Director: Ilya Naishuller Cast : Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Aleksei Serebryakov, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath Genre: Action/Thriller Run Time : 92 min Opens : 22 April 2021 Rating : NC16
What if Bob Odenkirk of Mr Show and Better Call Saul fame were the world’s greatest badass? That’s the premise of this action thriller, and it’s easier to buy than one might think.
Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is a mild-mannered family man who works at a construction company owned by his father-in-law – a “nobody”. Hutch lives an ordinary existence with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and their two children, Blake (Gage Munroe) and Sammy (Paisley Cadorath). A home invasion incident in which Hutch appears to fail to protect his family seems to cement his milquetoast status. However, when drunk gangsters threaten a woman on a bus, something within Hutch is unleashed and he takes them on. One of the gangsters is the younger brother of Russian crime lord Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who oversees the Russian mafia’s investments. Hutch suddenly becomes a target of Yulian. Hutch’s half-brother Harry (RZA) and their elderly father David (Christopher Lloyd) also get drawn into the fray. Yulian and his men get more than they bargained for as they tangle with whom they assumed was just a nobody.
Nobody is an excellent action movie. It’s visceral, the action is brutal and well-staged without being overly stylised, there’s an energy and wit to the direction, and it has a leading man with surprise on his side. Director Ilya Naishuller helmed Hardcore Henry; the first feature-length action movie shot entirely from a first-person point of view. Nobody is much more conventional and polished but has just enough of that guerrilla vibe when it counts.
The John Wick connection is heavily played up in the movie’s promotional material, with the first movie’s co-director David Leitch on board as a producer, and all three films’ screenwriter Derek Kolstad on scripting duty. There is enough of a John Wick vibe here, while letting the movie be enough of its own thing. The supporting cast is great, especially when RZA and Christopher Lloyd show up. The movie has a sense of humour without that getting in the way of the action’s impact. “A better version of a direct-to-DVD movie” might seem like a back-handed compliment, but that’s a good description of Nobody. There’s a version of this that could have been completely workmanlike and dull, so it’s a treat that it did not end up that way.
Nobody is mostly riding on the novelty of Odenkirk in the lead. Take that away, and many of its constituent parts are generic. Major components of the movie seem copy/pasted from the first John Wick, especially the villain Yulian. In John Wick, the hero is attacked by a Russian mob boss’ son, while in Nobody, it’s a Russian mob boss’ younger brother. Connie Nielsen gets very little to do, the Becca character relegated to the role of “the wife” as so many similar characters in similar movies have been before. There are perhaps a few too many ironic needle drops, with songs like “What a Wonderful World,” “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” underscoring violent sequences. It’s during these moments that the movie gets a bit too smart alecky.
Nobody is wish fulfilment in the way many action movies of the 80s and 90s were. What if everyone thought you were lame, but you were secretly an awesome tough guy? The movie leans just enough into the initial absurdity of its premise, without winking too hard at the audience. The thing about the action stars of yore were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren couldn’t blend into a crowd. Bob Odenkirk could. His performance in this film is a glimpse at what things could’ve been like if Bruce Willis, who also came from a comedy background, still made an effort. The closest analogue to this is the string of late-career Liam Neeson action movies, but even then, he was already known for serious roles. It might seem like a big ask for audiences to accept Saul Goodman as John Wick, but Odenkirk puts in the work. He trained for two years to perform his own stunts, and it pays off.
Summary: Casting an actor who’s not known as an action star as the lead in an action movie is a gamble. In Nobody, it not only pays off, but it makes the action-thriller one of the most entertaining genre entries in recent memory. Genre aficionados will get a good action movie, and on top of that, you get Bob Odenkirk as you’ve never seen him before.
Director: Simon McQuoid Cast : Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Sisi Stringer Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy Run Time : 110 min Opens : 8 April 2021 Rating : M18
In 1992, the arcade game Mortal Kombat, created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, became a defining entry in the fighting game genre. The franchise has courted controversy and had a presence in every conceivable form of media, including two theatrically released movies in the 90s. Mortal Kombat returns to the big screen in this reboot.
MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) bears a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, indicating that he is descended from a line of legendary fighters. Cole is targeted by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), the demon sorcerer of Outworld, who has sent Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) in pursuit of Cole. Bi-Han/Sub-Zero, who can control ice, has a long-running rivalry with Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), whom he apparently killed centuries earlier. After he is discovered by Special Forces operatives Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Cole is transported to Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple. Training alongside Shaolin warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and the loose cannon mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole prepares to represent Earthrrealm against combatants from Outworld in a mythical tournament – a tournament called Mortal Kombat.
The people who made this movie seem to have a handle on what the fans want. They might not exactly get there, but there is an eagerness to please that is evident in the film. The iconography associated with the games and the characters is treated with a degree of reverence, even as the movie never takes itself too seriously, despite initial concerns to the contrary. Even the most devoted Mortal Kombat fans are hard-pressed to deny that there is a lot of campiness and silliness in the source material, and the movie is often entertainingly silly. The Benjamin Wallfisch score includes variations of the iconic original “Techno Syndrome” theme by Oliver Adams; Wallfisch’s reworking of the theme was reportedly used by director Simon McQuoid to recruit his cast.
The stunt team, led by supervising stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner, stunt coordinator Jade Amantea and fight coordinator Chan Griffin, assemble action sequences that are plentiful and generally well executed. Many of the actors involved have a martial arts background, which helps. Unlike the two 90s films, this Mortal Kombat movie has an R (M18 in Singapore) rating, meaning it can revel in the grisly violence that is the games’ trademark. The fatalities are graphic, but probably what long-time fans of the game would consider tame. Still, we go to a Mortal Kombat movie for the fighting scenes, and there are lots of those.
Making a coherent narrative feature film that makes good use of the expected Mortal Kombat roster was always going to be a challenge. Unfortunately, this movie is sometimes stuck in a no man’s land – neophytes might feel kept at arm’s length by the unwieldy exposition and certain preposterous elements that fans will accept, while hardcore fans might feel that something’s missing. This is tricky to calibrate for any movie based on an existing property. McQuoid tosses in Easter Eggs, and the movie seems to fall back on “look, there’s that thing you like!” a little too often.
Mortal Kombat wants to be epic, and it often falls short. While the fights do look good, the movie overall lacks the visual grandeur and spectacle associated with the settings of the games. We never really get a good sense of the stakes, and for a story in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance, things often feel too casual. There are times when the movie feels like a weird underdog sports story, with the team of screw-ups trying to take down the reigning champs. The B-movie feel of Mortal Kombat works against it almost as often as it works for it.
Most of the casting works well, with Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada being the highlights. Taslim, best known for The Raid and who crossed over into Hollywood with Fast and Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond, lends Sub-Zero an icy resolve. Sanada always has gravitas to spare and imbues Scorpion with power and grief.
The Cole character is the source of many Mortal Kombat fans’ reservations going into this. Cole is clearly meant to be an entry point for those unfamiliar with the franchise and very much is a bland, standard issue ‘chosen one’ protagonist who can feel like a fan fiction self-insert character. While Lewis Tan is an adept martial artist and is very handsome, he doesn’t have a lot of screen presence.
Jessica McNamee makes for a good Sonya Blade, essaying the right amount of toughness without it crossing over into parody. Josh Lawson’s Kano is the designated comic relief, and Lawson seems to be having a lot of fun in the role, making multiple pop culture references (but only to Warner Bros-owned properties). The character does border on grating, though.
Ludi Lin’s turn as Liu Kang is almost too earnest at first, but he ably captures the archetypical martial arts movie hero nature of the character. Max Huang’s Kung Lao is a lot of fun, and there are some fun gags involving his metal hat. Tadanobu Asano’s Raiden is disappointing, as he lacks both the sense of authority and dash of mischief that is crucial to the character.
Aside from Sub-Zero, the Outworld characters are a bit underwhelming. Chin Han’s Shang Tsung skulks around and glowers a lot and gives supervillain speeches but is rarely ever genuinely menacing.
Summary: Video game movies have had a spotty track record, and while Mortal Kombat is far from the worst of the bunch, it’s also not the saviour of the genre some might have hoped it to be. There’s a lot to like, some of the casting is amazing and it’s filled with watchable fights, but the movie feels fragmented and struggles to build its sprawling world. Imagine Scorpion’s kunai, stopping a good distance short of its target.
When one thinks of Westerns, open, dusty plains and the late 19th Century American frontier usually come to mind. Concrete Cowboy is a Western of a different stripe: as its title suggests, its setting is a contemporary urban environment.
Idris Elba stars as Harp, a cowboy who is part of the Fletcher Street Riding Club in a Northern Philadelphia town. Caleb McLaughlin, best known as Lucas on Stranger Things, plays Harp’s estranged son Cole. After he gets kicked out of school for fighting, Cole is sent to live with Harp, and the troubled young man is gradually inducted into the unique urban cowboy way of life.
Concrete Cowboy is based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri and is directed by Philadelphia-based filmmaker Ricky Staub. Staub was inspired to research the Fletcher Street Riding Club, a nonprofit city horsemanship organisation, when he looked out his office window and saw a horse and buggy rolling down the street. The movie shines a light on the little-known subculture of modern-day Black cowboys scattered across America, and real-life members of the Fletcher Street Riding Club appear in the movie. The film also stars Jharrel Jerome, Lorraine Toussaint and Clifford “Method Man” Smith.
Elba is also a co-producer on the film, alongside Lee Daniels, creator of the TV series Empire and director of films including Precious, The Butler, and The United States vs Billie Holliday.
The film’s soundtrack, which The Hollywood Reporter calls “a soulful score with subtle Western accents,” is composed by Kevin Matley, whose credits include the documentaries Kifaru and Mudbloods and the short films Still Here and The Cage. Matley’s work can be heard in commercials for brands including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Coca Cola, Ferrari and Adidas.
Speaking exclusively to F***, Matley shared about capturing the sound of the Fletcher Street Riding Club, creating a Western score while avoiding the cliches associated with the genre, his childhood interest in film music, what it was like collaborating with director Staub, and what he’s working on next.
F*** MAGAZINE: Hi, Kevin, thank you so much for speaking to us, please tell us about how you came to be involved in this film.
KEVIN MATLEY: I came to work on the film because the director and I go way back, we’ve worked on a handful of projects together, [including] a short film that did fairly decent in the festival circuit. And he sent me the script and I loved the concept; I fell in love with the story. Ricky Staub is the director and he co-wrote it with Dan Walser, one of the producers of the film. How would you describe your working relationship with Ricky Staub and how different was it going from a short to a feature; as I understand, this is his first feature?
Yeah, it’s funny, it was actually just kind of like an extended version. I mean we really connected right off the bat, when we started working together. He has a very keen sense of what he likes and doesn’t like, and I have gotten to know over the years of working with him pretty quickly what he doesn’t like, which is really, really helpful. And so, my process is I would write these little vignettes and pieces and send it to him, and then we slowly kind of work back and forth until it was something that we both really liked. That was pretty much the whole trajectory of the score, [it] was just a lot of back and forth, a lot of conversation.
You’ve worked on several documentaries. What are the differences in composing for narrative features versus a documentary?
I’m not sure if I have too much of a difference in my approach. Obviously, each film has a different musical genre, a different sort of world or creating different tones and temperatures, but I think that my goal is always to enhance and express the sort of unspoken emotion of the characters and let their dialogue tell the viewer what they’re thinking, and I tell them what they’re feeling. And so, real or fake, fiction, nonfiction, comedy, action, drama I think my approach is always the same: how do I tell the story of the film through music?
Growing up, what made you interested in becoming a film composer?
It’s funny, I got into it really before you could just Google and find out names of composers. I was pretty young, so I started arranging some music with my brother’s guitars when I was pretty young, and sort of fell in love with the idea of creating music that way. And then, I started to notice music in film around the same age. I would actually pay less attention to the narrative, and more attention to how the music was affecting the characters and how it was affecting me. And I just really love the idea of how music and narrative together could create something so powerful.
So you were already interacting with movies as a composer might.
Yeah, long before I knew how to write music [laughs].
One of the things that Concrete Cowboy is about is how it’s important as a young person to have a community around you; oftentimes a community made up of people who have similar hobbies and interests to you. Was that something that you had with other composers or musicians growing up?
That’s a really good question. Really nothing, I mean, composers are kind of a mixed bag of people. I have my little hobbies and interests and composers that I know are interested in many different things. I think for me personally, as a music writer and just kind of an obsessive personality, I have to have things that sort of distract me from that so I can step away. I really love playing golf, I love photography, I love American football. And so, I think all of us composers are kind of similar in that, where we have to have things that can take our mind off of making music, so I think that’s probably a good similarity between all of us.
Concrete Cowboy is set in a very interesting subculture that not a lot of people know about. How did you sonically capture the world of the Fletcher Street Riding Club?
Great question. I really wanted to have a score that not only spoke to the emotion of the characters and what they were feeling, but also one that created the same world that Ricky was creating aesthetically. Ricky’s style is very visceral and very surreal and also very gritty, and so I wanted music that matched that. I wanted kind of a lush ambient sound with organic human[ity], just raw emotion on top of it. And to me, I think that that is that world, there’s so much passion with those people and what they’re doing with helping kids to get off the streets. And it’s just an amazing, amazing culture.
When we think of a Western a particular sound and style of music comes to mind and Concrete Cowboy is not a conventional Western. How did you play with that expectation in the music that you composed for this film?
Yeah, also a great question. We kind of went through a few different styles before we landed on what was actually working. What we didn’t want to have was a traditional Spaghetti Western sound – I kind of toyed with that a little bit and it ‘cheesifies’ things.
You didn’t want it to get too pastiche.
Yeah, we didn’t want it to be cliche or kind of kitschy so we ended up trying to focus more on these people as human beings, and just aesthetic and visuals, and create that world and not think about “What are we trying to force here with this being a cowboy world?”
I listened to the score and I love the melancholic dignity in the horns.
Oh, thank you!
You’re welcome. I feel like that reflects how the Fletcher Street Riders are like the last of their kind, there’s kind of a twilight, because their way of life is being threatened by gentrification. Could you tell us about how you arrived at that?
I love that you said that; that’s really, really cool.
It’s funny, a lot of the [score is] kind of focused on solo instruments. I feel like there’s a vulnerability to that that I was really after. There’s just something about trumpet in particular that to me is just so soulful, it’s almost like a voice, and I really wanted something like that, that I could use throughout the film.
Concrete Cowboy is a film about a father-son relationship, and it’s also about the bonds that humans form with animals. How did you express these themes in the music?
I think I was focused mostly on the father-son relationship. I really wanted the melodies to have, like what you said, sort of a melancholy feel to them. Cole comes from essentially a broken family and I think that there’s a lot of vulnerability to him, he’s sort of drawn into these two worlds: a life of crime, and then this other life that is giving him hope. To me, I just wanted melodies and instrumentation that reflected that.
The movie had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020. Was the music recorded under lockdown conditions and if so how did you navigate that logistically?
It was actually all recorded before lockdown. It’s funny, we, we recorded the score in January of 2020, in Seattle, Washington, and I did a handful of more sessions and at that point, we had been hearing what was going on in China, then when we went down to Burbank to finish the post, the news was starting to break out and I think a handful of cases broke out in Washington around that time. When I flew home, the film was completely wrapped and that’s when everything sort of broke out.
Have you been working on other film projects during lockdown?
I haven’t been working on film projects, but I’ve just been focusing on a lot of family time, and then writing some personal records.
What kinds of films do you hope to work on in the future, are there any specific genres or styles that you’d like to work in?
Well I will tell you one that I am going to work on it’s, it’s a documentary [called Between the Rains] about these two Kenyan tribes that have been at war for the last couple of decades, and it follows a young boy from one of the tribes, basically being raised as a warrior, and he’s just not a warrior, and it deals with global warming and the water runs out and they’re fighting over that. And it’s just a really powerful documentary and it’s with a buddy of mine, [producer] Andrew [Harrison Brown] who’s just shot it, and he and I worked together on a previous documentary called Kifaru. And so I love telling these stories. I love Kenyans; I got to meet some of the guys from the last film and I got to work with some Kenyan singers on the score and it’s a blast. I love documentaries, it’s a wonderful genre.
It strikes me as something where there is perhaps more of an emphasis on authenticity or audiences might be more aware if something rings false to them, and then there’s extra work to do in research, in trying to make sure that you are being authentic in the sound you’re creating.
Mm hmm, yeah, absolutely.
Finally, what do you hope audiences take away after watching Concrete Cowboy?
If anything, people can see that these people are real people. It’s not just in Philadelphia, it’s around the country, and they’re doing good, and because of gentrification and a lot of different reasons, some of these tables are getting shut down, and it’s really sad. So if anybody is moved to take action and support or raise awareness, then I think that would be awesome.
Concrete Cowboy begins streaming on Netflix April 2.
Director: Adam Wingard Cast : Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Kyle Chandler, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi Run Time : 113 min Opens : 24 March 2021 Rating : PG13
In 1962, two of cinema’s defining monsters faced off in King Kong vs Godzilla. 59 years later, it’s time for a rematch, in the form of the fourth film in the Monsterverse.
Kong is living on Skull Island, where he has formed a bond with young orphan Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who communicates with Kong via sign language. Jia’s adoptive mother is researcher Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who has been monitoring Kong for years. Geologist Dr Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) discovers a way to access the hollow earth, the speculated origin of Kong, Godzilla and the other Titans. As part of an expedition funded by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the CEO of tech company Apex Cybernetics, Ilene, Nathan, Jia and Walter’s daughter Maia (Eiza González) accompany Kong to the access point of the hollow earth. Kong’s presence attracts Godzilla, who has suddenly turned aggressive towards humans despite having been thought of as a defender. In the meantime, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of Monarch director Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), alongside her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Apex technician Bernie (Bryan Tyree Henry), embarks on a mission to unearth a conspiracy at the corporation.
Godzilla vs Kong is delightfully bonkers, leaning fully into the ridiculousness of its premise, and dropping all pretence of being grounded or realistic. It’s an entertaining ride made by people who clearly love the Kaiju genre, and want to deliver an exciting, spectacle-heavy, example of that genre. Director Adam Wingard and cinematographer Ben Seresin make this a colourful, visually exciting movie, especially after the immediate predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was criticised for looking visually muddy. In some ways, this movie harks back to the Heisei Era of Godzilla movies, nicknamed the “Vs series”. It also harks back to goofy 50s-60s Hollywood sci-fi adventure movies, like Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959). Characters fly around in nifty little crafts called Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicles, and one can imagine a great motion simulator theme park ride centred on those. There’s more than a little Pacific Rim influence here too, especially in the Hong Kong battle.
Leaning more heavily into sci-fi than the previous films in this continuity, Godzilla vs Kong contains a literal journey to the centre of the earth and is an ode to absurdly impractical infrastructure projects. It’s only fitting given the sheer size of its two stars. The character animation on both Kong and Godzilla is excellent; the physicality and expressiveness of both monsters conveyed well. Kong, having become more grizzled in the 50 years since the events of Kong: Skull Island, has plenty of personality, and is easy to relate to when he just stands around and sighs, or gets tired after a fight and must lie down. The fight scenes between them are grand and well-choreographed, and if it’s big-budget monster fights you’re after, this movie has you covered.
If Godzilla (2014) was too self-serious, then Godzilla vs Kong is sometimes too silly for its own good. Many moments strain credulity, and there is a level of “just go with it”-ness that Wingard sometimes struggles to sustain. There are several huge leaps of faith that are demanded of the audience, and one’s willingness to take those leaps will vary. While there are some surprises, the plot is predictable, and many fans have already called the outcome of the battle between Godzilla and Kong, which some might feel is at least a bit of a cop out. As satisfying as the spectacle is, the story can’t quite support it – and this is going by monster movie standards.
Every Kaiju movie fan’s favourite pastime is complaining about the human characters, who are meant to be our way into the story, but more often than not get in the way of the monsters punching each other. There are two main human plots here: all the stuff with Skarsgård’s geologist, Hall’s Kong behaviourist and Hottle’s endearing magical girl who can talk to Kong generally works. Jia is a deaf character portrayed by a deaf actress, which is something that needs to happen more often.
The other human plot, with Brown’s Emma returning from the previous movie and joined by Dennison as Emma’s friend and Henry as a hyperactive conspiracy theorist podcast host, generally doesn’t. The normally excellent Henry is grating here, directed to play an over-the-top comic relief character and given a succession of unfunny lines. Most of the film’s least convincing moments involve these characters, and each time the movie cut back to them, groans from the audience were audible.
Caught in between are Demián Bichir and Eiza González as a father-daughter team who possibly have ulterior motives. They put in unsubtle but enjoyable turns.
The Monsterverse has given us interpretations of major Kaiju from the Godzilla mythos, and by now, audiences expect that at least one other monster will show up in a Godzilla movie. Kong does that here, but does anyone else make an appearance? Some of the marketing has spoiled a surprise or two, and while this movie doesn’t lack for spectacle, this reviewer found himself missing the well-defined, iconic creatures whom Kong fought or teamed up with in King of the Monsters.
Summary: Godzilla vs Kong delivers wham-bam monster fights on a grand scale, and is often silly in an earnest, charming way. It is occasionally too silly and, as expected, several human characters are nigh-unbearable, but it’s an all-around good time. See it on the biggest screen possible.
Director: Doug Liman Cast : Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi Run Time : 109 min Opens : 11 March 2021 Rating : PG13
In this Young Adult (YA) sci-fi adventure, the men are thinking out loud, and not in an Ed Sheeran way.
Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) is a boy living in Prentisstown, a settlement on the planet New World. The planet creates a phenomenon whereby every thought a man has is rendered audible and visible as “Noise” – this does not affect women. There are no women left in Prentisstown, so when Todd meets Viola (Daisy Ridley), she is the first woman he’s ever seen. Viola has crash-landed on New World, having lived her whole life on a colony ship. Todd and Viola go on the run and are pursued by Prentisstown mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and the mad preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo).
Chaos Walking is based on Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of Never Letting Go. There are plenty of interesting ideas at play here, and there is the potential for an exploration into the societal roles of gender, and the organisation of societies, that is touched upon if not fully explored. The premise of one’s thoughts being aired out for all to hear is an inherently compelling one, and there is some tension to be mined from that, with characters struggling to mask their thoughts, to suppress their Noise.
The film is solidly cast. Both Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are likeable here, with Holland playing a believably earnest young man, and Ridley as a frightened but resourceful survivor. Their respective characters in this film are not a million miles away from the big franchise characters they’re both best known for portraying.
The supporting cast is strong too, with Mads Mikkelsen cutting an imposing figure, even if his humongous fur coat makes him look like he’s cosplaying as the bear from The Revenant. Demián Bichir is affecting with very little screen time as one of Todd’s two dads, while Cynthia Erivo is a commanding presence as the mayor of a distant settlement. Nick Jonas is suitably petulant as Prentiss’ son, who is jealous of Todd, whom Prentiss seems to favour over him.
While the Noise might work conceptually on the page, the way it’s rendered in the movie is very awkward. Chaos Walking is at once dull and a sensory overload, as if by design. Most of the movie consists of reverb-heavy ADR lines, and it gets annoying after a while. This is the hook of the story, so there’s no getting away from it.
Ironically for a movie about characters’ inner lives, the characters in Chaos Walking all feel kind of flat and standard issue. The most interesting element to Todd is that he struggles with expectations of how masculinity must be performed, and of putting on a tough exterior. Meanwhile, Viola is little more than “the girl”. Both actors do what they can, it isn’t quite enough.
Most of the dialogue is exposition, and there’s a lot of table-setting. Even though this is a movie in which the protagonists are relentlessly pursued, it rarely feels dangerous enough. The stakes are ostensibly high, but the movie doesn’t seem terribly interested in them. While there is some humour to be derived from Todd’s awkwardness around the first woman he’s ever met, the movie is largely self-serious which means several moments – including a scene in which a naked Todd wrestles a snakelike beast in a lake – are unintentionally funny.
Visually, Chaos Walking is patently uninteresting. Mostly filmed in forests in Québec, the movie is going for a frontier-style aesthetic with the horses, log cabins and fur coats. It’s not that this idiom can’t work in a sci-fi setting, but the movie just doesn’t feel sufficiently dynamic or engaging, and it’s easy to forget that New World isn’t just earth.
Anyone who’s followed the news of the movie’s development knows that it’s been a tumultuous process. The movie was announced in 2011, just before the height of the dystopian YA adaptation craze (the first Hunger Games movie opened in 2012), and after multiple writers took a crack at the script, director Doug Liman began principal photography on the movie in 2017. By this time, audiences have largely lost interest in Hunger Games-adjacent properties: the final film in the Divergent series didn’t even get made.
An early cut of Chaos Walking was deemed “unreleasable” by Lionsgate executives, an adjective that is and will continue to be an albatross around this movie’s neck. Ness was brought on board to write the reshoots, but scheduling proved difficult because both Holland and Ridley were busy with other films.
Summary: Chaos Walking benefits from a good cast and is playing with some thought-provoking ideas, but its execution is altogether too dull. It’s far from the outright disaster that the troubled production might indicate but is too generic to revive the flagging dystopian YA adaptation genre.
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada Cast : Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy Run Time : 114 min Opens : 5 March 2021 Rating : PG
Disney Animation has drawn on stories from various regions as the basis for their films. With Raya and the Last Dragon, the House of Mouse goes a little mousedeer, telling a story inspired by the mythology of Southeast Asia.
Dragons were the protectors of the mythical land of Kumandra, sacrificing themselves to save humanity when monsters called the Druun attacked, petrifying all in their path. Kumandra is divided into Heart, Talon, Fang, Spine and Tail, each land named for a different part of the dragon.
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is a warrior princess from the Heart kingdom, whose father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) is training her to become the guardian of the Dragon Gem. Chief Benja attempts to broker peace between the disparate lands, but the Druun return and the conflict continues. As an adult, Raya finds and revives Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon. Raya and Sisu must unite the fractured pieces of the Dragon Gem to bring back all who were lost to the Druun. Along the way, Raya must face off with a figure from her past: the equally formidable Namaari (Gemma Chan), princess of the Fang Kingdom.
Raya and the Last Dragon is gorgeously animated and the world of Kumandra is a visually captivating one. The details in the costumes and architecture are plentiful, and the effects animation, especially on the angry black mist that is the Druun, is exceptional. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are well choreographed and there is a genuine sense of thrilling adventure to the story.
The voice cast is also excellent, with Kelly Marie Tran bringing both steeliness and warmth to the part of Raya. Awkwafina’s rasp works well as the voice of an animated character and she plays the fish-out-of-water aspect of Sisu entertainingly. Daniel Dae Kim effortlessly essays calm authority, while Benedict Wong seems to be having the best time as Tong, a boisterous gentle (?) giant type. Boun (Izaac Wang), a kid entrepreneur who runs a shrimp congee restaurant out of a boat, is also a fun, likeable road movie side character.
The most interesting part of the film is the rivalry between Raya and Namaari, and the possibility that they might still find common ground with each other. Namaari is sufficiently different from your standard snarling Disney villain, and this reviewer feels not enough of the movie is about this relationship.
While watching Raya and the Last Dragon, it’s evident that there is a tension between making this something fresh and innovative, while also honouring the storied legacy of Disney animation, and fulfilling expectations associated with its most successful films. As such, Raya and the Last Dragon can sometimes feel tied down to Disney animated movie formula. There’s a plucky princess raised by a single father, and she goes on a quest accompanied by a comic relief sidekick (or two or three). Sticking to a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Raya breaks from formula in certain significant ways, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie is still constrained by certain expectations associated with Disney animated movies.
Tonally, there are moments that don’t quite work. This is a movie about a world and its inhabitants dealing with trauma and loss. However, it also wants to be light-hearted and appealing to children – hence characters like an adorable half-armadillo-half-pillbug named Tuk-Tuk (Alan Tudyk) who clearly exists to sell toys – not that we don’t want a Tuk-Tuk plushie.
Like the Dragon Gem, the story sometimes seems fragmented, and feels episodic the way many movies with a road trip structure do. Some of the dialogue is clunky, and several of the anachronistic jokes don’t work, including a moment when Raya proclaims, “bling’s my thing”. Several of Sisu’s jokes sound like improvisational riffs that Awkwafina came up with in the booth, and can be a little grating, but Sisu is generally likeable. Unfortunately, Sisu’s character design sticks out – typically, East Asian and Southeast Asian dragons are depicted with a maned head and a scaly body, but Sisu is entirely furry and doesn’t seem like she belongs stylistically.
Kumandra incorporates facets of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos. For Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney assembled the Southeast Asia Story Trust comprised of experts in various fields, including an Indonesian linguist, a textile expert from the USC Pacific Asia Museum and a visual anthropologist. Head of Story Fawn Veerasunthorn is an artist of Thai descent, while co-writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim are of Vietnamese and Malaysian Chinese descent, respectively.
There is a desire here to tell a story that has a degree of authenticity, but “authenticity” is something that’s hard to measure empirically. As Moana did with Polynesian countries, Raya and the Last Dragon amalgamates and mashes up Southeast Asian countries to create the fictional Kumandra. While there is an overlap in the cultural traditions and mythologies of many Southeast Asian countries, residents of said countries would also generally prefer for others not to get one country confused with the other, and that creates a kind of paradox in telling a story that is inspired by a blend of cultures.
Watching Raya, it’s also hard not to think of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the follow-up The Legend of Korra, which have thus far been western animation’s most successful attempts at creating fantasy worlds inspired by disparate Asian cultures. The world-building of Avatar seems more thought out than it is in Raya, but then of course the animated series had a lot more time to spend on that.
Summary: Raya and the Last Dragon sometimes struggles with telling a story that is authentic to the region from which it draws inspiration while also delivering what audiences expect from a Disney animated adventure, but it mostly succeeds in pulling off this balance. It may not be as revolutionary as Disney had hoped, but it is still a largely entertaining adventure that draws on rich storytelling traditions. Hopefully, filmmakers from varied backgrounds will continue getting the support they need in Hollywood to tell more stories from more places.
Director: Robert Lorenz Cast : Liam Neeson, Joe Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, Teresa Ruiz, Dylan Kenin, Luce Rains Genre: Action/Thriller/Drama Run Time : 108 min Opens : 25 February 2021 Rating : PG13
Some might say comic book movies are the most prevalent genre now, but perhaps “Liam Neeson with a gun” is a close second. Here’s another one to add to the pile, and in case you weren’t sure if Neeson’s character wields a gun, it’s right there in the title.
Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson), not to be confused with the creator of the Muppets whose name is one letter away, is a rancher and retired U.S. Marine. His wife has died of cancer and his farm is about to be foreclosed upon. His property is along the Mexico/US border in Arizona, and he happens upon a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Joe Perez) trying to cross the border, pursued by cartel members. Joe reluctantly embarks on a mission to get Miguel to family members in Chicago, all the while pursued by the cartel members, who are led by the deadly lieutenant Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba).
This movie makes very good use of Liam Neeson’s talents. He’s outwardly gruff but innately decent, a badass with a heart of gold. Neeson is a perfect fit for the neo-Western genre, and Jim is very easy to root for. The movie is sturdy and straightforward, and young actor Perez is not bad opposite Neeson. The Marksman is predictable but is solidly made and handsomely shot by Director of Photography Mark Patten, who has mostly worked in British TV.
For a movie in which the protagonist is relentlessly pursued, there is a crucial lack of urgency to the proceedings. The Marksman feels considerably longer than its 108 minutes. Director Robert Lorenz seems to be aiming for the stillness of a classic western, but instead it feels like the characters are just waiting around. When the action does happen, it is largely unremarkable.
The Marksman also strains to be apolitical to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but the issue of people crossing the US/Mexico border illegally is an inherently political one. It wants to be grounded, but also doesn’t want to engage with reality too directly, which is sometimes to the movie’s detriment.
There are moments when Jim and Miguel display glimmers of personality, but the movie is mostly taciturn and doesn’t really let us get to know either character. It also trades in cliches, with Jim having a bog-standard backstory (retired military man whose wife has died). Katheryn Winnick plays Jim’s stepdaughter Sarah, who is ostensibly the female lead but is almost completely a non-entity.
Lorenz, the movie’s director, producer and co-writer, is a long-time producing partner of Clint Eastwood. This feels like something that Eastwood would star in, and perhaps Neeson works better because he is a warmer presence than Eastwood is, especially now. There’s a scene in this movie in which Jim and Miguel watch the Eastwood starrer Hang ‘Em High in a motel room, which Lorenz included as a nod to his mentor.
If you love Liam Neeson’s late-career action work, this is more of the same. It’s not the most exciting or the most compelling, but it does play to all his strengths, and does have an old-fashioned reliability to it.
Summary: A competent if only sporadically engaging neo-western, The Marksman sees Liam Neeson on fine late-career form.
F*** talks to the art historian and curator about bringing the blockbuster Star Wars exhibit to Singapore
From 30 January to 13 June 2021, Star Wars fans in Singapore can make the jump to hyperspace and into a galaxy far, far away at the Star Wars Identities exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. Originally slated to open in April 2020, the exhibition was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has finally opened in Singapore
This exhibition contains over 200 artefacts, including costumes, props, concept art and models that were used in the production of the Star Wars Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, the Clone Wars animated series and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The exhibition debuted in Montreal in 2012 and after touring cities including Paris, London, Brussels, Sydney and Tokyo, the exhibition makes its 12th and final stop in Singapore, before the objects on display return to the Lucasfilm Archives. Highlights of the exhibition include screen-used costumes of characters like Darth Vader, C-3PO, Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Padmé Amidala and Chewbacca. The exhibition also contains original concept art created by artists including Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, as well as models of ships like the Millennium Falcon, the Mon Calamari Home One, The Slave One and the Devastator Star Destroyer.
Visitors will not only be able to see these elements from the Star Wars saga before them, but also embark on a journey themselves. Each visitor wears an RFID wristband, and via ten interactive stations, will craft their own unique character within the Star Wars universe, choosing their character’s species, home planet, personality traits and making decisions when faced with various scenarios. At the end of their journey, visitors will meet the character created via these choices. Through the lens of Star Wars characters, the exhibit examines how our origins, the influences on us and the choices we make shape our identities.
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Director of Archives Laela French was part of the team that initially designed the exhibit in 2012 and has overseen its world tour. Speaking to F*** over video call from Los Angeles, French shared her insights as an art historian and museum creator, discussed what the exhibit has in store for die-hard fans and neophytes alike, and explained why Star Wars has maintained its resonance and hold on popular culture across decades.
(The following interview has been edited for clarity)
F*** Magazine: Hi Laela, thank you for talking to us! Please let our readers know what your work as the Director of Archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art entails, and about your history with the Lucasfilm collection.
LAELA FRENCH: I am the Director of Archives for the Lucasfilm archive collection, which is now under the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. What that really means is that I oversee and caretake all the props, models, costumes and concept art that were used in the making of Star Wars. Of course, the archive is more than just Star Wars. It includes Indiana Jones and any other film productions that George was involved with or was a producer for, such as Willow… Tucker, the Man and his Dreams?
Tucker, exactly, yes! So it’s a great collection, but of course it’s always all about Star Wars, and sometimes a little bit of Indiana Jones. It’s like a museum collection: we make sure that it’s stored correctly, we’re cataloguing it and caretaking it, we do research sometimes on the collection with partners or with Disney and Lucasfilm. And we mount and tour exhibitions, as Star Wars Identities is here in Singapore for you. And my background is in museums and collections care and exhibitions.
Star Wars is a franchise that many people have different relationships with. How does this exhibit cater to fans of different ages who may have gotten into Star Wars at different points in their lives, or have varying degrees of intensity in being a fan of Star Wars? What are the levels at which different people can experience this exhibit?
One of the things that I love so much about this collection, and I’ve been with it for so long, is that it is so meaningful to so many people around the world, it’s woven into our cultural and social fabric. We can communicate through Star Wars language and iconography. Doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80, at this point, everyone knows about Star Wars at some level, even if they haven’t seen the movies.
We always mount our exhibitions with education and museum visitors in mind. With our Star Wars fans, we’re always wanting to put surprises in the exhibition for our super-nerd fans, because we know that they know so much already, so we always want to give them a little extra surprise. But we always think about the non-Star Wars fan who’s coming to an exhibition at the museum, so we want to make sure that even if you’re not a fan, this exhibit is still for you. It’s like if you were going to a Monet exhibition or a fine art exhibit, you didn’t know about the artist, but you’re going in to learn something. We also design our exhibitions so that different age groups can really explore and enjoy it. So I always say, kids ages eight to 80. But truthfully, I’ve seen four-year-olds go through this exhibit and they recognise the characters in Star Wars, they just see Yoda and they’re instantly engaged. So it’s a very generous exhibition for all kinds of people, all different ages, whether you’re a superfan or you haven’t even seen the films yet.
How does this exhibit combine the experience of entering the world of Star Wars, through the “identity” component, with looking at the movies from a real-world behind-the-scenes perspective?
What we’re looking at in this exhibition is the science of human identity and trying to answer the question, “What makes humans unique, what makes us each unique?” and we worked with a very deep and exciting group of scientists [in the fields of] psychology biology, genetics, across the gamut – anyone touching on human identity in some capacity we had on our committee, and we debated how to organise this using Star Wars. This exhibition is really built on the idea that we can tell the story of human identity through Star Wars.
We can break down personalities into five basic groups, and this is science, not fantasy stuff here, [it’s] psychotherapy. Those [types] are really well defined by Star Wars characters so we can find someone that’s very neurotic in C-3PO and see someone who’s brave and maybe a little reckless in Han Solo. The idea is that fans will recognise Star Wars characters, and we can talk about that what’s underneath that character and identifying who they are and what they represent.
And then you get to actually do your own Star Wars identity quest through the exhibition, creating your own Star Wars avatar. In that sense, you’re answering these different questions learning about the science of human identity in building your own Star Wars character. What I love is adults tend to answer the questions honestly and earnestly; they’re really serious about it. Kids are just like, “I’m all bad. I’m all good,” they’re just having Fantasyland, but they’re still learning while playing and that is just one of the best things about the exhibition.
Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. We often talk about George Lucas’ original vision, but many artists and technicians over the decades have helped bring that vision to life. Which artists, whose work is displayed in this exhibit, would you single out for their contributions?
Well, I have to start with Ralph McQuarrie. To me, there’s no Star Wars without George Lucas, and there’s no Star Wars without Ralph McQuarrie also. We have a heavy display in this exhibition, we have over 100 pieces of art and so much of it is Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings. His visual designs for the different planet scenes really created the look and feel of Star Wars from the get-go. So, I have to say he put the biggest mark on Star Wars feeling and looking like the way Star Wars does. He was behind the design of Darth Vader, he was behind the design of so many characters in the first go-around: Chewbacca, for example. Even Han Solo in his character design, he really put a touchstone all of that. After that, I would think that it’s Joe Johnston right behind him, creating a lot of ship designs and some of the other characters. So those two artists really created the visual look of Star Wars that we know and understand today.
Star Wars is a gateway in many ways; fans have discovered the different mythological, literary and film influences on Star Wars by starting there and going backwards. Do you hope that visiting this exhibit might be a gateway for kids to discover the artistic influences on Star Wars?
I really hope so. And while this is really an exhibit on science and identity, we still are pulling right back into the hero’s journey and mythology. And so kids get really excited about that, and it leaves a little bit of a seed in them, then they’re going to go back and realise how much mythology influences all the stories that we’re telling, from the early days of Homer and The Odyssey and The Iliad. Then you go on over to the Norse mythology, like Ragnarok, those stories, and how there’s the same thread through all of them, the hero’s journey is really central to so much of our human experience. On the other side, they’re really excited by what they see in terms of design, that kind of artistry, the paintings, or the model-making or the costume design, which is exquisite, I mean truly, it’s just the best thing about Star Wars. I hope it inspires a whole new generation of artists and filmmakers and storytellers as well.
I think there can still be a snobbishness about art, this divide between “high” and “low” art, which is why I love the approach of pop culture as a gateway into exploring different art forms. As someone who has worked in the worlds of fine art and of pop culture, how does something like Star Wars bridge those worlds?
Well, I think that Star Wars not only bridges it but hopefully just obliterates the gap entirely. George Lucas is a filmmaker and a storyteller, and he’s also an art collector. Now he’s building a museum for visual storytelling and art collecting, so for him, it was never snobbery or elite art, it was always storytelling. I think what he’s doing through Star Wars, and through all the visual art is at the centre, it’s the story that you see in the artwork. If that painting tells a story, and it resonates for you, it counts, and there is no high art or low art. It’s what each visitor gets out of the painting in front of them. And you might get a whole masterpiece out of one story or painting and another person next to you goes “meh” and it doesn’t resonate for them and that doesn’t make it good or bad. It’s just that the story doesn’t work for that person, and they go and find a different painting that maybe tells a great story for them. So I think that’s for me what I hope Star Wars has contributed to high or low art and sort of changing the whole conversation and getting rid of the terms “high” and “low”. And just coming to the idea of “Do you enjoy this art?” If you don’t, it’s okay. We don’t all love every movie ever made, right? Every year, I go “I love that movie; didn’t love that movie.” It’s okay.
Star Wars fans don’t even love every Star Wars movie ever made.
Exactly, that’s right. We all have our favourite moments and our least favourite ones. It’s not “good” or “bad”. It’s just enjoy what you enjoy, and then you move on from there.
You worked at the Autry Museum. Can you shed some light on the specific influences that the Western genre has on Star Wars, as can be seen from the objects on display at this exhibit?
I mean, honestly, Star Wars is a space Western, right? And George Lucas, who’s the storyteller of Star Wars, he grew up a fan of cinema, he would go and watch all kinds of movies, and he’s a fan of the Western serials that were popular when he was growing up. And that idea is that you go to the theatre, and you’d watch the movie, and then it would leave you on a cliffhanger. And then you’d be waiting for the next week to go back and see what happened. He grew up on all of that kind of cinema.
And it’s not that he set out to make this a Western in space, per se, but he wanted to do this adventure and journey, and part of what his cinematic background was infused with was those Western stories. But there is something similar between the Western and the Kurosawa films from Japan. These other stories that are told, they all share a similar underlying adventure, where the lone wolf rolls into town and becomes the good guy. That’s what Han Solo is, and he’s your character in Star Wars that really pulls in the identity of the American West. And right down to his gunslinger holster and his Western shirt and everything, he really could be dropped into a Western film and fit right in. I love that.
One of the things I love about Star Wars is that it’s the first successful pastiche franchise. It pulls from all of these varied influences that impacted George Lucas in one way or another, but synthesises them in an interesting way. It’s at once very familiar and very novel.
I think a lot of people who hit that level of artistry and have that reach, like Star Wars has for 40+ years, is because it’s not just one single note. He didn’t just do one thing that made Star Wars amazing. He did many things that pulled together made it off the charts, kind of groundbreaking. The visual effects, right? That right there could have made a great movie, but then it wasn’t just these groundbreaking visual effects. It was the design in Star Wars that was also amazing, and completely fresh and new. And he didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s a good enough design. Let’s go on,” he kept pushing and pushing his artists until he was like, “Yes, that’s what I want.” He had this visual aesthetic that was very, very strong. And then it was based on mythology and the hero’s journey, which is a timeless story that resonates for any generation, so it wasn’t just a movie that worked great in the 70s but that doesn’t resonate anymore, it still resonates even today. Those are just some of the few things that he did that amalgamated together to make Star Wars just become what you call a classic, right? It’s something that transcends time and lives on and is enjoyed through many generations.
I imagine the Lucasfilm archives must be like the warehouse at the end of Raiders. What is it like in that building, and was there any item in the archives that really surprised you?
You know, it doesn’t quite look like the end of Raiders. But we used to have a warehouse for the while we were making Episodes, I, II and III [of] Star Wars that totally looked like the end of Raiders and it made us laugh, so in a way, yes, we have that. We have several storage locations. So the main collection’s at Skywalker Ranch, and I think what’s really surprised me is how much material archivally almost from the first memo to the final film shot, how much material it takes to make a film – how much artwork and artistry, and how many artists, from sculptors to painters to costume designers and costume makers, how many different artisans it took to make Star Wars [into] Star Wars today, and how many new inventions that were pushed into Star Wars to make Star Wars what it is that we see today. That’s reflected in the artwork in the collection. So when I see the collection together, and I’m like, “There’s that guy who made that and then there’s the lady that designed and built that,” and it just keeps going and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people. And a lot of film is like that. It’s not just Star Wars, but I think Star Wars beautifully represents the many artists that it takes to tell a beautiful cinematic story.
One of the things I love about film is that you’re watching a two-hour-long movie, but you’re not seeing the amount of work that goes into it and the iterative process on the way there. That’s for you to discover later. There will be visitors who will look at the concept art of a garden gnome named “Minch” and be surprised that that’s how Yoda began.
Absolutely, and we have the garden gnome artwork. I think that will be one of the things that will surprise people that come to the exhibition, and even if they’re not Star Wars fans, is seeing the visual journey from first sketch to final character design because really, we’re talking about identity. So part of the exhibition is exploring the identity of all the characters in Star Wars – not everyone, but the primary ones. So you get to study Jabba, from his first sketch and all the different little maquettes. And I love the one where he looks like Fu Manchu with his big moustache, all the way to what he finally looked like in the end. And of course, Yoda is a great one for that. But so is Chewbacca, how Chewbacca came to be who he is as a character. It’s the idea of design and not stopping too soon and keep pushing and pushing and pushing. I think that’s a great visual lesson for so many students today, whether they’re art students, or writers or storytellers or even scientists, that sometimes it takes a lot of effort and layers and layers of repetition till you get to the right answer, whether it’s you’re solving a scientific problem, or whether you’re solving an artistic design problem.
The making of Star Wars is so storied that the mythology is not just within that fictional universe, but the real-life behind-the-scenes process has become mythologised in a way, too.
It’s true. And because there’s such a worldwide fan base, sometimes that mythology gets put into dogma [laughs]. So we always have a little challenge here and there, when we would put something on display, and then fans would get upset because it kind of challenged their understanding of the Star Wars universe that they had come to adopt into their world. So we’re always a little cognisant of that. We always want it to be celebratory, and celebrate the fans and celebrate especially the uber-fans who have been with Star Wars since they were kids, and they’re bringing it to their kids and their grandkids. But at the same time, not every single thing is known about every single aspect of how Star Wars got made.
You know, there’s still some mysteries out there that we’re still being asked, and I don’t know the answer to that. When we’re doing research for different productions, I’m like, “I don’t know the answer to that.” So there’s still mysteries out there. And honestly, I kind of love that. I love that it’s an archive that’s so deep and rich, we have production notes, and binders of production designer notes, that in 100 years, in 200 years, they will have film curatorial historians coming through and still writing new things about Star Wars, even though it’s been 100 years, because not everything is known. So to me, that’s exciting.
As you mentioned, there are fans who can be very fixed in the way they look at Star Wars, and in what Star Wars means to them. What is the best mindset to have, stepping into Star Wars Identities?
Honestly, I think the best way to come into any exhibition but Star Wars Identities, especially, is if you’re coming in as a fan, to go back to why you’re a fan. What did that moment feel like? Tap back into that eight-year-old kid, if that’s what it was, and remember that and play, come in and just have fun, because it’s really what exhibitions are for. It’s supposed to inspire and bring joy, and, and be open. In that sense, you’re now opening to the experience ahead of you. The only time I’ve had challenges is when when a visitor will come in with a preconceived notion and expectation, and that that’s where they may find disappointment. But when we turn the tables around and invite them to remember what it is that they love about Star Wars, then that all opens right back up. And honestly, I’ve never really had to do that but more than one or two times. Everyone tends to go right back to why they love Star Wars, especially in the room with all the objects.
For the non-Star Wars fan coming to Star Wars identities, I think that they’ll be pleasantly surprised to be learning about human identity through the characters of Star Wars, even if they don’t know the films, in a way they’re going to come out knowing a little bit about who those characters are. And what we have found in touring this exhibition is that it’s the non-Star Wars fans who go “Oh my god, I kind of didn’t want to see this movie, or I missed my moment, I got turned off on it for whatever reason, or it’s not my kind of movie, I’m not at all going, ‘Oh my god, I gotta go watch this movie!'” And then we get these letters that go “I had no idea. I just loved the films, but I didn’t watch them until after I went through the exhibition.” So I would say just come and have a good time.
Creating your own Star Wars identity through the exhibition was one of the [most fun] things I’ve ever done. Let me tell the story: when we were mounting this exhibit, it was 2012. I started my job with this collection not as a Star Wars fan. Not everyone believes that, but it’s true. I’m a museum nerd, I’m more of a museum caretaker. Not to say I don’t love the films, but I didn’t come in as like the uber-fan; I’m more of an art historian. So when I when we were doing the exhibit, I helped curate it and design it, and when we were installing it in Montreal for the first venue, we finally got to test the identity quest. And I did it and I was giggling like a five-year-old, going “Oh my god, that was so much fun. I’m gonna go do it again.” I did it 17 times. I just went and had a blast. And I realised, “Oh my god, we did it.” All of our partners, everyone who worked on this exhibit, we totally had a home run because I was having a blast. And I’m like the most jaded [person], too close to the project, too critical of all the details. And I was just like, “Forget it, I’m gonna go do it again,” and I had so much fun. When I got to share it with my kids and my family. They were the same way. They were like, “This is the best thing we’ve ever done!” And again, they put up with me being with the collection. So I think just come and have a good time, then enjoy it. It’s so much fun. It’s such a fun, fun exhibit. It’s really my favourite thing we’ve ever done.
This exhibit was originally going to launch in Singapore in April 2020, and then Circuit Breaker happened, and it’s been in storage for nine months. Walking through the exhibit was surreal, because we’re all wearing masks, and there’s safe distancing and more frequent disinfection, but it’s a real, largely uncompromised museum experience. What do you think the future holds for museum spaces, post-COVID-19?
I’m more hopeful. And I love that you guys call it “Circuit Breaker”; I had never heard that before. At least we don’t use. We don’t use that term in America, that’s neat, I like that. I think because it’s just a circuit break, that will get restored. I don’t think we’re going to be stuck in this particular style. I do think things will have changed forever forward from COVID-19. I do feel like that ability to work from home for so many corporations around the world and the flexibility; it’s creating a lot of silver linings. It’s been obviously a challenging time for all of the world, but I think there will be some benefits coming from it. For exhibitions, I feel like we will restore back to how we were before. I don’t see us always stuck in paranoid land of a pandemic. Pandemics do end. Historically, throughout time, they all come to an end, they all come to an end in a two-to-three-year window. I do feel like when it comes to an end, we’re going to have a slow transition back to normalcy. We’re all gonna be a little bit like, “Oh, is it really, really, really over?” but I think we will get there. And then we’ll be back to our crowded galleries and having human experiences the way we used to be with a big, huge sigh of relief. So, I have faith in that and I’m so grateful for all the effort that the Singapore ArtScience museum have brought to this to make this work during COVID. It was Herculean, really for all the teams, but we did it and we’re really thrilled that in Singapore, you guys can have a semi-normal moment going to the exhibition and that’s really a great way to end this exhibit.
Finally, as an art historian, what do you imagine someone with your job, 200 years in the future, would say about Star Wars?
Well, because we’re going to have this amazing Star Wars archive, as part of the Lucas Museum of narrative art in Los Angeles. The 200-year future with my job, living in Los Angeles caretaking this collection, what are they going to say about Star Wars? They’re going to say that it was one of the most seminal, groundbreaking, moments in cinematic history, like Shakespeare to Elizabethan England. The after-effects will be much better seen and understood in 200 years than we are in the only 40-year window. But if I’m looking at it as a trajectory, with a rocket trail, I see it only continuing and growing and especially now in the hands of Disney, as a global franchise, and with theme parks and Star Wars Land, like I don’t see it slowing down and I don’t see it coming to a full stop. I always see it as woven into our social fabric and vernacular and vocabulary. I just see that 200 years from now they’re going to be really looking at all of the effects of what George Lucas created with his Skywalker story. And in a positive light, I just feel like it’s gonna be really meaningful just like what Shakespeare did. I’m not saying Star Wars is equal to Shakespeare for the literary snobs in the world, I’m just saying the impact will be same felt. They’re already holding classes at universities on Star Wars. So I just see that going more in in the cinema I think cinema has always been looked at as lowbrow. We talked about highbrow-lowbrow, right? I think cinema is going to be seen as a new way of telling stories in high fashion, whatever that really means. Maybe we’ll lose that terminology altogether.
Director: Pete Docter Cast : Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi Genre: Animation/Comedy/Fantasy Run Time : 106 min Opens : 25 December 2020 Rating : PG
Of the mainstream animated studios out there, Pixar has a reputation for generally making more sophisticated fare than its competitors. With Soul, Pixar tackles a question no loftier than “what makes you who you are?”
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school band teacher and an aspiring jazz pianist. Just when he’s about to get his big break performing with the Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) quartet, he falls down a manhole and goes into a coma. Joe’s soul, bound for The Great Beyond, escapes to the You Seminar, formerly known as “The Great Before”. This is where souls live and gain defining characteristics before they enter corporeal bodies on earth. Joe meets 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has spent thousands of years evading becoming human. As Joe fights to return to his body on earth, 22 gains an unexpected understanding of, and perhaps an appreciation for, the life she has been trying so hard to avoid.
Soul is hugely ambitious, a metaphysical, existential odyssey that is challenging and sometimes satisfying to embark upon. It is a lively, funny creation; obviously the effort of artists and technicians who have poured their hearts and, well, souls into their work. Director Pete Docter, who co-wrote the film with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, gives Soul a poignancy that is difficult to describe.
Soul also faces the immense challenge of creating a view of the afterlife (and the ‘afore-life’) that is compatible with multiple belief systems. Great care was taken in shaping the world of the film, with the filmmakers consulting with various religious and cultural experts. The result is something vaguely new-agey and spiritual, but never explicitly religious.
Soul’s design is also often eye-catching, with some clever ideas at play. To convey the ephemeral, intangible nature of a soul, the designers were inspired by the low-density material aerogel. There’s a lot going on here, and a lot of it immensely clever. Soul is, naturally, an intensely emotional film that left this reviewer in tears. It is especially resonant for anyone who’s tried to make a living doing anything creative.
Soul does not seem like a movie made primarily for children and might be Pixar’s least accessible film yet. It is perhaps more difficult to get into than Inside Out, Docter’s previous Pixar film. This does not mean that it doesn’t have elements in it that children will enjoy, but it is going to be difficult for parents to explain what the movie is about. Soul also feels like a movie that is often in search of itself, which befits its themes, but also means it sometimes goes off in many directions. This is a film that demands to be engaged with, but its take on heady philosophical matters can seem a little simplistic or reductive at times.
There are few things as universally moving as music, so it is a canny move to centre the movie on a musician. Soul’s soundscape is a richly textured one, with jazz at its core. Co-writer Powers is, like the protagonist Joe, a Black man from New York in his mid-40s and was a journalist and music critic. Jon Batiste wrote and performed the original jazz tracks in the score, in addition to providing the animators reference for Joe’s piano playing. There is great attention paid to the cultural significance of jazz, with jazz legend Herbie Hancock and anthropologist Dr Johnnetta Cole being two of the consultants on board. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, known for scoring David Fincher films like The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl, seem like unlikely candidates to score a Pixar film, but they deliver moving, uncharacteristically gentle work that is still the right amount of haunting.
Pixar’s films are generally cast well, and Soul is no exception. Jamie Foxx effortlessly essays passion and earnestness, while Tina Fey is endearing as the cynical 22, world-weary despite having never lived. Fey contributed to her character’s dialogue; 22 makes a great throwaway dig at the New York Knicks. Phylicia Rashad breathes life into the relatively small role of Joe’s stern yet loving mother and Angela Bassett is as commanding a presence as ever, voicing a legendary saxophonist. Talk show host Graham Norton brings a friendly quirkiness to hippie sign-twirler Moonwind and Rachel House is funny as the tightly-wound bureaucrat Terry, a soul-counter.
Summary: Made with an abundance of sensitivity and intelligence, Soul artfully tackles some gigantic questions in a resonant manner. Its thematic maturity means that parents will have their work cut out for them in explaining the movie to younger children, but this is a wholly rewarding experience.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Cast : Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Cliff “T.I.” Harris Jr, Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy Run Time : 104 min Opens : 24 December 2020 Rating : PG13
Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for the Resident Evil films, tackles another videogame adaptation, bringing Capcom’s Monster Hunter to the big screen.
Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), whose squadron includes Link (T.I.), Dash (Meagan Good), Marshall (Diego Boneta), Steeler (Josh Helman) and Axe (Jin Au-Yeung), is a U.S. Army Ranger. A freak electrical storm suddenly whisks Artemis and her team into a mysterious realm dominated by other-worldly monsters. Artemis meets the Hunter (Tony Jaa), who has spent his life fighting the monsters, including the Black Diablos and the Nerscylla. Despite initially being antagonistic to each other, Artemis and Hunter must overcome their differences to help each other survive, and so that Artemis can find a way home.
Monster Hunter is not as bad as many of the Resident Evil films and is often entertaining. One would be hard-pressed to call it “good”, but there are a few enjoyable sequences, and some of the monsters are rendered well.
Milla Jovovich may have limited range as an actor, but she is very good at playing tough characters, and the Artemis character caters to all her strengths. The best parts of the film are not the monster fight sequences, though there are plenty of those – the best parts of the movie are the scenes that Jovovich and Jaa share.
Jaa is immensely charismatic, a winsome movie star through and through. There is not much in the way of characterisation for Hunter, let alone any of the other characters who aren’t him or Artemis, but Jaa makes the most of what he’s given. The movie also isn’t as bloated as it could’ve been, given the amount of lore in the game series.
This is a movie that evaporates almost as soon as it’s over. There’s just not a lot here, and it is frustrating because there are interesting textural elements, and there are things about the movie one wishes Anderson had focused on more. Perhaps this is due in part to the appearance of his oft-collaborator Ron Perlman, but this reviewer spent most of Monster Hunter imagining what a filmmaker like Guillermo del Toro could have done with this material. The games are action role-playing games and are not primarily story-driven, which means there was room to create a story here, and it’s just threadbare.
The entire aspect of a human military unit entering the world of Monster Hunter is not taken from the games. Anderson was inspired by a one-off crossover event in the 2010 game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, in which a military squad briefly fought monsters from the Monster Hunter series. This means that, just like in the Resident Evil films, Milla Jovovich is playing a character who was created from whole cloth for the movies and is not present in the games on which they are based. As such, Artemis feels like an avatar, it feels like there’s basically nothing to her, and that Hunter is a much more interesting character by comparison. Anderson also probably thinks it’s quite clever that the character is named after the Ancient Greek goddess of the hunt. Elements from Mad Max: Fury Road, the live-action Transformers movies and Stargate feel grafted onto the movie.
The supporting characters are mostly non-entities. This renders the controversy surrounding one line that was meant to be throwaway banter, that resulted in the movie being pulled from Chinese cinemas, and which has now been deleted from the film, all the more pointless.
A problem that has plagued many of Anderson’s films is also evident here: hyperactive editing. Hand-to-hand combat scenes are rendered essentially incomprehensible, which is even more of a shame considering that a martial artist of Tony Jaa’s calibre is the second lead.
The selling point of the movie is the monsters, which were designed with the input of game director Kaname Fujioka and producer Ryozo Tsujimoto. Some of the monsters are better-executed than others – the fire-breathing Rathalos is a good movie dragon and the climactic battle is one of the film’s more exciting moments. Unfortunately, the spider-like Nerscylla often feel artificial when they should be scary and unsettling. Overall, the monsters can’t help but feel generic and lacking in character, even if some are integrated well into the live-action footage.
Summary: Monster Hunter is a passable diversion, but it’s hard to connect to much in the movie at all. Sporadically entertaining but ultimately flimsy, this video game adaptation doesn’t seem interested in exploring the world of the source material. It is a lot more watchable than many of the same director’s Resident Evil films though, and Tony Jaa is a significant bright spot.