Avengers: Endgame review

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action/Superhero
Run Time : 3 hours 1 minute
Opens : 24 April 2019
Rating : PG13

The following review is spoiler-free.

Following the catastrophic events of Avengers: Infinity War, earth’s mightiest heroes have been crushed. Thanos (Josh Brolin) achieved his goal, wiping out half of all living creatures in existence. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) are all reeling from this loss.

Our heroes must regroup to fight to restore what was so cruelly taken from them. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who was thought to have been among the decimated, was lost in the Quantum Realm. He returns, meeting the surviving Avengers to tell them he might have an idea. What follows is an epic mission to mend what has been broken, one that will take its toll on the Avengers, but a mission which they must complete.

Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the Infinity Saga, a 22-movie cycle comprising the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a lot on this movie’s shoulders, since it must address the events of Infinity War and function as a satisfying conclusion to the first 11 years of MCU movies. There will be MCU movies after this, of course: Spider-Man: Far From Home is being released in July. However, audiences know Avengers: Endgame must be far from just another MCU movie, and it is.

The ending of Avengers: Infinity War was an audacious mic-drop, a cliffhanger which audiences had to wait a year to see the resolution of. The villain won: it was like The Empire Strikes Back, but orders of magnitude more devastating for the heroes. The intervening year was filled with speculation and theories. Avengers: Endgame packs in the surprises and twists and turns from the very beginning of its three-hour runtime. It’s an extremely clever piece of writing from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and a massive logistical ordeal overseen by directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

Without going into any details about the plot, it reminded me of how Eric Heisserer described writing The Thing (2011). That film was a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name, and writing it involved reverse-engineering specific aspects of that film to show audiences how things got to that point. Heisserer called it “doing it by autopsy”. The writing of Avengers: Endgame must have been a similar process.

This is a movie which is constructed to reward fans who have stuck with the franchise since the beginning. It is mostly fan-service, but “fan-service” has taken on such derisive connotations that it hardly seems fair to call it that. This is a movie which will break box office records and it’s absolutely not a standalone movie – audiences are expected to have a strong familiarity with not just Infinity War, but practically every single MCU movie preceding that, because many of the character arcs trace their way back to the beginning. It’s no coincidence that after Thanos’ snap, the original six team members who formed the group seen in The Avengers remain.

The characters of the MCU and their journeys have earned considerable cache with audiences, and Endgame is intent on leveraging that for maximum effect. By turns heart-rending and triumphant, there are moments in this film which will feel like moments that fans have been waiting for ages to see onscreen, and other moments that are so sad, fans will hope they never had to witness. The film does tend towards the melodramatic, but perhaps this is justified given the operatic scale of the MCU.

The MCU’s original trinity of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all figure heavily into the plot. Endgame sees Tony taking the loss of Infinity War especially hard, while Steve finds his usual optimism flagging in the aftermath of the snap. Some of the film’s best, most honest moments are quiet dialogue scenes, including when Steve participates in a support group meeting for people coping with the loss of their loved ones in the decimation. The gigantic battle sequences, while cheer-worthy, can feel a little bloated and synthetic as they are in many lesser comic book movies.

While there is a necessary bleakness to Endgame, there are still moments of levity which, unlike in many earlier MCU movies, do not infringe on the emotional heft. The MCU started out with Iron Man, a movie which depicted fanciful technology, but was a safe distance from all-out sci-fi or fantasy. Things have changed since then, characters from the cosmic and mythic corners of the MCU openly interacting with the earth-bound ones. “I get emails from a raccoon, so nothing sounds crazy to me anymore,” Natasha remarks.

Avengers: Endgame is about a clash between good and evil on a cosmic scale, promising blockbuster spectacle and expensive entertainment. While it delivers all that, its greatest asset is its soul. It’s a movie about endings and beginnings, the past and the future and about parents and children. It’s a movie about what we take with us and what we leave behind. There is tremendous catharsis to Endgame and it’s a testament to how Marvel studios constructed something objectively impressive with the MCU, but above all it’s a “thank you” to viewers who have joined the characters on the journey.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Hellboy (2019) review

HELLBOY

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast : David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, Alastair Petrie
Genre : Action/Horror/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hours
Opens : 11 April 2019
Rating : M18/PG13

           Last seen on the big screen in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the antihero with the shorn-off horns returns from the fiery depths in this regrettable reboot.

Hellboy/Anung Un Rama (David Harbour) is a demon who came to earth as the result of a Nazi experiment in World War II and was adopted and raised by Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Bruttenholm founded the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD), a secretive agency that protects earth from supernatural threats. Hellboy, who was destined to bring about mankind’s destruction, fights to prevent it instead.

Vivienne Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the bloodthirsty sorceress defeated by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), is resurrected with the help of the humanoid pig beast Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Nimue sets her sights on Hellboy, attempting to seduce him to join her side and turn against humanity. Hellboy is assisted in his quest by the clairvoyant Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and BPRD agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who suppresses his own horrific supernatural abilities.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of this reviewer’s favourite comic book films. It is a pity that director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman were not given the opportunity to conclude that trilogy. Del Toro’s many gifts as a filmmaker include a meticulous visual sense, a knack for world-building and an emphasis on heart, all elements this reboot is sorely wanting for. There are enough superficial similarities with del Toro’s two Hellboy films to actively invite comparisons, none of which are favourable.

The Hellboy character was created by Mike Mignola, and this film purports to hew closer to the horror elements of the comics, taking inspiration from the arcs Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury. While this is certainly more violent and gorier than del Toro’s take on the material, that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Director Neil Marshall seems like the natural candidate for the material, given his background in British horror films like The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Doomsday. While he seems to be aiming for a pulpy B-movie quality which comes through sporadically, there’s very little in Hellboy to really care about. Much of the story is told in reams of exposition, and flashbacks that establish each new character feel like distracting detours. There’s little mystique or creepiness to the occult elements of the story, such that suspension of disbelief isn’t earned.

In Singapore, the film is being released simultaneously in M18 and edited PG13 cuts. We saw the PG13 version, which is obviously and awkwardly hacked to pieces. If you’re watching this at all, do not watch the PG13 cut. It’s still gory and three uses of the F-word make it intact in the dialogue, which seems puzzling. We’re not sure how much better the M18 cut is, we’re willing to bet not much.

Guillermo del Toro’s deep love for movie monsters meant that there was something fascinating about each of the creatures seen in his movies, something in their design and the way they were brought to life by suit performers and special effects. This Hellboy movie gives us vampires, giants, fairies, zombies, pig-men, jaguar beasts and all assortment of monsters, but they rarely feel convincing and often come across as synthetic and goofy. There isn’t much scale to this movie even though it wants to be an epic, rollicking adventure, and what should be exciting is rendered frenetic instead. Baba Yaga (Troy James and Emma Tate) is a legitimately creepy monster, though, thanks mostly to the prosthetic makeup effects used to bring the crone to life.

David Harbour will be the target of much of the ire of fans who have grown attached to Ron Perlman’s take on Big Red, but this reviewer is hesitant to blame him. Harbour, known as Sheriff Hopper from Stranger Things, does the best with the material he’s given and overhauled his physique to play Hellboy. Despite the name “Hellboy”, the character is a grown man, and that’s the biggest issue with this take – the character comes across as whiny rather than conflicted about where his allegiances lie. The sweetness and likeability that should lie just beneath the crimson surface are all but absent.

One of the movie’s big missteps is in depicting the relationship between Hellboy and his adoptive father Bruttenholm. There is no tenderness or affection, only shouting and pointing fingers, such that it’s hard to believe Bruttenholm ever really loved Hellboy. The emotional core of the movie should be that a man decided to adopt a baby monster he was meant to kill. McShane brings gruffness and gravitas to the part, as is his wont, but there isn’t much in the relationship to get invested in.

The one thing in this movie that seemed most enticing was the prospect of Milla Jovovich as a villainess – while she tends to be stiff in action hero roles, Jovovich can be delightfully over-the-top as evil characters. There is a bit of that here, but Nimue is mostly flat and never registers as a truly powerful malevolent force.

Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim attempt to inject personality into their supporting roles, but the things about their respective characters that are interesting are barely explored, while their back-stories are over-explained.

There was every chance that a Hellboy reboot could be done well, and there are tiny indications here of what could’ve been. There are still serviceable moments of action horror and while the jokes are more miss than hit, the general tone is fine. The bits of the film involving Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church) are the most entertaining. Unfortunately, it adds up to a disappointing whole, such that the sequel-bait ending and post-credits scenes feel awfully over-confident.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Shazam! review

SHAZAM!

Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast : Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Jovan Armand, Ian Chen
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 h 12 mins
Opens : 4 April 2019
Rating : PG

Created in 1939 by Artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, Captain Marvel, later known as Shazam, was the first superhero to make it to the big screen with 1941’s Republic Serial named Adventures of Captain Marvel. The character returns to cinemas 78 years later in Shazam!

            Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old orphan whom the ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) endows with his powers. Billy now can transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) when he shouts the magic word “Shazam!”. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a superhero aficionado who helps Billy gain mastery over his powers and develop his superhero identity.

In the meantime, physicist Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) hunts down Shazam, wielding the power of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana believes he was the wizard’s rightful champion. Billy must adjust to both his existence as Shazam and life in the group home alongside Freddy and his other foster siblings, Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman).

Let’s get the naming thing out of the way: Captain Marvel was originally published by Fawcett Comics and was a top-selling superhero comic, even outselling Superman. DC Comics sued Fawcett for copyright infringement, alleging the character was a copy of Superman. Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics in 1953, then in 1972, DC licensed Captain Marvel and related characters from Fawcett, fully integrating the characters into the DC universe by 1991. The named “Captain Marvel” had been copyrighted by Marvel Comics, who introduced their version of Captain Marvel in 1967. When DC relaunched with the New 52 in 2011, the character was renamed Shazam. Long story short, the rivalry between the Captain Marvel movie and the Shazam! movie is completely pointless and doesn’t need to exist.

A Shazam! movie has been in development since the early 2000s, with the production of other DC Comics movies throwing various spanners in the works. In this final form, directed by David F. Sandberg from a screenplay by Henry Gayden, Shazam! is a movie that remembers superheroes were originally created for children. This doesn’t mean that the film is an overly cuddly, toothless affair, and there still are scenes that might frighten younger viewers, but Shazam! takes the concept that its titular hero is a kid in an adult superhero’s body and runs with it.

It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe had stumbled multiple times, and Shazam! marks the franchise’s firmest rejection of the tone it exhibited in its earlier entries. This reviewer still enjoys Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad to varying degrees despite the overall criticism those films received, but it became clear that what general audiences perceived as an enforced grimness had become an albatross around the franchise’s neck. Justice League adopted the Avengers formula but came off as hastily reassembled and half-baked. Shazam! is light-hearted, affably goofy and zany without coming off as manic. It’s not exactly a superhero epic and is often more amiable than awe-inspiring, but the approach works well for the character.

Shazam is a character who’s been nicknamed “the Big Red Cheese”, and Zachary Levi embodies a kid’s sense of wonderment and being overwhelmed, having an enormous amount of fun in the role. Levi is a champion of geek culture, having created the Nerd Machine lifestyle brand and starred in the TV series Chuck. He also played Fandral in two Thor films, though it’s easy to forget that. As Shazam, Levi has eagerness to spare and lights up the screen whenever he’s on it.

Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer share plenty of chemistry as bickering foster brothers. As Billy Batson, there’s a sadness that Angel carries around, a sadness Billy sheds when he transforms into Shazam. Grazer plays a fanboy, and in an age when fanboys can be annoying and often actively toxic, such that ‘fanboy’ is often a pejorative, it’s nice to see an endearing fanboy portrayed in a superhero movie.

Mark Strong’s Sinestro was one of the best parts of 2011’s Green Lantern movie, and he plays another DC villain here. He plays it completely straight – Sivana is ruthless and powerful and commands the terrifying and grotesque demons who personify the Seven Deadly Sins. The character is strictly one-dimensional even when given bits of back-story, but an archetypical superhero needs an archetypical supervillain and Strong is the best man for the job.

Shazam! is very much a movie about family, and there’s a warmth to the scenes of a foster family that carries on DC’s lineage of superheroes being adopted as children. This element of the story is taken straight from the New 52 Shazam! run. The movie’s feel-good moments might come off as a bit too pat, but there’s enough sincerity to paper over that. Grace Fulton and Faithe Herman are the standouts as the big sister of the bunch and the slightly hyper little sister respectively.

Shazam! is much more modest in scale than Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the two DCEU films generally considered good (the former more so than the latter), are. It is pretty much Big as a superhero movie – there’s even an homage to the classic floor piano scene. Shazam! fully embraces the outre elements of the comics, going all in on the magic and never straining to make things ‘grounded’ or ‘realistic’. It remains to be seen just how cohesive the DCEU will be or even needs to be going forward, but it’s good to know that while the darker stories have their place, there’s room for movies like Shazam! too.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dumbo (2019) review

DUMBO

Director: Tim Burton
Cast : Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, DeObia Oparei
Genre : Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 52 mins
Opens : 28 March 2019
Rating : PG

           This year, we’ll be getting several live-action remakes of Disney animated features – or, to be pedantic, a photo-realistic CGI remake with The Lion King. The House of Mouse kicks off the 2019 slate of remakes with Dumbo.

It is 1919 and Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has returned from World War I, having lost his left arm in the battle. Holt and his late wife Annie were trick riders in the circus. Holt returns to the circus, run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), to find they have run into hard times. An elephant acquired by Medici gives birth to a baby elephant with abnormally large ears. The baby, named Jumbo Jr. and nicknamed Dumbo, is forcefully separated from his mother. Holt’s young children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) discover Dumbo can fly.

The story of the amazing flying elephant attracts the attention of entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who buys out Medici’s circus. The circus performers, including Dumbo, relocate to Vandevere’s sprawling theme park Dreamland. Vandevere has Dumbo perform alongside trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green). While Medici is initially swayed by Vandevere, he and the other circus performers eventually discover that Vandevere is exploiting them and is exploiting Dumbo in particular. Holt, Milly and Joe hatch a plan to free Dumbo and reunite him with his mother.

Disney’s live-action remakes have sometimes been criticised for being too literal – 2017’s Beauty and the Beast comes to mind. A remake should put enough of a spin on the original such that it doesn’t lose its spirit, but still feels transformative enough to be worthwhile. Dumbo largely achieves this with its story focusing on new human characters, while keeping the titular baby elephant as its emotional centre. Thankfully, elements from the original such as the racist crows are jettisoned, and this film’s message of inclusivity feels more genuine than that espoused by fellow circus movie The Greatest Showman.

Tim Burton’s sensibilities might not seem like the best fit for a family-friendly Disney film, and his attempts at family-aimed movies do tend to be inadvertently horrifying. However, Dumbo benefits from the distinct visual stylisation that Burton brings to it, and is also very much a story about outsiders, which is familiar territory for the director. Dumbo’s big ears, the thing for which he is mocked, are also the source of his special abilities. It’s not quite Edward Scissorhands, but one can see the connection there. There are times when it feels like this isn’t exactly a passion project for Burton and that he’s very much a hired gun, but then again, it’s easy to overdose on Burton-ness and for him to lapse into self-parody, which he stays a safe distance from here.

A lot rides on the shoulders of the titular pachyderm – if audiences believe the wholly computer-generated creation as a living, breathing character, then it’s easy to empathise with him and to feel sad when bad things befall him. The visual effects are supervised by Richard Stammers, and while Dumbo might look a bit unnatural in stills and posters, the result is successful. The human characters do a lot of interacting with Dumbo, which is mostly seamless. This is a movie in which the title character is only added into the film in post-production, and there isn’t an actor performing motion capture on set like with the Planet of the Apes reboot series or Alita: Battle Angel.

In addition to the synthetic main character, the human cast is a big part of what makes Dumbo work. There was a period in Colin Farrell’s career when Hollywood was pushing him as an action hero, and he’s much better as characters like Holt – quiet, tortured characters who are still noble, they’re just not spouting one-liners. Farrell brings a pensive sadness to Holt, who is handicapped after fighting in the war and is struggling to raise his two children after the death of his wife.

Michael Keaton is having heaps of fun as the slimy P.T. Barnum analogue. His villainous character is never truly terrifying and isn’t half as terrifying as Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s also the irony of a slick huckster who swallows up a smaller business being the villain in a Disney movie, given that Disney regularly swallows up slightly smaller businesses.

DeVito brings humour and heart to the role of Medici, someone who cares for his employees but who is struggling to make ends meet. The film hints that the circus performers have lives and personalities beyond their gimmick – Roshan Seth’s snake charmer character Pramesh Singh cares deeply for the elephants, while DeObia Oparei’s strong man character Rongo is also Medici’s accountant and general right-hand man.

Eva Green has become something of a muse of Burton’s, this being her third film with him. She brings elegance and mystique to the role of Colette, whom Vandevere keeps firmly under his thumb.

Nico Parker gives an assured performance as Milly, who has her heart set on becoming a scientist. She’s a girl ahead of her time, aspiring to something more than being a circus performer. Milly’s brother Joe is a bit less defined as a character, but Finley Hobbins is still quite endearing.

While Dumbo sometimes feels just a bit too conventional, it is a moving, often enchanting take on the classic animated film. The film benefits from just enough of Burton’s signature weirdness and darkness while still being something for the whole family.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Us review

US

Director: Jordan Peele
Cast : Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1 h 57 mins
Opens : 21 March 2019
Rating : NC16

            It took many a while to wrap their heads around the fact that Jordan Peele, best known as one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, has become a modern-day master of horror. His feature film directorial debut Get Out was hailed as a game-changer and won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. Now, Peele is back to frighten us with Us.

The film centres on Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family: husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex). They’re on vacation at their Santa Cruz beach house, meeting their friends Josh (Tim Heidecker) and Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) Tyler, who have twin daughters Gwen (Cali Sheldon) and Maggie (Noelle Sheldon). On their first night at the beach house, Adelaide and Gabe discover strangers standing in their driveway. These strangers, known as ‘the Tethered’, look exactly like them. Their arrival unleashes a string of eerie, chaotic occurrences, with the family fighting for their lives to defeat their evil duplicates.

There’s something inherently unsettling in the concept of a doppelgänger: nobody knows us better than we know ourselves, so coming face to face with someone who is physically identical to oneself but otherwise a complete stranger does inspire paranoia. Writer-director Peele, who is presenting the new Twilight Zone reboot, was inspired by the episode “Mirror Image” from the original Twilight Zone series.

While Get Out was a horror comedy which was heavy on the social commentary, Peele set out to make what is tonally a more traditional horror movie. There are still several well-placed jokes, but Us is primarily a masterclass in mood setting. The atmospherics are full-on creepy and there are many tense, disturbing moments which Peele plays to the hilt. The score by Michael Abels packs in the Bernard Hermann-esque shrieking strings but is a safe distance away from a cliched horror movie soundtrack.

There’s still a deeper underlying message, one that is deliberately vague and open to interpretation. The Tethered could represent the oppressed lower castes of society, with their counterparts oblivious to their existence and their plight until a violent uprising occurs. Peele has stated that the movie is not specifically about race, so perhaps it’s mainly about class. There’s a lot of symbolism which you can bet will be eagerly dissected by casual viewers and film students alike.

Peele displays a keen awareness of iconography. Enduring horror movie villains can often be tied to specific props, costumes or physical attributes, be it Jason Voorhees’ machete and ski mask or Leatherface’s human skin mask and chainsaw. In Us, the Tethered have those red jumpsuits and very pointy gold scissors – this is destined to be a popular Halloween costume. The actors enjoy playing up the creepiness of the Tethered, but not so much that the characters become caricatures.

Nyong’o does a lot of heavy lifting and is excellent in her dual roles as Adelaide and her Tethered counterpart Red. Adelaide struggles with deep-seated trauma from an incident in her childhood, and when the attack happens, is frightened but ultimately capable. As Red, Nyong’o essays an off-kilter physicality, walking about swiftly and with her back ramrod straight. As either character, she remains focused and determined and is a big part of why Us works.

Winston Duke, who like Nyong’o also co-starred in Black Panther, plays a character who’s prone to dad jokes and is a little silly, but who’s also always ready to step up and protect his family.

It’s always a little tricky putting kids in horror movies, because placing children in peril for the sake of a few scares can feel manipulative. That, and kids in horror movies tend to be annoying. Shahadi Wright Joseph’s Zora is the teenager prone who’s on her phone all the time and prone to an eye roll or two, while Evan Alex’s Jason very much lives in his own world. Wright Joseph has perfected the creepy smile as Zora’s double Umbrae, while Jason’s double is a pyromaniac feral child.

Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss provide some laughs, but the film’s focus is trained squarely on the Wilsons. A sequence set in the Tyler’s luxurious house is one of the film’s more intense and viscerally scary moments.

Us is a film that is deliberately frustrating in parts, with somewhat-obtuse symbolism scattered about. However, even without subjecting the movie to rigorous meta-analysis, it works as a horror film and it’s clear that it’s meticulously crafted. Peele is a filmmaker with something to say and enough style to say it engagingly, so we’re looking forward to his upcoming Candyman reboot and whatever else he has up his sleeve.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Soldiers of Fortune: Triple Frontier cast and producer in Singapore

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE: TRIPLE FRONTIER CAST AND PRODUCER IN SINGAPORE

Stars Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven talk Netflix’s paramilitary action thriller

Jedd Jong

Netflix is bringing a rumble in the jungle into audiences’ living rooms with Triple Frontier, and the film’s stars and producer trekked from the deepest forests of South America to Singapore to promote the film. Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven met fans at Marina Bay Sands and fielded questions from the press the next day.

The film centres on five men, Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund) and Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal). The ex-top tier military operatives, feeling frustrated that they have reaped nothing from their service, reunite for a mission. This time, they’re doing it for themselves. The men embark on a daring heist in the remote tri-border zone along the border of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil (hence the title), planning to rob a drug kingpin and keep the spoils for themselves. Despite the years of combat experience between them, unforeseen circumstances endanger the risky undertaking, leaving the men battling for their lives in unforgiving climes.

Triple Frontier is directed by J.C. Chandor and co-written by Chandor and Mark Boal. Chandor’s credits include All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year, and Boal is a former journalist who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the two latter films, was originally attached to Triple Frontier. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were initially announced as being in talks to join the film, with Channing Tatum, Tom Hardy and Mahershala Ali later attached. The film was originally set up at Paramount, before moving to Netflix. “It was quite a trek of its own getting it made,” Roven quipped.

From the get-go, Triple Frontier was gruelling for those both in front of and behind the camera. The film was shot on location in Oahu, Hawaii, Mammoth Mountain, California, and Bogota, Colombia. “So much of the movie was done very real, not on a soundstage, not with a lot of visual effects,” Roven said. Roven has produced films including the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman and American Hustle. “In addition, the elements were not always very kind to us,” Roven added, citing “historic rain” during the shoot in Hawaii. “We were sloshing around in mud and mudslides, and a lot of times it took us a long time to get to work. Once we were at work, we were in flood conditions and things like that,” he recalled, remarking “The movie is exciting to watch, but it was also exciting to make.”

The actors spoke about the preparation they undertook for the film, which included training with three former Navy SEALs and a former Delta Force operative in California’s Simi Valley. Charlie Hunnam spoke about how the actors were flung into the thick of things, saying “We didn’t know each other, I hadn’t met Ben before, or Pedro or Oscar, and within 30 minutes of meeting each other we were standing doing live fire exercises.”

Hunnam said that using live rounds helped the actors focus on their task and reminded them that it wasn’t a game. “The thing you hear time and time again from these soldiers is that at a moment’s notice, they’re willing to lay down their life for their brother and vice versa,” Hunnam shared.

Hunnam and Hedlund have been friends for 15 years, and because the actors have a passing physical resemblance, it was written into the script that their characters are brothers. Hedlund’s character Ben becomes an MMA fighter after retiring from active duty. Hunnam helped Hedlund prepare for the role by taking Hedlund to a gym called The Academy in Beverly Hills, which is run by Rigan Machado, known as one of the top competitors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu history. Machado’s other
celebrity students include Vin Diesel, Ashton Kutcher and Chuck Norris. “I choked [Hedlund] out a little bit and showed him what it was about,” Hunnam quipped.

Hedlund is no stranger to the military, having played a soldier in six of his last eight films and having relatives who served. “My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines as an MP and never spoke of the war when he came back. My other grandfather was stationed in Germany with Elvis,” Hedlund revealed. “When I was a kid growing up on a farm, my father would walk me down the gravel road marching in cadence, because that’s what he was used to,” Hedlund continued.

He took the responsibility of playing a soldier seriously, saying “You always…give the utmost respect to the men you’re playing and never disrespect the uniform.” Hedlund stressed that the actors were careful in not rendering their ex-military characters as caricatures, saying “Everybody was very legit; we wanted the realism to stand out.”

Affleck said that meeting and working with the film’s military advisors dispelled him of some preconceived notions. “One of the misconceptions I had going into it was that they were going to be these real superhero military guys, they were going to be very aggressive and hierarchical and kind of drill sergeant bullies or something,” Affleck remarked. “Instead, they were the kindest, most open, humble [people] who taught us about…inter-reliance among each other as the most important thing.”

While it can seem that on a movie packed with stars one might want to jostle the other out of the spotlight, teamwork was key in accurately reflecting how a real-life Special Forces unit operates. “The thing they felt was most important to get across was that we would all move as one unit, one team together, rather than being about one person standing out and being the hero,” Affleck said. “I thought it was beautiful, we definitely took that to heart, and we tried to come together and make it work the way they trained us to do it.”

Affleck was conscious of the “vast delta” between his own lived experiences and those of military combat veterans. “It was a profoundly humbling experience to be around these men and understand the true nature of sacrifice and commitment and duty really was,” Affleck shared. While the film is testosterone-fuelled, making the movie was not about men trying to out-posture each other. “There really wasn’t a tremendous emphasis on hierarchy and being ‘alpha’ and being tougher than the other people,” Affleck said, adding that the film’s military advisors “educated me to understand that true strength came in compassion, in empathy and in teamwork, and I found that to be the lesson I took away from this movie.”

The actors’ preparation for the film was not just physical, but psychological as well. Hunnam’s research included reading the books War and Tribe by journalist Sebastian Junger, who was embedded with troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Junger continued to follow the soldiers after they returned from the war, observing how they adapted back to civilian life. Hunnam also watched Junger’s documentary films Restrepo and Korengal, which were made with photojournalist Tim Hetherington.  “He does a really incredible analysis of not only the psychological interplay of soldiers in war, but also the difficulty of coming home and reintegrating into civilian society, and the enormous loss that they generally feel,” Hunnam said of Junger.

Hunnam spoke of a specific example when one of the film’s military advisors stepped in to lend their expertise. “There’s a moment when I sustain an injury and of course in true Hollywood dynamic, was over-acting the moment,” Hunnam admitted. He said the military advisor “came over and gave me a couple of experiences where he himself had sustained massive injuries, and said ‘this is just a reality, you need to hold it together.’ It was amazing to get those kinds of insights in real time and make sure we were handling the situations correctly.”

On the surface, Triple Frontier might look like a typical action movie, but Roven assured the crowd that the film has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. “It is a genre that certainly others have done before, but in this particular situation and this particular script, where you think the movie is going, it doesn’t go there. It takes that genre and, in many ways, turns it on its head,” he declared.

Triple Frontier begins streaming on Netflix on March 13.

Captain Marvel review

CAPTAIN MARVEL

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast : Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Algenis Pérez Soto, Rune Temte, Akira Akbar
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 2 h 4 mins
Opens : 7 March 2019
Rating : PG13

            The Marvel Cinematic Universe is mostly set in the present day, but has taken detours to the past: Captain America: The First Avenger was set during World War II, Agent Carter was set just after World War II, flashbacks in the Ant-Man films were set in the 60s and the prologue of Guardians of the Galaxy was set in the 80s. Captain Marvel now takes us to the 90s to meet a hero who’ll be a key player in the MCU going forward.

Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is a former US Air Force fighter pilot who has been imbued with superpowers and is a part of Starforce, an elite Kree military unit. Serving under the leadership of Yonn-Rog (Jude Law), Carol, known by the Kree as “Vers”, fends off the threat of the shape-shifting Skrulls. When Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the leader of the Skrulls, sets his sights on earth, Carol finds herself defending the planet she once called home, and confronts the former existence she has forgotten.

On earth, Carol meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.). Fury’s worldview is upended by the knowledge of an impending alien invasion. In attempting to trace her past, Carol reconnects with her Air Force colleague and best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), whose daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) was especially close to Carol. A series of events leads Carol to re-evaluate where her allegiances as she realises the full potential of her cosmic powers.

Captain Marvel is the last MCU film before Avengers: Endgame arrives in a month and a half. In the post-credits stinger of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, Nick Fury pages Captain Marvel just before he disintegrates, alongside half of all life on earth. This film builds hype for Endgame and adds to the speculation of what role Captain Marvel will play in the fight against Thanos but setting it in the 90s also gives it enough distance from the other MCU films, such that it can also be its own thing.

The directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who helmed Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, is the latest example of how the MCU has shepherded filmmakers known for making smaller films, such that they acquit themselves well given the large canvas of the MCU. The Russo Brothers, James Gunn, Jon Watts and Taika Waititi achieved similar success with their MCU films.

             Captain Marvel is part space opera, part fish-out-of-water comedy, all hero’s journey. The MCU films can feel samey-samey and while this sticks to the formula in parts, there are still surprises to be had, and the film’s status as a prequel doesn’t mean that audiences are entirely ahead of the plot.

There’s a variety to the action sequences, with the space opera stuff contrasted with a car chase and a fight on an LA Metro Rail train. There are also mid-air chases and space dogfights. While the cosmic action in Captain Marvel isn’t quite as exciting or inventive as in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it’s still executed with enough flair. The 90s nostalgia is not as pandering as some audiences might have feared, and manifests in some very sly ways. The Stan Lee cameo, one of the last ones the late Marvel Comics writer filmed, is particularly clever.

While the movie is a big piece of positive PR for the U.S. Air Force, it doesn’t come off as propagandistic. Captain Marvel handles the themes of militarism and war with admirable nuance: the Kree have been locked in a protracted conflict with the Skrulls, and it turns out things are not as black and white as they first appear. It’s not the most insightful message, but it fits the story that’s being told here.

The film is character-driven, and Carol is always at its centre. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, who served as a consultant on this film and makes a cameo appearance, said “Carol falls down all the time, but she always gets back up. We say that about Captain America as well, but Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because ‘F*** you.’” Brie Larson captures this defiance, but also lends the character a sense of humour and great vulnerability. Sure, Captain Marvel eventually ends up as one of the most powerful characters in the MCU, but this movie is about her journey to that point, and she falls and gets back up again plenty of times throughout said journey.

The film has been pre-emptively smeared as a screeching screed pushing a scary agenda. It’s much ado about nothing. The sexism that Carol faces in the film is common in the real world: she gets told she’s too emotional and that she needs to smile more. The character isn’t going around bashing men in the head because men are inherently evil. There’s a roundedness to the character and the film also emphasises her friendship with Lynch’s Monica.

Goose the cat, known as Chewie in the comics, is a scene-stealer who’s allocated just enough screen time such that its presence never feels gimmicky.

We meet Nick Fury when he’s less experienced and more naïve than how we know him. This reviewer thinks Samuel L. Jackson is always more interesting to watch when he isn’t playing into the myth of him being an untouchable badass. He gets to bring a good deal of humanity and heart to Fury.

The de-aging visual effects used on Jackson work seamlessly. They’re perhaps a little more noticeable on Clark Gregg as a younger Phil Coulson, but it is good to see that character back in an MCU movie regardless.

Ben Mendelsohn has great fun with the role of Talos, a character who seems at first like yet another generic MCU villain, but who winds up being a lot more than that. Mendelsohn brings a surprising depth to the character.

Jude Law is fine as the tough mentor character Yon-Rogg, but the movie seems aware that he’s not as compelling as some of the other characters. Gemma Chan gives Minn-Erva a dangerously sexy edge, making a bit part interesting. As the corporeal manifestation of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, Annette Bening gets to play wise, funny and maybe even a bit menacing.

While Captain Marvel doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it has enough surprises up its sleeve and is built upon a solid, engaging character arc. Its combination of space opera and 90s action-comedy works. Larson says that Carol “doesn’t have anything to prove,” but Captain Marvel has proven that the titular character more than deserves a prime spot in the MCU pantheon. Stick around for two post-credits scene, one that sets up things to come, and another that’s purely comedic.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Matilda the Musical review

MATILDA THE MUSICAL

21 February – 17 March
Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

One of the most iconic heroines in children’s literature took the West End and Broadway by storm, and now she brings her brand of adorable, inspiring defiance to the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Matilda the Musical is based on the beloved 1988 Roald Dahl book of the same name, which was adapted into a film directed by Danny DeVito in 1996. This musical features a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, with original direction by Matthew Warchus. The production was developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and went on to win five Tony Awards and seven Olivier Awards. Matilda the Musical is currently tied with Hamilton as the musical with the most Olivier Awards.

The title character is a preternaturally gifted five-year-old whose talents go unnoticed by her callous and shallow parents, the Wormwoods (Stephen Jubber and Claire Taylor). Matilda finds solace in the library, where she regales the librarian Mrs Phelps (Nompumelelo Mayiyane) with stories.

Matilda begins primary school at Crunchem Hall. The school is presided over with an iron fist by the sadistic headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Ryan de Villiers), a child-hating former Olympic hammer-throwing champion. Matilda’s kindly form teacher Miss Honey (Bethany Dickson) recognises that Matilda is way ahead of her peers and wants to move her up to the Primary 5 class, something Trunchbull vehemently opposes. Matilda soon galvanises her fellow students and Miss Honey, leading a revolt in the school against Miss Trunchbull, unearthing startling secrets in the process.

The production that has arrived in Singapore is the International Tour, which originated in October 2018 in South Africa. The distinctive set design by Rob Howell, who also designed the costumes, has been retained and ingeniously adapted to tour. The set has a Scrabble tile motif, and the sometimes-messy, sometimes-garish, always-charming look fits into the show’s concept of a five-year-old’s view of the world. The show also features illusions designed by Paul Kieve, and a signature number in which actors on swings fly out over the audience.

On the surface, Matilda the Musical looks silly and over-the-top, but that exterior belies great depth and poignancy. This is a story about a misunderstood, unloved girl who stands up for herself, takes on the world and along the way, finally finds an adult or two who cares. The musical’s broad, sometimes rude humour and loud, over-the-top performances are very much in line with author Dahl’s sensibilities. The Crunchem Hall crest is a drawing of a child being hit over the head with a hammer – Dahl’s books often feature children facing off against grotesque adults, stepping into a cruel world and shaping it for themselves. Matilda is perhaps the best example of this in his bibliography.

The show’s signature songs “Naughty” and “When I Grow Up” convey a child’s defiance and wistfulness in elegant, honest terms. Minchin’s lyrics burst with Dahl-ian wit: Trunchbull sneeringly says of “the odour of rebellion”, “This headmistress/Finds this foul odifer-ous-ness/Wholly olfactorily insulting.” There are moments when the music plays up the chaos that surrounds Matilda, and other moments that are lyrical and quiet – the transition between these modes never feels abrupt or jarring.

The title role is shared by four young actors: Singaporean Sofia Poston, who played the role at our performance, and South Africans Lilla Fleischmann, Morgan Santo and Kitty Harris.

It must be incredibly daunting for anyone to get onstage in front of an audience of 2000 and perform, let alone for a nine-year-old. The role of Matilda is a demanding one that Poston tackles with remarkable confidence. She strikes the balance of portraying a character who’s precocious without being obnoxious. Of the four actresses playing Matilda, she is the youngest and physically the smallest – this enhances the ‘David and Goliath’ factor intended when Matilda faces off against Trunchbull. A tiny powerhouse who’s cute but not twee and who believably conveys an unbreakable fighting spirit, Poston has more than done Singapore proud as the country’s representative in the lead cast.

Ryan de Villiers is a magnificent Trunchbull, clearly relishing every second he’s onstage. The character’s costume creates a comically nightmarish figure that de Villiers captures with remarkable physicality. The role is typically played in drag, because casting a tall, physically-imposing man enhances the afore-mentioned David and Goliath element. De Villiers must perform gymnastics in his restrictive costume, which he does with delicious aplomb. Trunchbull is by design a cartoonish villain, but de Villiers still makes her utterly threatening and finds whatever thin sliver of soul is buried deep within her.

Bethany Dickson, who has been the leading lady in South African and touring productions of musicals like The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain and Grease, plays Miss Honey with the gentleness and timidity one expects from the character. The bond between Miss Honey and Matilda is a key emotional component to the show, and one that Dickson must develop with four different young actresses. Miss Honey is the nurturing presence who finds her own voice when Matilda enters her classroom and her life, and some of the musical’s most touching moments are between Miss Honey and Matilda.

Stephen Jubber and Claire Taylor ham it way up as the Wormwoods, and are complemented by Kent Jeycocke as Mrs Wormwood’s dance partner Rudolpho. These are parents who are afraid that their child is too intelligent and reads too much – while many Singaporeans can relate to the ‘school is prison’ element of the show, this seems a touch more absurd. It’s all a piece of the musical’s heightened nature, and Jubber, Taylor and Jeycocke prove adept at physical comedy.

The standouts among Matilda’s schoolmates include Jack Fokkens as Bruce, Taylor Salgado as Lavender and Joshua LeClair as Nigel. At our performance, Amanda was played by Kitty Harris, one of the other Matildas, meaning each Matilda must also learn the part of Amanda. This reviewer was a touch dispirited to see the “floss” dance popularised by Backpack Kid/Russell Horning and later featured in the online game Fortnite make an appearance, but perhaps that’s just down to this reviewer’s own crustiness and resentment.

Matilda the Musical is a triumph as an adaptation and as a standalone piece of musical theatre that serves as a showcase for incredibly talented performers. It’s funny, moving and has its share of gasp-inducing set-pieces. It’s also a great opportunity for families to have post-show discussions about education, what it means to raise and nurture children, and growing up. It’s youth in revolt in the most enchanting way.

Jedd Jong

Photos courtesy of BASE Entertainment

Top of the Class: Matilda the Musical press call

TOP OF THE CLASS

Matilda the Musical takes Singapore audiences back to school

By Jedd Jong

A precocious young hero who starts a revolution against the cruel principal of her prison-like school: it’s a story that ignites something in every child. Matilda began life as a novel by celebrated children’s author Roald Dahl, first published in 1988. It was adapted into a radio play, a 1996 film directed by Danny Devito, and a blockbuster 2010 musical.

Matilda the Musical is one of the most-acclaimed stage productions in recent memory, winning seven Olivier awards in 2012 – the most ever won for a single production at the time. The show also won five Tony Awards, including best book.

Featuring a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, Matilda is show that has captured the imagination of theatregoers and made many misty-eyed. The musical was originally directed by Matthew Warchus, developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and first staged at the RSC’s home, the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The show then moved to the Cambridge Theatre on the West End where it is still playing. A Broadway production ran from 2013 to 2017.

In addition to Roald Dahl’s enduring characters and Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics, audiences can also look forward to acrobatics, set pieces including a signature moment involving swings, and mystifying illusions designed by Paul Kieve.

The titular character is a five-year-old with a penchant for reading, a curiosity about the world and a mysterious, possibly supernatural power. Matilda is neglected by her shallow parents the Wormwoods, who dismiss her because she’s a girl. She finds solace in the library, enchanting the librarian Mrs Phelps with her talent for storytelling.

Matilda is enrolled in Crunchem Hall Primary School, where she impresses the kind teacher Miss Honey. However, Matilda earns the ire of the cruel headteacher Miss Trunchbull. Though she is small in stature, Matilda finds a power within her, galvanising the school in an uprising against the treacherous Trunchbull.

At the press call, the numbers “Naughty”, “When I Grow Up” and “Revolting Children” were performed for the media.

“This is exactly how I would expect the Royal Shakespeare Company to create a musical,” resident director Natalie Gilhome said. It’s her job to ensure the production stays true to the vision of original director Warchus. “It’s so intelligent, it’s so multi-layered so that adults get as much out of it as children get,” Gilhome enthused. “It’s so beautifully crafted as a piece that I think that’s a lot to do with the history of the RSC and the creatives that put it together.”

From left: Lilla Fleischman, Morgan Santo, Kitty Harris and Sofia Poston

This production, presented by BASE Entertainment and Lunchbox Theatrical, is the International Tour which was first staged in South Africa in October 2018. The title role is shared by four girls: Singaporean Sofia Poston and South Africans Lilla Fleischmann, Morgan Santo, and Kitty Harris, who are nine, 14, 11 and 10-years-old respectively.

Ryan de Villiers stars opposite the girls playing Matilda as Trunchbull, who lives to torment children and who focuses her resentment on the new star pupil. The role is typically played in drag, with taller, physically-imposing actors cast to emphasise the David-and-Goliath dynamic between Matilda and Trunchbull.

“I think it’s so much fun to play the bad guy,” de Villiers said. “I don’t think I’m the bad guy in real life, so getting to play someone who’s so opposite to who I am is so much fun.”

The character’s costume, which also includes a hunchback prosthetic, helps de Villiers get into Trunchbull’s headspace and plays up the character’s severity. “Everything is quite restrictive, not so that I can’t sing or speak, but it definitely helps with the physicality,” de Villiers explained.

Part of Trunchbull’s back-story is that she was an Olympic-level hammer thrower. She exhibits sheer physical strength, coupled with an unyielding demeanour. “Her uprightness and rigidity are very important to the character,” de Villiers said. “Posture-wise, she has really, really good posture, something I don’t always have. The way she walks is very calculated as well – everything about her is very calculated, until of course she loses it, then things go a little bit haywire,” de Villiers added with a smile.

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From left: Bethany Dickson (Miss Honey), Nompumelelo Mayiyane (Mrs Phelps) and Ryan de Villiers (Miss Trunchbull)

Thankfully, de Villiers does not agree with his character’s disciplinary methods. De Villiers stated that teachers should never resort to physical violence when dealing with their charges, adding “Even berating a child or speaking down at a child, it’s not good for their self-confidence and how they might end up in the future. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to find nice ways to deal with children.”

Trunchbull hates Matilda, but de Villiers has nothing admiration for his young co-stars. “They are all so professional, so wonderful, so talented, so it’s really inspiring to watch them onstage,” he enthused. De Villiers admitted that he does enjoying playing the ridiculous cruelty that Trunchbull enacts towards Matilda and the other students, saying “It really is a lot of fun on stage shouting at them and seeing their reactions.”

Musical director Louis Zurnamer was last in Singapore with the touring production of Evita. Describing the music of Matilda, Zurnamer said that unlike the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Minchin’s compositions are “almost deliciously devoid of very long lyrical melodic lines.” Zurnamer described the incidental music by orchestrator Chris Nightingale as “something like Amélie, like French film music.”

Zurnamer leads the eight-piece band which plays live in the orchestra pit during every performance. “We have a cello and a bass clarinet, instruments that bring a very specific colour to the show as well,” Zurnamer revealed, describing that colour as a darkness and maturity to the story, told from a child’s perspective. Speaking about how the music of Matilda stands out in the landscape of classic and contemporary musicals, Zurnamer said “It doesn’t sound like Jason Robert Brown or Stephen Schwartz, it’s a new language and it’s so divine. My toes curl with delight every time I hear it, it’s so lovely.”

If there’s one physical part of the set that gets a lot of attention, it’s the swings suspended from the ceiling. One of the major challenges in developing a touring version of Matilda was in engineering swings that would work the way the swings in the West End production do, but which can also easily be installed and removed in theatres.

The swings feature in the wistful number “When I Grow Up”. “It’s the one number where you get to see this beautiful fantasy,” Gilholme said, adding that “there’s a purity that sometimes we lose when we grow up, so it’s so nice to see that childlike perception of what life is as adults.”

“The swings are probably one of the most impressive parts of the show, and something that we take very seriously as we have kids on them and cast members flying out over the audience,” stage manager Peter Barnett said during our backstage tour. “We double-check and triple-check these and run them every single day,” he said, adding that there are hidden safety measures in the swing seats.

Audiences can enter the foreboding gates of Crunchem Hall and witness Matilda’s rousing struggle for justice when they watch Matilda the Musical, which runs from 21 February to 17 March at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets start from $68 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/entertainment/shows/matilda-the-musical.html for more information and to purchase tickets.

Photos by Jedd Jong 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serenity review

SERENITY

Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh
Genre: Drama/Thriller/Mystery
Run Time: 1 h 46 mins
Opens: 21 February 2019
Rating: M18

           Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway reunite under extremely bizarre circumstances in this neo-noir thriller, which is already being called the worst film of 2019.

McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a fisherman on the idyllic Plymouth Island who takes tourists out to sea on his fishing boat, the Serenity. Baker’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island, asking Baker to kill her current husband, the abusive Frank (Jason Clarke). The plan is to get Frank drunk during a fishing trip and throw him overboard. Baker is initially resistant to the plan, but eventually feels he owes it to his and Karen’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) to free Karen from Frank’s grip. A tale of murder, madness and vengeance unfolds in paradise as Baker soon finds himself in way over his head.

Within days of opening in the U.S., Serenity’s badness has become legendary: the movie was a box office bomb that marked the lowest openings in McConaughey and Hathaway’s careers. Distributor Aviron gave up on marketing the movie altogether, cancelling planned publicity events and talk show appearances for its stars.

Is Serenity as bad as everyone is saying? Short answer: it is. Writer-director Steven Knight set out to make a “sexy noir” thriller, and for the first hour or so of the movie, it comes across as awkward and slightly melodramatic but never offensively bad. Then, as things ramp up and the plot reaches a crescendo, the film builds to a baffling, staggering twist ending. It’s a twist that truly must be seen to be believed, the kind of reveal that nobody could have ever though was a good idea.

The movie feels like a hybrid of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and 90s erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and The Colour of the Night. The film was shot in Mauritius and setting it on a remote island away from the madding crowd gives the movie an initial air of mystery, but everything is so over-the-top and ham-fisted that Serenity has no dramatic impact at all.

Matthew McConaughey may be an Oscar winner, having found redemption after years of floundering about in sub-par romantic comedies, but he still makes missteps in choosing his projects. As the tortured hero with a tragic past, McConaughey does a lot of yelling at the sky. There’s an extended skinny-dipping scene, which is perhaps the most worthwhile thing in the movie. The character is intended to be sympathetic but doesn’t come close to making audiences root for him.

Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post described Anne Hathaway’s performance as “kind of a live-action Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and we can’t come up with a better description than that. Everything is heightened and hard to believed, but Hathaway’s turn as a blonde femme fatale is the most heightened and hardest to believe part of Serenity.

Jason Clarke’s abusive husband character is just that, a one-dimensional villain. It looks like Clarke had fun playing him, but he has played despicable characters with more nuance to them and it’s just more interesting that way.

Diane Lane shows up as a woman whom Baker sleeps with for money. That’s about it as far as her character goes. Oh, Djimon Hounsou is in this movie too.

There’s a version of this movie which is a tongue-in-cheek stealth parody of erotic thriller conventions that might have worked, but this is just a failure on every level. There’s a novelty factor to two Oscar-winning movie stars headlining what promises to be a steamy thriller, but Serenity fizzles out in spectacular fashion. By the time the mind-boggling conclusion rolls around, the movie has done a slow-motion faceplant on the ground. It’s also a shame that Serenity tarnishes the good name of 2005’s Serenity, the movie continuation of Joss Whedon’s space western TV series Firefly.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong