Action, Lights, Camera: Interview with stunt coordinator/performer Ingrid Kleinig

ACTION, LIGHTS, CAMERA: INTERVIEW WITH STUNT PERFORMER/COORDINATOR INGRID KLEINIG

By Jedd Jong

Getting set on fire, crashing motorcycles into vans, dangling from the side of a skyscraper, driving a big rig across the Namibian desert, duelling with Vin Diesel and shooting arrows into oncoming orcs – it’s all in a day’s work for stunt performer/coordinator Ingrid Kleinig.

Kleinig grew up in Australia in a family of professional stunt drivers. Her career kicked off in a dramatic way, when she performed suspended in mid-air 42 metres above the arena at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Kleinig was a member of the physical theatre troupe Legs on the Wall, performing acrobatics on the side of tall buildings.

In Australia, Kleinig worked on TV shows including Rescue Ops and Cops LAC, before going on to work in Hollywood. She has been a stunt double for Evangeline Lilly in the Hobbit films and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Margot Robbie’s stunt double in The Legend of Tarzan and Suicide Squad and Brie Larson’s stunt double in Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel.

As was one of only two female stunt drivers on Mad Max: Fury Road, she was part of the team that won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Kleinig’s other credits include The Last Witch Hunter, Ghost in the Shell, Justice League and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Ingrid Kleinig Alain Moussi Margot Robbie

Ingrid Kleinig, Alain Moussi and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

Kleinig was in Singapore as one of the invited guests at the Disney Storytelling Plus bootcamp, joining people working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry to share her experiences with young aspiring filmmakers. I had brought action figures of Harley Quinn, the Wasp and Captain Marvel along to the interview – noticing the Harley Quinn figure, Kleinig chuckled and said “this brings back memories”.

In this interview, she told me about the role that stunt coordinators and performers have in storytelling, why she doesn’t like to use the term ‘accident’, and a competition between her and Margot Robbie that made producers very nervous.

Photo credit: Alina Gozin’a

JEDD: Looking through your filmography, it’s so impressive. In the Hollywood Reporter video about women in stunts, you said that you would rather be a stunt performer than an actress because you get to do all the fun stuff. 

INGRID KLEINIG: Absolutely.

What ranks as among the most fun of all the stuff you’ve done, give us the greatest hits!

KLEINIG: The greatest hits – I rode a motorcycle and crashed head-on into a van that was on fire, then flew threw the flames and landed on the road on the other side.

No biggie.

KLEINIG: No biggie. I’ve crashed a Lamborghini into a lake and gone head-first through the windshield. I’ve made out with Jared Leto, in a sense [laughs] – on camera, that was as Harley Quinn. I’ve done so many great things, it’s hard to narrow it down.

In your bio, it says you have a background in physical theatre. I looked it up, and that involved literally hanging off the side of skyscrapers. 

KLEINIG: Indeed! You did your research. I spent about ten years working with a company called Legs on the Wall, and we did the festival circuits around the world doing acrobatics on the side of skyscrapers.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

Recently, we’ve seen several second unit directors and stunt coordinators become directors, the most prominent examples probably being Chad Stahelski and David Leitch of 87eleven. What are the unique insights that someone with a background in stunts can bring to the table as filmmakers and storytellers? 

KLEINIG: A lot of directors of action films don’t necessarily have experience shooting action, so coming from that background obviously Chad and Dave now with the John Wick films and everything that they’re doing, Hobbs & Shaw, they’re very much action-based films. It centres around the physicality and stunts and so what they can do is enhance that side of it. There are so many other people coming to the table with the acting side of things and have got their bases covered.

Ingrid Kleinig, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Richard Norton and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

From our point of view, what we do when we’re doing pre-production for a film is stunt pre-viz, which is basically creating a film. We’ll get a script and everything is scripted except for this scene which might be a five-minute fight scene. All it says is – I quote – “they fight”. Or “the biggest finale fight ever of a film” and again I’m quoting, it says “an all-or-nothing battle ensues.” That’s it. We have to fill in the blanks and come on board three months before the actors come on board, before we start shooting, and we play around with ideas and come up with concepts. Go to the director, give us their notes, it’s a back-and-forth. We’re brainstorming and creating and filming from the ground up. That leads directly into second unit direction and of course direction.

Leading on from that, what is something a director says or does that gives you confidence in them and lets you know that they understand how to work with a stunt team? 

KLEINIG: Good question! I think the best thing that a director can do is show faith in their stunt coordinator and their stunt team. You can see it very early on. I particular enjoy working with a director that knows what they want. They’ll come into a room, you show them a scene that you’ve worked [on] thus far, and it’s immediate. “Yes, no. Yes, no. Yes, no.” The “no’s” are generally because of their own story points that they have in their head that haven’t been communicated yet or hasn’t been [worked] out with the rest of the cast and crew. Not stylistically, but more in terms of character arcs and plots and that kind of thing. “She can’t do this here because the scene after this is such and such”. Someone who has all that information in their head and who can see the overall picture, it’s a real privilege to see that at work.

Ingrid Kleinig and Brie Larson on the set of Captain Marvel

They have all the pieces on the board, moving them around, and it hasn’t all been fitted together yet. 

KLEINIG: Yeah, absolutely. They’ve got the overall picture. We’ve got the script and the pre-viz and what have you, but we are concentrating so explicitly on the action scenes that often we can lose sight of what’s come before and after…

The connective tissue.

KLEINIG: The connective tissue, absolutely. That’s where…working with a director that can be like Rain Man and keep all the balls in the air is a privilege.

Evangeline Lilly and Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Ant-Man and the Wasp

While every safety precaution is taken, stunts are inherently dangerous and sometimes tragic accidents happen. Olivia Jackson was very badly injured doing Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Joe Watts is in a coma after an accident on the set of Fast & Furious 9, and Joi “SJ” Harris died on the set of Deadpool 2. How do such incidents affect the stunt community, and what is it like trying to maintain standards of safety and prevent accidents from happening?

KLEINIG: First of all, I don’t believe in the word ‘accident’. There is no such thing as an accident. There is always human error at play in those instances, so there has been a mistake somewhere along the way. In every one of those instances, obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you can see the point or the moment where something could’ve been done to prevent what happened. Unfortunately, that’s hindsight speaking, and beforehand there were checks and balances that weren’t put in place or an extra step wasn’t put in place.

A lot of the time, I think it’s because it’s not necessarily a difficult stunt. It’s often not the most difficult stunts when people are getting injured. Because it’s not seen as a difficult stunt, perhaps not all the safety measures are put in place.

Perhaps it’s a complacency? That’s too strong a word. 

KLEINIG: It is…I think because as a community we do amazing, crazy things all the time, so you can get a little casual with it, especially when you’ve been doing it for a very long time. The global stunt community is very small. We all know each other or there’s one degree of separation so any of these things hit us all very hard. All we can do is learn from them and maintain diligence, and just be aware that every day, not to become casual about it. Maintain the checks, have multiple eyes, multiple heads and multiple heads on every single set-up.

Left: Ingrid Kleinig. Right: Margot Robbie

Andy Horwitz, a producer on Suicide Squad, said of Margot Robbie “Her double is always on set, most of the time [she] just stands there and watches. She keeps thinking she’s going to have to go in.” I understand that a lot of times producers say things like that to hype the movie up, and I don’t want to take anything away from Margot Robbie, but I wanted to know, how did you feel hearing that? 

KLEINIG: [Laughs] You know what, Margot Robbie absolutely earned everything that everybody always says about her. She’s one of the most physically talented performers I’ve ever worked with. She’s unbelievable. She trained as a classical dancer very strongly growing up, which means that especially when it comes fight choreography, we can do anything we want with her. She’s Australian and we tend to be very outdoorsy, very capable with those kinds of things and very competitive. She and I had this great sort of constructive competitiveness that brings out the best in each other.

There’s actually an anecdote where we were doing breath-hold training for Suicide Squad. I would get to four minutes and she would get to four-and-a-half, she went to five and I got to five-ten, and she got to five-and-a-half. We kept trying to up each other and trying to up each other, and the producers were like “Stop. You have gone above and beyond, no one needs to overdo this, we don’t need anything more. We don’t need five minutes. We only need one minute. Stop.” It’s great and it brings out the best in each other for the film and the character when we’re working so hard.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Suicide Squad

Everyone has days when they don’t particularly feel like going to work. Broadway actress Amber Gray calls it the ‘I Don’t Wannas’. What happens when you get a case of the I Don’t Wannas, how do you get yourself through the day? 

KLEINIG: Caffeine! [Laughs] There are days when I wake up and I just go “ugh, I don’t want to go to school today!” but I think it comes down to the fact that I love my job. The hardest part of my job is the pre-production, because sometimes it feels like you’re going round and round in circles. You do a fight scene, you perfect it, you film it, it’s edited and put together, everything’s there, it feels like a complete work of art, you hand it over and it comes back in pieces. You have to do that over and over again. I think for Ant-Man and the Wasp, we did 30 pre-vizes for the restaurant fight scene. It just kept coming back. We sent it out there into the world thinking it’s a work of art. Each time it comes back in pieces, we rebuild it and it just gets better and better. While it’s exhausting, you have to look back and go “we’re doing this because it’s going to get better.”

Watch Ingrid Kleinig’s stunt reel here:

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Sir Mix-A-Lot: Interview with Oscar-winning sound mixer Andy Nelson

By Jedd Jong

Filmmakers strive to create an immersive experience, to give viewers a chance to step into carefully crafted realities that they can get lost in. Whether it’s an alien world, a distant period in history or a dizzying musical fantasy-scape, sound is an element that is often overlooked in creating this immersion. Every film crew includes sound recordists, designers, mixers, composers and editors who ensure that the audience hears exactly what they should.

Andy Nelson is a re-recording mixer with over four decades of experience under his belt. Growing up in London, Nelson’s career in the industry began at age 16, when he was a projectionist at a local cinema. He then moved into sound mixing for TV and movies, working on films like Schindler’s List, The Thin Red Line, X-Men, Moulin Rouge!, Star Trek (2009), Les Misérables and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Nelson has garnered a staggering 21 Oscar nominations, and won for Saving Private Ryan and Les Misérables. At the 88th Academy Awards, Nelson was nominated for two separate films in the same year, Bridge of Spies and The Force Awakens. He has mixed for directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams and Terence Malick.

Nelson was in Singapore as one of the invited guests of the Disney Storytelling+ Bootcamp, joining others who have worked behind-the-scenes in film and television to share their expertise with a new generation of filmmakers and storytellers. Nelson spoke about an emotional moment he experienced working on Schindler’s List, how different musicals require varying approaches to sound mixing, the differences between John Williams and Hans Zimmer’s methods of film scoring and his work on Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story.

JEDD: You have an illustrious list of credits. To the average moviegoer, they think of “sound” as just one element, but there are so many categories within that. There’s music, Foley, sound design, re-recording, sound mixing, ADR. Can you break it down for us and take us through what your job entails?

ANDY NELSON: I normally work with a partner. I handled all the music and the dialogue myself, and the other mixer handles the sound effects, but between us, we have to craft the tracks. I usually start with the dialogue and I try and make sure everything is perfectly clear and clean and the best it can be from the performance point of view, then I usually craft the music into that. When the composer’s written all the score, you assume you’re going to need all the music that’s been written, then we put the sound effects into that.

Then, once all the components are in, a little bit like a recipe, then we start to blend it and mix it together and pick our moments through each scene. Is this a strong sound effects moment? Is this a strong music moment? Should there be any sound at all? Silence is pretty powerful as well. We work in tandem, obviously with the director all the time, to design the track the way he or she wants it to be.

From left: Ron Judkins, Andy Nelson, Steven Spielberg, Bradley Cooper, Mark Ulano and Gary Rydstrom at the 2019 Cinema Audio Society Awards

Many elements of filmmaking require a balance of creativity and technical mastery. How do you achieve that balance with regards to sound mixing? 

NELSON: The way I approach it is I have to know what I’m doing from a technical standpoint, but I never want to let that get in the way of telling the story. Sometimes you just do something that maybe technically isn’t the right thing to do, but if it works, it works. One of the things you have to do as the mixer when you create the final soundtrack is you have to create a trust between you and the director, because they’re putting their baby into your hands, essentially. One of the things I’ve never wanted to do is let the technology get in the way, or make them feel that I would say “no, we can’t do that because…” I treat it much more as a creative process for that reason.

Avatar

Over the years, you’ve worked with directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, JJ Abrams, Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. How much are directors typically involved in the process of sound design, mixing and re-recording?

NELSON: Oh, heavily, very heavily. Somebody like Jim Cameron on Avatar, he would allow us to do our pass and get us into shape, but then when he came in and sat down and wanted to start, then we would roll our sleeves up and get to work. He would be very pinpoint precision, laser-sharp about what should happen at this moment, how that sound should be at that moment. With Steven, I’ve done 18 films with Steven so we have shorthand between us that’s pretty good nowadays. I get a first pass at the entire movie and then he’ll come and sit with me and we’ll work through it together.

Schindler’s List

As a fanboy, I have to ask, do you have any memorable Steven Spielberg stories? 

NELSON: Gosh. I’ll tell you a story about when I was working on a scene on Schindler’s List, a very complicated scene we were doing. I played it to him and I finished playing and I put the lights up. He was sitting right next to me. He had tears rolling down his face and he said “I don’t know what I would do to change this, so let’s move on.” It was a very important moment for me because it told me so much about him as a director. It wasn’t that I had done an incredible sound mix or anything, it was just that the scene was working and as a director, that’s all he wants, for the scene to work the way he imagines. For me, that’s a master storyteller at work. As a director, he could’ve said “let’s go through it again ten more times or 50 more times,” but he was so precise in what he wanted and it achieved what he wanted on an emotional level. I’ll never forget it. It was only my second film with him. I’m going to be doing West Side Story with him next year; that will be my 19th film. I hope it continues.

Steve Pederson, Steven Spielberg, Michael Kahn, Andy Nelson and Scott Millan, on the mixing stage for Schindler’s List

I think it was Marco Beltrami who said “befriend the sound mixer so music gets placed louder in the mix than sound effects.” What is it like determining what gets priority in the mix; who decides that? 

NELSON: We all kind of chip in, really. I’m handling the music physically myself, I happen to love music, it’s one of the reasons I got into it in the first place, was falling in love with what music does to visuals, it just took me to places in my mind and it still does today. I’m a defender of music, but I feel that music is overused in movies nowadays. I think that sometimes there’s too much score – I’m the first to put my hand up and suggest “Do we need it here? Is it coming in at the right point emotionally? Does it connect with the story correctly?” I’m definitely always trying to advocate to make the music work, but I’d be the first to say if it’s not working, we shouldn’t be using it.

Leading on from that, I wanted to talk specifically about musicals. You worked on Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables, La La Land and you’re going to be working on West Side Story. Each of those movies is quite different from the others, even though they’re all musicals. What was the approach to the sound of Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables and La La Land

Moulin Rouge!

NELSON: They were all completely different. First of all, Moulin Rouge!, you’re dealing with Baz Luhrmann. Baz Luhrmann is the most incredible creative director you could imagine. He spins with ideas constantly. His films are so richly layered that it took us weeks just to dig through and find all the little moments that worked in the way he wanted to tell that story. It was an incredibly complicated soundtrack to mix.

Les Misérables

Jump forward to Les Misérables, that was a completely revolutionary film in the sense that they recorded everything live. That took a tremendous amount of organisation. Tom Hooper started talking to me months before they started shooting about the approach and how we’d have to paint microphones out digitally and how the set had to be much quieter than normal because you had to protect the vocal. All we were relying on was the best vocal we could get.

La La Land

La La Land was a mixture of the two, oddly enough. There were some live moments in La La Land, particularly the Audition piece at the end, which was all live, little bits of the duet on the hill were live. There were also big playback moments – you can’t really do live recording if there’s a lot of instance, for instance. With Les Misérables there was no dancing, so it could be live. La La Land was a little bit of both, and I thought it worked really well for that reason.

West Side Story (2009)

With West Side Story, there has been an earlier film adaptation of that musical. How much will your approach to the sound be influenced by that? 

NELSON: I think Steven wants a different sort of style and a different take. It’s obviously the classic music with Leonard Bernstein’s score, it’s exactly the same songs, but he’s going to approach it in a different sort of style altogether. I can’t really speak to it because they’re right in the middle of shooting, I haven’t really seen anything of it yet. There may be some live recording; we’ll see.

Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, presenter Anjelica Huston, Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins at the Oscars in 1999

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who work on a given movie. To a certain extent, your contributions to a film might be considered less “visible” than say that of an actor or a director, but you are doing crucial work and you have been recognized for it. What are your thoughts on the concept of recognition within the industry, and what do you feel gives you validation and satisfaction in your work? 

NELSON: Look, anything that you get an accolade for is always a real treat; I don’t take it for granted in the slightest. I think what I’ve always tried to do is value the relationship I’ve created over the years with directors and composers, because I’m very close with people like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, I’ve worked on many, many different films with them all. Those relationships to me are the most satisfying thing. If a film happens to get some accolades on top of that, then we all celebrate, but the work is the most important thing. The sense of accomplishment when we seem to pull something off, that’s the satisfaction for me, not the awards.

Andy Nelson and John Williams at the 2014 CAS Awards

Speaking of composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, what is the process of working with them like, and what are some of the differences that you’ve seen between the way different composers work? How do you accommodate that in your mixing? 

NELSON: Well, if you take John Williams, John Williams has a very classic style of writing and he is much more about the performance of the orchestra and tends to want the orchestra to play together, because that’s where he feels the cohesion happen between the players.

Does he still mostly conduct himself? 

NELSON: He does whenever possible, yes, absolutely – and the orchestra loves it, you can tell.

It’s a thrill.

NELSON: It’s a thrill. With somebody like Hans, he’ll approach it differently where he’ll record the strings, then record the brass, then we blend them together afterwards. There’s good and bad in both of those [approaches]. The good part is I have more control, but the bad part is they’re not playing as cohesively as if they were all playing in one go, so you win some and you lose some. It’s just different approaches. With someone like Hans of course, he wants to layer in his synthetic sounds with it, the Hans Zimmer sound, which is often string samples that go with the real strings, whereas someone like John would rely more on the real strings only.

Was there a particular film (or films) that you watched as a kid that make you first sit up and take notice of that film’s use of sound? 

NELSON: Funnily enough, the first film I was ever taken to as a kid was West Side Story.

Full circle!

NELSON: Very much full circle. I can’t say I sat up and took notice of it at the time, but I think I was aware of it more and more. When I started working at a cinema at the age of 16, the first film I learned to throw on the projector was actually Midnight Cowboy, and I remember thinking how great the sound was in that, how great John Barry’s score was. I became very aware, and I started collecting soundtrack albums at that age just to take home and listen to because I just fell in love with cinema music, without even knowing I’d be handling any of it to come, because at that point I didn’t know what my career was going to be like at all. Easy Rider was playing at the same time as Midnight Cowboy; another fantastic soundtrack.

What a moment that was!

NELSON: It was a great moment. The James Bond movies, you know. Music in film has always transported me, as a kid right up to today. When the lights go down and the music plays, I’m in another land. I’m in heaven. [Chuckles]

With Jerry Goldsmith, I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek Voyager, I heard the Voyager theme and started crying. He has that power.

L.A. Confidential

NELSON: Jerry is great. I worked with him once on L.A. Confidential, which was a terrific film Curtis Hanson made. I loved Jerry, yeah, never got to work on any of the big shows with him before he passed away, sadly, but what a talent.

What are some of the most cherished memories in your professional life that you find yourself revisiting? 

NELSON: I honestly can’t tell you that there’s one; I tend to categorise them in different ways. To this day, the smile on my face when I first ran The Force Awakens with J.J., just because I felt he’d gone back to…tapped into the real magic of what Star Wars was, I’ll never forget that moment. I had a smile on my face through the whole time we worked on that movie. Can’t wait to see the new one.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you work on the new one?

NELSON: I haven’t started it yet, but I am going to do the new one. Probably in about a week’s time I’ll be starting.

Exciting!

NELSON: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

The Thin Red Line

Avatar was obviously fantastic, very challenging for me. A lot of Steven’s films, just because he’s such a master filmmaker, obviously. Terry Malick, Thin Red Line, another good one. I could go on and on. They’re like favourite kids, what’s your favourite child? You can’t say. [Chuckles]

Finally, you have won and been nominated for many awards and have attended awards shows including the Oscars and the BAFTAs. Do you have an awards show story you’d like to tell?

NELSON: I mean, getting up on stage and having to accept the award for Les Mis, I’d never wanted to stand up on that stage and speak because I was terrified at the thought of that. We’d made an agreement that if win [the BAFTA], one person would speak in London, and if we were lucky enough to go to the Oscars, I would speak for that. I said “we’ll never be there”.

Simon Hayes, Mark Paterson and Andy Nelson at the Oscars in 2013

You thought you were safe.

NELSON: I agreed to it and I wasn’t safe. I had to stand up. That was in itself extraordinarily terrifying because there’s nothing quite like that moment. Then we celebrated a lot afterwards, so that’s good [chuckles].

Good Boys review

GOOD BOYS

Director:  Gene Stupnitsky
Cast : Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Will Forte
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 90 mins
Opens : 12 September 2019
Rating : NC16

            When you come across a comedy titled ‘Good Boys’, you can bet it’s named ironically: there’s going to be lots of sexual humour, swearing, drugs and alcohol. Such is the case with this film, in which a trio of 11-year-olds engages in some decidedly family-unfriendly behaviour.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are three best friends who have just started sixth grade. Max has a crush on Brixlee (Millie Davis), and thinks he might have his shot with her when he is invited by popular kid Soren (Izaac Wang) to a ‘kissing party’. Max, Lucas and Thor don’t actually know how to kiss. Their quest to prove they’re not uncool and to ensure they won’t embarrass themselves at the party spirals into a misadventure involving party drugs, beer, a drone and running headlong into freeway traffic.

Good Boys is a risque comedy in the mould of Superbad which, if you can believe it, was released 12 whole years ago. Whenever children star in films which they technically aren’t allowed to see yet, there is the danger that things will get exploitative. While a lot of inappropriate stuff happens in Good Boys, there is an undercurrent of sweetness and sincerity which anchors the film and makes it seem like more than just an excuse to have kids yell the F-word a lot, even if plenty of F-words do get yelled.

Much of what makes the movie work is the chemistry between the three leads. Jacob Tremblay, the breakout star of Room, has a strait-laced likeability to him and seems unerringly sweet even when he’s swearing up a storm. Keith L. Williams is the epitome of wholesomeness as Lucas, a stickler for the rules who did not sign up for any of this. Brady Noon’s Thor is the wannabe bad boy with a secret talent for musical theatre; his character is the least interesting of the three because it’s the most common archetype but he’s still entertaining in the role.

While the movie probably derives too much of its comedy from kids playing with sex paraphernalia, not knowing what they are, many of the jokes are sharp and funny. The film captures the typical 11-year-old’s desire to appear more grown up than they are and to pretend to understand more than they do. Good Boys works in no small part because it depicts the real anxieties of growing up and being caught between childhood and teenhood, even if in an extremely exaggerated manner.

“Restraint” is not a word one might use to describe a movie that features kids brandishing dildos as weapons, but Good Boys is careful not to actually cross the line. For all its purported shock value, there is no actual nudity or sex depicted, just lots of talk about it. This seems like the right choice, as the awkwardness of the situations that the protagonists find themselves in is more relatable than if the movie just dove head-first into filth. That said, nobody strictly needs to see a kid kiss what he thinks is a “CPR dummy”, wondering why there’s hair in its mouth.

Good Boys was a surprise success in the U.S., becoming the first R-rated comedy since 2016’s The Boss to top the box office. It shows there’s an appetite for movies like this, but there is the worry that imitators who don’t quite have the skill of the filmmakers of Good Boys will attempt to follow in this film’s footsteps. There is a laziness to some of its crass humour, but there’s plenty of heart here and three winning performances from its lead cast.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

IT Chapter Two review

IT CHAPTER TWO

Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast : James McAvoy, Jaeden Martell, Jessica Chastain, Sophia Lillis, Jay Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, James Ransone, Jack Dylan Grazer, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2 h 49 mins
Opens : 5 September 2019
Rating : M18

            In 2017, It received critical acclaim and became the highest grossing movie of all time. Anticipation was high for Chapter Two, which concludes the story of the Losers Club’s battle against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

At the end of the first film, the members of the Losers Club vowed that if Pennywise were to re-emerge, they would return to Derry, Maine to face him. 27 years later, the clown rears his grotesque grinning head. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa as an adult, Chosen Jacobs as a child), who has stayed in Derry and become the town librarian, summons his friends, who have all moved away, back home.

Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell) is now an author and screenwriter, married to actress Audra (Jess Weixler). Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis) is a fashion designer in an abusive marriage. Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) is a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor) has become a successful architect. Eddie (James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst. Stanley (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff) is an accountant. Each has moved on with their lives, but the spectre of Pennywise, of It, hangs over them. As the bonds of their childhood friendship are re-forged, the Losers Club battles Pennywise in his myriad terrifying forms again.

Stephen King’s novel It had a structure that alternated between following the Losers Club as adults and as kids. This two-part film adaptation has changed that by focusing the first movie on the Losers Club as kids, then the second on the characters as adults. The movie is 169 minutes long compared to the first film’s 135. Director Andy Muschietti seems to have been emboldened by the success of Chapter One, taking more risks with Chapter Two. However, those risks do not always pay off.

This reviewer loved the first film, which engendered sincere sympathy and affection from the audience for its characters in a way very few horror films have before. It Chapter Two continues to be character-driven, and part of the reason why its runtime is so long is that we need to spend enough time with each character to see their arcs through. However, there is also a greater emphasis on set-pieces and spectacle. Instead of concentrating the terror, as the scare sequences in the first movie did so well, the set-pieces here seem to diffuse the terror.

There’s a lot in this movie which sounds scary on paper, and several of It’s manifestations are unsettling on a conceptual level. However, they end up being mostly CGI. Even when the visual effects work is very good, on a base level, audiences know that whatever is menacing the actors isn’t really occupying the same space as them. The film evokes practical creature effects classics like The Thing and The Fly, but minus most of the tactility. Even when Spanish actor/contortionist Javier Botet portrays one of It’s forms, the creature has an obviously computer-generated face. The problem with the more outlandish It-erations in this movie is that they tend to take away from Bill Skarsgård’s performance, which is scary enough as is.

While there are several outstanding performers in the cast portraying the grown-up Losers Club, the child versions of the characters are just a lot more compelling. The casting in the film is generally good. Physically, James Ransone is a very close match for Jack Dylan Grazer, doing a lot with his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth to match Grazer’s performance.

Jessica Chastain has made a career playing women who are fiercer and have a harder edge to them than Beverly. Sophia Lillis was the standout in the first film, but Beverly seems a smidge less interesting in this one.

James McAvoy’s Bill is the team’s de-facto leader. While McAvoy is sympathetic and watchable as ever, he sometimes seems to be doing a bit too much. The character is an avatar for Stephen King, meaning we get some meta jokes that are amusing but possibly cross over into being a touch obnoxious.

Bill Hader is the designated scene-stealer. As expected, he’s hilarious, but the film also gives the character several more layers behind his trash-talking exterior. We see that Richie’s sense of humour is a defence mechanism to disguise his true self. Despite the strength of Hader’s performance, the character feels in danger of becoming just the comic relief character.

Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike is sensitive and conscientious, having dedicated the past two decades to studying It’s history. He delivers some clunky exposition, and it’s when the movie explains It’s origins that things get somewhat tedious.

Ben has undergone the most obvious physical transformation. While this reviewer was invested in the love triangle between Ben, Beverly and Bill, Jay Ryan is handsome but not terribly interesting in the role.

It Chapter Two attempts to explore how trauma affects us and the burden that childhood pain can have on us as adults. The ensemble cast gets to shine, but the story is less focused in this outing, meaning it’s less scary. There are authentically unnerving moments, but there are far more scenes in which the characters are pursued by various things made of CGI. The film’s ambition is admirable, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed given the sublime quality of its predecessor.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Losers Stick Together: facing fear in IT: Chapter 2

The cast and filmmakers discuss making the horror sequel

By Jedd Jong

In Stephen King’s novel It, the titular entity of pure evil that is most often seen in the guise of a clown menaces a group of characters who form ‘the Losers Club’. The novel alternates between following the characters as adults and as children. The 2017 film adaptation focused on the younger versions of the Losers Club, with audiences being introduced to their grown-up iterations in this sequel, which is set 27 years later when It/Pennywise re-emerges.

The first It film was always intended to be part of a duology. “The big picture, the second chapter, was always in the back of my mind,” director Andy Muschietti said.
“We were always excited about the second part, because it’s really the second half of the story.”

It was praised for how compelling the characters were and how easy it was to be emotionally invested in them, a relative rarity in the world of horror. For Muschietti, breaking up the two timelines was part of creating that emotional investment for audiences.

“I had agreed to make the first movie only about the children, because it would be emotionally more interesting, more compelling without breaking it with time jumps,” Muschietti explained.

With its focus on the adult characters but with flashbacks featuring the young cast also a part of the story, the second movie depicts the “dialogue between the timelines” that echoes the structure of the book. “It’s about the characters’ relationships with the past, looking at events that happened 27 years ago and finding themselves,” Muschietti added.

From left: Ben Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff

In casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were believable as adult versions of characters whom audiences had grown to love over the course of the first film. “For us, of course, the first thing we wanted was great acting, then physical resemblance to the kids,” producer (and Andy’s sister) Barbara Muschietti said. “We just think we got the perfect cast of grownup Losers,” she enthused, adding that the filmmakers “never had Plan Bs” and went with their first choices for each role.

The ensemble cast is led by James McAvoy as Bill Denborough. Bill has always been haunted by the death of his brother Georgie, the first onscreen victim of Pennywise we saw in the first film. Speaking about how Jaeden Martell’s performance as the younger Bill inspired him, McAvoy said “I suppose I stole Jaeden Martell’s emotional vulnerability and his openness. As a kid, I think Bill is a strange mix of suppression and complete vulnerability, and Jaeden nailed that.”

Bill has become a successful novelist and screenwriter and is in many ways patterned after Stephen King himself. McAvoy pointed out that while the members of the Losers Club have generally moved on, there is a curse that still follows them. “The Losers that leave [Derry] all become arguable winners, but they all have this tainted side to their success—none of them seem to be able to have children, for one,” McAvoy remarked, adding that each character deals with “emotional issues that darken all of their, what seem like, perfect lives.”

Jessica Chastain portrays Beverly, the one female member of the Losers Club. Beverly hasn’t quite been able to outrun the spectre of her abusive father, seeing as she is now stuck in an abusive marriage. “For Beverly, she’s still living with her ideas of what love is,” Chastain explained. “The first person she really loved is her father, so this idea—that love means someone you love can hurt you at the same time—has lasting impact on her.”

One of It Chapter Two’s most memorable scenes places Beverly in the middle of a literal bloodbath. The scene required over 17 000 litres of fake blood, something Chastain was game for. “I love horror films, I love Carrie, and I said, ‘Let’s make Carrie on steroids,’” Chastain recalled, referencing another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

Chastain called Lillis’ performance as the younger Beverly “beautiful,” and emulated one specific aspect of Lillis’ physicality. “I hadn’t told Andy [Muschietti] I was doing this, but I was holding my hands the way she did,” Chastain revealed. “When he saw me, he said, ‘You’re walking with her hands.’”

Bill Hader plays the trash-talking Richie Tozier, and his performance has been called the standout of the film. Hader said he “worked within the character lines” that had been drawn by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie in the first film.

“Like a lot of comedy people, you deal with stuff by joking about it,” the former Saturday Night Live star said about Richie, who in this film has become a stand-up comedian. “He’s the first guy, when they realize what’s happening, to say, ‘Oh, I’m outta here. F*** this.’ He has deep, deep repression.”

The most dramatic physical transformation is that of the character Ben, played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan. “Ben, once he leaves town, he starts running, physically and emotionally, for 27 years,” Ryan said. “He learns how to say no, to stand up to bullies, and he becomes a leader in his profession.” Ben, who has become an architect, still holds a torch for Beverly, whom he had a crush on as a kid. “It seems to the outside world that here’s a man who has everything, but he doesn’t really have any real human connections,” Ryan elaborated, saying that Ben is “ready to go back to Derry and really reveal his true self.”

James Ransone plays Eddie, who was portrayed by Shazam! star Jack Dylan Grazer as a kid. “I thought, ‘That kid talked really fast. If I can keep up with him, everything’s gonna be fine,’” Ransone joked.

“He’s probably spent a lot of his time pretending to not think about his childhood by focusing on his wife,” Ransone said of Eddie. Eddie winds up marrying a woman who is reminiscent of his constantly nagging mother. “You get in those type of relationships, where it’s a constant project that needs fixing. You focus on that so that you don’t have to think about yourself,” Ransone mused.

Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, the one character who has stayed behind in Derry. Mike has spent the last 27 years researching It and coming up with a plan to defeat the monstrous creature. It is Mike who summons his friends back home and reconvenes the Losers Club. “I believe he felt a responsibility to stay in Derry, to be the custodian of this energy that they cultivated as a group,” Mustafa said. “So, once that evil returned, he could call his friends and say, ‘Let’s do this thing again.’”

Andy Bean plays Stanley, who was played by Wyatt Oleff as a kid. Bean described the character as having a good marriage and leading “quite a beautiful, content, comfortable life.” The horrible childhood memories he has been repressing come bubbling back to the surface when Mike calls. “I think he had buried his memories so deep that he didn’t really remember anything until he heard Mike’s voice—it’s his voice,” Bean said.

Just as the Losers have grown and evolved, so has Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård. “He wants them back, in a way,” Barbara Muschietti said of Pennywise, adding that he’s “also angry, because they defeated him before, and in coming back, they are showing brave behaviour…which he can’t stand.” To fight the Losers, Pennywise must “become a more evil, bigger monster,” manifesting in startling and dramatic new forms.

Speaking about how Pennywise is different in this film, Andy Muschietti said “He’s changed in the sense that the fears are more about things that frighten us as adults.” While said fears are rooted in traumatic events from the Losers’ childhoods, they take a shape that is more threatening to them 27 years after their initial encounter with Pennywise.

“This is a journey that the Losers need to take back to their childhood, to access the power of belief,” the director said. The mission for the Losers is to take that horrifying entity of their past, “to be able to confront it, understand it and ultimately, overcome it.”

One of the film’s central themes is that of facing one’s fears, and how there is an unspoken power to the bonds of friendship. The Losers “return to face their past—it’s a brave and powerful thing to do,” Barbara Muschietti opined. “Your fears go with you until you really face them, and that’s when you grow.”

Interview transcripts courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience (Singapore) Review

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS – THE LIVE EXPERIENCE

29 August – 8 September
Singapore Indoor Stadium

Dinosaurs came alive and stomped about the stage of the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2010 and now, they have returned. Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience is back in Singapore, bringing with it 18 full-sized living, breathing dinosaurs.

The theatrical presentation is based on the 1999 BBC documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs, which has since become a successful multimedia franchise including subsequent series like Walking With Beasts and a 2013 feature film.

This arena show was developed by Global Creatures, an Australian company that has since produced How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular and the King Kong musical. Creature designer and creative director of the Global Creatures-owned Creature Technology Company Sonny Tilders recently won a Special Tony Award for King Kong, but it was Walking With Dinosaurs that put him and the Creature Technology Company on the map.

Walking With Dinosaurs Live is a technical and artistic feat. One can’t help but marvel at the staggering, magnificent beasts which are brought to life with a variety of techniques, combining old-fashioned performers in suits, sophisticated animatronics and what are essentially high-tech parade floats on wheels.

There are certain physical limitations in place, as this show is akin to a ballet for semi-trucks. Only so much can be done with the creatures, but that alone is impressive. The sheer scale of the larger dinosaurs, especially the 11-metre-tall Brachiosaurus with its neck reaching almost to the lighting rig above, is something to behold. The sheer power and ferocity of dinosaurs like the Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex is surprisingly convincing, and soon you’ll forget that these are masses of hydraulic hose, cylinders, fabric, foam and cabling and buy them as living, breathing animals.

There’s quite a bit going on with the set too – rock formations move apart then come together to represent continental drift, while inflatable trees and flowers sprout from the scenery, simulating time-lapse photography. The show’s lighting design is immersive, and all this is complemented and often driven by a lush, stirring musical score by James Brett.

While the adults in the audience will likely come away very impressed, Walking With Dinosaurs Live is still mainly aimed at children. The show is educational, with the character Huxley spouting facts and figures and giving us helpful background information, but all that takes a backseat to the spectacle.

Huxley is played by two actors during this production, Dominic Rickhards and Andrew Lewis (we saw Rickhards in the role). Huxley is a temporal tour guide, taking audiences through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods that form the Mesozoic Era, spanning hundreds of millions of years. The character is there not just as a narrator, but also to show the sheer scale of the dinosaurs and to sometimes run away from them.

There isn’t a lot of room in how the Huxley character can be interpreted, but Rickhards’ enthusiastic Animal Planet-style delivery helps tie everything together. It’s reminiscent of presenter Nigel Marven, who played a time-travelling version of himself in Chased By Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park. We have great respect for how he must memorise reams of dialogue, as he is the only speaking character for the show’s 100-minute duration.

Just as the TV series did, Walking With Dinosaurs gives us snapshots of these animals’ lives, speculating on their behavioural patterns based on palaeontology. The dinosaurs are imbued with just enough recognisable attributes, achieving a similar effect as when we go to the zoo and compare the animals to our own friends and family. Since many parents will bring their children to watch the show, it makes sense that the show presents interactions between several dinosaurs and their young.

The show’s funniest and most emotional scene is that of the mischievous Baby T. rex, who tries to take on the much larger Torosaurus and Ankylosaurus, necessitating his rescue by his mother. The interaction between the Baby T. rex and his mother is heart-warming – again, it’s easy to forget that Mama T. rex is a giant machine on wheels, and that her baby is a man in a suit, even when that man’s legs are visible. It’s almost like how one stops noticing the puppeteer in a traditional Bunraku performance after a while.

While the story and the dinosaurs that appear remain largely the same, the show has been upgraded from its earlier incarnations with several of the dinosaurs being feathered, in accordance with current research. This reviewer felt like there was one step back: the flying Ornithocheirus was previously a puppet suspended on wires but has been replaced with an animated Ornithocheirus. While the CGI is good and while this doesn’t have the biggest impact on the show overall, the Ornithocheirus was the one puppet that was significantly different from the others used in the show.

Don’t let a CGI Pterosaur stop you from watching this though. For any dinosaur-obsessed kid, it is exhilarating to see the creatures realised so vividly before one’s very eyes – especially if you’re in the expensive seats and the Brachiosaurus cranes its neck, bending down to say greet the audience. There’s a lot to appreciate from a technical and artistic standpoint too. On paper, it might sound impossible to make a ballet for semi-trucks compelling but Walking With Dinosaurs Live accomplishes this feat.

Read my vintage review of the show when I saw it in 2010 here.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: Behind the Spectacle of Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience

We speak to the people who make dinosaurs come alive in this arena spectacular
By Jedd Jong

Dinosaurs, titans of a bygone age, have always captured the imagination. Movies, TV shows and exhibitions at museums and theme parks have attempted to bring them back to life but Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Spectacular is probably the closest one can get to actually breathing the same air as these magnificent creatures.

Walking With Dinosaurs Live is a theatrical presentation featuring 18 life-sized dinosaurs that move around a stage, fighting, eating and interacting much as they would millions of years ago. The show is based on the 1999 BBC documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs, which was shot on location around the world and used Jurassic Park-style computer-generated imagery and animatronics to create a nature documentary. This arena show premiered in 2007 and has since toured Australia, Europe, North America and Asia.

The dinosaurs are created by Global Creatures which is headed by Sonny Tilders, who recently won a Tony award for creating the titular giant ape in the King Kong musical. A blend of engineering and artistry has gone into creating dinosaurs with realistic appearance and movement.

There are two main types of dinosaurs seen in the show: the Utahraptors, Liliensternus and baby T. Rex are puppeteered by performers in suits, while the larger dinosaurs like the Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus and adult T. rex are akin to high-tech parade floats. For the latter variety, there is a chassis which conceals a driver, while puppeteers remotely control the movements of the body and the head and jaw with telemetry devices. Each large dinosaur weighs 2100 kg, around the same as a medium-sized family car. The show travels in 28 sea containers that are 12 metres long each.

Resident director Ian Waller

“It was a pioneer at its time. There was nothing like it and there still really isn’t anything like it,” said the show’s resident director, Ian Waller. Waller’s background is in musical theatre: he’s been the resident director of touring productions of Annie and Chicago and has been the resident choreographer of Billy Elliot and West Side Story.

While Walking With Dinosaurs Live is not a musical, it is very much in Waller’s wheelhouse. “It’s still a theatrical piece. It’s all done with music, on a music base, then there’s a story, so it’s not too far away from what I’m used to doing in theatre,” he shared. The show’s original director Scott Faris also has a background in musical theatre, having helmed over 20 productions of Chicago, and has since selected resident directors who also have experience in musical theatre.

The musical score by James Brett helps bring the presentation together in a cinematic way. “It’s the music that sets the theme, even subliminally. If there’s danger, the music changes,” Waller said. He compared Brett’s use of different leitmotifs assigned to each dinosaur as reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

Waller spoke about Sonny Tilders’ vision in creating the creatures. “He wanted it to be so far away from any exhibition that was repetitive and robotic. He said, ‘There’s no point in doing this unless we can make them real.’ He’s incredibly protective over these [dinosaurs]. Even now, ten, 11, 12 years later, these are still his babies,” Waller said, adding that he must send weekly reports on the show back to Tilders’ team in Australia.

There is a sole human character who functions as our guide through the Mesozoic era: the palaeontologist Huxley, named for Thomas Huxley, considered one of the fathers of modern palaeontology. “He’s a crucial part of our show, to link our stories, to link the eras. If you didn’t have him, you’d just have a bunch of dinosaurs walking around the stage,” Waller said. Huxley also helps sell the sheer scale of the creatures.

Andrew Lewis (Huxley)

We spoke to Andrew Lewis, one of two actors who shares the role of Huxley in this production (The other being Dominic Rickhards). “When I first started to do it, I developed a personal relationship with the dinosaurs myself, so that when they come onto the stage, I have a response to them,” Lewis said. “Therefore, the audience are journeying with me, through me, to the time I travel back to.”

The time-travelling Huxley is a proxy for the audience, functioning both as a narrator and as a part of the story. “I have to capture that awe and wonder of what these huge magnificent beasts would have been like,” Lewis said, adding “The fact that they are genuine size obviously helps.”

While Huxley is the only human being who’s physically visible in the show, Lewis is cognisant of the sheer amount of cooperation it takes the keep the show running “We are a unit, we work as one body, as with any theatre piece,” he commented. “Whoever’s seen onstage and whoever’s offstage are all an immense part of the whole spectacle you’re going to see, and that’s the same in this, and you respect their input.”

Suit performer Neal Holmes

One such unseen performer is Neal Holmes, who puts on a suit to play either the Baby T. rex, one of the Utahraptors or the Liliensternus, depending on the performance. The suits weigh between 30 and 45 kg. “At the beginning, when I first started doing this job, it was extremely difficult and a little bit stressful and taxing, but over time, with lots and lots of practice, like anything, it becomes like second nature,” Holmes, who has a background in acrobatics, parkour and other sports. “The more you do something, the easier it is.”

The Baby T. rex is a boisterous, mischievous character, who gets into trouble and needs to be saved by his mother during the big finale of the show. “You know you’ve done a good job when you do the kiss after the Baby T. gets rescued by the mum and you get a round of applause or an ‘aww’ or a reaction,” Holmes said.

“A good rule of thumb is less is more,” Holmes pointed out, adding that “the suit looks amazing just standing still.” Holmes has made several publicity appearances as the Baby T. rex interacting with people in public. “Some parents forget the kids are crying and they’ll just hold the kids up. I try to avoid them,” he said, quipping “sometimes the parents are more scared than the kids.”

Why should audiences go to see Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience? “You’re gonna see 18 life-sized dinosaurs walking around the stage telling you the story of the dinosaurs from the Triassic to the Cretaceous,” Waller said, adding “It’s as close as you’re going to get in a theatrical environment to seeing real-life dinosaurs.”

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience runs from 20 August to 8 September at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Tickets start from $78 (discounts available). Visit http://www.sportshubtix.sg for tickets.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold review

For inSing

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

Director: James Bobin
Cast : Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, Temuera Morrison, Q’orianka Kilcher, Benicio del
Genre : Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 42 mins
Opens : 29 August 2019
Rating : PG

           Dora, the beloved bilingual icon of preschool television, makes the leap to the big screen in her first live-action adventure.

Dora (Isabela Moner and Madelyn Miranda at different ages) has spent all her life in the jungle with her researcher parents Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), and her monkey friend Boots. Dora’s cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg and Malachi Barton at different ages) left for the city when he was seven, while Dora continued to stay in the jungle.

Now 16, Dora makes the big move to L.A. to join Diego. Having never been exposed to the typical teenage existence, Dora sticks out at school and causes Diego much embarrassment. During a field trip, Dora, Diego and their classmates Sammy (Madeline Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped. A gang of mercenaries including Powell (Temuera Morrison) and the fox Swiper (Benicio del Toro) are after Dora’s parents, believing they have found the lost Incan city of Parapata. The four meet Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), a professor who knows Dora’s parents. Drawing on her childhood in the jungle, Dora must protect her friends and stop the villains from plundering the mythical city.

An adaptation of Dora the Explorer is a tricky thing to get right: naturally, many elements from the animated series aimed at two to five-year-olds do not translate well into live-action. Dora and the Lost City of Gold is smarter than it seems, and not just because there are self-reflexive jokes about Dora breaking the fourth wall. Working from a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson, director James Bobin plays with familiar aspects of the TV show and has made a film that is in part about growing up.

Sure, this is ostensibly an adventure movie and has many of the traditional trappings associated with the genre, but at its heart, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is about growing up and adjusting to different circumstances. Dora is a fish out of water, mocked by everyone and unable to fit in at high school. She struggles with being responsible for the survival of others, but through everything, is resolutely optimistic and knows the best thing she can be is herself.

Dora is earnest and positive to a fault, but the film celebrates the character for it. Isabela Moner plays the upbeat Dora with a vibrant can-do energy, but also shades the character in and gives her more dimensions than the deliberately simplistic characterisation of Dora in the TV show did. Moner is a Dora fan, having dressed up as her for Halloween. It’s clear that Moner is having great fun inhabiting this character, and while the film places Dora in a new context, it never loses the essence of who she is and why she’s been such a beloved character.

The dynamic between Dora and Diego is an interesting one with shades of sadness to it, because they used to be close as young children but have drifted apart since Diego moved away. Diego still loves his cousin, but Dora can’t understand why Diego is now embarrassed by her. Over the course of the adventure, they repair their relationship; this is done surprisingly well.

The adult supporting cast have lots of fun, especially Michael Peña as Dora’s father. Eugenio Derbez does his typical goofy schtick but puts a bit of a spin on it as the movie progresses.

Like many family films, Dora and the Lost City of Gold sometimes has trouble calibrating how much of it should be aimed at kids and how much should cater to the accompanying adults. There are a few metafictional jokes and the movie even manages to sneak in a trippy hallucinatory sequence. There is some very juvenile bodily function humour, but perhaps that’s balanced with the film’s comments on the colonisation of Central and South America.

The scenes in which Dora and company solve puzzles and escape lethal traps are reminiscent of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. Some of the set pieces feel a little theme park-ish or like something out of Legends of the Hidden Temple – Moner starred in a TV movie based on that gameshow. This movie sometimes trips up on how cartoony to make things, especially when it comes to Boots and Swiper, who are not especially convincing CGI characters.

The musical score by John Debney and Germaine Franco is reminiscent of John Williams while incorporating indigenous Peruvian musical instruments and vocals. Beyond the music, Quechua, the language of the Incas, features in the movie. There is a greater respectfulness of indigenous culture which isn’t often seen in adventure movies, where ancient treasures are just something the good guys and bad guys fight over.

          Dora and the Lost City of Gold is mostly funny and good-natured; it’s charming because it’s uncynical. There are certain aspects of the film that come off as clumsy because of the gulf between the source material and what the filmmakers are going for, but most of it works. With Moner’s unerringly cheery performance at its centre, the Dora movie is an enjoyably silly family film.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

47 Meters Down: Uncaged review

For inSing

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED

Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast : Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone, John Corbett, Nia Long
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 1 h 30 mins
Opens : 29 August 2019
Rating : PG13

            In 2017, 47 Meters Down chronicled the misadventures of two sisters who got into a shark cage while on vacation in Mexico. As the title suggests, this sequel dispenses with the cage, following four friends into caves where sharks are waiting.

Mia (Sophie Nélisse) is having a hard time at school where she is constantly bullied, and has trouble getting along with her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx). Their dad Grant (John Corbett) is a commercial diver who is mapping a sunken Mayan city, preparing for visiting archaeologists.

Sasha’s friend Alexa (Brianne Tju), who has followed Grant’s employee Ben (Davi Santos) into the caves, convinces Mia, Sasha and Nicole (Sistine Stallone) to go exploring in the caves. The plan is to swim into the first chamber and then return, but naturally, things go wrong. Sharks which have adapted to the low-light conditions of the underwater caverns terrorise the girls, who are trapped with a fast-depleting oxygen supply. The four girls must help each other survive and escape.

Director Johannes Roberts returns for the sequel, which has no characters in common with its predecessor. In a way, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged seems like a typical direct-to-DVD sequel, with a different cast but a similar premise to the first. However, Uncaged has a noticeably bigger budget than the first movie. Roberts is more ambitious with this film, staging several exciting sequences that are more elaborate than what we saw in 47 Meters Down, which was by its nature quite spare.

Shooting any movie underwater is no small logistical undertaking, especially given the film’s limited budget. The film’s set design and explosive finale sequence contribute to a slightly bigger feel than its predecessor.

With its all-female main cast, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is kind of like a less-gnarly version of The Descent. Roberts cowrote the screenplay with Ernest Riera; it appears neither knows how teenage girls talk to each other. The movie struggles to parcel out enough information about our protagonists before the action begins such that we care about them when they’re in peril. As such, the characters are all thinly drawn.

Sophie Nélisse, who put in an excellent performance in The Book Thief, is the awkward, level-headed protagonist. Succumbing to peer pressure, she is coaxed into doing something silly and dangerous by her stepsister and her friends. Giving off slight Saoirse Ronan vibes, Nélisse is the best actress of the four, in part because there is just that little bit more to her character than to the others

Corrine Foxx, daughter of Jamie, plays a character who’s a bit stuck up. Naturally, the two stepsisters will bond over the course of their harrowing ordeal. Sistine Stallone, daughter of Sylvester, is there to be the party animal friend who in horror movie terms is almost begging to be the first to die.

Brianne Tju’s Alexa is confident without being annoying, and next to Mia, is the one who knows what’s she doing.

John Corbett puts in some dependable character actor work, playing what amounts to a textbook supporting role.

The visual effects work, mainly created by Outpost VFX, is mostly good. The sharks have evolved to survive in the submerged caves, making them register more as movie monsters than regular sharks. The film ends with a disclaimer message stating that around 10 people die in shark attacks each year, vs 100 million sharks that get killed by humans. There is a valid fear that movies like 47 Meters Down: Uncaged perpetuate a disproportionate fear of sharks, so that might be why Roberts has played up the movie monster attributes of the animals in this film.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is often trapped between being all-out campy fun and being a legitimately scary thriller. Despite weak writing and a somewhat dull middle stretch, the film is mostly entertaining, so much so that one could almost forgive it ripping off Deep Blue Sea’s most memorable scene.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Angel Has Fallen review

For inSing

ANGEL HAS FALLEN

Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast : Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Michael Landes, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Nolte, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 22 August 2019
Rating : NC16

He saved the White House, he saved London, and now, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must save himself.

An assassination attempt on President Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) leaves his entire Secret Service detail dead – except Banning. Banning is framed for the attack and goes on the run, leaving his wife Leah (Piper Perabo) and their baby daughter in danger. Pursued by Secret Service director David Gentry (Lance Reddick) and FBI Special Agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), Banning turns to an unlikely source for help: his estranged father Clay (Nick Nolte). Banning must clear his name and uncover the conspiracy, before the attacker can finish what they’ve started.

Part of the charm of the Fallen film series is its throwback nature. These are resolutely 90s action movies of the ‘seen it all before’ variety, but perhaps offer a change of pace from the typical mega-blockbuster. Angel Has Fallen is more serious and subdued than the bloated, preposterous and jingoistic London Has Fallen, but that’s not to say it’s anywhere in the realm of plausibility. There are still far-fetched elements to the plot and bombastic action sequences, but there’s a bit more character stuff stuck in between this time. Early information about the film’s plot suggested it would be about a terrorist attack on Air Force One, which was the plot of, uh, Air Force One. Thankfully, while Angel Has Fallen is far from original, it isn’t a rip-off of Air Force One.

True to form as a 90s throwback, Angel Has Fallen is reminiscent of The Fugitive and its spinoff U.S. Marshals. It’s easy to imagine Harrison Ford in the Mike Banning role at some point. Under the direction of former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Angel Has Fallen is unsophisticated but muscular. There are lots of old-fashioned action set-pieces, including a jack-knifing semi-truck that flips over. There are also countless explosions that toss hapless henchmen in the air. The action is largely tactile, and Angel Has Fallen largely avoids the clumsy and obvious CGI of its predecessors.

Gerard Butler was certainly overselling the movie when he compared it to Logan in an interview, but to a certain extent, the comparison makes sense. In this film, we see Banning struggle with the physical trauma he has weathered being in the line of fire, having developed an addiction to painkillers. This by no means compromises his ability to be a nigh-superhuman badass in combat, but it’s good to see the film acknowledging its protagonist’s pain.

Morgan Freeman gets more to do than in the previous two movies, during which he was largely confined to the situation room. Here, he is largely confined to a hospital room, but brings the authority and warmth expected of him. 21 years after Deep Impact, he’s presidential as ever.

This is one of those movies in which it’s incredibly obvious who the bad guys are the moment they first appear onscreen. It seems obvious to the point where one would think they must be red herrings, but no, those characters you suspected are indeed the villains.

Nick Nolte adds a great deal of personality as Mike’s dad, giving this movie shades of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Nolte can play crusty and cantankerous in his sleep, but also mines some tragedy from the character and provides the movie with its few authentic beats.

The Leah Banning character gets little to do, but then again, she’s always gotten little to do, to the point where one would be forgiven for not noticing that Radha Mitchell has been replaced by Piper Perabo.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s FBI Agent character is unremarkable, and she seems to over-act to compensate for how purely functional the character is in the plot.

Angel Has Fallen is not an especially smart film, but it offers modest thrills in a relatively entertaining package. Butler gets the job done even though he looks tired and out of it, and the story offers a reason for why he looks tired and out of it. There’s still a place for movies like Angel Has Fallen, with its gunfights, explosions and easily solved plots against the president.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong