Bohemian Rhapsody review

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Director : Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Ace Bhatti, Meneka Das
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 136 mins
Opens : 1 November 2018
Rating : M18

            Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen comes to the big screen in a biopic that’s somewhere in the middle, but perhaps a little closer to the fantasy end of the spectrum.

It is 1970 in England. Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), born Farrokh Bulsara to parents Bomi (Ace Bhatti) and Jer (Meneka Das), is a young singer-songwriter with dreams of stardom. Freddie goes to see the band Smile perform, and after the departure of their lead singer/bassist Tim Staffell (Jack Roth), Freddie petitions guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) to join Smile. With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), Freddie rebrands the band Queen. When they rent a recording studio to record an album, the fledgling band is discovered and is signed to record label EMI.

So begins a meteoric rise into the stratosphere for Queen, who break into the Billboard charts in the USA and become a worldwide phenomenon. However, there is trouble behind the scenes. Freddie’s fiancé Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) quickly realises he is gay, and Freddie’s personal manager and lover Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) drives a wedge between Freddie and the other members of Queen. In 1985, the band is given the chance to perform at the massive benefit concert Live Aid, but with Freddie succumbing to AIDS, it will take everything he has to return to the stage.

Bohemian Rhapsody has had a notoriously rocky journey to the big screen. The film was announced in 2010, with Sacha Baron Cohen attached to the Freddie Mercury role. Following disagreements with May and Taylor, Cohen departed the project. Ben Whishaw was briefly set to replace Cohen, then Dexter Fletcher came onboard to direct, before leaving over creative differences with producer Graham King. Rami Malek was sought to star. Bryan Singer then joined as director, but about two-thirds through production, was let go, reportedly due to absences from the set and clashes with Malek. Fletcher was then brought back to replace Singer.

The resulting film is far from a mess but does leave a bit to be desired. This reviewer got chills multiple times, and the music of Queen does a lot of the heavy lifting. There are many moments in the film that border on saccharine, but against all odds, are effectively emotional. There are also enjoyable bits when Freddie, Brian, Roger and John are all just being silly and goofing about. However, the film feels less like an insightful peek behind the curtain and more like a highlight reel of all the important moments in the band’s history.

It is this feeling of flitting from moment to moment that robs the film of its authenticity, but that also lends it some charm. When Freddie plays the opening bars of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the piano, asking Mary if there’s any potential in the tune, or when Brian stomps his feet and claps to form the start of “We Will Rock You”, or when John spontaneously generates the bassline for “Another One Bites the Dust”, audience members are supposed to nudge their friends in recognition.

There is a bombastic cheesiness to the whole affair that is perhaps fitting for the subject matter, but these moments also firmly make Bohemian Rhapsody feel like the ‘Hollywood version’ of the Queen story. There are times when the film is in danger of feeling like a Saturday Night Live sketch, especially when Mike Myers makes a cameo appearance as (fictional) EMI executive Ray Foster. One can almost picture Blue Öyster Cult waiting outside the studio, with Christopher Walken ready to demand more cowbell.

Rami Malek’s performance is a big part of why the movie ends up as an engaging, affecting work despite its shortcomings. One can sense that Malek is aware of the responsibility of portraying such an iconic and beloved musical icon, but he does not crumble under the weight of said responsibility. He’s more than just a great pretender: there’s the flamboyance, flair and prosthetic teeth, but Malek is careful not to let his portrayal of Freddie slide into caricature, even as other aspects of the movie do. The flashes of vulnerability and lostness behind his eye register as genuine. All the vocals are lip-synced to original recordings of Queen, with Marc Martel providing additional vocals.

Boynton, star of the underrated musical Sing Street, is destined for superstardom. Her portrayal of Mary Austin is heart-rending even though the film doesn’t quite flesh her character out. There’s a sweetness but also a toughness to Boynton’s Mary, such that the audience sympathises with both her and Freddie.

Some questionable wig work aside, Lee, Hardy and Deacon are all quite believable as May, Taylor and Deacon. The real-life May and Taylor are still involved with Queen and had a significant say in what went into this movie. As a result, May especially comes off as a saint. Deacon, who retired from music in 1997, is portrayed as the butt of the joke, but each member has moments when they’re endearing and it’s clear that they all cared for each other even through Freddie’s personal tumult.

Ace Bhatti and Meneka Das make small but impactful appearances as Freddie’s parents Bomi and Jer respectively. Tom Hollander’s Jim Beach is genial and supportive – Beach is a co-producer on the film. Allen Leech’s Paul Prenter grows slimier as the film progresses, while Aaron McCusker brings a warmth and twinkle in the eye to Jim Hutton, Freddie’s boyfriend during his final days.

The film’s re-enactment of the Live Aid concert is a sweeping triumph, capturing the epic scale of the event with a depiction of Queen’s entire set beginning to end. Bohemian Rhapsody will likely be a crowd-pleaser with a middling, bordering on negative critical reception. While its gloss makes it seem like the film skims the surface, the everlasting music produced by the band and strong, committed performances make it not quite the champion, but at the very least the bronze.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Zombiepura movie review

ZOMBIEPURA

Director : Jacen Tan
Cast : Alaric Tay, Benjamin Heng, Joeypink Lai, Chen Xiuhuan, Richard Low, Haresh Tilani, Edward Choy, Rayve Zen
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 83 mins
Opens : 25 October 2018
Rating : PG13

It’s every reservist national serviceman’s worst nightmare: what if you book in and due to undead-related shenanigans, never book out? This is the premise of the horror comedy Zombiepura.

Kayu Tan (Alaric Tay) isn’t taking his reservist duty seriously, much to the chagrin of his overzealous sergeant Lee Siao On (Benjamin Heng). Kayu and his friend Tazan (Haresh Tilani) feign illness, in the grand tradition of national servicemen malingering to avoid going on duty. At the infirmary, Kayu and Siao On discover that their fellowmen servicemen have turned into rabid zombies. The pair must get along to survive, and must also rescue canteen operator Susie (Chen Xiuhuan) and her daughter Xiao Ling (Joeypink Lai). People will get bitten, obstacle courses will be navigated, and hopefully, ideas will be awoken as the ragtag gang try to reach the outside world and get to safety.

Zombiepura is a film that was announced in 2011 and has taken seven years to come to fruition. This reviewer has always wanted to see more mainstream genre fare, with the ability to travel, come out of Singapore. Singapore films are perceived as being either highbrow Cannes contenders or Chinese New Year fare aimed at uncles and aunties in the heartland. On paper, Zombiepura seems to occupy this middle ground. While the effort behind making a film like this is evident, the execution leaves plenty to be desired.

The film finds itself 14 years late to the Shaun of the Dead bandwagon, with characters that are nowhere near as endearing as those in Edgar Wright’s zom-com, nor jokes that are anywhere near as funny. It’s a lot closer to Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

A lot of Zombiepura hinges on the local context, being set in an army camp. There are in-jokes about the banality of reservist duty and the characters are all roughly stock types, that can be easily described with one line on the poster. Plenty of the humour is crass, and audiences are meant to laugh at a soldier pretending to have depression to dodge duty. This is to say nothing of the film’s flagrant misogyny – the female lead is referred to almost exclusively as ‘chiobu’, Hokkien for hot chick, and nobody finds this inappropriate.

The premise is relatively clever in that containing the film within an army camp limits the scope, so the movie is not obligated to show expensive scenes of city streets overrun with zombies, World War Z-style. There are several physical comedy gags that work, notably one involving two characters scrambling up a flagpole with the zombies standing at the base grasping at their feet. The zombies’ specific weakness, while nothing ground-breaking, is good for a chuckle. The makeup effects, overseen by June Goh, are serviceable, and there is a healthy amount of blood and gore.

Horror films are often excellent vehicles for allegorical messages. Train to Busan astutely commented on South Korea’s hierarchical pressure-cooker society, and one of the original zombie movies, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, was a satire on burgeoning consumerism in America. Zombiepura half-heartedly attempts something roughly along these lines, equating the zoned-out way bored servicemen go about their patrol duty with the mindlessness of your average zombie. However, the film doesn’t push the socio-political commentary as far as this reviewer would’ve liked, but to be honest, nobody was expecting that of this particular film anyway.

Stars Alaric Tay and Benjamin Heng, who form the production company JAB Films with director Jacen Tan, work well opposite each other. There’s not very much to either character, and they’re difficult to root for. Naturally, there is a modicum of character development as the gravity of their predicament hits them. This is to say nothing of the on-the-nose names like Kayu and Siao On. Richard Low cameos as Siao On’s father Mad Dog, a Regimental Sergeant Major. The implication is that Siao On is desperate to live up to his father’s reputation, but this aspect of the character doesn’t get enough play.

Joeypink Lai, Miss Universe Singapore 2016 finalist and realtor, functions purely as eye candy and little else. The Xiao Ling character has no complexities, and when she figures in a would-be emotional scene, there is no impact at all. Chen Xiuhuan is Lai’s onscreen mother, who is similarly objectified, albeit not to the extent Lai is.

Rayve Zen’s Chua, who initially seems harmless but becomes more villainous as the film goes on, is arguably the most interesting character in the film. It is in depicting his self-centredness that the film gets anywhere in the Train to Busan zone. Haresh Tilani of Ministry of Funny fame gets a small role as kind of a sidekick to Kayu, who disappears once Kayu and Siao On team up.

It is exceedingly difficult to get a movie made in Singapore, let alone a genre movie requiring stunts, permits, special effects and specialised location work. The thing is, Zombiepura easily could’ve been a better, smarter, funnier and cannier movie without any additions to the budget. It doesn’t cost anything to not constantly objectify the female lead or outright mock mental illness.

It’s ironic that one of the film’s sponsors is grocer Taste, since Zombiepura is sorely lacking in taste. Then again, one might argue that tasteless is exactly what a zombie movie would be. We’d hesitate to call this ‘encouraging’ for the industry, but in some technical aspects, perhaps it is a stagger/hobble in roughly the right direction.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

You Undead, I Undead, Everybody Undead: Zombiepura cast and director interviews

YOU UNDEAD, I UNDEAD, EVERYBODY UNDEAD

The cast and director of Zombiepura talk making the local horror action comedy

By Jedd Jong

This Halloween, in addition to the usual Hollywood offerings, moviegoers have a local option: Zombiepura. The film, directed and co-written by Jacen Tan, imagines the chaos that would unfold if a zombie virus outbreak struck a Singaporean army camp. Alaric Tay (now going by the mononym ‘Alaric’) and Benjamin Heng star as Kayu Tan and Lee Siao On respectively – the former is a slacker corporal, while the latter is a fired-up sergeant, both serving their reservist.

Tan, Alaric and Heng were joined by co-stars Joeypink Lai and Chen Xiuhuan to speak to the press about the film, which was seven years in the making. Zombiepura was first announced in 2011 and has taken a while to come to fruition. The production faced myriad challenges in getting the film to the big screen, with the movie’s budget estimated at around $900 000.

“I had this naïve idea back in the early days that I would just make a zombie film and just get all my friends to come [to act in it],” Tan admitted. He added that as he got serious about making the movie, he “I learned that it involved a lot of makeup, skills and craft”. Tan also said he had to learn to write the movie within the budgetary constraints the production faced.

While pop culture overall seems to be inundated with hordes of the living dead in every medium, Zombiepura purports to be the first Singaporean zombie film. Setting the film in a reservist camp appears to be a sly way to equate the bored way in which servicemen go about their duties with the mindlessness of your average zombie.

“The characters that I write are based on people you know during national service,” Tan revealed, drawing on the broad archetypes one might encounter in any given platoon. “To put them in a movie fighting zombies where s*** happens…that was why I was interested in the movie. Something really happens. In the army, it’s just exercises,” Tan said.

Star Alaric, known for his many roles in the satirical TV comedy The Noose and for appearances in series like Serangoon Road and Sent for HBO Asia, spoke about the zombie media he is a fan of. “I’m more of a Walking Dead fan. And of course, 28 Days Later. I only watched the first one, I didn’t watch the sequel,” he said – look out for a nod to the Danny Boyle film in Zombiepura. “I love I Am Legend, the Will Smith one, not the very old one,” Alaric added.

Benjamin Heng said he grew up watching jiang si or Chinese zombie movies and was introduced to zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland by Tan. Tan cited George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, often considered the first true zombie movie, as his favourite entry in the subgenre.

Joeypink Lai plays the female lead Xiao Ling, often referred to as “chiobu” – a Hokkien phrase meaning “hot chick”. Speaking about filming the action sequences, which involved navigating a standard obstacle course, Lai said “It was very fun for me! I’m more garang (gung-ho) than [Alaric and Benjamin]!”

Lai was a contestant in the New Paper New Face beauty pageant in 2015 and became a finalist in Miss Singapore Universe in 2016. She is also a realtor. “I think before that, regarding the character, like how I want her to walk, present herself and things like that, I did watch quite a lot of films regarding character of this kind of style. And then inspired, and then roll into one that I think would suit Xiao Ling,” Lai said of her process in playing the Xiao Ling character. She acknowledged the challenge of filming emotional scenes, saying “It’s the first time that I have to cry on screen…my vibe is always very outgoing and very cheerful.”

Chen Xiuhuan, no stranger to audiences of Chinese-language television series on MediaCorp Channel 8, plays Susie, Xiao Ling’s mother and a canteen stall operator at the army camp where the breakout occurs. “I actually don’t believe that zombie[s] exist,” Chen said. She revealed that producer Lim Teck, managing director of film distribution and production company Clover Films, convinced her to sign on to Zombiepura. “Lim Teck called me and said ‘this is something that’s very different from what you’ve always acted, you always look pretty, so why not take up the challenge?’”

The film’s action sequences are overseen by veteran stunt coordinator Sunny Pang. Alaric said he enjoyed working with Pang, explaining “As an actor, you always want to feel prepared getting on the set…working with Sunny and his team was definitely very helpful. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Heng said he was very proud of Pang, having gotten to know Pang when he was an extra. “To have his own team, they were so hardworking, stressing the safety as well,” Heng said of the Ronin Action Group led by Pang.

Director Tan called the stunt performers and extras “the real stars of the film”. Tan credited them with working long hours wearing cloudy contact lenses and prosthetic special effects makeup, saying “they really held the film together.” Tan declared of the stunt players, “it is actually a world-class team that is as good as [one you’d find] anywhere.”

Tan praised actor Rayve Zen who plays Chua, one of the antagonists in the film. Tan called Zen “a great actor ready to burst on the scene”, and said that when he saw Zen’s audition tape, he “knew it was him, immediately, 100%.” Tan added that when Zen was on the set, “people were very scared of him, but that’s just him being in character.”

Many might look to Zombiepura as a sign that Singapore’s film industry is continuing to develop, and that more genre films from the local scene might soon be a possibility. However, Heng had a warning. “Don’t go into this business,” Heng exhorted, half- (or maybe less than half?) – jokingly. “Go into something else. Go into property instead. Advise your kids to study hard.”

Halloween (2018) review

HALLOWEEN

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Toby Huss, Haluk Bilginer
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 25 October 2018
Rating : M18

Halloween-posterOctober 31, 2018: the night he came home again. It has been 40 years since the events of the original Halloween film, and masked serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney) has been safely locked away under the watchful eye of prison psychiatrist Dr Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). True crime podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) plan on interviewing both Michael and the survivor of his murderous rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Laurie has spent the last four decades in constant fear and paranoia of Michael’s return. This has put a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who is married to Ray (Toby Huss) and has a daughter of her own, Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Michael escapes and returns to his old stomping grounds of Haddonfield on Halloween night, Laurie’s worst fears are realised. Even though Laurie has prepared to face Michael again, there’s no telling what terrors will unfold with Michael back on the loose.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-hand-through-door

The Halloween franchise has a storied, messy past. John Carpenter’s 1978 original is considered one of the finest horror films ever made, and kickstarted a wave of slasher movies in the 80s. Through multiple instalments, the Halloween films tended to lose sight of what made the first one so good. This movie ignores all the sequels, functioning as if it were only the second film in the series. This has been done before: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later ignored the films after Halloween II.

Any franchise that’s been around as long as Halloween has, especially a horror franchise, will eventually find itself wading into silliness. What once was terrifying devolves into self-parody, and eventually martial arts fights with Busta Rhymes ensue. Director/co-writer David Gordon Green and co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride strip Halloween back to basics in a satisfying, terrifying entry that stays true to the spirit of the original while having a propulsive energy of its own.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-behind-Michael-Myers

Green nails the sense of foreboding, the fear of what might be lurking around every corner, in every doorway and corridor, that is a key factor in establishing the nail-biting tension a good Halloween movie must possess. John Carpenter returns to the score the film alongside son Cody and Daniel Davies; the iconic Halloween theme remaining one of the best pieces of film music ever written. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds employs light and shadow to dramatic effect, while Tim Alverson’s editing ratchets up the tension that much more. This looks and feels like Halloween, but there’s an urgency to this movie and it doesn’t come off as an artefact or a hollow exercise in nostalgia.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-cleaning-gun

In revisiting the Laurie Strode role in Halloween H20, Curtis wanted to explore the effects that the trauma of Laurie’s run-in with Michael would have. She gets to dig even deeper here, and Laurie in this movie is essentially Sarah Connor, a woman who has dedicated her entire existence to preparing for Michael’s return, at the expense of her interpersonal relationships. The film’s depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder is compelling and heart-rending, and Curtis doesn’t phone this in at all. It’s a Halloween sequel worthy of the character, and a lot of the film is about Laurie’s arduous personal quest to reclaim what Michael stole from her. There’s also the implication that in fighting a monster, Laurie has become something of a monster herself, with some shots mirroring ones from the original film, but with Laurie and Michael swapping places.

Halloween-Judy-Greer-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-1

While many Halloween fans might bemoan Danielle Harris’ absence from the film, and how Laurie’s daughter from Halloween 4 has been overwritten by a different character, Greer puts in a great performance. She’s disarming and naturally funny, but Karen is hurt and, in her own way, traumatised by what her mother has put her through – Greer conveys this ably.

Halloween-Andi-Matichak

Matichak might well be a breakout star after this film. Allyson is a believable teenager but never annoying, and it’s interesting to see what traits she might have inherited from her grandmother. The film is at its best when grandmother, daughter and granddaughter play off each other. This is a film about legacy and an entry in a franchise with a legacy all its own, so the device of Michael tormenting multiple generations is a potent one.

Halloween-Michael-Myers-through-car-door

Castle returns as Michael, sharing the role with stunt performer James Jude Courtney. This is Michael as horror fans remember him, and just like in the original Halloween, some of the most terrifying moments are Michael just lurking in the corner, standing still. There are several exceedingly brutal kills, but the gore never takes precedence over the sense of dread.

Bilginer’s performance is a little broader than some of the others, but it works, since he’s playing a man whose obsession with serial killers has perhaps spilled over from being purely professional.

Halloween-Michael-Myers-in-closet

2018 is the year in which Jim from The Office directed and starred in one of the finest suspense horror movies in recent memory, A Quiet Place. Now, 2018 can also lay claim to being the year in which the team behind Pineapple Express, Your Highness and Eastbound & Down brought the Halloween franchise back to life in a big way. Now just don’t muck it up with further sequels.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

First Man review

FIRST MAN

Director : Damien Chazelle
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Brian D’Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith, Ciarán Hinds
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 18 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Call it ‘La La Moon Landing’: Damien Chazelle, the youngest winner of the Best Director Oscar, trains his sights on NASA’s quest to put the first man on the moon in this biopic.

It is 1961 and civillian test pilot Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is accepted into NASA Astronaut Group 2. Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler), NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office, emphasises how the Soviet Union has beaten the US to every major milestone in the Space Race. This batch of astronauts, which also includes Ed White (Jason Clarke), David Scott (Christopher Abbott), Elliott See (Patrick Fugit), Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (Corey Stoll), among others, will take part in the Gemini Program. Gemini is NASA’s second human spaceflight program, and the tests conducted during the Gemini missions will lead to the Apollo Program, which aims to put a man on the moon.

The training is physically and mentally demanding, and the risk is high – several of the astronauts whom Neil becomes close to die in failed missions. This takes a toll on Neil’s wife Janet (Claire Foy), who fears that their children Rick (Gavin Warren and Luke Winters at different ages) and Mark (Paul Haney and Connor Blodgett at different ages) will be left without a father. NASA faces scrutiny and pressure in the aftermath of their high-profile failures, as many across the nation question the cost of the Space Race in dollars and in lives. This culminates in Neil, Buzz and Michael forming the crew of Apollo 11, with Neil becoming the first man to step foot on the lunar surface.

Following in the grand tradition of historical dramas about the Space Program like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, First Man is an awards contender that hopes to also thrill audiences. Chazelle works from a script by Spotlight and The Post co-writer Josh Singer, who adapted history professor James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. First Man combines a documentary-like feel marked by lots of grainy verité handheld shots with grand cinematic spectacle, and it’s a balance that mostly works.

There are bits of First Man that do feel a bit dry, but the film does a fine job of covering the history and an even better job of putting audiences inside the spacecraft alongside the astronauts. Before the Gemini 8 mission takes off, we get close-up shots of all the rivets and bolts inside the capsule as it creaks on the launchpad – if just one tiny thing fails, it all goes up in smoke. First Man contains some of the most realistic depictions of spaceflight ever put on screen, and endeavours to shed light on the people who made the achievements of the Space Program possible.

Chazelle reunites with several collaborators from La La Land, including cinematographer Linus Sandgren and composer Justin Hurwitz, who also scored Whiplash. The 16 mm and 35 mm film stock give the film an authentic period feel, while the moon landing sequence is presented in all its 70 mm IMAX glory. There is careful attention to detail in capturing the specifics of the ‘60s NASA setting, and production designer Nathan Crowley’s reproductions of the spacecraft and facilities is entirely convincing.

The backlash against the film for omitting the moment in which the American flag is planted on the moon seems like a mountain out of a lunar molehill. The decision to leave this well-known part of the moon landing out seems to stem from a desire to pare back the iconography of this historical moment and focus the story into something personal, giving the movie an honesty and a rawness.

Gosling anchors the film with a quiet, well-considered performance. The film characterises Neil Armstrong as someone who’s intelligent and earnest, but who is not especially well-equipped to process the grief that befalls him and those he cares about all too often. He is consumed by his work and driven to succeed, while it looks like everything around him is in danger of crumbling away. There’s an earnestness and intensity that Gosling dials to just the right level.

Foy’s Janet Armstrong is stern but caring, and her take on the role is a lot more than “worried wife back home”. Her relationship with Neil underscores how the astronauts are people with their own lives, and that serving the higher call of the Space Program comes at the expense of those lives.

The film’s supporting cast, including Clarke, Chandler and Ciarán Hinds, all give serious, unassuming ‘character actor’-type performances. Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin is characterised as someone who’s not exactly likeable, and this is something Stoll visibly enjoys playing.

First Man is a finely crafted serious awards season drama, but watching it still feels a little bit like homework. The attempts to juxtapose the US’ involvement in the Space Race against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle are commendable but a little clumsy. In taking a matter-of-fact approach, the film loses some of the wonderment and awe associated with mankind “slipping the surly bonds of earth”. However, Chazelle and co. largely succeed in crafting a credible account of Neil Armstrong’s journey from the earth to the moon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kinky Boots Musical review

KINKY BOOTS

5 – 14 October
Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes – or, as it were, their patent leather stiletto boots. Kinky Boots, the musical about how changing your mind can change the world, has arrived in Singapore, and audiences are getting ready to say “yeah!”

Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, which was in turn loosely inspired by the true story of the W.J. Brooks Shoe Company in Northamptonshire. 80s rock icon Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics, her first time composing a musical, with Harvey Fierstein supplying the book.

After tryouts in Chicago in 2012, the show debuted on Broadway the next year and proceeded to win big at the Tony Awards, clinching prizes including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The Broadway and West End productions are still running. This production is the U.S. national touring company, who have been travelling around the states since September 2017, and who visited three cities in China in July 2018 before the Singapore, uh, leg of their tour.

The show is mostly set at the Price and Son shoe factory in Northampton. Charlie Price (Lance Bordelon) has just inherited the business from his father, and finds himself at a crossroads, on the brink of having to shut down the factory and fire workers he’s known all his life. A chance encounter with the fabulous drag queen Lola (Jos N. Banks) sets Charlie on a new course. Charlie learns that the boots on Lola’s heels keep snapping off, because she is wearing shoes not designed to support the weight of a man.

With a push from factory worker Lauren (Sydney Patrick), who is nursing a crush on Charlie even though he’s engaged to Nicola (Hayley Lampart), Charlie decides that from here on out, Price and Son will be serving a ‘niche market’. Some of the workers, especially the boorish Don (Adam Du Plessis), baulk at Lola and her troupe of drag queens, known as ‘the Angels’. The unlikely partners of Charlie and Lola realise that what they have in common is stronger than what they don’t and set about designing and manufacturing a range of boots to showcase at the Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

Kinky Boots has often been described as a feel-good musical, and it fits that description in the best way. Some shows that strive to be life-affirming and inspiring can come off as schmaltzy or hollow, but Kinky Boots does have something to say, and is irrepressibly joyous as it shouts its message of acceptance from the rooftops. The show touches on gender roles and identity features a clash of cultures between more conservative working-class people and the LGBT+ community.

In its plot and characters, the adaptation is very faithful to the film. While it’s flashy and energetic, Kinky Boots is also a gentle show, and serves as a great entry-level experience for audiences who might not understand or haven’t gotten into drag culture. It’s certainly less intimidating than going to a full-on drag club for the first time might be, and as such is a great gateway. There has been some debate about the mainstreaming of drag, which was once something only a marginalised community partook in, but the appreciation and enjoyment of the art form can go a long way in fostering understanding between people who seem outwardly different.

Some of the show’s songs are disco-tinged numbers that one could picture Lauper herself performing, and several are designed to get everyone in the audience tapping their toes and clapping along. There’s an infectiousness to the Act One closer “Everybody Say Yeah”, and to the rousing finale “Just Be”. However, there are also more traditional Broadway show-stoppers in which the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and belt out their feelings, like “Not My Father’s Son”, “Hold Me in Your Heart” and “Soul of a Man”.

The setting of a shoe factory might seem drab, but there’s a cleverness to David Rockwell’s scenic design which sprinkles just a bit of magic dust on a worn-in working class environment. Subtle changes in Kenneth Posner’s lighting design set the mood, and at one point, the conveyor belt splits apart into a multi-section treadmill that the performers dance and do acrobatics on. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are stars in their own right; our audience cheered and clapped each time Lola or the Angels strutted onstage in a new get-up.

Bordelon embodies the ‘straight man’ (in every sense) archetype to a tee, playing a character who is hapless but a good distance from being a bumbling idiot. Just like every performer in the show, Bordelon moves well, though he only really gets to showcase this in the very last number. He hits all the high notes but did sound a little bit nasally at our performance, perhaps as the result of a cold.

Banks eats the Lola role up with great aplomb. Just like one must while dancing in those heels, he finds the ideal balance, such that Lola is always the centre of attention but never obnoxiously so. Every gesture, step, flip of the hair that Lola does, it all informs her character and helps the audience learn who she is. During the backstage tour, we were told that on this production, Banks and all the actors playing the Angels do their own makeup. Lola’s duet with Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son”, is easily the show’s most emotional moment, with her soaring power ballad “Hold Me in Your Heart” coming in a close second.

The Angels, played by Brandon Alberto, Jordan Archibald, Eric Stanton Betts, Derek Brazeau, Ernest Terrelle Williams and Philip Stock, pull off impressive acrobatics and show off some spectacularly toned abs and thighs.

The petite Patrick proves quite the firecracker, throwing every fibre of her being into “The History of Wrong Guys”, which is one of the show’s funniest numbers. The Lauren character does fall a little too neatly into the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype, but Patrick has fun with it, over-the-top accent and all.

The other featured female role is Charlie’s demanding fiancé Nicola, who is the nominal antagonist. Some might say that the show, as the movie did before it, conflates a woman being ambitious with being pushy, but couples arguing over one party’s business decisions is something that happens often in real life.

Kinky Boots is a crowd-pleaser that is anything but pedestrian. Even though it does follow certain templates used by other musicals before, including the English working-class settings that inspired Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, Kinky Boots has a loveable personality all its own. Speed-strut, don’t walk, to the Sands Theatre now.

Jedd Jong

Photos: Sébastien Tessier/Kinky Boots

Now playing at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit the Marina Bay Sands site for tickets and more information.

There is a 16 and above advisory (some mature content)

Strut Your Stuff: Kinky Boots musical press call

STRUT YOUR STUFF

The cast and creatives of Kinky Boots discuss the award-winning musical, making its way to Singapore for the first time

By Jedd Jong

From 5 – 14 October 2018, the stage of the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Theatre will be transformed into the assembly line of the Price and Son Shoe Factory. This is the main setting of the musical Kinky Boots, adapted from the 2005 film of the same name.  The musical was first staged in Chicago in 2012 and went on to be a smash hit on Broadway and the West End, winning awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score Tony Awards. The show boasts music and lyrics by rock star Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Kinky Boots is set in Northampton, England, where Charlie Price has just inherited a shoe factory from his father. Without any ongoing contracts, the factory is about to be shut down, and Charlie finds himself at an impasse. A chance encounter with the flamboyant, assertive drag queen Lola changes both their lives. Charlie learns that the heels on Lola’s boots keep snapping, because the boots Lola wears weren’t designed to withstand a man’s weight. Charlie decides to make boots for Lola and her troupe of drag performers, changing the factory’s output from men’s dress shoes to “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex”. Charlie and Lola form an unconventional partnership, with the goal to debut a collection of boots at the prestigious Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

This production has gone to U.S. states including Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado, California and Vermont since September 2017. From June to August, the production then toured China, with stops in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. After its Singapore stint, the tour will return to the U.S., visiting states including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee.

inSing spoke to members of the cast and crew about their experience being on the road with Kinky Boots. Lance Bordelon stars as Charlie, but was not available to speak to the media at the press call. As the actor playing Lola, Jos N. Banks has most of the spotlight on him. Banks described the show as being “about love and acceptance” and said that’s why it’s been received so well.

Most of Lola’s musical numbers, especially her introductory song Land of Lola, are as bold and flashy as the drag queen herself. However, Banks’ favourite moment in the show is the song Not My Father’s Son, which showcases Lola at her most vulnerable, recalling the expectations placed on her growing up by her father. “It’s the first time in the show that the audience really gets to connect with Lola because it’s pared down,” Banks said, adding “you don’t see the big wig and costumes, you see Lola as a person, and that’s the moment you instantly connect with the audience.” The song starts off with just the piano and Banks’ voice. “There’s something very beautiful and I think there’s something very remarkable in the silence of it all,” he concluded.

Company manager Andrew Terlizzi called the show “a story that reaches everybody.” On the effect the show has had on audiences, he said “Chinese audiences who have never done drag performances themselves were inspired to come in full drag to see the show.” Terlizzi said the show had “opened [audiences’] eyes that they can be who they are”.

Wardrobe supervisor Michael Lavin oversees the show’s costumes, including those all-important boots. “We have a lot of very specific items that have to be maintained to very specific directions,” Lavin noted, adding that finding local suppliers and replacement parts when the show is on tour can be a challenge.

Dancing in said boots can seem like a formidable feat, but the performers in Kinky Boots make it look easy. “After a couple of weeks, you get used to it,” Philip Stock, who plays one of Lola’s Angels, told us. “There’s a different centre of gravity, you have to engage your core in a way you wouldn’t normally, but once you figure all that out, it’s normal,” he remarked.

Stock’s fellow Angel, Derek Brazeau, reiterated the show’s message: “just be who you want to be.” “All of us having differences is what makes us human. We’re not perfect, and I think that’s what makes us beautiful,” Brazeau said.

We spoke to the musical’s leading ladies Sydney Patrick and Hayley Lampart, who play Lauren and Nicola respectively. Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son who finds herself falling for Charlie, but there’s a complication: Charlie’s already engaged to Nicola, who can be demanding and has grown frustrated with Charlie’s mission to make boots for drag queens.

Patrick cited Everybody Say Yeah, the closing number of Act One, as her favourite part of the show. “That’s when we decide as a factory that we’re gonna go through with the plan,” Patrick said, describing the number as “just a party onstage and everyone’s dancing on the factory pieces”. The conveyor belt on the factory floor splits apart, forming individual treadmills that the factory workers dance on. “It’s scary in the beginning when you’re learning it,” Patrick said of dancing on the treadmill. “We had a gymnastics day, when everyone was learning how to flip and stuff. Now, it’s normal. It’s just fun as this point.”

Patrick recalled how her mother introduced her to the film when Patrick was a teenager. my Mum said ‘I saw this cool independent British film’ – my Mum’s all into independent films. She sat me down and made me watch it with her. It’s so amazing, and many years later, I was like ‘there’s this musical called Kinky Boots’ and she said ‘that’s the movie I showed you!’” She told us that her parents were excited and proud to see her join the cast of the show, and would travel to watch the show as it went to different locales.

Lampart recalled watching the original Broadway production while she was in college in New York City. “I went out and saw it right away because it was such a hit immediately,” she said. “Billy Porter and Stark [Sands], it was the dream cast. Annaleigh Ashford, they were so good, Lena Hall.  When I saw it, I remember being like ‘oh my god, this would be so cool to be in,’ and it’s so crazy that it happened! Here I am, in Singapore.”

Both Patrick and Lampart have performed on cruise lines: Patrick on Disney Cruises and Lampart on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Patrick described herself as a “travel addict” and enjoyed visiting the different ports of call, but there are challenges to working on a cruise ship too. They touched on the difficulty of keeping in contact with the outside world and that the nature of a cruise is that time zones keep getting crossed.

“It’s such a fast-paced life and I really like that, I think I’m very adaptable because of that,” Lampart said of working as an entertainer on a cruise ship.

The Lauren character’s solo number is a wistful lament called The History of Wrong Guys, in which she reflects on her dating past and realises she’s falling for Charlie. When asked to offer romantic advice to those who seem to keep ending up with wrong guys (and/or gals), Patrick offered “If you are authentically you, you’ll attract someone who loves you, so you don’t have to try, you don’t have to try and prove anything to anyone. I think that’s probably the best lesson to do when you’re looking for your Mr or Mrs Right”.

The life of a touring theatre performer can be an arduous one, involving eight performances a week, moving from city to city, and long periods spent away from home. However, it is one that Patrick and Lampart find rewarding.

“I think we live in a world that can be very disconnected and very impersonal because of technology, texting and social media,” Patrick said. “Hopefully people who come to see theatre witness raw emotion that they can connect with and can think ‘I’m not alone’ or ‘I’ve had that experience before’ and they can open their hearts and minds to other people’s stories.”

Lampart remarked that shows like Kinky Boots “don’t come often,” and that the show’s directors told the cast as much. “They said this show makes such an impact on people and when you walk offstage every night after the finale, you just feel the feeling of maybe, hopefully changing someone’s perspective. It’s such an amazing feeling,” she enthused.

Tickets start at $65 (not including $4 booking fee) for D Reserve Seats. Tickets are available here.

Venom review

VENOM

Director : Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze
Genre : Comics/Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Tom Hardy is his own worst enemy and maybe also his own best friend in this Marvel Comics adaptation. Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a journalist engaged to successful lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Brock has trained his sights on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an industrialist and inventor who has privately funded space exploration missions. As the head of the Life Foundation, Drake portrays himself as a benevolent force for good, but Brock suspects that Drake is secretly conducting unethical, illegal activities which have resulted in civilian deaths.

A Life Foundation spacecraft crashes on earth, and its cargo, an alien life form, escapes. This is a symbiote, which needs to bond to a host to survive. When Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist working for the Life Foundation, approaches Brock as a whistle-blower, Brock investigates and another symbiote bonds to him. This is the entity known as Venom, which manifests as a voice in Brock’s head and takes over his body, giving him enhanced strength and healing and causes him to emanate tendrils. Brock must make sense of this new unwelcome guest while uncovering the extent of Drake’s misdeeds, eventually learning to coexist with Venom and use his newfound abilities to his advantage.

There have been multiple attempts at a Venom movie, including one in the late 90s that was reportedly slated to star Dolph Lundgren, and another attempt that would have taken place within the continuity of the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Then of course there was the iteration played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, which left many fans unsatisfied.

Venom was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie, and is arguably Spider-Man’s best-known, most visually striking nemesis. The character’s origin directly involves Spider-Man – in the comics, the symbiote is a discarded alien suit worn by the web-slinging hero. As such, a Venom movie that is completely removed from Spider-Man feels like a tricky prospect. This reviewer had to remind himself that at least the symbiote’s host is still called “Eddie Brock”, unlike the Catwoman movie which starred a character named Patience Phillips, who was nothing like the Catwoman of the comics, Selina Kyle.

Venom-symbiote-Tom-Hardy-1

The film’s somewhat tormented production process has led to an odd beast. Venom is tonally weird. One would be forgiven for expecting a dark, disturbing movie – after all, the title character is a slimy alien parasite with pointy teeth and a long, icky tongue. However, what Venom most resembles is a buddy comedy. The symbiote seems characterised as the friend who’s a bad influence, pushing Eddie to do things he would rather not do. The symbiote is an obvious metaphor for the darkness deep within a person being brought to the surface, so it is somewhat baffling that the film does practically nothing with this concept.

The action sequences are moderately entertaining but not especially memorable. There’s a motorcycle chase and a sequence in which Venom takes on an entire SWAT team in a smoke-filled apartment building lobby, but any time the full-on creature takes over the action, things feel distinctly synthetic. The climactic fight is a battle between one thing made of CGI and another thing made of CGI, set against a mostly CGI backdrop.

Then, there is the PG-13 rating. A movie doesn’t have to be R-rated to be good, it doesn’t even have to be R-rated to be effectively disturbing. However, this is a movie in which the title character bites people’s heads off and impales his enemies through the torso. It’s a bit difficult to sell the viciousness when it must happen off-screen or obscured while something else is going on. That said, this movie could’ve been R-rated and still turned out limp.

Hardy is perfectly watchable in the role and tries to make something interesting out of the material. He ends up performing quite a bit of physical comedy, which seems out of place, but which he commits to. There is the sense that Hardy could have brought so much more to the table had the script allowed him to dig into the inherently unsettling nature of the bond between the Venom symbiote and its human host, but it seems the film is more interested in back-and-forth banter.

Michelle Williams is wasted as a character who isn’t too much more than the designated girlfriend, even though there is a nice nod to her character in the comics. Riz Ahmed plays a ruthless Elon Musk-type, who is at once a cartoony villain while also bland and barely menacing. Jenny Slate’s mousey scientist who might just be the one to bring the villain down seems like she might be interesting, but similarly gets little to do. While some comic book movies suffer from far too many characters, there are almost too few interesting characters at all in Venom.

The casual viewer might find Venom a passable diversion, but anyone who is particularly attached to the comics will be sorely dissatisfied. The film attempts to translate the character’s sarcasm to the screen, but lacks the acid-drenched wickedness which must accompany said sarcasm. The result is a relatively safe movie about a character who should always feel at least a little dangerous. Director Ruben Fleischer’s best film remains Zombieland, so perhaps comedy is where he should focus his efforts. There is a goofiness to Venom that is strongly reminiscent of comic book movies made when the filmmakers making them hadn’t fully figured things out yet: a bit of Spawn here, a bit of the 2002 Hulk movie there.

Stick around for a mid-credits tag which hints as sequel – as mediocre as this outing is, we’d be darned if we didn’t want to see a sequel make good on what this scene promises. There’s also a sneak peek at a forthcoming movie at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

A Star Is Born (2018) review

A STAR IS BORN

Director : Bradley Cooper
Cast : Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Rafi Gavron, Greg Grunberg, Michael Hanley
Genre : Drama/Romance/Musical
Run Time : 135 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : M18

It’s a tale of love, loss and rock and roll: A familiar story is given a new lease of life by star/director Bradley Cooper and his leading lady Lady Gaga in this musical romantic drama.

Cooper plays hard-drinking rock star Jackson Maine, whose years on the road and life of excess have left him numb. Jackson finds new meaning in life when he chances upon Ally (Lady Gaga), a young singer performing at a dive bar. Jackson decides to take Ally under his wing and invites her onstage to sing a song she wrote with him at his concert. Jackson and Ally fall madly in love, but Jackson’s demons haunt their relationship, as prominent producer and Ally’s new manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) tussles with Jackson for control of the rising talent’s career.

A Star is Born is the third remake of the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The film was subsequently remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A third remake of the classic film has been in the works for a while, with actors including Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio variously linked to the project. Clint Eastwood was going to make the film with Beyoncé. Considering the previous well-known iterations of the story and the somewhat bumpy production process, one would be forgiven for fearing a messy result.

Those fears are firmly assuaged with a film that has a linear, uncomplicated plot, but is inhabited by characters who feel like real people and whom audiences will care about. Praise has been heaped onto both Cooper and Gaga, who prove deserving of said praise. This does not feel like the work of a first-time filmmaker, and Cooper directs with a clear-eyed confidence. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique, oft-collaborator of Darren Aronofsky, contributes to the balance of the dreamlike and gritty, real atmospheres which entwine hypnotically.

This a movie about music, so it lives or dies by the soundtrack. Thankfully, the songs are great and do help in moving the story along. Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, and his band The Promise of the Real appear as Jackson Maine’s band. Nelson also served as Cooper’s ‘authenticity consultant’ and co-wrote the song Black Eyes. Lady Gaga co-wrote many of the film’s songs, including the signature track Shallow, a passionate, soaring duet.

Gaga’s hordes of little monsters across the world already know she’s talented, and while she has appeared in movies and on TV before, Gaga displays a side of herself we haven’t yet seen in this revelatory performance. While Lady Gaga has been an established pop star for a decade, she convincingly portrays a fresh-faced ingenue who undergoes a whirlwind transformation into a musical sensation. It’s an incandescent performance refreshingly free of vanity that lets Gaga showcase the full range of her artistry without coming off as self-indulgent.

Cooper’s performance as a shambling rock star who is a shadow of his former self is eminently sympathetic. We gradually learn bits of Jackson’s tragic back-story and through his heated interactions with manager/older brother Bobby, see how Jackson’s self-destructive tendencies wear on those around him. The character is constantly burning bridges and trying to put out the resulting fires. Cooper draws on his own struggles with substance abuse earlier in his career, making this a personal, raw performance. Cooper also has a lovely singing voice that’s very apt for the type of character he’s playing. Cooper cast his own (absolutely adorable) dog Charlie in the film.

The supporting cast, including comedian Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father Lorenzo and Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s friend Noodle, all bring authentic, endearing performances to the fore. Musical theatre star Anthony Ramos is a joyous presence as Ally’s friend and co-worker Ramon but doesn’t get to sing. Rafi Gavron’s Rez comes off as a little flat by comparison, the manager character being the most one-note.

While the palpable chemistry between the leads carries this a long way, A Star is Born does demand a level of suspension of disbelief. Ally’s meteoric rise through the industry is almost too good to be true, and we rarely see Jackson and Ally’s relationship from the outside – in real life, gossip and speculation from fans and the media is sure to weigh at least a little on the romance.

There are many moments when the movie veers too close to all-out melodrama – it seems like Gaga is willing to go there, while Cooper reins things in. Co-writer Will Fetters’ credits include the syrupy Nicholas Sparks adaptations or Sparks-esque romances Remember Me, The Lucky One and The Best of Me, and some vestiges of that remain. Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Cooper rewrote Fetters’ initial draft. The movie’s ending plunges head-first into schmaltz, but by then, A Star is Born has earned the right to be shamelessly manipulative.

The rapturous reviews and deafening Oscar buzz are in danger of over-hyping A Star is Born by a little, but there is still plenty to admire. This is a film that will make audiences hungrily expect Cooper’s next directorial effort and Gaga’s next starring role. It’s a story that’s been told before, but this heady, emotional, heartfelt take on it proves that in the right hands, stars can indeed be reborn.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong