Generally Speaking: War Machine press conference/red carpet

For F*** Magazine

GENERALLY SPEAKING

Brad Pitt dons the fatigues for Netflix’s comedy-drama War Machine

[Tokyo Exclusive]

By Jedd Jong

The meteoric rise of online streaming giant Netflix has made several major cinema chains quake in their boots, and for this particular battle, Netflix has come armed with one of the biggest movie stars of the last 20 years: Brad Pitt, who stars in and produces War Machine. F*** was at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Tokyo for a press conference attended by Pitt, writer-director David Michôd and co-producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner.

War Machine is based on the non-fiction book The Operators by the late Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings. Pitt plays General Glen McMahon, a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of real-life general Stanley McChrystal. A decorated soldier credited with the death of an Al Qaeda leader, McChrystal’s military career came to an end when disparaging comments he made about Vice President Joe Biden appeared in a Rolling Stone article.

Glen McMahon is characterised in the film as a blustering buffoon; Pitt visibly enjoying playing the over-the-top role. Pitt said that he and the filmmakers settled on certain traits, including the character’s awkward posture while running, by deciding what “just made [them] laugh the most.” Pitt observed that McMahon “portrays and sees himself as an emblem of greatness when actually he looks quite silly,” and that the “absurdity of the general” embodied the ultimate pointlessness of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.

Pitt was clad in a black jacket over a grey shirt and white trousers, seeming relaxed as he attempted to keep things light by cracking jokes. “I take full credit for the shorts,” Pitt quipped, referring to the shorts that McMahon wears while jogging. He dared all the men present to “start a new trend together” by mimicking the none-too-flattering look. The humorous comment didn’t draw much of a reaction from the Japanese press, and because of the need for questions and answers to be interpreted back and forth from English to Japanese and vice versa, there wasn’t much spontaneity or momentum to the proceedings.

Michôd said it was “terrifying” that the war in Afghanistan has been going on for 16 years. “I couldn’t work out why it has been going on for so long and how it is possible that people- who I would assume are quite smart and capable-are still pretending as though there is some kind of victory waiting for them just around the corner,” Michôd mused. After reading The Operators, it all clicked. “What I saw at the
centre of it was a character, a general who was kind of delusional because he was so removed,” Michôd revealed. In the book, Michôd saw how McChrystal’s ambition “removed him from the experiences of the troops on the ground, and from the civilian world that he was there to serve.” From Michôd’s point of view, the root of the protracted involvement of American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was “plain human delusion”.

“Quite honestly, without a delivery system like Netflix, this movie wouldn’t have been made,” Pitt said, praising Netflix for taking risks on challenging material. He praised Netflix and online delivery systems like it, saying that thanks to these platforms “there’s more content getting made, there’s more risk out there, there’s more films, there’s more stories being told, there’s more filmmakers getting shots.” All involved took a “big leap” for War Machine, which Pitt called a “big, bold move for Netflix, quite frankly.”

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Gardner echoed Pitt’s sentiments on Netflix, saying “I think everyone has similar intentions, but not everyone has the courage.” Gardner said she “could not have dreamed of a better partner” than Netflix, and that Plan B also had a positive experience working with Netflix for Bong Joon-ho’s upcoming film Okja. Gardner called the Netflix personnel “rock stars”, saying “we try and push boundaries in the stories we tell, and when you meet a company like Netflix who says ‘okay, we want to do that too,’ and they say ‘We have the money for it and we’ve got the manpower to support you’, it’s like a gift from on high.”

War Machine is available on Netflix from 26 May 2017

Read the full article in the upcoming issue of F*** Magazine

 

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

For F*** Magazine

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD 

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou Jude Law, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Mikael Persbrandt, Lorraine Bruce, Hermione Corfield, Annabelle Wallis
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 6min
Opens : 18 May 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

Mythical monarch King Arthur rears his head in not one, but two big-budget summer movies this year. Before Transformers: The Last Knight, we get this origin story. Orphan Arthur (Hunnam) has led a hardscrabble existence on the cobblestone streets of Londinium, unaware of his royal heritage. Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon (Bana), was deposed by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Law), who has become a power-mad sorcerer. Only Uther or his direct progeny can pull the sword Excalibur from the stone. When Arthur accomplishes this feat, he becomes the target of Vortigern’s fury. Arthur is assisted in his quest to defeat Vortigern by his friend Wetstick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Uther’s loyal advisor Sir Bedivere (Hounsou), skilled archer Goosefat Bill (Gillen) and a mysterious woman who wields control over animals through magic, known only as the Mage (Bergès-Frisbey). Arthur must achieve mastery of Excalibur, as he and his allies fight to reclaim the throne that is rightfully his.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the first in a planned series of six films. Legend of the Sword morphed continuously throughout its development: David Dobkin was originally set to direct a King Arthur film starring Kit Harington in the title role and Joel Kinnaman as Lancelot. Then, Colin Farrell was attached to the Arthur part, with Gary Oldman cast as Merlin. Under Guy Ritchie, it’s become Snatch meets Lord of the Rings. There have been countless big screen permutations of the Arthur legend, and this version smacks of a desperation to put a new spin – any new spin – on a public domain tale with name recognition. Legend of the Sword wants to be a superhero movie, a street level crime film, and a Game of Thrones-style epic of palace intrigue and high fantasy. Alas, it ends up being all those things and none at the same time; Ritchie struggling but failing to meld these disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

As with any legend so old and so widespread, there is no one true version of the King Arthur story. As evidenced by the floating fireballs and myriad outsized CGI animals, this isn’t intended to be “historical” in any sense. The screenplay by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, rewritten from a draft by Joby Harold, attempts to distil several elements from various versions of the myth, but they wind up convoluting things in the process. Narrative gymnastics make the Sword in the Stone the same sword as Excalibur, when in earlier tellings, they were separate swords. As expected from Ritchie, there is a combination of flash and grit. James Herbert’s editing often makes this difficult to follow. Not only is it jittery and arrhythmic, but there are multiple sequences that cut between Arthur and co. discussing a plan, then enacting said plan – or maybe it’s a hypothetical scenario of how the plan will unfold. It’s supposed to make things interesting, but renders them confusing instead.

Hunnam is a fine leading man, and got into spectacular shape for the film, packing on the muscle. Hunnam wanted the role so much that he declared to Ritchie that he would physically fight Henry Cavill and Jai Courtney, who were also being considered, for the part. For all Hunnam’s effort, Arthur is borderline boring. It’s a standard hero’s journey, rejecting the quest, accepting the quest story. He’s Oliver Twist 13-14 centuries early (there’s a pickpocketing montage) who grows up to shoulder the burden of destiny. Despite Ritchie’s stylistic trappings, Arthur emerges as a standard, serviceable hero – nothing more than that.

Before Law dons Dumbledore’s robes, he plays a far less benevolent wizard. Vortigern is characterised as a mafioso, usurping power and stabbing those close to him in the back – often literally. He slouches in his throne, disrespectful of the seat of power. There’s little nuance to the part, and while Vortigern is appropriately treacherous, he’s never truly scary.

Arthur’s associates in this film are proto-Knights of the Roundtable – Bedivere served King Uther, while Wetstick grew up on the streets of Londinium alongside Arthur. There’s an attempt to make this an eclectic bunch – we don’t know of another Arthurian movie featuring a Chinese martial artist named George (Tom Wu), who trains young Arthur in combat. While there’s the veneer of personality, the supporting characters are insufficiently defined. Gillen is fun to watch, owing more to his own flair as a performer than to the writing.

Bergès-Frisbey’s character is apparently Guinevere, though she’s only called ‘the Mage’ in the film. As the female lead, one would expect Bergès-Frisbey to get more to do, beyond issuing ominous warnings and standing offscreen as digital critters do her bidding. Speaking of the digital critters, the menagerie of elephants, snakes, eagles, wolves, bats and other beasts aren’t nearly as awesome (or as believable) as the Rabbit of Caerbannog from a certain other Arthurian movie.

Bana is in precious little of the film, and his appearance made us wonder what a King Arthur movie starring him would be like (probably better). Thankfully, the David Beckham cameo isn’t nearly as goofy as we feared.

While the Welsh and Scottish shooting locations are breath-taking, Legend of the Sword feels like a spectacle movie that is markedly unspectacular. For better and worse, but mostly worse, it is unmistakably a Guy Ritchie film. Ritchie’s sensibilities fail to coalesce with the mystique and grandeur he wants this film to possess. Perhaps with the origin story out of the way, the sequel will be more entertaining – but hoping for six of these is just giddy optimism.

Summary: Legend of the Sword is a flashy but somewhat incoherent remix of Arthurian myth that is caught in limbo between street-level grit and full-on fantasy.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dead Awake

For F*** Magazine

DEAD AWAKE 

Director : Phillip Guzman
Cast : Jocelin Donahue, Jesse Bradford, Lori Petty, Jesse Borrego, Brea Grant, James Eckhouse
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 39min
Opens : 11 May 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use and Horror)

The heroes of this horror movie have something to get off their chests – that something is a supernatural entity known as the Night Hag. Beth Bowman (Donahue) is recovering from a substance abuse problem and has been experiencing night terrors. Beth’s boyfriend Evan (Bradford) and Beth’s twin sister Kate (also Donahue) try to get to the bottom of this, uncovering a string of mysterious incidents in which perfectly healthy people die suddenly in their sleep. While Dr. Sykes (Petty), an expert in sleep science, assures Beth and Kate that sleep paralysis is completely normal and harmless, the sisters aren’t so sure. Their search for answers takes them to the eccentric Hassan Davies (Borrego), who believes that sleep paralysis is caused by a ghoulish being who sits on people’s chests and suffocates them while they’re caught between sleep and wakefulness. Kate must confront her own demons as she attempts to defeat an eons-old evil.

Dead Awake is helmed by Texan director Phillip Guzman, and written by Jeffrey Reddick. Reddick wrote the original draft of Final Destination, and has been a long-time fan of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. At 14, he wrote a treatment for a prequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which eventually landed him a job as assistant to New Line Cinema boss Robert Shaye. It stands to reason that Reddick would want to create his own sleep-centric horror series, as the phenomenon of sleep paralysis is a spooky one indeed. In Dead Awake, we are presented with the rational explanation for seemingly unexplainable deaths, before the horrifying, supernatural truth is unveiled. The problem is, Dead Awake spends far too much time explaining what sleep paralysis is, when it’s a simple concept to grasp.

One would expect the writer of Final Destination to, at the very least, devise some creative deaths. Dead Awake is cripplingly repetitive, in that there’s really only one way the Night Hag can kill – crawl onto her victims and suffocate them as they are helpless to fight back. The Night Hag is far from a distinctive movie monster, and lacks the personality that defines, say, Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare films. It’s a generic design, and the physicality of the Night Hag, who drags herself across the floor and makes jittery movements, isn’t particularly fresh either. The film’s best scene, which depicts the horrifying extent one man goes to in order to stay awake, doesn’t even feature the Night Hag.

Donahue, whom horror fans might recognise from House of the Devil and Insidious: Chapter 2, plays the dual roles of twin sisters. The film uses lo-fi techniques such as clever framing and body doubles to achieve the illusion, but it isn’t as seamless as in some other films in which one actor plays twins.

While Dead Awake avoids the common horror movie pitfall of making its characters utterly insufferable, Kate, Beth and Bradford’s Evan making for boring protagonists. Petty is wasted as a strait-laced skeptic, while Borrego’s performance borders dangerously on over-the-top.

Dead Awake tries but fails to fully exploit a premise that’s inherently disturbing sleep paralysis could happen to anybody, and has happened to many, including this reviewer. After watching Dead Awake, one should be terrified to shut one’s eyes, even for a moment. The film doesn’t burrow deep enough under one’s skin, and instead of giving the phenomenon a terrifying new dimension, instead takes away its mystique by offering a pat answer as to why sleep paralysis happens.

Summary: With its generic monster and uninteresting lead characters, Dead Awake’s potential as a truly unsettling horror flick is largely unmined.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Alien: Covenant

For F*** Magazine

ALIEN: COVENANT 

Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, James Franco
Genre : Sci-Fi/Horror
Running time: 2h 3min
Release Date: 10th May 2017
Rating: M18

Five years after the divisive Prometheus, Ridley Scott takes audiences back to the realm of sci-fi horror he helped create with 1979’s Alien. It is the year 2104, 10 years after the events of Prometheus, and the colony ship Covenant is bound for the planet Origae-6. After a neutrino blast wakes the crew early, and a mysterious transmission is intercepted, Captain Christopher Oram (Crudup) decides to make a detour. Against the protests of terraforming specialist Daniels (Waterston), the Covenant sends a lander down to the planet where the transmission originated from. The android Walter (Fassbender) joins Oram, Daniels and other crew members on the expedition, as pilot Tennessee (McBride) awaits their safe return to the Covenant. On this uncharted planet, the crew encounters vicious, hitherto unknown life forms, resulting in multiple casualties. They also meet David (also Fassbender), an android who was the sole survivor of the Prometheus mission. Daniels, Oram and Walter quickly realise that the planet is home to something far more terrifying than the monsters that are pursuing them.

Prometheus left many unanswered questions in its wake. Since there are at least two more films planned after Covenant before the chronology links up to the original Alien, many of those questions remain unanswered. Alien: Covenant is executed with technical polish, boasting marvellous production values and convincing design elements. However, it is also a frustrating work. There are bits of the film that are reminiscent of Alien, and others that evoke the high-octane Aliens, but for most of its duration, Covenant is stuck in limbo between those two.

John Logan and Dante Harper penned the script, from a draft by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. It’s largely a serious-minded film and wants to be philosophical, just not as upfront with the ‘big questions’ as Prometheus was. Then, in its final act, Covenant becomes an action film, leaving audiences with the sense that the film took one-and-a-half hours to get into gear. The first time something genuinely exciting occurs, it’s 40 minutes into the movie.

There are parts of Covenant that are scary, and there are parts that are thrilling, but they remain parts instead of coalescing into a whole. The basic plot structure is a familiar one: the crew of a ship receives a distress call of some kind, go to investigate the source of the signal, then all hell breaks loose. Because of the plans to continue the franchise, Covenant ends up feeling very much like a middle instalment, which introduces some interesting ideas but is reluctant to push the overall narrative arc forward very far. Fans of the series might get a kick out of seeing the classic, sinuous Xenomorph (or at least something very close to it) on the big screen again. However, because it and the other creatures in the film are achieved mostly using computer-generated effects, we lose the tactility that helped make the old-school Xenomorphs in the earlier films so scary. The goblin-like Neomorph is sometimes creepy, but also sometimes too cartoony.

With any sci-fi movie named after a ship, audiences must fall in love with – or at least be interested in – the crew. Several of them are married couples, meaning there’s potential for heart-rending emotional moments. Alas, the characters who staff the Covenant are mostly bland and under-developed. There are also too many for them to be distinct. They do make dumb decisions, but not to the extent of the Prometheus crew.

Waterston does a fine job, and ably handles the pressure of living up to Sigourney Weaver. While Daniels is mostly a Ripley knockoff, Waterston lends the film a tremulous humanity. She gets to partake in big action set-pieces, including a fun one involving an excavator-like crane arm. However, she’s not fearless or unrealistically tough.

Crudup is also serviceable as the First Mate who gets promoted to the position of Captain, a stubborn man of faith who struggles with leading the crew. Since religious themes and imagery played a key role in Prometheus, which was about man’s search for his creator, it’s disappointing that this aspect of Oram remains largely superficial. While one might assume McBride is on hand to provide comic relief, and he does, he also displays solid acting chops, and stays a safe distance from being the annoying quippy sidekick this reviewer feared the character would become.

Fassbender is the best thing about Covenant. He shines in his dual roles: Walter, ostensibly the ‘good’ android, sounds American, whereas the amoral and possibly evil David speaks with a clipped English accent. David’s murky motivations get further explored, and he’s meant to remind viewers of the Nazis: David has an affinity for Wagner, is interested with eugenics, and may yearn for the complete eradication of a certain species. The tension between creation and creator that is at the core of the character gets further play. Walter is programmed with less autonomy, and is therefore less likely to go off the rails. David and Walter’s interactions are as riveting, if not more so, than the scenes involving the alien monsters. The visual effects work required to make Fassbender act opposite a second, identical Fassbender is seamless.

Fans who were hoping that Alien: Covenant would return the series to its roots will likely have mixed feelings about the film. It seems that Scott felt the pressure to deliver a Xenomorph that was closer to the original H.R. Giger designs than the prototypical beasts seen in Prometheus. It’s a sporadically fascinating, but ultimately unsatisfying entry in the series; and there’s just enough to recommend here for the faithful.

Summary: This Alien instalment will make you scream, but as much out of frustration as in terror, its grandeur undercut by an unremarkable stable of characters and an uninspired plot.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sister Act the Musical Press Call

For F*** Magazine

SHE AIN’T HEAVY, SHE’S MY SISTER
F*** joins the congregation for the preview of Sister Act the musical
By Jedd Jong

The Asian tour of the musical Sister Act takes the soulful nuns to Singapore, following a U.S. national tour. F*** was at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the press call on 8th May 2017, ahead of the show’s premiere on 9th May. We were treated to a performance of two numbers from the show, spoke with some of the cast and crew, and took a backstage tour to get a glimpse of the production’s inner workings.

Based on the beloved 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act chronicles the misadventures of Deloris Van Cartier (Dené Hill), a lounge singer who inadvertently witnesses her mobster boyfriend Curtis (Brandon Godfrey) commit a murder. For her protection, Deloris is placed in a convent, where she runs afoul of the Mother Superior (Rebecca Mason-Wygal), a stickler for tradition. Deloris winds up revitalising the convent with an innovative approach to religious music, befriending Sister Mary Patrick (Emma Brock) and helping the shy Sister Mary Robert (Sophie Kim) unearth her powerful potential as a vocalist. In the meantime, Curtis gets wind of her whereabouts, as police officer Eddie Souther (Will T. Travis) hunts Curtis down.

Sister Act’s libretto was written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane; with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Menken and Slater have also collaborated on Disney’s animated films Tangled and Home on the Range, and the film-to-stage musicals The Little Mermaid, Leap of Faith and A Bronx Tale. Sister Act opened on London’s West End in 2009 and ran for just over a year, with a revised version of the show running on Broadway from 2011 to 2012. Sister Act was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, but won none.

While the plot remains largely faithful to that of the film, audiences should expect some differences. The film tooks place in the early 90s, which is when it was made, while the musical is set in 1970s Philadelphia. Music director Chris Babbage described it as a “musical snapshot of a moment in history,” stating that the score incorporates elements of “disco, a little bit of funk, a little bit of Motown”.

 

Unfortunately for fans attached to the covers of I Will Follow Him, My God (My Guy) and Oh Maria performed in the film, those are absent from the stage version. “Everything in this score is fresh,” said Babbage. He promised “intricate harmonies among the nuns as they learn to sing and as they have their big show-stopping numbers, 2, 3, 4-part harmonies,” adding that the lead role of Deloris is vocally challenging because the disco numbers require a large range. Babbage’s personal favourite number is Fabulous, Baby!, which establishes Deloris’s character at the top of the show, that he said “encapsulates Deloris and her energy,”

Sophie Kim, who plays Sister Mary Robert, is the first Asian actress to win the role in an English-language production of Sister Act. Kim is an established musical theatre star in South Korea, having performed in productions of West Side Story, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia and Rent there. In 2010, she made the leap to Broadway, attending the New York Film Academy’s Musical Theatre Conservatory, working hard to overcome the language barrier. She went on to play Gigi in Miss Saigon and Tuptim in The King and I. Kim explained the affinity she has with Mary Robert, saying “this character is just like me in [the] U.S. I obeyed and followed whatever [anyone] told me to do. I always followed rules as well.” According to her, it is Mary Robert who “is going through the biggest change in this show.” Kim admires how Mary Robert becomes a “really brave, amazing woman who can stand up for what she believes,” saying its why she loves the role.

Brandon Godfrey plays Curtis Jackson, the mobster who goes from Deloris’ boyfriend to ruthlessly pursuing her after she sees him kill a man. The equivalent character in the film was named Vince LaRocca, and in the first version of the stage musical, was named Curtis Shank. Godfrey, alongside the actors playing Curtis’ goons, performed When I Find My Baby for the press.

When asked if it’s more fun to play the bad guy, Godfrey replied “Oh, absolutely.” Godfrey, who also played the abusive Mister in The Colour Purple, said he is often cast in villainous roles “because of [his] size”. While he might play a tough guy on stage, Godfrey has a sensitive side: his favourite part in the show is when Mother Superior finds a Bible under Deloris’ pillow, and softens her attitude towards the nightclub singer. “The whole time, Mother Superior has been angry at this girl, and then she realises ‘wow, we’ve done our job’, so that’s my favourite part,” Godfrey said.

Production stage manager Molly Goodwin took a group of journalists backstage for a glimpse behind the scenes. Goodwin was also the stage manager for the 2014-2015 US tour of the show, and thus knew Sister Act inside-out. Five shipping containers are required to transport the set pieces, costumes and other gear. Goodwin showed us where she’s stationed during each show: a console with monitors showing the front-of-house and the music director in the orchestra pit, with a cue sheet on a stand indicating when various lighting, sound and set cues are meant to occur in the show. Goodwin explained that she has more than 12 people, handling various aspects of the production, in her ear via a headset during each show.

Goodwin introduced us to a star of the show with no lines: the statue of Mother Mary. The figure stands just under five metres tall, and is covered by a tarp whenever the curtain is down. The statue has two sides: for most of the show, the side painted in normal colours is what the audience sees. Then for the finale, the statue is spun around to reveal a facade completely covered in mirrored tiles, like a disco ball. The statue is not the only one who gets a sparkly makeover: the cast don sequinned habits for the climactic number Spread the Love Around, which was performed at the press call. Goodwin described the mass backstage costume change as being choreographed like a dance.

When this writer asked Goodwin how she deals with the stress of stage managing a major production like Sister Act, Goodwin said that she feels in her element, and that sitting behind a desk and accounting would be really stressful for her. She said she sometimes has to remind her co-workers, “Guys, guys, we need to take the stress level down! We’re not cutting anybody open, we’re playing dress-up and make-believe!”, adding “we just have to keep a realistic perspective on everything.”

What’s the biggest thing audiences can look forward to from Sister Act? According to Nancy Evans, who plays Sister Mary Lazarus, it’s a good time. She hopes audiences will find themselves “having fun and feeling good about themselves as well as the show,” adding that “it’s a high-energy show that makes people laugh and cry, and stand up and sing at the end.”

Sister Act is presented by BASE Entertainment Asia and runs from 9th May to 28th May at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are from $65 to $185 via Sistic and MBS.

Good Hang Podcast

I was a guest on Nathan Hartono and Jon Cancio’s podcast Good Hang! I had a total blast, and huge shoutout to Benjamin Kheng for suggesting me to the guys as a guest! It’s a long listen, but do *hang* in there, and enjoy!

Have a listen to the episode here.

Taste Paradise: Wonder Woman media launch

For F*** Magazine

TASTE PARADISE
F*** samples Wonder Woman-themed dishes at the DC Super Heroes Café
By Jedd Jong

After making her big screen debut in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, superheroine Wonder Woman will finally get a movie of her own. Tying in to the highly-anticipated film, a homegrown marketing effort is rolling out Wonder Woman-centric accessories, apparel and food. F*** was at the DC Super Heroes Café in the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the product launch on 4th May.

Irwan Sukarman, creative director of JT Network, presented the Wonder Woman product line that will be hitting the shelves of DC Comics Super Heroes fashion and lifestyle stores in late May. JT Network owns the retail stores and the café, under license from Warner Bros. Consumer Products. Sukarman stated that the design principle boiled down to the three elements of “mythology, metal and strength,” to convey the “fierce grace” which is central to the Wonder Woman character. The items include tops for men, women and children, coasters, headphones, iPhone cases and bangles.

The product design competition WeDesign has partnered with DC Comics Super Heroes stores and Vendermac Distribution, theming this year’s contest to Wonder Woman. On 20th May 2017, the atrium at Bugis+ mall will host a design marathon where 120 designers will work on a given Wonder Woman-themed design challenge over a 4-hour period. The top five entries will win cash prizes, movie premiere tickets and limited edition collectibles. The winners will undergo the process of turning their designs into an actual product collection to be launched in the market. Head project manager Lee Kwan Ter unveiled Vendermac’s range of clutches, sling bags, keychains, pouches and laptop sleeves, which feature washed faux-leather and brushed metal details.

Chef Martin Woo explained his inspirations behind the special menu. Last year, the café also had tie-in dishes in the run-up to promote Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The Wonder Woman menu card itself is shaped like the titular character’s shield. Chef Woo stated that the governing theme in devising the menu was that of empowerment and vitality, and he wanted to emphasise the organic nature of Wonder Woman’s home, the paradise island of Themyscira.

First up was Themyscira: My Salad Origin ($16.90), which comprises cabbage, purple cabbage, green papaya, beetroot, cherry tomato, baby red radish, sliced carrot, sesame seeds and sweet corn in a creamy sesame dressing. This was largely unremarkable, and not unlike a salad one could whip up at home. The beetroot, cut into star shapes, was the most unique element of the dish. Chef Woo explained that to remove the earthy, astringent taste of the vegetable, the beetroot was wrapped in wet dough and baked before being sliced into shapes.

Our second course was Paradise Island Mac and Cheese ($18.90), inspired by the scene in the trailer in which Wonder Woman dives off a cliff into the ocean. The baked pasta dish comprises Conchiglie Rigate (shell-shaped pasta), a five-cheese and mentaiko (smoked cod roe cream) sauce, with prawns, white button mushrooms, turkey bacon and garlic. While we counted only two prawns in the whole dish, it tasted pleasant enough. Macaroni and Cheese is a go-to comfort food for this reviewer, and he was satisfied.

Then came the Truth and Beauty mini burgers ($22). It’s not sure whether Truth was chicken and Beauty was beef, or the other way around. The beef burger had a filling of ribeye steak, shitake mushroom, purple Spanish onion and cabbage, while the chicken burger had a chicken patty stuffed with cheddar and smoked mozzarella cheese, an onion ring, pineapple salsa, peanut butter, cabbage and a sunny-side up quail egg. The yellow bun was coloured with turmeric, and the pink with beetroot juice. The chicken slider was similar to the Superman-themed burger from the Batman v Superman menu last year, which also used peanut butter. The chicken patty was standard, ho-hum stuff. The beef slider fared significantly better, with the ribeye steak slices being remarkably tender and tasty.

For dessert, we had the Shields of Truth pancakes ($15.90). Each pancake was emblazoned with the Wonder Woman ‘W’ insignia, and they were served with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, strawberry ice cream and a whipped cream topping. The pancakes themselves were sufficiently moist and dense, but the ice cream seemed awfully cheap, as if it was from a supermarket home brand.

To complement the meal, we had the optimistically-named Wonder Woman’s Box Office Power drink ($10.90), which came in a glass styled to resemble the character’s armoured bustier. An ice-blended salted caramel popcorn-flavoured drink, this was a dessert in a cup – i.e., really sweet.

As a DC fan, this writer always enjoys visiting the café, but just as we’ve said in our previous reviews of their themed menus, the food is akin to what would find in a theme park – in terms of both quality and price. It was a surprise that no Greek-themed dishes were showcased, seeing as Wonder Woman draws heavy inspiration from Greek mythology, and that seemed like an obvious direction to go in.

Wonder Woman opens in cinemas on 1st June 2017.

Wonder Woman custom action figure is the writer’s own

Brain on Fire

For F*** Magazine

BRAIN ON FIRE 

Director : Gerard Barrett
Cast :  Chloe Grace Moretz, Jenny Slate, Thomas Mann, Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Armitage, Tyler Perry
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 4 May 2017
Rating : PG13

In this biopic/medical drama, Chloë Grace Moretz finds her life spinning out of control, and she doesn’t know what’s causing it. Moretz plays Susannah Cahalan, a 21-year-old reporter for the New York Post. Susannah befriends her colleague Margo (Slate), and her stern but fair boss Richard (Perry) views her as a rising star in the bullpen. She’s dating a sweet aspiring musician named Steven (Mann), and all seems to be going well. Suddenly, with no prior history of mental illness, Susannah suffers a breakdown, starts hallucinating and having seizures. Her divorced parents Tom (Armitage) and Rhona (Moss) are understandably worried for her, as various diagnoses come back inconclusive. With not just her job but her life threatened by this mysterious condition, only neurologist Dr. Souhel Najjar (Navid Negahban) might be able to get to the bottom of Susannah’s circumstance.

Brain on Fire is based on the memoir of the same name by the real-life Susannah Cahalan. Charlize Theron optioned the film rights and dropped out of a supporting role, but remained onboard as a producer. Any film that deals with a rare illness, particularly one which affects the mind, is in danger of being manipulative. Writer-director Gerard Barrett succumbs to the tropes one often sees in movies or TV shows in which characters suffer mental breakdowns. However, he strikes a fine balance of making the audience uncomfortable by depicting the harrowing effects of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, while refraining from making things exploitative. Brain on Fire often feels like the ‘Hollywood version’ of Susannah’s experience, but it’s engaging and sufficiently credible even as it feels a little overwrought.

One of the themes that drives the story is the feeling of powerlessness that a young person can have when stepping into the adult world. Susannah is fresh out of college, and initially attributes her symptoms to simply being overwhelmed. Irish writer-director Barrett is himself young and successful – this is the 29-year-old’s third feature film. Upon finding out Barrett’s age, a sense of ennui washed over this reviewer. The story takes place in New York City, arguably one of the worst places in the world to suffer from a sudden mental breakdown. Unfortunately, Vancouver doesn’t do the best job of doubling for the Big Apple in this case, especially because Brain on Fire doesn’t quite convey the overwhelming sensory stimulus of New York City.

Dakota Fanning was originally cast in the role of Susannah, with scheduling conflicts leading to Moretz replacing her. Moretz’s bubbly demeanour makes Susannah a pleasant protagonist to begin with, which means it’s easier with the audience to stick with her as she experiences the crushing lows and unsettling delirium that she does. It’s a fine performance, but as one would expect, also a showy one. It’s easy to overplay struggling with an affliction physical or mental, with the unfortunate implication over the years being that if actors want to win awards, they’ll play characters who are stricken with grave illnesses. What helps mitigate this cynicism is the knowledge that Susannah Cahalan is a real person, who had to sign off on this portrayal of her. Even if Moretz’s acting borders on over-the-top, she keeps Susannah feeling like an actual person as she rides the frightening roller coaster that is anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

The supporting cast is fine, but each character falls to neatly into boxes labelled with their archetypes. Mann’s Steven is the dopey, devoted boyfriend – he seems a better fit for the role than the initially-cast Will Poulter. Slate’s Margo is the upbeat friend from work, while Perry’s Richard is more or less Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in the DC Extended Universe movies. It’s not a huge role, but Perry gets to show that he has decent acting chops when he’s not in anything he writes or directs. As the concerned parents, Armitage and Moss don’t get too much to do, and Armitage wrestling with his accent is more than a little distracting.

While it is heart-rending to watch Susannah go through hell as her loved ones are rendered helpless, the parts of the film that deal with the medical theory are somewhat more interesting. Barrett is conscious that too much jargon might bore audiences. As such, Negahban’s warmth and quiet intelligence is greatly welcome. The film highlights how much harm misdiagnoses can be – it’s estimated that only 10% of people who have anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis were properly diagnosed at the time.

As heartless as it sounds, Susannah Cahalan’s ordeal is far from the most dramatic or extreme true story to be brought to the big screen. However, this movie is important in its own way. While the specifics feel embellished slightly, with the romantic and workplace comedy elements of the film too obvious, Moretz’s performance holds one’s attention.

Summary: While there’s the niggling vibe of an illness-of-the-week Lifetime TV movie here, Brain on Fire is mostly moving and the right amount of unsettling.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Unlocked

For F*** Magazine

UNLOCKED 

Director : Michael Apted
Cast : Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Michael Douglas
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 38min
Opens : 4 May 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)

Erstwhile Lisbeth Salander Noomi Rapace steps out from behind the computer and into full action heroine mode in this thriller. Rapace plays Alice Racine, one of the CIA’s top interrogators. After failing to extract information from, or ‘unlock’, a suspect in time, dozens lost their lives in a terror attack in Paris four years earlier. Since then, Alice has been laying low. She is called back into action by senior MI5 operative Emily Knowles (Collette) and the CIA’s head of European operations Bob Hunter (Malkovich). After a CIA agent is killed in London, Alice is tasked with foiling an act of bioterrorism that will cripple London. Alice finds that her mentor and former handler Eric Lasch (Douglas) is also in danger. A spanner is thrown into the works in the form of Jack Alcott (Bloom), an enigmatic soldier-turned-thief, with whom Alice must cooperate to untangle the conspiracy and prevent the devastating attack.

Unlocked is directed by veteran English filmmaker Michael Apted, who replaced the initially-hired Mikael Håfström. Apted is best known for the ground-breaking Up series of documentary films, as well as the 1999 Bond movie The World is Not Enough. Unlocked is a markedly less flashy, less ludicrous espionage thriller than Pierce Brosnan’s penultimate 007 outing was. That’s not to say it’s very good. Anyone who’s watched a few episodes of 24 will have an idea of what to expect from this competently executed but profoundly generic and somewhat dull action movie.

As if to compensate for doing nothing new, screenwriter Peter O’Brien throws multiple twists at the viewer, but these generate plot holes instead of excitement. Unlocked also falls back on what has now become a cliché – religious extremism as a red herring. We’re supposed to assume that Islamic radicals are the villains, when there are obviously shadowy forces at work merely making it appear that way. A scene in which an Imam explains why he would never incite violence is written and performed well enough, though.

Rather like last year’s Criminal, Unlocked is a run-of-the-mill action thriller which has wrangled a top-shelf cast. Rapace makes for a fine action heroine, even if her back-story (rough childhood, problems with authority, haunted by a past failing) is typical stuff.

There isn’t nearly as much of Bloom in this as the poster implies. While his turn as a roguish rough-and-tumble type sporting scraggly hair, tattoos and an earring has its entertaining moments, it’s clear that Bloom is better suited to playing clean-cut characters.

As expected, not too much is asked of the prolific supporting cast. Malkovich’s Bob Hunter is pragmatic but prickly, and Collette is reprising the Judi Dench-lite performance she gave in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, albeit less exaggerated. Unlocked’s best scene is when Malkovich and Collette are yelling at each other over Skype. Then there’s Douglas in the largely thankless mentor role.

Stunt coordinator and second unit director Greg Powell, who has worked on the Bourne and Harry Potter series and several James Bond films, puts together fight scenes that look fine, but aren’t particularly impactful. Unlocked looks slick and its cast is packed with talent, but it’s clear that nobody’s heart was really in this. Unlocked isn’t a travesty, it’s just the kind of action movie that comes and goes without anyone really noticing.

Summary: A top-flight cast is mostly wasted in an action thriller made with competence but without passion.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sex Doll

For F*** Magazine

SEX DOLL 

Director : Sylvie Verheyde
Cast : Hafsia Herzi, Ash Stymest, Karole Rocher, Paul Hamy, Ira Max, Lindsay Karamoh
Genre : Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 4 May 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes)

Did that title catch your attention? It’s the only thing about this movie that will. This drama takes place in the underground realm of London’s high-priced escorts. Virginie’s (Herzi) family back in France believes she is working as an estate agent. In reality, she’s a sought-after prostitute working for Madame Raphäelle (Rocher). While partying with her friend Electre (Karamoh), Virginie meets a mysterious young man named Rupert (Stymest), who takes an interest in Virginie. While Virginie is initially dismissive of Rupert, she finds herself drawn to him, but is unsure of his motives. Virginie is tasked with showing new girl Sofia (Max) the ropes, but things go awry during Sofia’s first night on the job. Virginie, Sofia and Rupert go on the run, with the powerful men they’ve upset gaining on them.

Sex Doll’s original French title Amoureux Solitaires translates to ‘Lonley Lovers’. The film is written and directed by Sylvie Verheyde, who seems unsure of the kind of film’s she set out to make. From the premise of an erotic thriller set in the world of high class call girls, the film could go in one of two directions: a sobering, uncompromising, look at the realities of sex work, or an over-the-top exploitative fantasy. Sex Doll does neither, spending most of its running time meandering in limbo. It’s a film that has arthouse aspirations, but there’s little depth to be found beneath the endless parade of soft focus extreme closeups. While there is a lot of grunting, the sex scenes aren’t as graphic as one would expect – especially given that this a French film, and Fifty Shades of Grey was infamously passed with an “ages 12 and above” rating in France.

The film doesn’t work as a character study because the characters are so poorly defined and underdeveloped. While Herzi possesses sufficient elegance and poise to convincingly play a seductress, the character of Virginie isn’t especially fascinating. We suppose Verheyde was aiming for a sense of poetic irony in naming a prostitute “Virgin(ie)”, which is quite on the nose. Aspects of Virginie’s work that would make sense to explore, including how she climbed the ranks, how she maintains her relationships with her regular clients, and what’s at stake if she should run afoul of them, are barely examined.

Stymest is an English model whose lanky proportions give him what one might describe as “an interesting editorial look”. Unfortunately, he’s painfully stiff. The character is intended to seem aloof while hiding something beneath that façade, but Stymest merely comes off as bored.  Rocher doesn’t play up the stereotype of a stern, uncompromising madam, but has too little screen time and interaction with Herzi to make much of an impact.

For a film set in an environment rich with illicit thrills and tragedy, Sex Doll is a slow, passionless affair. Sex Doll doesn’t play enough with the ‘diary of a call girl’ formula, and is neither exciting nor, to be frank, all that sexy.

Summary: Fidget-inducing rather than provocative or alluring, Sex Doll is a dull portrait of a high-end prostitute’s life.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong