harrowing masterpiece all the same.

Summary: A war film that evokes helplessness and desperation like few before it, Dunkirk will thrill, shock and shake audiences to their core.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Bad Batch

For F*** Magazine

THE BAD BATCH 

Director : Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast : Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Yolonda Ross, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Diego Luna, Giovanni Ribisi, Jayda Fink
Genre : Romance/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 1h 58m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : M18 (Some Disturbing Scenes and Drug Use)

There’s something about the desert that inspires madness. Whether it’s dehydration-induced hallucination, the sense of isolation in a vast open space, or just the arid heat, the desert is fine backdrop against which madness can unfold. This twisted, post-apocalyptic fairy tale is very mad indeed.

Our heroine is Arlen (Waterhouse), who wanders across the god-forsaken Texas desert. She is part of ‘the bad batch’, individuals deemed unproductive to society, and exiled to fend for themselves. Arlen is captured by cannibals, who saw off and eat her arm and leg. Arlen manages to escape, and is taken by a Hermit (Carrey) to a settlement called Comfort. The Dream (Reeves), a drug lord, rules over Comfort, keeping his followers compliant by supplying them with illicit substances during raves. Miami Man (Momoa), one of the cannibals who kidnapped Arlen, is searching for his lost daughter Honey (Fink), who has been adopted by The Dream. A relationship fraught with tension and attraction develops between Arlen and Miami Man, as they fight for survival in an unforgiving world.

The Bad Batch is written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who made her feature film debut with the “Iranian vampire spaghetti western” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch is hard to describe, and even harder to review. It’s destined for cult status, and VICE Creative Director Eddy Moretti, who is an executive producer on this film, dubbed Amirpour “the next Tarantino”. This is a heady, trippy experience, abstract art painted on a canvas of post-apocalyptic desolation. Often graphic when it’s not moving very slowly, it’s often a challenge to watch. While vastly more expansive than Amirpour’s first film, she’s hardly ‘gone Hollywood’ with her sophomore effort, which is almost defiantly weird. There’s an audience for this, and it would probably play well at a festival like South by Southwest, but The Bad Batch is self-indulgent and meanders without a centre to anchor it.

Waterhouse, known mainly as a model and entrepreneur, comes off like a cross between Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart. The visual effects used to create the illusion that Arlen is an amputee are seamless, and the yellow shorts with a winking face printed on the back is a cool visual device. There’s every opportunity for Arlen to ascend to the pantheon of badass genre movie heroines, but it seems that isn’t exactly what Amirpour had in mind. The character floats through the story, such that when she does something that directly impacts the story, it feels less significant than it should.

Momoa plays a musclebound, tattooed antihero – while this doesn’t sound like a stretch for him, it’s probably the most acting he’s done in his career. Momoa strives to evince a depth from the Miami Man character, who is a knife-wielding cannibal but also has a soft side and is a gifted artist. The relationship that develops between Arlen and Miami Man seems purposely vague and under-developed.

Reeves’ character, The Dream, who lives in luxury surrounded by a harem who bears him children, is clearly inspired by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. It comes off more as an odd bit of stunt casting than anything else, even if Reeve is fairly fun in the role. The raves that The Dream presides over are strongly reminiscent of music festivals like Burning Man, and it turns out that Amirpour went to Burning Man and took acid, which inspired the acid trip scene in the film.

Carrey, gaunt, grimy and nigh-unrecognisable beneath a scraggly beard, seems to relish playing the Hermit. It’s the kind of character actor part he wouldn’t have done in his comedy movie A-lister heyday, and it’s the right pitch of quirky comic relief for this movie.

The Bad Batch will remind connoisseurs of the exploitation films that came out of Italy in the 70s and 80s, or of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s trippy psychedelic westerns. Amirpour has described the film as “El Topo meets Dirty Dancing”. While there’s a seductiveness to The Bad Batch’s scorched dreaminess, the film lacks the energy and momentum to sweep the viewer up in its madness.

Summary: The Bad Batch’s peculiarity will attract some audiences but alienate others. It’s an arthouse exploitation cocktail that’s been spiked with a little something extra, and it’s very much an acquired taste.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

For F*** Magazine

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS 

Director : Luc Besson
Cast : Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 17m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

20 years after The Fifth Element, Luc Besson takes another crack at the space opera subgenre with this sprawling sci-fi epic. It is the 28th century, and Major Valerian (DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) are Federation operatives tasked with keeping the peace across the cosmos. Valerian is drawn to Laureline, but because of his reputation as a serial heartbreaker, Laureline rebuffs her partner’s advances. The minister of defence (Hancock) sends the pair on assignment to Alpha, a bustling space station metropolis home to 30 million inhabitants of every conceivable species, nicknamed ‘the city of a thousand planets’. When Valerian and Laureline’s superior Arün Filitt (Owen) is kidnapped, they must get to the bottom of a long-buried conspiracy. Along the way, the pair meets colourful characters including the shape-shifting nightclub singer Bubble (Rihanna) and her sleazy pimp Jolly (Hawke).

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the classic French comic Valerian and Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières and first published in 1967. When writer-director Besson was growing up, the comics were a favourite of his, and they became a strong influence of The Fifth Element. Mézières was a concept artist on that film, and pre-dating that, many French observers noted strong similarities between the aesthetic of Star Wars and that of Valerian and Laureline. An anime adaptation called Time Jam: Valerian and Laureline was made in 2007, but a feature film adaptation hasn’t been made until now.

This is clearly a labour of love for Besson, and it’s abundantly obvious that lots of people put staggering amounts of effort into bringing this film to fruition. Environments bursting with imaginative detail are all over the movie. There is extensive, expansive visual effects work from vendors including Weta Digital, ILM, Rodeo FX and Hybride. While the film is fun to look at, after a certain point, it becomes exhausting, as if one has gotten indigestion after a feast for the eyes. This is yet another example of an adaptation being late to its own party – in between 1967 and now, audiences have seen similar visuals in many sci-fi films and TV shows. Beyond the obvious Star Wars and Star Trek connections, Valerian is also quite reminiscent of the Mass Effect video games. There is a race of slender, sylph-like tribal aliens with translucent, glowing skin, which will instantly conjure up memories of the Na’vi from Avatar.

Besson busies himself far more with the world-building than with developing the story. The plot is surprisingly difficult to follow, until everything is laid out in an exposition-heavy scene towards the film’s conclusion. While the action set pieces and chases are relatively thrilling, every other scene feels like a diversion, and it seems like we take extended breaks from furthering the plot to poke around some corner of some extra-terrestrial city. Our heroes don’t go through that grand an arc, and because of the episodic nature of the central adventure, it seems like we’re watching a stretched-out episode of a TV series. Audiences might be tired of origin stories, but perhaps that would have served this well, since most viewers outside France aren’t overly familiar with the property.

The film’s biggest weakness is the casting of its two leads. At every turn, DeHaan and Delevingne look woefully out of place amidst the dazzlingly designed surroundings. Valerian and Laureline should be swashbuckling action heroes, charismatic, larger-than-life figures. DeHaan and Delevingne aren’t the obvious picks to lead a sci-fi action adventure, and that’s a significant problem. Leaning into, instead of rejecting, the archetypes would play better, since this is something of a tribute to the space opera genre. Beyond their inability to convincingly inhabit the other-worldly environments, DeHaan and Delevingne have minimal chemistry with each other. The bickering rom-com relationship is tiring rather than tantalising, most of their interaction consists of Valerian harassing Laureline, and a lot of their dialogue borders on Star Wars prequel, Padmé and Anakin cheesiness.

The movie is packed with characters, but none of the supporting cast has that big an impact on the story. Owen does next to nothing, and Kris Wu stands around the control room a bunch. Hancock mostly appears as an image on the screen giving orders to our heroes via video call. Rihanna gets an extended dance sequence, which is entertaining, but is yet another moment when it feels like the story comes to a screeching halt to turn its attention to a distraction. Her character Bubble is sympathetic and is more interesting that either Valerian or Laureline, but she’s only in the film for a bit. Hawke has fun as the cheerfully cruel Jolly, but it amounts to little than a cameo.

Valerian serves up spectacle in spades, and packs in a lot of weirdness that’s sufficiently different from standard Hollywood blockbuster fare. However, it can’t help but feel derivative, even if its source material is a progenitor of the media that this film appears to borrow from. This is meant to be a light-hearted jaunt, but a key plot point centres on war crimes and genocide. It’s often close to being immersive, but is hampered by marked unevenness and miscast leads.

Summary: Visually, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets serves up bang for your buck, but no matter how dazzling the effects or how thrilling the action, you’ll have a hard time believing Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as space-hopping super agents.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wish Upon

For F*** Magazine

WISH UPON 

Director : John R. Leonetti
Cast : Joey King, Ki-Hong Lee, Ryan Phillippe, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Daniela Barbosa, Sherilyn Fenn, Josephine Langford
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1hr 38min
Opens : 13 July 2017
Rating : PG13 (Horror)

Wishing upon a star seemed like a fairly harmless exercise for Pinocchio. Wishing upon a Chinese music box is a different story. In this horror flick, Clare Shannon receives a mysterious box from her father Jonathan (Phillippe), a rag-and-bone man. The box, inscribed with ancient Chinese characters, promises that it will grant the user seven wishes -for a price. Not taking its power seriously Clare uses the box to enact revenge on Darcie (Langford), who has been bullying Clare at school. She also wishes for Paul (Mitchell Slaggert), the boy she has a crush on, to fall madly in love with her. Clare’s best friends Meredith (Park) and June (Purser) get drawn into the eerie goings-on and deaths that seem to follow Clare around. Ryan (Ki-Hong Lee), who has a crush on Clare, offers to take the box to his cousin Gina (Alice Lee), so she can translate the inscription. Gina uncovers the box’s dark secret, and everyone is powerless to stop the horrors it unleashes.

Wish Upon plays on the old ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage, while also hinging on the classic horror movie device of a cursed artefact. It’s a variation on the short story The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, in which the titular object grants wishes but punishes the user for meddling with fate. Wish Upon also recalls the Wishmaster series with its sinister genie, and the deaths depicted are Final Destination-esque, albeit not as elaborate. As with many a teen-aimed movie before it, the dialogue strains to sound contemporary, and is sometimes unintentionally silly. Because of its PG-13 rating, Wish Upon doesn’t linger on the gruesome deaths. This means it isn’t gratuitous, but it also means that the consequences don’t carry too much weight. Final Destination let its inventive, gory deaths play out in full, because cutting away from them would diminish the selling point. Because we don’t see the deaths play out, they aren’t as unsettling or disturbing as they could’ve been.

The film also employs a familiar structure, in which in the protagonist unwittingly makes a deal with the devil – her wishes will be granted, but horrible fates will befall those she holds dear. We also get the requisite exposition-heavy scene of the characters doing a Google search to figure out what’s going on, as we are told the back-story of the music box. While the music box prop itself looks finely crafted and is reasonably spooky when it opens by itself, the accompanying mythos isn’t sufficiently interesting. The invoking of Chinese culture and superstition is meant to add a textural element, but this is under-developed. We’re relieved Wish Upon doesn’t fall back on an elderly Asian antique store owner to explain its central cursed artefact – instead, we get a tattooed young woman to fulfil that function in the plot.

Horror movies starring teenagers tend to have annoying characters, and one of Wish Upon’s strengths is that it acknowledges its heroine’s flaws while keeping her sympathetic. Having suffered from a family tragedy and being bullied by the popular kids in school, it’s easy to see why Clare might be frustrated. King, who also starred in the horror films The Conjuring and Quarantine, does a fine job as a relatable teen character. It does get to a point where one wonders why Clare isn’t more suspicious of this box that eerily unlatches and plays music on its own any earlier in the story.

Ki-Hong Lee demonstrates his ability to pass for a high-schooler at age 30, and is likeable enough as the guy whom Clare places in the dreaded friend zone. Park can come off as a little annoying, and her character seems more like she would fit in with the stuck-up popular kids than with Clare. Purser, best known as Barb from Stranger Things, is underused as “the other friend”. Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn doesn’t get too much to do either. The film aims for depth in depicted the strained relationship between Clare and her father, but because Phillippe is as handsome as he is, it’s hard to buy him as a down-on-his-luck average joe digging through the trash for scraps.

Wish Upon might not be as actively grating as most teen-centric horror films of its ilk, but it’s too derivative to be truly scary. Director John R. Leonetti, who also helmed Annabelle, passes up a chance to meaningfully develop an engrossing mythology around the music box, and the ending is as unsatisfying as it is shocking. Stick around past the main-on-end titles for a sequel bait stinger scene.

Summary: The teen target audience might be spooked, but horror aficionados won’t find too much of value when they look in the cursed music box.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

War for the Planet of the Apes

For F*** Magazine

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES 

Director : Matt Reeves
Cast : Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Gabriel Chavarria
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 22min
Opens : 13 July 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

           In the third entry of the Planet of the Apes reboot series, Caesar (Serkis) wages his most personal battle yet. It is two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the ape population has been dwindling due to a protracted war with the humans. When Caesar’s wife Cornelia (Greer) and younger son Cornelius (Devyn Dalton) are kidnapped by humans, Caesar heads into enemy territory to rescue them. He finds himself face-to-face with Colonel McCullough (Harrelson), a nigh-psychotic soldier hell-bent on obliterating the apes for good. McCullough and his men are assisted by apes who were followers of Caesar’s late rival Koba, and who defected to the side of the humans for fear of reprisal from Caesar. Maurice (Konoval), Caesar’s advisor and confidant, adopts a young orphaned human girl named Nova (Miller). Maurice, Nova, Rocket (Notary) and “Bad Ape” (Zahn) scope out McCullough’s encampment, looking for a way to liberate the apes who have been captured and enslaved. As humanity and apes make what each perceive to be their last stand, Caesar is in danger of being consumed by vengeance and hatred, and going down the path Koba did.

The Apes reboot films have set a high bar for any reimagining to follow. Reboots are often viewed as hollow, money-grubbing exercise, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes more than made an excellent case for its existence. Then, Dawn topped that, and the third instalment in the trilogy upholds that standard. This is an intense experience – it’s a war film, and more specifically, a prisoner-of-war film. Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback have listed Bridge on the River Kwai as an influence, and the film cuts through its fantastical elements to deliver a searing, haunting drama.

In 2011, 2014, and now in 2017, Apes movies were released shortly after Transformers movies, almost as if to function as antidotes. It’s good to have a reminder of just how good and how powerful a well-made blockbuster can be. There are several dialogue-free stretches of the film during which it’s carried just by glances and gestures. The political commentary and the darkness of the story are tempered with an abundance of spectacle, culminating in a climactic showdown complete with explosions of fire and ice.

Despite the sheer quality of the visual effects work even back then, the apes in Rise were still a little challenging to buy as fully-fledged characters. Granted, it was also early in their evolution. In Dawn, and even more so here, the apes are so much more than visual effects flourishes. The superlative work of Weta Digital, supervised by Joe Letteri, complemented by the performances of Serkis, Greer, Notary and the other performers, make the creatures utterly believable. It gets to the point where they stop registering as digital creations, and the audience can fully buy into their journeys and arcs, as individuals and as a shrewdness. Each ape projects a sense of humanity, and having followed Caesar this far, it does sting to see him weary and haggard, wondering if his continuous struggles have been worth it. We get a tiny bit of comic relief in the form of Zahn’s kooky Bad Ape, but this doesn’t undercut the overall seriousness of the film.

While the presence of Miller’s Nova does seem derivative of any number of “a kid and their X” stories, the bond that she develops with Maurice is convincingly fleshed out, and the film refrains from using Nova as an emotionally manipulative plot device. The apes’ willingness to accept a human child into the fold also indicates that a war with humans isn’t their first course of action.

As the human antagonist, Harrelson is utterly terrifying – it’s probably the scariest he’s been since Natural Born Killers. Harrelson has become known for playing eccentric, rough-around-the-edges but ultimately likeable characters. In War, his performance echoes the characters of Vietnam War movies like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. This is a film that doesn’t so much turn on battles as it does on confrontations. The central confrontation between McCullough and Caesar is a riveting nail-biter of a scene, impeccably staged and acted. McCullough is a larger-than-life character, but there’s no goofiness to him. Adding to the air of uneasiness around the character is the cult-like nature of his faction, and how he depicts himself as something of a prophet.

Many action movie soundtracks tend to sound indistinct, but Michael Giacchino’s score for this film packs plenty of personality. Giacchino employs a variety of textures, including an emphasis on pitched percussion instruments like the marimba, eliciting a wide range of emotions. Some directors mandate that the score be “invisible”, and we’re glad that Giacchino’s work for this film is as visible and as audible as it is.

War for the Planet of the Apes does demand effort from the viewer, as it takes a while to build up to the dazzling finale. Thankfully, the characters, ape and human alike, are easy to get invested in. Reeves proves himself to be a director at the top of his game, wringing drama and genuine emotion from a premise which can, and has, been handled clumsily before. While the door is left open for a sequel, War ends on such a satisfying note that it doesn’t feel like the producers are begging for another instalment. War is a stirring battle cry that caps off a consistently impressive trilogy.

Summary: A sombre yet stirring and stunningly-realised adventure, War for the Planet of the Apes engages the viewer on a human level and showcases everything a masterfully-made blockbuster can be.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Churchill

For F*** Magazine

CHURCHILL 

Director : Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast : Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham, Danny Webb, Richard Durden, Ella Purnell
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 45min
Opens : 6 July 2017
Rating : PG

Sir Winston Churchill just might be the most iconic Briton in recent history. The wartime Prime Minister has become a nigh-mythic figure, and it’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to telling his story. This historical drama focuses on the leadup to D-Day as the Second World War rages on. Churchill (Cox) prepares for the beach landing of allied forces in France, meeting with American general Dwight D. Eisenhower (Slattery), Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Wadham) and other high-ranking personnel in the allied command. Churchill fears a repeat of the horrifically botched beach landing he oversaw during the First World War, and he takes his anxieties and frustrations out on his wife Clementine (Richardson), who becomes increasingly concerned about Churchill’s ability to deal with the pressure of leading the country through the war. Depending on a multitude of factors, D-Day could turn the tide for the allies or lead to tragic consequences. Churchill must call on his fortitude and decisiveness, when the troops and civillians need it the most.

Churchill is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, who told a markedly different World War II story with The Railway Man. Teplitzky works from a screenplay by British historian Alex von Tunzelmann. Going into Churchill, one knows what to expect: a reverential, respectable historical drama, but one that might be a chore to sit through. While there is an attempt to humanise the titular historical figure, Churchill ends up as a stodgy and inaccessible work. The official synopsis for the film describes it as a “ticking-clock thriller”, but despite the incredibly high stakes in play, Churchill lacks urgency or momentum. As a result, the audience feels like they’re watching events unfold from a distance, rather than engaging with them.

Many great actors have played the steadfast British Bulldog, and Cox proves himself to be up to the task, having already accumulated a respectable body of work. Because a particular image of Churchill is so ingrained in the public consciousness, actors have to work extra hard to push past the caricature of an unyielding, principled curmudgeon. While Cox does what he can with the material, his portrayal of Churchill isn’t as indelible as John Lithgow’s recent turn in the Netflix series The Crown. Granted, Lithgow played Churchill at a slightly later stage in his life, but he evinced the inner conflicts roiling beneath the brickwork exterior better than Cox does.

In addition to being a historical drama, Churchill wants to be an unconventional romance. Richardson’s Clementine is often the only one in the room who can stand up to Churchill or even try to talk him down – after all, as his wife, Clementine has had years of experience. Richardson achieves a lot with just a glance, and we wish she were in more of the film. Unfortunately, the dramatic moments between the couple seem contrived and predictable, and while Churchill’s outbursts are violent and dramatic, there isn’t enough emotional heft behind them.

The supporting cast is fine, with Slattery a standout as a dashing, serious and commanding Eisenhower. Purefoy is an appropriately sweet, if slightly bland, King George VI. Ella Purnell plays the requisite audience identification character, the fictional secretary Helen Garrett. Churchill harshly berates her when she makes a spacing error in typing up a document, but one knows it’s going to build up to Churchill eventually treating the young woman with kindness, as she wells up with admiration for the great man. It’s a forgivable cliché, but a cliché all the same.

The best historical dramas transcend the niggling feeling that one is fidgeting in the back of the classroom during history period. Alas, Churchill does not overcome this. While there are snatches of clever repartee between the characters, and a smattering of powerful imagery, Churchill feels circuitous and unnecessary instead of illuminating or compelling.

Summary: A bog-standard historical biopic, Churchill features Cox giving it his best shot to play the iconic Briton, but it fails to drum up much urgency or strike an emotional chord.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bouncing Off the Walls – Spider-Man: Homecoming Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon Interviews

As published in Issue #89 of F*** Magazine  


Text:

BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS
Spider-Man: Homecoming stars Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon tell F*** how excited they are to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
By Jedd Jong

Imagine you’re an average American high-schooler. You get bitten by a radioactive spider, and gain superpowers. Pretty cool. Then, a billionaire tech innovator and founding member of the Avengers ropes you in to his team, has you join in a battle against an opposing faction of superheroes, and then drops you off back home. There’s no question: your life’s not going to be the same after that.

Similarly, Tom Holland’s life has changed forever, after he became the latest actor to don the red-and-blue tights as Spider-Man. Holland debuted as the wall-crawling hero in Captain America: Civil War, and is now headlining a movie of his own.

Photo by Michael Muller

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker/Spider-Man navigate life as a high-schooler, nursing a crush and fending off bullies, all while facing off against villains armed with cutting-edge tech. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), taking on the role of mentor to young Peter, cautions that the teenager shouldn’t bite off more than he can chew, but Peter wants nothing more than to join the Avengers. Tony has provided Peter with a fancy suit enhanced with gadgets, but threatens to take the suit back if Peter proves he cannot shoulder the responsibility of his powers. As Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his associates Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City with gadgets made from stolen alien technology, Peter quickly finds that his superhero exploits endanger those he cares about, including his beloved Aunty May (Marisa Tomei).

Spider-Man was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, first swinging through the pages of the Amazing Fantasy title in 1962. Spidey is arguably the most iconic Marvel character, right up there with Iron Man, Captain America and Wolverine. After reaching a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns the film rights to the Spider-Man character, Marvel Studios could introduce the character into the MCU. This makes Holland’s version of Spider-Man the first film incarnation to officially exist in the same reality as other Marvel superheroes, giving the “Homecoming” of the title meaning beyond just referring to the American high school tradition of the homecoming dance. Taking the reins for Spider-Man: Homecoming is director Jon Watts, who caught the attention of Marvel Studios executives with his indie thriller Cop Car.

Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

Holland and Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds, were in Singapore to promote the film – the Southeast Asian nation was the first stop on their month-long press tour in the lead-up to the movie’s release. On the closed-door red carpet at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands, Holland and Batalon greeted cosplaying fans, were surprised by a torrent of confetti unleashed above them, and played with this writer’s customised Spider-Man action figure.

“I feel like we’ve flown to a better planet,” Holland enthused when asked about his first impressions of Singapore during the press conference. At the age of 21, he’s already built up a respectable résumé, leaping into showbiz as Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. Holland has since appeared in films like The Impossible, How I Live Now, In the Heart of the Sea and The Lost City of Z. Holland has also been announced as playing young Nathan Drake in a film prequel to the Uncharted video game series, but that hasn’t been written in stone yet.

“Every day felt like a dream,” Batalon said of his experience on the Spider-Man: Homecoming set, adding wistfully “I hope to never wake up”. Batalon was attending a two-year program at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts when he was cast in the film, which is only his second onscreen credit, after the independent student horror film North Woods. In the comics, the character of Ned is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. Ned has been revised to become Peter’s best friend and confidant, who discovers that Peter is secretly Spider-Man and is thrilled to no end to learn this.

Joining the press conference via a video link, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige commented on the film’s young stars, saying “Tom and Jacob are very similar to Peter and Ned. They’re enthusiastic, they’re happy to be in this big movie. Peter and Ned are happy to be involved with the Avengers and see this world.” Feige likened Peter’s situation to “going back to your high school band after being overseas touring with the Beatles”. Feige made his case to producer and former Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group Amy Pascal, eventually coming to an arrangement. This would see Sony, still holding on to the Spider-Man rights, make, pay for, distribute and market the movie, but allow Marvel Studios to fold Spider-Man into the MCU.

F*** sat down for an interview with Holland and Batalon at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, who were thrilled with every moment of their overseas adventure. They had earlier posted the requisite selfie taken in the famous Infinity Pool of the hotel up on social media. Holland kicked off his shoes, picking at his toes during our chat, while Batalon rested his baseball cap on his knee. Holland was accompanied by his best friend Harrison Osterfield, whom Holland had gotten hired as a personal assistant.

Holland and Batalon discussed the relatability of the Spider-Man character, Holland’s ‘method acting’ preparation to play an American high school student, uncomfortable stunt rigging harnesses, working alongside the film’s female cast members, and sharing the screen with titans like Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.

Tom, your father Dominic is a comedian, and he wrote a book called How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad. What was it like growing up with a comedian and writer as your dad, and what is it like being more famous than him and having him admit that?

HOLLAND: I’ve been very lucky that my dad is in this industry. It’s an industry that really is like no other. I’ve just been very lucky that I have someone in my family, especially my dad, who can give me advice on what to expect and how to deal with certain situations. The book Eclipsed is a really great, funny read. It’s a lot of fun because I learned a lot about my dad’s career that I didn’t know about, and I learned a lot of my career that maybe I’ve forgotten about, and it’s been a great reminder of what I’ve been through and what he’s been through.

Jacob, this is your first studio film. How did you win the role of Ned Leeds?

BATALON: Our director Jon Watts chose the right person for the job as opposed to the person who looks right for the job. Tom and I’s chemistry has been pretty apparent from day one. Because of that, because of the way we are, it’s a lot simpler to just go with that. I believe in being in the right place at the right time, and it all sort of came together.

What has your experience been working with your female co-stars, including Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Angourie Rice?

HOLLAND: What a lucky bunch of guys we are!

BATALON: They’re really, really great, talented and very beautiful.

HOLLAND: Fantastic, really talented, really, really interesting people and all very interesting and unique. Laura Harrier’s character Liz Allan is obviously Peter’s crush. He is infatuated by her and loves everything she stands for. Michelle, played by Zendaya, is sort of the weird, quirky friend within the friendship group. She’s a very interesting character, one that I’m very interested to see progress in the movies. Angourie Rice plays Betty Brant, Liz Allan’s best friend in the movie.

In the comics, she’s the secretary to J. Jonah Jameson.

HOLLAND: Yes! So hopefully, something can develop there, with Angourie. We were very lucky that we had such a strong female cast, and they were able to carry themselves and make it such a strong, female-oriented [project].

How did you gain the gymnastics expertise required to play Spider-Man?

HOLLAND: I started gymnastics when I was about 9, and I have been training quite solidly since then, with a few gaps here and there – injuries, stuff like that. I was doing a show in the West End that required me to have a very basic gymnastics background, and I continued with that after my training.

The hardest…the most uncomfortable stunt I had to do was the scene when Jacob finds out I’m Spider-Man, and I’m crawling on the ceiling. The closer you are to the ceiling, the more uncomfortable it is on your bum. It really stretches your bum. That was a very, very uncomfortable day.

The rig, right?

HOLLAND: Yeah, I was on a rig. I would go upside-down and they would go like “rolling!” Jacob would break the Death Star or something and they would say “hold!” and I would go “arrgh, no, please!”

One of the things that has endlessly fascinated me is the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. It was originally directed by Julie Taymor with Reeve Carney playing Spider-Man, and was plagued by lots of production problems but I think it’s gained a cult following. Are you familiar the show, and what are your thoughts on it?

HOLLAND: I think we should make Spider-Man [Homecoming] 2 a musical! I never got to see the show, I wish I had. From having to do my work on set where you can do it over and over again if you mess it up, I have huge respect for the guys who have to do it onstage live, that must’ve been incredibly hard work and they must have been at the top of their game. I heard it was a fantastic show and was really, really impressive.

Tom, in the comics we recently had All-New, All-Different Spider-Man by Dan Slott. In that story, Peter Parker became a very Tony Stark-like figure, in that he was a billionaire playboy, he had a fancy car, and he had offices in China. This has since been undone, and another reboot in the comics has brought him back to high school age. How important do you feel the underdog quality is to the character, and how does that manifest in your take on Peter Parker?

HOLLAND: I think part of the reason why Peter Parker and Spider-Man is such a successful and beloved character is because of how relatable he is. Everyone can relate to Peter Parker in some way, whether it’s struggling to do your chemistry homework, struggling with school, talking to a girl. Whereas it’s difficult to relate to Tony Stark because he’s a billionaire. His problems are “my Lamborghini didn’t show up on time”, whereas Peter Parker’s problems are “I don’t have enough money for the bus fare”. It’s nice for young people, especially young boys going through high school, being a superhero and going through the same problems they go through.

Photo by Michael Muller

Tom, you went undercover in an American high school to prepare for the role. What was that experience like?

HOLLAND: High schools in America are so different from high schools in England. I learned so much about my character and how he should act and behave in front of his teachers and his peers.

No uniforms?

HOLLAND: No uniforms. All of a sudden, I was going “oh no, what am I going to wear today?” In England, you just wear the same thing every single day.

Flash Thompson was kind of influenced by my trip to the New York high school. There are no [traditional] bullies there, no jocks, so the bully was the rich kid who made snide comments about how ugly your shoes are or something. Tony Revolori’s character was largely influenced off of my trip.

How did you perfect your American accent?

HOLLAND: I just practised and practised and practised. I spent time with Jacob. It’s like a muscle, your tongue is a muscle and it needs working out.

Jacob, in the comics Ned Leeds is white, and in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series he was Korean and renamed ‘Ned Lee’. What are your thoughts on the representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, especially in these big comic book blockbusters?

BATALON: I think minorities in general don’t get the spotlight they deserve in the industry. The industry is very indicative of where society is going right now. Society is moving in a much more forward-thinking way, and that’s kind of how it is right now in the industry. Equal opportunities are coming a lot more for minorities right now. Being Asian specifically, it makes me proud to be part of that stepping-stone process. I think it’s a great thing to have all types of interpretations of a certain character.

HOLLAND: I think Jon Watts really did a good job with casting for who you are, not for where you’re from. It’s kind of the first step to making a difference, making a change, and I’m proud that our movie is a movie that’s doing that.

What are the similarities between you and your characters?

BATALON: I think if anything, Ned influenced my life in reality. Ned is super happy and bubbly all the time, and that’s made me happy and bubbly in real life.

HOLLAND: Very true [laughs].

I love Spider-Man. I genuinely feel like if Peter Parker [were] a real person, he’d be part of our friendship group and we’d be really good friends. He’s a very hardworking, nice kid, very down-to-earth, and I like to consider myself those things. I’m very lucky that I get to play a character whom I can see myself in, and I look forward to playing him for many years.

Tom, what was it like going toe-to-taloned-toe with Michael Keaton’s Vulture?

[Both Holland and Batalon laugh]

I’m very proud of that, by the way.

HOLLAND: That was really good, well done.

BATALON: Really, really clever.

HOLLAND: It was pretty intimidating, you know? He is a very formidable force on set, especially when he’s playing a character like the Vulture, because he didn’t hold anything back. He went for everything. The interesting thing about Keaton’s version of a supervillain is that if a regular kid can become a superhero, then a regular guy should be able to become a supervillain. That’s exactly what Keaton did. In the movie, he plays a regular guy who’s very unhappy with what’s happening in society, so he makes a stand for himself, instead of being a billionaire alien scientist.

If both of you could have one superpower each, what would it be?

HOLLAND: I would go with time travel. Because if you think about it, time travel is basically teleportation at the same time. You can pause time, travel to somewhere else, and then click ‘time play’ and it’s like you’ve just teleported. I’m very interested to see if dinosaurs really looked like what we think they look like. Who knows if they looked different?

BATALON: I would want the power to tell the future. Not just vague versions, but like…

HOLLAND: Then you’ll know when you’re going to die!

BATALON: I wouldn’t know my life. Like I would know exactly where you’re going to walk, what you’re going to wear. If I know what’s going to happen, I can do something about it.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Jacob, as Peter’s best friend, I guess you could be considered a sidekick. You’re also playing one of the greatest sidekicks of all time, Sancho Panza, in The True Don Quixote. What do you think makes for a memorable, scene-stealing sidekick?

BATALON: I think that being a sidekick is really understand that you’re not #1, and that’s okay. You’re willing to do the things for the main person. Loyalty and being a good person kind of plays into that whole factor. You really can’t be selfish, you have to just be there for your person. I watched a lot of Lord of the Rings, a lot of Harry Potter.

HOLLAND: He is my Samwise Gamgee. My Ron Weasley.

Your Chewbacca?

[Both laugh]

HOLLAND: Yes. Jacob is the scene-stealer of the movie. He really is.

BATALON: Okay, you’re going to make me cry in front of everyone right now [laughs]

Tom, we’ve seen you in The Impossible, which was a harrowing, emotional movie. Which would you say are more challenging: emotional scenes or action scenes?

HOLLAND: It’s different, because emotional scenes take place over a day, let’s say – there obviously are cases when it can take a lot longer – but an action sequence can go on for months and months and months. The work load for an action movie, there’s a lot more. When you make a movie like The Impossible, there’s a lot of action in it while maintaining a very high level of emotion. That’s one of the hardest movies I’ve ever made. But the unrelenting amount of action on Spider-Man was really, really difficult.

Tom, you screen tested with Robert Downey Jr. for Captain America: Civil War, and in this movie, Tony Stark is kind of a mentor to Peter Parker. How has the chemistry between the both of you developed?

HOLLAND: Robert and I really hit it off from day one. Even in my screen test, it was apparent that we had good chemistry and we would work well together. It’s something that’s just continued to develop over the last two years. I’m really, really honoured that he was willing to be in this movie and to help me out. It really feels like a homecoming. He is the godfather of the MCU, and the fact that he was in my movie, supporting me, was a really, really heartwarming thing for me.

It’s amazing and a little eerie that five years ago, when you said you would like to be the next Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, it came true. Five years from now, what other roles would you like to undertake? James Bond?

HOLLAND: Yeah, James Bond! The thing is, I said that once. In that interview, I said I wanted to be Spider-Man, I only said it one time, and it came true. Now that I have to do all this press, everyone is like ‘do you want to be James Bond’? We may do Uncharted, we’ll have to wait and see.

How does Spider-Man: Homecoming balance being both a high school movie and a superhero movie set in the MCU?

HOLLAND: I think the nice thing about the film is that without the Spider-Man parts of the movie, you still have a really strong high school movie. It really has the best of both worlds: it’s a strong high school kids’ movie, while still maintaining that superhero, epic Avengers vibe. I think Jon Watts did a very good job with maintaining the synergy between the two genres.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in Singapore theatres on July 6 2017.