Mother!

For inSing

MOTHER!

Director : Darren Aronofsky
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2h 2m
Opens : 14 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror/Violence)

Jennifer Lawrence gets in touch with her maternal side – and an infernal side – in this psychological horror film from Darren Aronofsky. Lawrence’s character, the otherwise-unnamed Mother, is the wife of an author, the otherwise-unnamed Him (Bardem). Mother and Him have moved into a remote house, which Mother is attempting to fix up while Him struggles with writer’s block. Out of the blue, the couple is visited by an Orthopaedic surgeon, Man (Harris), and Man’s wife Woman (Pfeiffer). Man professes to be a fan of Him’s writing, and Him appreciates the attention, but Mother becomes wary of their new guests. This opens the gateway to more surprise visits, as Mother and Him grapple with issues within their marriage that are made manifest by the strangers who have come to their house.

Mother! is a film that is difficult to review because the filmmakers want us to know as little about it as possible. The marketing has had to be creative, because it’s such a challenging film to sell – a deejay friend of this reviewer’s received an actual pig’s heart in a box as a gift from the movie’s distributor. This is very much an arthouse film, and audiences going to see it because of Jennifer Lawrence will be thrown for a loop. Mother! is packed with potent imagery and thought-provoking ideas, but it feels like a film that was made with the intent to alienate the audience. Aronofsky does a fine job of establishing mounting dread, and there is a pervasive uneasiness to the affair, but because Mother! is so mannered and arch, there’s a barrier separating the viewer from the movie. This makes it difficult to get into, and no matter how intense and visceral the movie becomes, it engenders a certain detachedness.

As with many arthouse films, there is plenty to pick apart and muse over, and there are several themes that root the movie. Mother! reflects the power to create and to destroy inherent in every person. Mother! touches upon the culture of celebrity worship, and how cult-like it can become. Mother! is about the relationship between artists and their audience. Mother! is about the anxiety of, well, motherhood, the joy and hardships of bringing another human being into the world. Mother! is about how women can be side-lined, about how wives are sometimes forced to alter their lives to orbit around their husbands. One could write a paper, nay, several papers about Mother!, but perhaps a film should be more than something to dissect.

There’s a purity to Lawrence’s presence in this film, and she emanates an almost ethereal radiance. This is different from other projects she’s undertaken, clearly pushing the actress outside her comfort zone. While the character seems to be victimised for most of the film, she does bring a quiet strength to the role. Audiences know Bardem is capable of being creepy, and to his credit, he doesn’t come across as overtly evil – but we’re plenty suspicious of him all the same. Lawrence and Bardem are mismatched, but that seems to be the point, with the age gap between them being repeatedly pointed out by other characters.

The story is focused tightly on the dynamic between Mother and Him, but the supporting players do make an impact. Pfeiffer is especially fun to watch as someone who’s passive-aggressive and calculative, but outwardly pleasant. Of all the performers, Pfeiffer appears to be having the most fun. There is a certain Saturday Night Live who shows up later in the film – if you don’t who this is yet, it’s a fun surprise, but also comes off as deliberately gimmicky.

Mother! has attracted its share of controversy – you might have seen headlines online along the lines of “Mother! could be the most hated film of 2017” or “Has Darren Aronofsky gone too far?” After a near-excruciating slow burn, Mother! does build to a chaotic, gory frenzy. There are moments of raw, searing power here, and it is immensely thought-provoking. However, because of how much attention the film draws to its own construction, and how desperately it seems to want to be seen as a piece of art, Mother! is more a bubbled-over cauldron of allegory and metaphor than an absorbing story.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Heist Stakes: 5 heist movies to set your adrenaline pumping

Heist Stakes

In anticipation of Logan Lucky, here are five other caper flicks to check out

By Jedd Jong

The heist comedy Logan Lucky has been called “redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, eschewing the glitz and glamour of high-end Las Vegas casinos for the dusty heartland that is home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, was drawn to Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay for Logan Lucky because it felt like the antithesis of the cool, slick Ocean’s movies.

Heist movies are a particularly captivating film genre: they can be light-hearted romps or intense affairs filled with double-crosses and clever gambits, and audiences enjoy seeing a complex robbery come together, then unfold – but not always according to plan. Sometimes it’s a team of scrappy underdogs reclaiming what they feel is rightfully theirs – like the Logan family in Logan Lucky. Other times, our heroes are seasoned career criminals who must outfox dogged law enforcement agents to pull off an intricate heist.

Before (or after, we won’t judge) you catch Logan Lucky in theatres, delve into the realm of fiendishly clever schemes, honour among thieves and best-laid plans going awry with these five heist movies.

#1: OCEAN’S ELEVEN

This 2001 remake of the 1960 film of the same name has arguably overtaken the original in terms of impact on pop culture at large. The 1960 film starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson – the 2001 film matched that star power with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Clooney’s Danny Ocean hatches a plan to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos on the Vegas strip, assembling a team of highly-skilled experts to help him pull off the job. Johnny Depp was considered for the Linus Caldwell role, and Mark Wahlberg was briefly attached to the part, but Matt Damon clinched the role instead. Director Steven Soderbergh and the main cast would return for two sequels: Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, and Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007. Soderbergh said that after the death of Bernie Mac, who played Frank Catton, a fourth film would be unlikely. Instead, we can look forward to the all-female spinoff Ocean’s Eight, starring Sandra Bullock as Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, alongside Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna, which will be released in June 2018.

#2: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Morton Freedood (under the pen name ‘John Godey’), The 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is considered one of the best thrillers of the 70s. The film is about four hijackers who commandeer a New York City subway train, demanding $ 1 million to be delivered within the hour, and promising to kill one passenger per minute after the deadline expires. The leader of the hijackers, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) faces off against Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walther Matthau) in a game of wits, with the lives of 17 passengers hanging in the balance. The Transit Authority of New York was reluctant to allow director Joseph Sargent to film in the actual subway, fearing that the movie would inspire train hijackings. The film was mostly filmed in the tunnels leading to the decommissioned IND Court St. station in Brooklyn, with the station doubling for Grand Central and 28th St. stations. The station is now home to the New York City Transit Museum. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade as a TV movie in 1998 starring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio, then as a feature film in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

#3: ENTRAPMENT

This 1999 thriller may not have the glowing critical acclaim enjoyed by the other entries on this list, but it is a sentimental favourite for this writer. In Entrapment, undercover investigator Vriginia “Gin” Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones) becomes entangled with debonair gentleman art thief Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Sean Connery). Their partnership culminates in a plot to steal $8 billion from the International Clearance Bank located in the North Tower of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on New Year’s Eve of 1999-2000. Malaysian viewers baulked at a scene in which a shantytown is depicted a short distance from the Petronas Towers. The shantytown is in Malacca and was superimposed over a shot of the Towers. While certainly not the first to feature a thief weaving through a ‘laser tripwire’ security system, Entrapment was one of the films that codified the trope. The film was not-so-subtly marketed with trailers prominently featuring Zeta-Jones in a slinky catsuit seductively squirming between thin red threads, as Gin practices for the heist. The leading man and lady of the film are separated by a staggering 39 years, but Connery’s charm is almost enough for it not to seem icky. Almost.

#4: INCEPTION

Christopher Nolan’s film, often cited as a foremost example of the “thinking person’s blockbuster”, puts a sci-fi twist on the heist movie formula. The film’s protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialist in stealing not money or diamonds, but ideas, entering the minds of his marks as they dream. He is given the near-impossible task of planting an idea, or “incepting”, but Dom is haunted by the memory late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), impairing his ability to pull off the mission. The cast also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine. By combining spectacular action set-pieces with heady themes that muse on the subjectivity of dreams and reality, all enacted by a stellar cast, Nolan created an indelible experience that filmgoers eagerly discussed, dissected and watched repeatedly. Inception’s mind-bending dreamscapes were brought to life with a mix of practical and digital effects, including a 30-metre-long rotating set used to film the signature Zero-G hotel hallway fight sequence. The film won four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for four more, including Best Picture.

#5: HEAT

With his 1995 crime thriller Heat, Michael Mann elevated the cops-and-robbers movie to a fine art. Like any good heist movie, there’s a cat-and-mouse element at the heart of Heat: professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is relentlessly pursued by LAPD detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the robbery-homicide division. The film is praised for featuring some of the best performances from its leading men (before either fully settled on accepting roles in bad movies to pay the bills) and for its elaborate action sequences, including an epic street shootout and a climactic confrontation at the LAX airport. Heat also stars Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, William Fichtner and Natalie Portman.

The film was a remake of a television pilot that Michael Mann had made. The pilot wasn’t picked up to series, but aired as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown. This was in turn inspired by true events: the real-life Neil McCauley was a former inmate at Alcatraz who was eventually hunted down by Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson in 1964. Because of the violent, explicit depiction of the heists, Heat was cited as an inspiration for a spate of real-life armoured car robberies. The 1997 North Hollywood shootout, involving a faceoff between bank-robbers and the LAPD, was often compared to Heat. In the realm of film, Christopher Nolan took inspiration from Heat for The Dark Knight, also a sprawling crime epic.

Cruising Altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

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Cruising altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise plays a pilot in American Made – here are five other times planes and other flying machines have figured in his movies

By Jedd Jong

The story of pilot Barry Seal is one that’s stranger than fiction: Seal went from being a commercial pilot for TWA to becoming a drug courier for the Medellín Cartel, a gunrunner for the Contras and the CIA, and a DEA informant. In the biopic American Made, Seal is played by Tom Cruise, and it’s easy to believe that Cruise can smirk and wink his way out of any sticky situation. Seal makes various daring take-offs from remote Colombian jungles, the underbelly of his cocaine-laden plane scraping the tree tops. One of the film’s most memorable scenes features Seal crash-landing on a residential street after he’s pursued by the DEA, tumbling out of his plane covered in cocaine, handing a bundle of cash to a bewildered kid and escaping on said kid’s bicycle.

Cruise is a certified pilot in real life, and owns a collection of planes including a WWII-era P-51 Mustang. The actor has built a reputation for doing more of his own stunts than any insurance company would be comfortable with, and he pulled off yet another hair-raising feat in American Made. Not only did Cruise do some of his own flying in the film, he left the cockpit with no one else in the plane for scenes in which Seal had to dump cocaine out the back of the plane. Director Doug Liman, who was flying alongside Cruise in a helicopter shooting the scene, was both terrified and thrilled by the commitment displayed by his leading man. “It’s one thing to have Tom Cruise alone in the airplane flying it — that’s already outrageous — now he’s alone and he’s not even in the cockpit so he’s gone beyond,” Liman said. “It was already a stunt before he left the cockpit, it was already a serious stunt.”

Before you watch Cruise wing it in American Made, here are five other times he’s been in the pilot’s seat – or somewhere less safe – on a plane or other flying vehicle in his movie career.

#1: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

The Mission: Impossible movie franchise has become synonymous with crazy Cruise stunts. 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens with a death-defying feat: Cruise’s Ethan Hunt clings onto the exterior of an Airbus 400 as it takes off from a runway. This sequence became one of the film’s major selling points, featuring heavily in billboard and banner advertising. “There’s no digital Tom, and there’s no fake plane. He’s really strapped to an Airbus,” Director of Photography Robert Elswit declared. The stunt team did tests with a dummy, then with a stunt double, before letting Cruise do the stunt himself. Cruise was strapped into a harness that was wired to the plane through its door, and the runway was carefully cleared of rocks and other debris. “When he wants to do something, he’ll figure out a way to do it,” Elswit said of Cruise, describing him as “the most obsessive artist.” “If it couldn’t actually be Tom on the plane, I think he wouldn’t want the sequence in the movie,” Elswit remarked.

#2: OBLIVION

In the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Oblivion, Cruise plays the last man on earth – or so he thinks. It is Jack Harper’s job to repair drones that are attacked by alien scavengers, or ‘scavs’, and he routinely patrols his sector in a gleaming high-tech craft called the Bubbleship. The craft resembles a dragonfly and is inspired by the Bell 47 helicopter. The film features a dogfight during which Jack is pursued in his Bubbleship by hostile drones, with the mysterious Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) seated beside him. Production designer Darren Gilford and his team built a life-sized Bubbleship. Cruise visited the crew in the workshop while they were constructing the Bubbleship, and had input on design elements like the foot pedals and controls, so operating the craft would look natural. “It’s so beautifully designed. Every piece of it was just smooth and elegant,” Cruise said. A cockpit-only version of the Bubbleship was built to be mounted on a gimbal, which would spin around against a bluescreen backdrop like a souped-up theme park ride. Being a pilot himself, Cruise had no problems with sitting in the rig, but his co-star Kurylenko had never been in a gimbal and was nervous about it. “Olga will tell you today she wasn’t scared. She was scared,” Cruise quipped.

“The Bubbleship is a beautiful creation when it’s just standing on the ground, but you don’t want to be in there when it’s flipping around!” Kurylenko said. “In the end I liked it, I have to admit. But don’t tell anyone, I pretended like I didn’t,” she laughed.

#3: THE MUMMY

Universal Studios’ revival of its classic movie monsters in ‘cinematic universe’ form, the Dark Universe, got off to a rocky start with The Mummy. Industry watchers speculated that the film’s failure was due at least in part to Cruise’s “excessive control” over the production. Cruise reportedly personally commissioned screenwriters to fashion the project into more of a star vehicle for himself, reducing the screen time of the titular character, Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. The film features a big Mission: Impossible-style stunt: the crash of a military transport plane carrying Ahmanet’s sarcophagus. The production hired a zero-gravity plane from the French space agency NoveSpace, converting its interior to resemble a military transport plane. The plane would fly in parabolic arcs, resulting in brief periods of weightlessness. Cruise, co-star Annabelle Wallis and the crew all floated in zero-G to capture the scene. “We had to prepare as best we could, but then we don’t quite know exactly what’s going to happen,” Cruise said. “We wanted it to be wild and violent and spontaneous for an audience,” he explained. “They’re just seeing it happening in real time. There’s no edit, it’s there.”

#4: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Cruise first collaborated with his American Made director Liman on the sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need is Kill. A loving ode to military science fiction mainstays such as Starship Troopers and Aliens with a Groundhog Day time loop folded in, Edge of Tomorrow features futuristic weapons and gadgets, including powered mech suits and Quadcopters. The Quadcopters are the conveyance from which troops are deployed onto the battlefield, and resemble the Bell Boeing Quad TiltRotor. “[Production designer] Oliver Scholl came up with this great idea of this dropship, this futuristic aircraft where the soldiers in their exo-suits would be locked in like human ordnance, and they just drop you,” Liman explained. “That seemed so terrifying and would be a really great thing for Tom Cruise’s character to have to experience.”

Being suspended from the rack inside the Quadcopter might not have been the most dangerous stunt Cruise had ever executed, but it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. “Being inside that dropship, we’re like canned tuna, basically,” Cruise recalled. “I have to say, those days we’re all in there, as actors you’re just hanging in an uncomfortable way for many, many hours.”

#5: TOP GUN

Playing a pilot launched Cruise to superstardom, and 1986’s Top Gun remains one of his best-known films. Most of us might regard the film as 80s kitsch, but in 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film was inspired by an article in California magazine about the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons school, colloquially known as ‘Top Gun’. Mega-producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson hired the late director Tony Scott on the basis of his commercial for Saab, which featured a fighter jet. Bruckheimer and Simpson pursued Cruise for the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, but Cruise wouldn’t commit even as he received updated drafts of the script. Bruckheimer arranged for Cruise to take a flight with the U.S. Navy’s famous Blue Angels aerobatics team, in the hopes that this would convince Cruise to accept the role. Cruise had just finished filming Ridley Scott’s Legend and still had a long ponytail, so the pilots thought he was a hippie and figured they’d have some fun by flying Cruise upside-down and at three to four G Forces. Cruise was unfazed, and Bruckheimer’s gambit paid off – Cruise hopped off the plane, went to the nearest phone booth and called Bruckheimer to say he was in. The long-awaited sequel is finally coming to fruition – Top Gun: Maverick is due in 2019, reuniting Cruise with Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski.

The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

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The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 2

Here’s the Mega Picture Post for Day 2. I had a little more fun because I had gotten my bearings, but the layout still did throw me for a loop. I spent most of this day hanging out with my friend Shaun, who was dressed as the Joker and stopped for lots of photos with children, none of him he killed – so he didn’t go all the way into character. Please check out Day 1’s Mega Picture Post here.

Jay as Doctor Strange

Shaun as the Joker in the Millennium Falcon

Is the Joker worthy?

Mjolnir may have made its choice, but that doesn’t mean Thor has to approve.

KO!

The Marvel gang seems quite accepting of the Joker.

Eunice as Harley Quinn and Alice as Poison Ivy

Joker gets all the gals

Something the Joker is very used to.

Another Tiny Rey

The reptilian conspiracy is real!

The First Order assembles

Theresa as Velma

Joker and Dany

Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock

Abigail as Wonder Woman

Another Harley and her best friend (or maybe something more)

“Chewie…we’re home”

Alexander as Anakin Skywalker: “Grandson, why?!!?”

All the Tiny Reys!

The Comic Giants panel (From left): C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Art Adams, Frank Cho, Sonny Liew

Don’t breach the quarantine zone!

Cheryl as Black Canary

James C. Mulligan speed-painting

I wonder what that could be

Ah, I see it now

5 minute master piece

ILM Singapore visual effects supervisor Nigel Sumner speaking about the visual effects of Rogue One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: hammerhead

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Batman

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Don’t know what this resembles

Viv as Kida and Dom as Milo

Tiny Rey!

Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond

Red Hood and Joker

Hikka as Rapunzel

Joker and Deadpool slapfight!

With the gorgeous Cara Keilani as Miranda Lawson

Jaye as Chell

Fiz as Narrator Core, Neptys as GLaDOS and Jaye as Chell

Life-sized Gladiator Hulk and Thor by Hot Toys

Hot Toys’ Wonder Woman

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman

Hot Toys’ Executioner Trooper

Hot Toys’ Kylo Ren

 

Big ol’ group shot to cap off the event

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 1

Here’s the annual instalment of my STGCC Mega Picture Post. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. It’s purported to be bigger and better than previous year – the former, certainly, but I can’t say I agree about the latter. The layout of the show floor did mess with my head and did a number on me. It was tricky to get from one area to the next, and to exit the hall, one had to pass through the gaming area GGXP. The security checks made entering and leaving a hassle, but I acknowledge and appreciate the purpose of those safety measures.

That said, it’s hard not to have fun when being surrounded by various and sundry geekery, and STGCC is the time of year when I get to meet many friends whom I don’t see on the regular. The star of the show definitely was the life-sized instalments built by Belgium’s BCD-VZW studio: the interior of the Millennium Falcon, and Rey’s Speeder. Here are the photo highlights from Day 1. If you can identify any cosplayers I haven’t named, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to credit them. Thank you, and enjoy!

BCD-VZW chairman/head engineer Stefan Cembolista with his handiwork

The secret autograph panel, which includes the signatures of J. J. Abrams and product designers from Lego and Hasbro.

This is my geeking out face

Hot Toys’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lineup

Hot Toys’ Rocket and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Gamora

Hot Toys’ life-sized Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Star-Lord and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Yondu and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Drax and his sensitive nipples

Iron Man and the Hulkbuster, aka Veronica

Hot Toys’ Boba Fett, style after his appearance in the Droids animated series.

Hot Toys’ Anakin Skywalker

Hot Toys’ Hoth Princess Leia

Hot Toys’ Grand Moff Tarkin

Hot Toys’ Netflix Punisher

Hot Toys’ Netflix Daredevil

Hot Toys’ armoured Batman

Hot Toys’ Justice League

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Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Thor: Ragnarok display 

 

 

 

Hot Toys’ Hela. Cate Blanchett is gonna be so much fun in this role.

Hot Toys’ Loki

Hot Toys’ Gladiator Hulk

Hot Toys’ Spider-Man: Homecoming lineup

Hot Toys’ life-sized Spider-Man from Homecoming

Han Solo in the Falcon

The Scavenger astride her speeder

Look what Rey found!

Constable Zuvio wandered over from the deleted scenes corner

Han in the Falcon, in both their primes.

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“Something about this feels so familiar…”

Jack Sparrow and a fellow rouguish scoundrelly Captain

The first of many Tiny Reys!

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Gladiator Hulk

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Thor

With Shaun Lu as a Ghostbuster

Shaun and photographer Mezame goofing about with Mezame’s camera pole

Millennium Falcon model kit

Homemade Spidey

Frank Cho live drawing Venom

 

Disney fine artist James C. Mulligan with a print of his Rey piece

Legendary artist Art Adams

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Poison Ivy statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Catwoman statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Joker prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batman

XM Studios’ Avengers figures

XM Studios’ Magneto prototype

XM Studios’ Boba Fett statue

XM Studios’ epic X-Men vs. Sentinel battle statue

XM Studios’ Pilot Luke on Hoth statue

XM Studios’ Black Widow statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Bane prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl closeup

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XM Studios’ Venom statue

XM Studios’ Spider-Gwen statue

Hot Toys’ Nolanverse Batmen

Hot Toys’ Jail Cell Joker

Hot Toys’ Joker

Speedy cosplay

Wonder Woman and Dr. Poison cosplay

Anna of Arendelle cosplay

Predator vs. Wolverine statue

1/2 scale TIE Silencer

Kylo Ren and the S. S. Whinypants

It’s Star-Lord, man!

Han Solo wants YOU to join the Rebellion

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*Inquisitive uteeni*

Rebel shipyard diorama

Trench run diorama

Lego diorama

Black Series Rey and Speeder

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Exclusive George Lucas figure

Jabba the Hutt

Neptys’ Robo-Geisha cosplay from Ghost in the Shell. Her mask opened up, I’m bummed I didn’t get to see that

Boba Fett has captured his target

Alvin as Kylo Ren

Tiny Thor battle cry!

Eunice as Poison Ivy

Caetuna as Mulan

Cheryl as Vigilante Felicity Smoak

Ihsan as Green Arrow

Tiny Ollie!

Marvel vs. DC teams forming up

Marvel and DC united

Theresa as Baroness

Star-Lord dancing; Gamora not dancing

Victoria as Poison Ivy

Vic as Poison Ivy holding Poison Ivy

WHITE CHICKS!!!

Dawn as Supergirl. She’s holding Han Solo because Kara’s boss Cat Grant is played by Calista Flockhart, wife of one Harrison Ford.

Tiny Spidey with Spidey statue

Harley Quinn and her best pal

Rocky as Wolverine downing his sorrows

DC Super Hero Girls Katana

Riyuukii as New 52 Harley Quinn

Starfire and Blackfire

SISTER FIGHT!

Katy as Starfire

Christopher as Ron and Samantha as Kim Possible

Dave as King Leonidas, with Wonder Woman

Princess power!

Jay as Sherlock Holmes

Jinko as the Joker

“Grandson, I am disappoint”

“…But I still love you”

This Kabuki cosplayer got to meet David Mack!

DC crew

Newt and Gwen as Percival Graves

Black Panther and Shuri: FOR WAKANDA!

Look at how happy this tiny Jyn Erso is!

Mulan gang with X-23, also a lady who’s good with blades

Somebody scowling on the sketch wall

Teen Titans gang

Oh man there was a Go-Go Yubari

Road to darkness by XM Studios

Deadpool and his buddy

XM Studios’ Sentinel vs. X-Men battle again

Me with friends! From left: Shuan as Ronald McDonald, Jaye as Red from Transistor, and Neptys as Robo-Geisha from Ghost in the Shell

Jaye as Red from Transistor

SZECHUAN. SAUCE.

They are Number One

Shaun sketching the Joker – foreshadowing for Day 2!

Building The Fandom: Star Wars Replica Propmaker Stefan Cembolista Interview

For inSing

BUILDING THE FANDOM: INTERVIEW WITH STAR WARS REPLICA PROPMAKER STEFAN CEMBOLISTA 

 

The Star Wars franchise has one of the most devoted fan followings of any property. Many fans are inspired by the space opera to create their props, costumes and artwork. Stefan Cembolista is one such fan, and his passion for prop-making, costume design and engineering has taken him to places many Star Wars fans can only dream of. As the chairman and head of engineering at BCD Props, the German-born, Belgium-based Cembolista specialises in creating detailed replicas of props and sets. These are displayed at conventions around the world, and even at Star Wars movie premieres. Cembolista’s installations have been exhibited at the Star Wars-centric Celebration conventions in Orlando, Anaheim and London. Cembolista and his team display an obsessive attention to detail that has gained the recognition of Star Wars creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams, amongst others.

inSing spoke to Cembolista at the press preview event for the 2017 Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) at the Friends-themed Central Perk café. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the convention, which is organised by ReedPop and will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre over the weekend. Two installations created by Cembolista and his crew will be on the show floor: a life-sized partial interior set of the Millennium Falcon, and a life-sized replica of Rey’s speeder from The Force Awakens – signed by Abrams himself.

Cembolista was ebullient and had a twinkle in his eye, visibly passionate about his chosen craft and about Star Wars. He had arrived in Singapore the previous afternoon, and was treated to a night on the town by members of the Singapore Star Wars fan community. “It’s the best Asian food I have ever tasted,” Cembolista said of Singaporean cuisine. He was adamant that getting paid is not his primary motivation, describing the joyful reactions from fans when they see his work as “soul money”. Cembolista spoke exclusively to inSing about how he became a Star Wars fan, what it was like meeting Harrison Ford and Abrams, and the uniting power of Star Wars fandom.

INSING: What were the movies that had the biggest influence on you growing up, in creating your interest in costume and set design?

CEMBOLISTA: The first movies that gave an impact on costuming were not only the science-fiction movies like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, even the black and white series from the ‘30s, but also historical films. For example there was a submarine movie, Das Boot. My first prop when I was a little kid was the submarine. I built it for myself to play with my action figures. It was five metres long. I went into the big things right away, because the action figures were already quite big. If you want to play [with] them in that scenario, the set has to be quite big. My first replica was the boat, it all started with that.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, it was one of the few examples of a used future. People weren’t used to seeing science fiction movies where everything wasn’t shiny, and was instead lived-in. What was your impression of that style when you first watched Star Wars?

The first impression was that due to the used and worn effect, it felt authentic. It felt way more authentic than Star Trek, where the bridge was shiny and new and looked like it just came out of the yard. It was worn off, the characters were worn off, there was no typical brand new space suit kind of thing. And also, the story was so intriguing.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, my father started to hype me before the movie came to the theatre, just showing me the poster. Back then, we didn’t have social media, there were only posters. I saw the posters and I really wanted to see the movie. But he went silent just before the movie came out. As a little guy, seven-years-old, I went “bummer. I probably will not see it.” The day of the release, he pulled out two tickets, he brought me to the theatre and it took me maybe 30 seconds into the movie and I became a fan for a lifetime.

This is parenting done right.

Definitely.

What has your experience been meeting some of the professional costumers, prop makers and crew members who have worked on the Star Wars movies?

The crazy thing is we do that as a hobby community. We started maybe 20 years ago, and we got acquainted to Lucasfilm, to the filmmakers, to the production crew. By now, it has come that far that we exchange information, we learn from them how they build it. Meanwhile, with the world release of Rogue One in L.A., we were invited with our set to the [premiere]. So a fan set was at the world premiere of the movie. We had the TIE Fighter there. The TIE Fighter is built by a group which we cooperate with. The Belgian crew was kind of the example in the prop-building world. We started it. We had the first big-sized or full-scale props, and we showed them around in the world, thanks to ReedPop and Lucasfilm at the conventions. Other guys got into it. There was one guy in Germany who really took me as an example to start his own prop group. He created two, three TIE Fighters, and after that we started to cooperate. Now, we have two crews in two countries working together. So we built the tank from Rogue One. It’s a co-production, they built the tank, we built the crates.

The same thing with cosplay: the community of Star Wars is worldwide, it’s like a family. I was commanding officer for 15 years for our [501st Legion] Garrison, I founded it 15 years ago. It’s the same feeling. We got the honour at the world premiere to talk to the people who build the props for the new movies. The funny thing is, you really exchange information. They’re also interested in how we work. We work together with the guys who set up the Rogue One X-Wing at the red carpet. It was really great. Also from the old movies. Due to the fact that we visit shows for 15-20 years now, once in a while those artists are invited to the shows and you run into them in the hotel lobby. It’s the backstage talk you have with those people. You exchange the memory, the knowledge of building things. Building a prop is one thing. But making it look authentic like a real machine, that’s the weathering, that’s the detail. My crew members, many of them are very young, have never touched a brush or paint. They get into to learn those processes, so we share that knowledge.

With Star Wars, the fans are such an important part of the success of the films, and of continuing the legacy. How would you describe the power of Star Wars fans?

That’s a good and very global question, as we talk about the global phenomenon. The people from the 501st, Rebel Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, all the fan films and prop builders, we consider Star Wars as a kind of family. Due to the internet, you get acquainted to people like never before. This morning, I got a post from a friend from the Emirates. He’s a pilot, and I met him about a year ago at Celebration in Orlando. Yesterday, when we came in, all of a sudden, he was standing in front of me. I said “what are you doing here? You’re from Dubai. We’re in Singapore!” It just happened that he had a flight to Singapore. We took a picture and I posted it with the caption “Star Wars makes the world a small place, but the family of us is getting bigger and bigger”. That’s the feeling that Star Wars and the fandom of Star Wars brings us.

The special thing in Star Wars that I feel is that we don’t make any difference in culture, in race, in origin, it doesn’t matter. Whatever they share in their own culture, Star Wars brings them together. If you ask me, if everybody in the world were a Star Wars fan, there would be no wars.

What was that feeling like when you saw Harrison Ford walk onto your installation of the Millennium Falcon at Celebration?

That was one of the most stunning experience[s]. In all the years, we have those milestones: when we first met George Lucas, for example, it was like ‘oh my god’. For Star Wars fans, to meet this person, and talk with him, we never could imagine that this could happen. But Harrison Ford is a special one. He avoids the public, he’s never at conventions.

He’s a very private actor.

Yeah. And we heard about it. We’re in Orlando, and we heard he was on the main stage, which was not our stage, so we never even dreamt that he would visit us. We were busy backstage, and we heard some rumblings. We saw people from security walking in secretly, and there was a grey-haired man who looked pretty familiar to us. We had a quick chat backstage with him, and he enjoyed some Belgian chocolate. We watched him walk through the hallway of our Millennium Falcon. It’s a replica, fan-made, and to have the original Harrison Ford, Han Solo walking through, it was a dream come through.

We in Singapore will get to see that same installation this weekend.

Exclusively and for the first time in Asia. We have two sets: we have the Millennium Falcon set, which is the interior, and we invite all the visitors to come over, queue, we hurry to make the queue not that long, and have yourself pictured in the Falcon. Like seated at the chess table, or take a seat at the navigation console to find out the next hyperspace course so you don’t crash into a star, because it would be a very short flight if you do that.

What was it like meeting J. J. Abrams and having him sign Rey’s speeder?

The story with J. J. was very special. It was the first time we managed to actually get plans, pictures and reference material from Lucasfilm, a year before the movie came into theatres – top-secret material. It was a very hard procedure to get that done. We actually passed the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. She knows us over many years, and she likes the idea that we built something. But still, there’s legal office, and legal office can overrule the big boss, because if they say it’s too risky to get the material out, they will not allow that. It was a vice-versa communication between Kathleen and the legal office, and it also came on the table of J. J. Abrams. J. J. Abrams was the man responsible, and he granted us access to the plans – we really got the secret plans. We actually created the bike in five weeks.

Many Bothans died to bring you those schematics.

Yeah, many of my brain cells also died to get this prop done. I worked day and night over five weeks to create the replica with the difference between the original prop and ours – only 5mm. Every scratch, every screw, every detail on the original bike is replicated. When the show started in Anaheim, J. J. Abrams came over in the morning because he wanted to see the creation. He just walked around the set from the backstage, and I just saw his face like very big surprise – like “wow”. He came over to me and he said “Stephen, actually your bike looks more authentic than the one we used in the movie”. In movies, you have moving images, some of the details can fade away. Ours is made for visitors to see live, so it must be accurate.

I was bold enough to ask him, “would you mind signing it for us, just for approval? Because you are the man who made it happen.” He said “cool idea”. I invited him backstage, and on the back side of the bike, pulled out my sharpie and handed it over. He said “where should I sign it?” I said “J. J., please don’t ruin the outside of my prop.” I opened the hatch and said “could you please sign here?” We had a little present for him: a BB-8 unit that was made from tropical wood by one of our prop-builders. On the chest, we used a sign – two arrows and a zero, which was from a TV series J. J. Abrams produced, Lost. He recognised it right away. He looked at the droid and said “is that for me?” And I said “That is our gift for you.” We tricked him a little bit with the signing thing to get him to his gift. He is very friendly and a very motivated man. Not only as a Star Wars fan, but also Star Trek, he’s brilliant.

He’s someone I admire, because he’s a fan who entered the industry and got to build upon something he loved growing up. To me, that’s the pinnacle.

It is, it is. He keeps on surprising people. He also published a book, I don’t know if you know that. S. I just read it a couple of weeks ago. It is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. It’s an amazing story, a complex product, it sucks you in. You have to read it in one turn. You don’t stop reading it, it’s a blast. That’s the thing with J. J. Abrams: everything he touches is a blast. Everything he touches is a success. I have not seen something that he’s done fail.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to in The Last Jedi?

Not the Porgs. [Laughs]. No, they’re adorable, but I’m a little bit afraid which kind of role they will play in the movie. For the moment, I’m getting an Ewok feel. But it’s still cool.

Technically speaking, for prop building, there are a couple of things that amaze me. There is an A-Wing which we know from the old saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in action. There is a new AT-AT: the AT-M6, the gorilla. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to build one. We have an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back and it’s six metres high, at one-sixth scale. We use that at conventions and it would be very, very cool to add to the family, to add the AT-M6. Another thing we have seen in the teaser are those Sand Hoppers, the fighters that are scratching the surface of the desert planet. That would be another project. For our case, we are really interested in the props.

The story? Of course I’m interested. I want to know what happens with Rey! Where is Rey coming from? All that questions that they raised with The Force Awakens. They did a great job. Of course, they made one mistake. They made Rogue One, which tops it all. Rogue One is, for many fans, one of the most brilliant Star Wars films. I’ve talked to so many Star Wars fans, and their opinion of Rogue One is equal: it is top. For me, The Force Awakens, it is the perfect way [to] continue the saga. They made us, the fans, curious. They made new characters, but how can you top Darth Vader? He’s no longer there. We have a new villain. An evil villain who fights the good side. He’s psychologically unstable. It’s perfect.

I love the concept of Kylo Ren because he’s trying to live up to Darth Vader, just like the new movies are trying to live up to the originals, so he embodies that theme.

He embodies that. If we see the new characters that are just joining in with the old characters, it is just the perfect job. I’m really looking forward to how this story continues, and how it ends.

STGCC runs from Saturday 9th September to Sunday 10th September at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre. Please visit http://www.singaporetgcc.com/Tickets_Merchandise/ to purchase tickets.

 

It

For inSing

IT 

Director : Andy Muschietti
Cast : Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 15m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror and violence)

Stephen King’s creation Pennywise the Dancing Clown is one of the best-known evil clowns in popular culture, and rears his grinning head again in this big screen adaptation of King’s 1986 novel It.

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is the default appearance of an evil entity known as It, that exploits and feeds on the specific fears of its victims. Pennywise is responsible for a spate of disappearing children in the town of Derry, Maine. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is one such child, and his brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) has been investigating Georgie’s disappearance. Billy is the de facto leader of The Losers’ Club, a collection of outcast kids that includes Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Waytt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). The group is tormented by a gang of bullies called the Bowers gang, led by the cruel, unhinged Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). As the Losers’ Club goes about solving the mystery of the disappearing children, they uncover the dark history of Derry, with It/Pennywise seemingly at the centre of horrific events in the town’s past. This collection of misfits must band together to defeat an unimaginable evil and put a stop to its reign of terror.

This remake of It has long been anticipated, with a few bumps on the road on its way to the screen: director Cary Fukunaga was replaced by Andy Muschietti, and Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, but was replaced by Skarsgård. The result shows no trace of any behind-the-scenes tumult. Muschietti establishes the period and place in which the story takes place, building the mythology without it feeling tedious and drawing the audience in. The characters are easy to care about and relate to, and there is intent in how each scene links to the next.

Muschietti pulls off quite the tonal balancing act: It is variously heart-warming, funny, even romantic, and yes – extremely scary. The humour derived from a bunch of kids hanging out and the friendly ribbing that arises from their friendship does not undercut or diminish the visceral, lingering horror that saturates the film. While there are the expected jump scares and the soundtrack is trying a little too hard to startle the audience, much of what makes this movie frightening is finely calibrated and well thought-out. There’s a whole bag of tricks here, such that the scares do not feel repetitive or stale. The set-piece involving a slide projector is an especially elegant, effective moment.

With Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise from the miniseries being as iconic as it is, it would be difficult for anyone to step into those oversized shoes. Skarsgård turns in a menacing performance that is minimally campy. The redesign, which highlights how Pennywise has been around since the earliest days of Derry’s formation, is unsettling and is more understated than the classic Pennywise look. There’s some creepy physicality, and the different manifestations of It have elements that make them as scary as It’s Pennywise mode in their own way.

The Losers’ Club is one of the great assemblies of kid heroes, not unlike the boys in King’s Stand By Me. The characters are brought to life by a talented cast, led by Lieberher of Midnight Special fame. His portrayal of the stuttering Billy is sincere and intense, and he’s far from the ‘boring hero’ type one would expect to be leading a team. Wolfhard, best known as Mike on Stranger Things, steals the show as the loudmouth Richie, who is always handy with an insult. The characters appear to be defined by superficial traits, but are mostly meaningfully developed as the film progresses.

Lillis is destined to be the breakout star of the bunch: the camera adores her, and she handles some of the film’s most challenging and emotional scenes with admirable confidence. All the boys are immediately smitten with Beverly, and the way she integrates herself into the Losers’ Club, becoming a driving force, is compelling. Most of the adults in the film are either creepy or downright evil, with Beverly’s abusive father Alvin (Stephen Bogaert) being the foremost example. This plot point is handled without being gratuitously exploitative.

Packed with potent imagery, a finely-honed mythology, terrific performances from young actors and flat-out terrifying creepy clown, It ranks as one of the finest film adaptations of King’s work. It evokes nostalgia without relying solely on it and those who grew up in the 80s will recognise certain references, but enjoyment of the film is not contingent on that. Regardless of one’s background or prior familiarity with the source material, It is an affecting, haunting work.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Logan Lucky

For F*** Magazine

LOGAN LUCKY 

Director : Steven Soderbergh
Cast : Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Sebastian Stan, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Farrah Mackenzie, Hilary Swank
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

         Despite announcing his retirement after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair and off to the races with this caper comedy. The Logan family hasn’t had the best of luck: Jimmy Logan (Tatum) has just been fired, and his brother Clyde (Driver) lost his left arm while on military duty in Iraq. Jimmy loves his young daughter Sadie (Mackenzie), but Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Holmes) plans on moving away with her wealthy new husband Moody (Denman), making it harder for Jimmy to see Sadie. While working his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy hatches a plan: rob the vault containing money from the concession stands during the Coca Cola 600 race, one of the largest annual Nascar events. To pull off the heist, the Logan siblings tap on the skills of demolition expert Joe Bang (Craig) – but they’ll need to break him out of prison first. With limited resources and simple ingenuity, the crew must overcome a host of obstacles to make off with the money.

Logan Lucky has been referred to as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, which is a fairly accurate description. There isn’t a hint of glitz or glamour to be found, and the protagonists are blue collar guys from the South who love John Denver. While the expected stereotypes are trucked out and some fun is had at the expense of the characters and their cultural backgrounds, they’re imbued with humanity and are, for the most part, well-rounded creations. Screenwriter Rebecca Blunt crafts a script that’s not only funny, but is also admirably elaborate when it comes to the mechanics of the heist. There are so many moving parts, and it’s easy to be fooled by the laid-back vibe of the film because there’s a precision to the many hoops our heroes must jump through to pull off the heist.

Part of what makes Logan Lucky feel fresh is its status as a ‘big small’ movie. Soderbergh deliberately circumvented the studio system, formed his own distribution company named ‘Fingerprint Releasing’ and teamed with distributor Bleecker Street, making this technically an indie film. There are big-name stars in the cast, and Soderbergh himself is a well-known director, but like its protagonists, there is a scrappy underdog feel to Logan Lucky. Soderbergh has personally devised a marketing strategy that goes against conventional wisdom, targeting the film’s advertising instead of unleashing the expensive publicity blitz most studio films get. While ostensibly born out of Soderbergh’s disillusionment with the big Hollywood machine, there’s nary a hint of bitterness in Logan Lucky, which is exuberant even as it touches on the very real struggles of America’s working class.

This is Tatum’s fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, after Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects. The Jimmy Logan character taps into all of Tatum’s strengths as a performer, and the ‘lunkhead with a heart of gold’ archetype falls right within his skill set. While Tatum has showed off his comedic chops in other films, he’s largely restrained, and there are even moments when his performance is genuinely moving.

Driver plays well off Tatum, bringing a quiet earnestness to the role of Clyde. Keough is well on her way to A-list leading lady status, playing the plucky Mellie with entertaining confidence. The scenes in which Mellie bonds with her niece Sadie, styling Sadie’s hair before a beauty pageant, are quite sweet. Child beauty pageants aren’t depicted in the film as being exploitative the way they often are in real life, with Sadie taking great pride in her performance. Sadie’s talent showcase is the film’s most unabashedly sentimental scene, and thanks to child actress Farrah Mackenzie, it works.

Craig performs a heist of his own, single-handedly stealing the movie. This is a piece of stunt-casting that pays dividends: sporting a bleached blonde buzz cut, tattoos and affecting a southern accent, this is Craig like we haven’t quite seen him before. As with any good heist crew, there must be eccentric characters, with Joe Bang being the most eccentric of the bunch. Tatum, Driver and Craig develop an unlikely and amusing triple act, the result being silly while not so over-the-top as to lose audiences. Hearing Craig say lines like “I’m about to get nekkid” in a ridiculous drawl is the height of entertainment.

Not all of it works: as is often the case with ensemble comedies, there are a few too many characters and subplots at work. Seth MacFarlane’s turn as egotistical moustachioed Nascar driver Max Chilblain doesn’t land as naturally as the other performances, calling too much attention to itself and feeling awkward and forced in the process. Sebastian Stan, playing Dayton White, a driver on Chilblain’s team, gets very little screen time. So too does Katherine Waterston, who pops up for only a couple of scenes. Hilary Swank appears late in the movie as an FBI agent investigating the heist, and like MacFarlane, she goes a little too broad, registering as off-key.

Funny, packed with quirky down-home charm and containing an impressively-engineered central heist, Logan Lucky is bona fide sleeper hit material, and is enough to make one hope Soderbergh keeps making movies for a while longer yet.

Summary: If you’re looking for a quality comedy somewhere in-between obscure indie and full-on Hollywood blockbuster, you’re in luck: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Redneck Ocean’s Eleven’ is a hoot.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong