STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 2

Here’s the Mega Picture Post for Day 2. I had a little more fun because I had gotten my bearings, but the layout still did throw me for a loop. I spent most of this day hanging out with my friend Shaun, who was dressed as the Joker and stopped for lots of photos with children, none of him he killed – so he didn’t go all the way into character. Please check out Day 1’s Mega Picture Post here.

Jay as Doctor Strange

Shaun as the Joker in the Millennium Falcon

Is the Joker worthy?

Mjolnir may have made its choice, but that doesn’t mean Thor has to approve.

KO!

The Marvel gang seems quite accepting of the Joker.

Eunice as Harley Quinn and Alice as Poison Ivy

Joker gets all the gals

Something the Joker is very used to.

Another Tiny Rey

The reptilian conspiracy is real!

The First Order assembles

Theresa as Velma

Joker and Dany

Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock

Abigail as Wonder Woman

Another Harley and her best friend (or maybe something more)

“Chewie…we’re home”

Alexander as Anakin Skywalker: “Grandson, why?!!?”

All the Tiny Reys!

The Comic Giants panel (From left): C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Art Adams, Frank Cho, Sonny Liew

Don’t breach the quarantine zone!

Cheryl as Black Canary

James C. Mulligan speed-painting

I wonder what that could be

Ah, I see it now

5 minute master piece

ILM Singapore visual effects supervisor Nigel Sumner speaking about the visual effects of Rogue One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: hammerhead

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Batman

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Don’t know what this resembles

Viv as Kida and Dom as Milo

Tiny Rey!

Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond

Red Hood and Joker

Hikka as Rapunzel

Joker and Deadpool slapfight!

With the gorgeous Cara Keilani as Miranda Lawson

Jaye as Chell

Fiz as Narrator Core, Neptys as GLaDOS and Jaye as Chell

Life-sized Gladiator Hulk and Thor by Hot Toys

Hot Toys’ Wonder Woman

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman

Hot Toys’ Executioner Trooper

Hot Toys’ Kylo Ren

 

Big ol’ group shot to cap off the event

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It

For inSing

IT 

Director : Andy Muschietti
Cast : Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 15m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror and violence)

Stephen King’s creation Pennywise the Dancing Clown is one of the best-known evil clowns in popular culture, and rears his grinning head again in this big screen adaptation of King’s 1986 novel It.

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is the default appearance of an evil entity known as It, that exploits and feeds on the specific fears of its victims. Pennywise is responsible for a spate of disappearing children in the town of Derry, Maine. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is one such child, and his brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) has been investigating Georgie’s disappearance. Billy is the de facto leader of The Losers’ Club, a collection of outcast kids that includes Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Waytt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). The group is tormented by a gang of bullies called the Bowers gang, led by the cruel, unhinged Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). As the Losers’ Club goes about solving the mystery of the disappearing children, they uncover the dark history of Derry, with It/Pennywise seemingly at the centre of horrific events in the town’s past. This collection of misfits must band together to defeat an unimaginable evil and put a stop to its reign of terror.

This remake of It has long been anticipated, with a few bumps on the road on its way to the screen: director Cary Fukunaga was replaced by Andy Muschietti, and Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, but was replaced by Skarsgård. The result shows no trace of any behind-the-scenes tumult. Muschietti establishes the period and place in which the story takes place, building the mythology without it feeling tedious and drawing the audience in. The characters are easy to care about and relate to, and there is intent in how each scene links to the next.

Muschietti pulls off quite the tonal balancing act: It is variously heart-warming, funny, even romantic, and yes – extremely scary. The humour derived from a bunch of kids hanging out and the friendly ribbing that arises from their friendship does not undercut or diminish the visceral, lingering horror that saturates the film. While there are the expected jump scares and the soundtrack is trying a little too hard to startle the audience, much of what makes this movie frightening is finely calibrated and well thought-out. There’s a whole bag of tricks here, such that the scares do not feel repetitive or stale. The set-piece involving a slide projector is an especially elegant, effective moment.

With Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise from the miniseries being as iconic as it is, it would be difficult for anyone to step into those oversized shoes. Skarsgård turns in a menacing performance that is minimally campy. The redesign, which highlights how Pennywise has been around since the earliest days of Derry’s formation, is unsettling and is more understated than the classic Pennywise look. There’s some creepy physicality, and the different manifestations of It have elements that make them as scary as It’s Pennywise mode in their own way.

The Losers’ Club is one of the great assemblies of kid heroes, not unlike the boys in King’s Stand By Me. The characters are brought to life by a talented cast, led by Lieberher of Midnight Special fame. His portrayal of the stuttering Billy is sincere and intense, and he’s far from the ‘boring hero’ type one would expect to be leading a team. Wolfhard, best known as Mike on Stranger Things, steals the show as the loudmouth Richie, who is always handy with an insult. The characters appear to be defined by superficial traits, but are mostly meaningfully developed as the film progresses.

Lillis is destined to be the breakout star of the bunch: the camera adores her, and she handles some of the film’s most challenging and emotional scenes with admirable confidence. All the boys are immediately smitten with Beverly, and the way she integrates herself into the Losers’ Club, becoming a driving force, is compelling. Most of the adults in the film are either creepy or downright evil, with Beverly’s abusive father Alvin (Stephen Bogaert) being the foremost example. This plot point is handled without being gratuitously exploitative.

Packed with potent imagery, a finely-honed mythology, terrific performances from young actors and flat-out terrifying creepy clown, It ranks as one of the finest film adaptations of King’s work. It evokes nostalgia without relying solely on it and those who grew up in the 80s will recognise certain references, but enjoyment of the film is not contingent on that. Regardless of one’s background or prior familiarity with the source material, It is an affecting, haunting work.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cars 3

For F*** Magazine

CARS 3

Director : Brian Fee
Cast : Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 49m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) was once the fastest car alive, but his days at the top of the heap are numbered. In the third instalment of Pixar’s Cars series, Lightning’s status as a seven-time Piston Cup champ is threatened by newcomer Jackson Storm (Hammer), a high-tech, hothead next generation racer. Lightning’s Rust-eze team has been sold by owners Rusty (Ray Magliozzi) and Dusty (Tom Magliozzi) to the wealthy Sterling (Fillion), who has constructed a state-of-the-art training facility. Sterling assigns trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonso) to Lightning, who resents the implication that he is old and on the brink of retirement. While initially dismissive of Cruz, the two eventually bond as they go in search of Smokey (Cooper), the former mechanic and crew chief of Lightning’s late mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). With his girlfriend Sally (Hunt) and his friends Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Guido (Guido Quaroni) and Mack (Ratzenberger) in his corner, Lightning gathers the courage to regain the title and beat Jackson.

The Cars series is not viewed as one of Pixar’s crowning achievements, with 2011’s Cars 2 often viewed as the studio’s worst film. Cars 3 is a definite improvement on the second entry, often sincere and never aggressively obnoxious. However, it’s still difficult to get swept up in the story: the basic plot structure of an aging champion threatened by a rookie competitor brings films like Rocky Balboa to mind. It’s no surprise that co-writer Mike Rich is primarily known for penning sports films, including The Rookie, Miracle and Secretariat.

Lightning’s arc in this film isn’t exactly the easiest for kids to readily relate to. The themes of re-evaluating one’s purpose after getting a wake-up call in the form of a younger, faster rival might not resonate as well with the film’s young target audience as Pixar hopes. There’s also a great deal of sentimentality, with the impact that Doc Hudson had on Lightning, and Lightning’s search for inspiration in his late mentor’s wisdom being a crucial plot point. The adults might get a touch misty-eyed, but this might be lost on most kids.

As expected from Pixar, the animation is top-notch. The Cars are easy to buy as actual characters, and the way the characters shift their weight from one wheel to another is amusingly expressive. We get some gorgeously-rendered backgrounds and realistic atmospheric effects such as sparks and dust. However, Cars 3 lacks memorable set pieces. A Demolition Derby sequence is the most exciting the film gets, and even that falls a good distance short of the creatively conceived set pieces in other Pixar films. The bulk of the movie is spent chronicling Lightning’s training, which is good for character development, but isn’t all that exciting.

Wilson’s easy-going charm makes Lightning likeable even when the character gets caught up on his own success. The biggest thing Cars 3 gets right is the new character Cruz Ramirez. Alonso lends the character an upbeat eagerness and she’s set up to be annoying because she’s standing in Lightning’s way, but the character’s motivations are gradually revealed and the relationship between her and Lightning evolves organically. The dynamic between the two characters is sufficiently different from what we usually see in animated films, and to make another comparison to a boxing movie, is a little Million Dollar Baby-esque.

Thankfully, Mater takes a back seat in this one – arguably the biggest mistake the second film made was elevating him to a leading role. Fillion’s performance as billionaire Sterling is coolly sophisticated and just the right amount of condescending. Unused recordings of Newman from the first film are used for the flashbacks featuring Doc, displaying significance reverence for the legendary actor. Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria has plenty of fun as the sadistic monster schoolbus Miss Fritter. As in the previous instalments, real-life racing drivers and sports commentators making vocal cameos: listen out for Lewis Hamilton, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson, Daniel Suárez and others.

While Cars 3 has its heart (or engine, as it were) in the right place, it’s far from impressive enough to justify its own existence. It surpasses the low expectations generated by its disappointing sequel and showcases surprising depth, but instead of sending heart rates racing, Cars 3 mostly coasts along.

As is customary for Pixar films, Cars 3 is preceded by an animated short. This one is Lou, directed by Dave Mullins, and about a loveable creature who lives in the lost and found box at an elementary school playground. Built on a charming, simple premise and packing a whole lot of emotion into its six minutes, Lou is a fine example of the storytelling power can summon.

Summary: Despite a story that most kids might find challenging to connect to and a dearth of memorable set pieces, there’s enough amiable sweetness to Car 3, making it a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kill Switch

For F*** Magazine

KILL SWITCH 

Director : Tim Smit
Cast : Dan Stevens, Bérénice Marlohe, Charity Wakefield, Tygo Gernandt
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 24 August 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language And Violence)

Dan Stevens looks set to be 2017’s breakout leading man. This year alone, The Downtown Abbey star can be seen in Beauty and the Beast, Colossal, The Ticket, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Permission, Marshall and The Man Who Invented Christmas. He’s also on TV, playing the lead in Legion. In this sci-fi action thriller, Stevens must stop the implosion of existence as we know it.

 

It is the year 2043, and Will Porter (Stevens), a physicist and pilot, is recruited by the massive corporation Alterplex. The company is on a mission to harness energy from parallel universes, hiring Will to travel to a realm known as ‘the Echo’. The experiment goes awry, and Will finds himself being pursued by a phalanx of heavily-armed mercenaries, and waves of deadly drones. Will must transport a mysterious obsidian box called the ‘Redivider’, which functions as a kill switch, to Alterplex’s tower. If he fails, his sister Mia (Wakefield) and her young son, not to mention the entire population of the world, will perish. Will discovers that Abigail Vos (Marlohe), the Alterplex employee who recruited him, might not be all she claims. Amidst the chaos, a rebel organisation that plans to undermine Alterplex might just be Will’s only hope.

Kill Switch is based on director Tim Smit’s 2009 short film What’s in the Box? Filmed from a first-person perspective, What’s in the Box? garnered considerable interest online because of the possibility that it was linked to the long-rumoured video game Half-Life 3 (it was not). The feature-length version is a perplexing, frustrating, but intriguing film. All the action scenes are filmed from a first-person perspective, giving this a video game-like feel. Because it’s set in two parallel worlds and of the queasiness-inducing factor of filming chaotic, frenetic shootouts and pursuits in that format, Kill Switch is disorienting and is far harder to follow than it should be.

Smit is a visual effects artist whose first feature film is Kill Switch, and it’s an ambitious debut. Shot in the Netherlands with a largely Dutch crew and several Dutch actors in the cast, the computer-generated effects work is solid and rivals Hollywood productions with much larger budgets. There are certain glimmers of cleverness: the original title of the film was ‘Redivider’ which, like the name ‘Tim Smit’, is a palindrome. Unfortunately, Smit’s focus is clearly trained on the visual effects spectacle, with the plot suffering as a result. While the screenplay by Charlie Kindinger and Omid Nooshin packs in exposition to explain the sci-fi workings of it all, it’s still tough to make head or tail of the proceedings.

Stevens has an intensity to him that sets him apart from the bland, cookie cutter action leads Hollywood who are sometimes hyped as ‘the next big thing’. He takes this far more seriously than he hast to. The unique thing about the role is that because all the action scenes are filmed in the first-person perspective, he doesn’t perform any of the action, merely providing the voiceover for those scenes.

Marlohe, best-known for playing a Bond girl in Skyfall, makes for a stiff femme fatale. Interestingly, Will is not in a romantic relationship with any of the female characters in the film, which is another element that differentiates Kill Switch from the average action thriller. Mia is Will’s sister, when in any other film, that character would be the male lead’s wife instead. It’s a shame that Will’s bond with his sister and nephew gets insufficient development, and the potentially emotional scenes fall flat.

Low-to-mid-budget science fiction films usually pique this reviewer’s curiosity, since conventional wisdom dictates that futuristic films are expensive to pull off convincingly. Kill Switch is sporadically fun, the visual effects are confidently and competently executed, and Smit shows considerable promise in an audacious debut. However, the first-person perspective gimmick wears out its welcome all too quickly, and the gee whiz sci-fi plot is confusingly rendered.

Summary: Recommended only for curious sci-fi fans, Kill Switch boasts impressive production values that are in service of a muddled narrative.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

47 Meters Down

For F*** Magazine

47 METERS DOWN 

Director : Johannes Roberts
Cast : Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris J. Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Matthew Modine
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 30m
Opens : 17 August 2017
Rating : PG13

What would horror movies be without American tourists making horrible decisions? From Hostel to Turistas to Chernobyl Diaries, filmgoers have witnessed would-be fun vacations turn horrifying in the blink of an eye. In this thriller, Lisa (Moore) and her younger sister Kate (Holt) are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa’s boyfriend Stuart has just broken up with her, claiming Lisa made the relationship boring. Two handsome strangers (Gellman and Segura) whom the sisters meet convince them to go on a shark cage dive. After all, what better way to prove Lisa isn’t boring? Kate has some diving experience and Lisa has none, so Lisa is initially reluctant, but goes along with her sister anyway. Captain Taylor (Modine) takes the sisters out to a rickety boat, and they get into an even ricketier shark cage. Lisa’s worst fears are realised when the cable holding the cage snaps, sending the sisters plummeting to the ocean floor. Trapped and surrounded by great white sharks, Lisa and Kate must find a way out of their predicament before they run out of air.

47 Meters Down is one of those movies that must’ve made a great elevator pitch: two women get trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. We have seen films built on intriguing premises that fall apart after a while, the high concept unable to sustain a feature-length film. 47 Meters Down has its genuinely thrilling moments, but even running a lean 85 minutes, it feels padded out, with it being around 20 minutes before our heroines step into the shark cage.

The film is built around a set piece, so director/co-writer Johannes Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera don’t seem to be particularly concerned with crafting compelling characters. It’s all about the situation the characters are trapped in. It’s inevitable that any shark movie be compared to Jaws, the granddaddy of them all. It’s important to remember that Jaws had Brody, Hooper and Quint, and the dynamic between those three characters was as important to the movie as the shark was, if not even more so.

The sharks created by Outpost VFX look sufficiently convincing, but they don’t pop up quite as often as this reviewer would’ve liked. Even if there isn’t enough to the protagonists to care deeply for them, Roberts generates a visceral sense of panic and there are just enough jump scares without overdoing it. Any film is bound to take artistic license with the subject matter at hand, and any expert diver will probably be beside themselves with amusement and bemusement at the dive science on display in 47 Meters Down. Even for non-experts, some moments strain suspension of disbelief. The articles that break down the myriad inaccuracies in 47 Meters Down are expectedly technical, but make for interesting reading after watching the film.

47 Meters Down is a low-budget film that boasts above-average production values. Thanks to cinematographer Mark Silk, production designer David Bryan and other crew members, it’s easy to believe that Kate and Lisa are in the waters off Mexico when the film was mostly shot in a modest tank in Essex. As with many horror movies, 47 Meters Down is sometimes guilty of using the score to signal when audiences should be frightened – then again, that could be seen as merely following the example set by Jaws.

This reviewer quite enjoyed last year’s shark thriller The Shallows. What made that film better than 47 Meters Down was that audiences could assign a certain intelligence to the shark, and that it played out as a game of wits between the protagonist and her toothy tormentor. 47 Meters Down isn’t quite as inventive and is consequently not too memorable, but when the scares work, they work.

Summary: A spare thriller with just enough jolts to keep it afloat, 47 Meters Down is gripping in parts, but is also repetitive and even at just 85 minutes, feels too long.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

For F*** Magazine

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Kristy Mitchell, Richard E. Grant, Sam Hazeldine
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 51m
Opens : 17 August 2017

This reviewer has long thought that The Hague would be a cool setting for an action movie to unfold. Imagine this scenario: a brutal dictator is brought before the International Court of Justice, but his sympathisers disrupt the trial, taking the judges, witnesses and other attendees of the trial hostage. It’s up to a John McClane-style hero to save the day. The Hitman’s Bodyguard uses a similar premise, but with a comedic twist.

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a triple-A rated executive protection agent, and his services are highly sought-after by arms dealers, warlords and other shady figures with a long list of enemies. After a botched job, Bryce’s career is in the dumps. His shot at redemption is a job escorting hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague, where Kincaid is set to testify against Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Kincaid agrees to testify on the condition that his wife Sonia (Hayek), herself a career criminal, is released from prison. Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Yung), has learned that there is a mole within Interpol and Bryce, being on the outside, is the only person she can trust to protect Kincaid. The catch: Bryce and Kincaid have been sworn enemies for years, Bryce finding himself caught in Kincaid’s crosshairs countless times across their respective careers. Kincaid insists that he doesn’t need Bryce’s protection, but the unlikely duo must rely on each other to survive the onslaught of Dukhovich’s mercenary army.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seemed promising: there’s plenty of potential in teaming up Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, and the marketing campaign that riffed on the 1992 film The Bodyguard was reasonably witty. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Director Patrick Hughes, who helmed the mediocre The Expendables 3, struggles to make the film seem fresh or genuinely thrilling. Despite the obvious chemistry its stars share, there’s only so much expletive-laden bickering one can take before it just gets tiresome. The conflict between Bryce and Kincaid is meant to be amusing, but it just feels like a single joke that’s stretched out. As written by screenwriter Tom O’Connor, the back-and-forth between Reynolds and Jackson isn’t nearly clever enough to keep our interest.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard also suffers tonally: a bloody bar brawl scored to Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, and Atli Örvarsson’s over-the-top Bond movie-esque score indicate that the film is aiming for ironic self-awareness. However, the villain is depicted committing full-on war crimes, and one character’s tragic backstory is depicted in a dark flashback. Then there’s general silliness, like when our protagonists hitch a ride on a bus full of nuns. The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t commit to full-tilt madcap comedy because it also wants to be a cool action flick, and ends up stranded in between. The action sequences are mostly filmed in shaky-cam so they’re difficult to enjoy, but the boat chase through Amsterdam’s canals and the explosive finale are reasonably fun set pieces.

Reynolds and Jackson play strictly to type: the former is a wisecracking action hero, and the latter is a foul-mouthed badass who doesn’t suffer fools. While they appear to be enjoying themselves, the dysfunctional buddy cop dynamic falls short of the fireworks one would expect from the pairing of performers who, in the right roles, can be supremely entertaining. The incessant arguing between the pair does draw out a few laughs, but most of the would-be zingers Reynolds and Jackson exchange fall flat. You might find yourself wondering how this would go if Reynolds and Jackson were playing Deadpool and Nick Fury respectively – that would be more exciting.

Gary Oldman can always be counted on to play a fantastic villain: he can throw a shouting fit like few others. He’s good here, no surprise, but he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. The character is introduced committing war crimes, that introductory scene feeling uncomfortably out of place in what is ostensibly a light-hearted action comedy.

Hayek is ridiculous amounts of fun, swearing up a storm and putting in a performance that’s markedly different from what we’ve seen from her before. Yung doesn’t make much of an impact, but it is fun to imagine Deadpool and Elektra being former lovers.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seems like it should’ve been an entertaining lark, but it comes off as generic and oddly lethargic, despite trying hard to come off as funny. While its action sequences are unremarkable and its comedy is largely forced, The Hitman’s Bodyguard can thank its leads for wringing some laughs out of the material.

Summary: It’s mostly a rehash of buddy action movie clichés and the fights and chases are nothing to write home about, but even when given middling material, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make some of this work.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Dark Tower

For F*** Magazine

THE DARK TOWER 

Director : Nikolaj Arcel
Cast : Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Franz Kranz, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Dennis Haysbert
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1h 35m
Opens : 3 August 2017
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

After ten years in various stages of development, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series finally arrives on the big screen. At the centre of the universe stands the titular structure, protecting various realms from entities that seek to tear the universe apart. On Mid-World, the evil sorcerer Walter Padick/The Man in Black (McConaughey), has been conducting experiments on gifted children, attempting to use their minds to bring down the tower. The Man in Black’s nemesis is Roland Deschain/The Gunslinger (Elba), the last living descendant of his world’s version of King Arthur. On earth, teenager Jake Chambers (Taylor) has been plagued with nightmares in which he sees Walter and Roland. Locating an abandoned house he sees in his dream, Jake steps through a portal and into Mid-World, accompanying Roland on his quest to defeat Walter and prevent the collapse of the universe.

King’s series of eight books, with allusions to it scattered throughout his other works, has many devoted fans. This reviewer, being completely unfamiliar with the series, is not one of them. It must have been a challenge to adapt the series, which spans the genres of science-fantasy, western and horror, hence the succession of filmmakers who came and went. The approach with this is that it isn’t a straight adaptation, folding in elements from several books while also acting as kind of a sequel to them – we don’t fully understand the mechanics of that.

The resulting film is a serviceable fantasy adventure, but can’t help but feel underwhelming given the breadth of the source material. Director Nikolaj Arcel goes about the set-up with workmanlike efficiency, and the story isn’t difficult to follow at all. There’s just the nagging feeling that everything’s been condensed into its simplest form, and that the richness of the world that King has woven together is being sacrificed for something easier to digest. Visually, The Dark Tower isn’t too exciting, but the action sequences, especially Roland’s various reload tricks, are quite fun.

Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Javier Bardem and Russell Crowe have all been connected to the Roland Deschain role at some point. Elba is a fine choice for the part, cutting a heroic figure and possessing the stoic poise necessary to sell the character. There’s a strength and a grace to the way Elba moves, and he does have a larger-than-life quality to him. He just doesn’t have very much to do here, and even though Roland’s storied past is hinted at, the character feels a little flat.

The relationship between Roland and Jake is apparently key to the books, but it doesn’t get too much development here. It makes sense that Jake, as the audience identification character, is given more emphasis, but it detracts from the inherently interesting Gunslinger and Man in Black characters. Taylor, a relative newcomer, does his best as the troubled character and is generally sympathetic throughout the film. Jake winds up being an extreme example of the ‘chosen one’ trope, and the handling of the character nudges The Dark Tower into Young Adult fiction territory. He must overcome tragedy, has fantastical abilities he must hone, and stumbles into an adventure in a magical world. While this approach is too generic, it gets the job done.

McConaughey has as much fun as he can with the role of the mercurial, wicked Man in Black. There’s a seductiveness to his brand of menace, and McConaughey practices enough restraint so that he does not chew the mostly drab scenery to pieces. When McConaughey and Elba are pitted against each other, the sparks don’t fly as fiercely and as wildly as one hopes they would. Just as with this iteration of Roland Deschain however, the Man in Black doesn’t feel as substantial a character as he should.

There will be a TV series planned to bridge this film and its sequel, which Arcel has promised will be more faithful to the books than this film is. The Dark Tower is meant to launch a ‘Connected KINGdom’ cinematic universe uniting all of Stephen King’s works, with Easter Eggs from It, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Cujo, Christine and others hidden in the film. Given all this, The Dark Tower feels sufficiently self-contained, and doesn’t come off as merely a long trailer for what’s to follow.

The Dark Tower is intermittently thrilling, sometimes entertaining, and runs a lean 95 minutes. It doesn’t have the feel of a sprawling epic, but that isn’t entirely a bad thing, since the audience isn’t overwhelmed with exposition-dumps and massive amounts of lore to process. However, it makes more of a dent than an impact, and isn’t especially memorable given the potential in its premise and the extent to which King has developed his universe. We’re far from the most qualified to judge how this stacks up against the source material, but we have a feeling that those who’ve been waiting a decade for a Dark Tower movie to materialise might feel indifferent if not disappointed.

Summary: The Dark Tower has charismatic leads and doesn’t twaddle in setting up its plot, but it comes off as generic and slight when it should be an absorbing epic.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Big Sick

For F*** Magazine

THE BIG SICK 

Director : Michael Showalter
Cast : Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, David Alan Grier
Genre : Comedy/Romanc
Run Time : 2h
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Sexual References)

Many couples have probably thought to themselves, “say, our courtship would make a great movie”. Comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon thought this, and they were right.

In The Big Sick, Nanjiani plays himself, a Chicago-based stand-up comic from a Pakistani immigrant family. Kumail’s mother Sharmeen (Shroff) has been trying to arrange a marriage for him, setting him up with as many eligible Pakistani-American women as she can find. Emily Gardner (Kazan) is in the audience at a show in which Kumail is one of the performers, and they hit it off. However, Kumail knows that he will be disowned by his family if they find out he is dating a white, non-Muslim woman. Several weeks into their relationship, Emily is struck by a mysterious illness, and is placed in a medically-induced coma. Her parents Beth (Hunter) and Terry (Romano) arrive from North Carolina to care for her, and while things between them and Kumail are awkward at first, they begin to bond over their mutual care for Emily’s well-being. In the meantime, Kumail hopes to impress a talent scout who is selecting comics to perform in the esteemed Montreal Comedy Festival, but Emily’s circumstances throw him off his game, forcing him to re-evaluate his priorities while he confronts the traditions that he feels bound by.

This romantic comedy-drama is co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon, starring Nanjiani as himself, re-enacting his own love story. This might sound like a vanity project on the surface, but The Big Sick doesn’t feel like one at all. Even if it is a vanity project, it’s the kind we need right now. While made with a niche audience in mind, The Big Sick has gained overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth and has become a critical and commercial success. Key to its success is that this a film that bleeds authenticity. Sure, as with any movie based on a true story, artistic licenses were taken, but at no point that this feel glossy and artificial, nor does the film seem like it’s straining to convince us of its realness. As cliché as it sounds, all of it comes from the heart. Profoundly moving and disarmingly raw, director Michael Showalter packages Nanjiani and Gordon’s shared experiences without them seeming packaged in any way.

This is a comedy first and foremost, and on that front The Big Sick is a gut-busting triumph. Little touches like Nanjiani’s abiding love for The X-Files add nice textural elements – the episode “One Breath”, in which Mulder tries to save Scully from a coma, was a major inspiration for this film. Stand-up comics like Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant fill supporting roles as Kumail’s fellow comedy club performers, sometimes sarcastic but never unbearably smug. At no point does The Big Sick feel smug or ‘funnier than thou’, as movies about comedy with the creative involvement of professional comics are wont to be. Best of all, the tricky tonal balances are executed with a master’s touch. The film makes no hard-left turns into dramatic territory, and when it gets serious, it never blindsides the audience. The subjects of medical emergencies, the prejudices faced by South Asians and other immigrants in the United States, and the prospect of being exiled from one’s family because of whom one chooses to love are not inherently funny. The Big Sick’s treatment of these issues provokes thought without feeling inorganic or like it’s forcing the audience into an uncomfortable spot. The comedy does not undercut or overpower the film’s depth or sincerity.

One could say that Kumail Nanjiani was the role Kumail Nanjiani was born to play. Nanjiani is earnestly dorky, yet charming and altogether endearing, without ever feeling like he’s over-amplifying aspects of himself. He shares sparkling chemistry with Kazan, who is eminently likeable and showcases a range of the most adorable facial expressions. There are conflicts and misunderstandings, but they never feel like stock rom-com contrivances. Emily is in a coma for most of the film’s running time, but Kazan makes her presence felt and the relationship between Kumail and Emily is one of the easiest to root for in all of romantic comedy film history.

 

Kumail’s family does feel a little exaggerated for comedic effect, but they are never the butt of the joke. Given all that Nanjiani has been through, the portrayal of Kumail’s father Azmat (Kher), mother Sharmeen, brother Naveed (Akhtar) and sister-in-law Fatima (Shenaz Treasury) is markedly sympathetic. Kumail might feel stifled by the traditions and worldview upheld by his family, but that doesn’t mean he loves them any less.

Romano and Hunter are impeccably cast as Emily’s parents. Romano brings his trademark slightly beleaguered, Dad joke-spouting everyman persona to bear, but also provides some of the film’s most honest emotion. Hunter’s fiery, no-nonsense Beth is a force to be reckoned with, and the way she eventually warms towards Kumail feels natural and earned. Having a daughter in a coma is an emotionally-exhausting experience, and Terry and Beth are shown warts and all – but then again, so is every character in The Big Sick, a key ingredient in its authenticity.

“Absolutely devastating” is not necessarily the description one would use for a comedy – but The Big Sick is absolutely devastating in the best way. In telling a love story through a unique perspective, skilfully folding in social issues and wrapping all this in bracing, disarming humour, The Big Sick is essential viewing.

Summary: Deeply personal, authentic, warm, heart-rending and immensely funny, The Big Sick will cause fits of laughter and uncontrollable sobbing without feeling incongruous, manipulative or self-indulgent.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Atomic Blonde

For F*** Magazine

ATOMIC BLONDE 

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : R21 (Some Homosexual Content)

Charlize Theron goes from traversing the arid, scorching desert of Mad Max: Fury Road to sauntering into the coldest city in this action thriller. It is 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and MI6 agent James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB operative in West Berlin. Gascoine’s colleague and former lover Lorraine Broughton (Theron), one of MI6’s deadliest operatives, is sent behind the Iron Curtain to recover sensitive information stolen from Gascoine. Lorraine must work alongside MI6’s Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who is often drunk and unreliable. Lorraine’s mission is to track down a mark known only as ‘Spyglass’ (Marsan). She gets entangled with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), and Lorraine’s actions frustrate her superiors Eric Gray (Jones) of MI6 and Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman) of CIA. Caught in a geopolitical firestorm and pitted against the most treacherous of enemies, Lorraine must retrieve the documents at all costs.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. Directing the film is David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski and who is also helming the upcoming Deadpool 2. Leitch employs a great deal of stylisation, crafting a brutal, sexy ‘neon-noir’. However, unlike John Wick, Atomic Blonde doesn’t lean into its heightened absurdity as much, and takes itself a little too seriously.

As with any espionage thriller, the plot is a web of double-crosses, shifting alliances and twisty reveals. Atomic Blonde hints at the fraught geopolitical climate of the time, but is far from substantive. While Atomic Blonde succeeds as a mood piece, it is too coolly detached for audiences to get involved in the story. With its title cards rendered as spray-painted graffiti text and its action set to songs by Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode and Kanye West, Atomic Blonde is sometimes too enamoured with its coolness for its own good.

Coming from a stunt performer/coordinator background and having co-founded the stunt collective 87Eleven Action Design, Leitch knows a thing or two about action sequences. Atomic Blonde showcases several elaborate, wince-inducing combat sequences, and doesn’t skimp on the blood splatter when people get shot in the head. It is inevitable that this gets compared to John Wick – we’ve already done that earlier in this review. As masterfully as the stunts are executed, the balletic gunfights in John Wick were more dazzling, and that film’s juxtaposition of elegance and brutality more beguiling, than the action on show in Atomic Blonde.

Theron is an outspoken feminist, and Atomic Blonde has been characterised as a feminist action movie. The screenplay is written by Kurt Johnstad, who has penned such “manly men” flicks as 300 and Act of Valour, and the film’s female characters are very much sexualised. However, Theron owns the character’s sexuality, and while it can be argued that moments like a lesbian sex scene are exploitative, she displays such conviction that it doesn’t feel sleazy. This is a role that’s right in Theron’s wheelhouse – Lorraine is slinky, lethal and unafraid to get her hands very dirty. We get very little in the way of back-story or meaningful character motivations, but Lorraine is intended to be an enigma and Theron relishes the cloak and dagger machinations her character enacts.

As is expected of McAvoy when he gets to play characters a little on the wild side, he puts in an entertaining turn. David plays second fiddle to Lorraine, and McAvoy has no qualms letting Theron take the spotlight. The openly hostile dynamic between the two ostensible allies contains glimmers of fun, but McAvoy and Theron don’t get to play off each other as much as this reviewer hoped.

Boutella’s Delphine is very much the traditional Bond girl: she’s in her over depth, and is seduced and taken advantage of by the hero(ine). It can be argued that the much buzzed-about lesbian sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is gratuitous, but Theron has argued that it’s an example of women owning their sexuality in a mainstream film, something we don’t see a lot of. In the meantime, Goodman and Jones show up mostly to facilitate the framing device of Lorraine being debriefed/interrogated in the aftermath of her Berlin mission. Unlike Theron and Boutella, they do not have a sex scene together.

As a platform for Charlize Theron to strut her action heroine stuff, Atomic Blonde works well. However, its convoluted spy vs. spy narrative is at odds with its stylishness and devil-may-care vibe. Atomic Blonde gets bogged down with considerable amounts of plot to get through in between the action while not possessing much depth, but Theron’s virtuosic badassery make it worthwhile.

Summary: While not as compulsively entertaining as it could’ve been, Atomic Blonde packs in plenty of style and showcases Charlize Theron in full action heroine mode.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Baby Driver

For F*** Magazine

BABY DRIVER 

Director : Edgar Wright
Cast : Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones, Flea, Lanny Joon
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 52m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

The director of the Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World takes the driver’s seat, and he has the Wright of way. This action comedy follows Baby (Elgort), a getaway driver who is a veritable prodigy behind the wheel. After surviving an accident in his childhood, Baby suffers from tinnitus, and to drown out the ringing noise, listens to pre-selected music on his iPod. Baby is in the employ of criminal mastermind Doc (Spacey), whose gang of bank-robbers includes miscreants like Buddy (Hamm), Buddy’s wife Darling (González), the violent and unpredictable Bats (Foxx) and the surly Griff (Bernthal). The latter two aren’t especially fond of Baby, but Doc insists on keeping Baby as his getaway driver, even as Baby wants out. Baby fears that his foster father Joseph (Jones) and Debora (James), the diner waitress with whom he strikes up a relationship, are endangered by his criminal activities. While he dreams of hitting the open road with Debora next to him, Baby is kept under Doc’s thumb. He might be the world’s greatest getaway driver, but can he escape from his shadowy employer?

Baby Driver has long been gestating in writer-director Wright’s mind. After first coming up with the idea in 1994, Wright directed a music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song”, featuring Noel Fielding as a getaway driver with an affinity for music. Wright has become known for his films’ dynamic, sometimes quirky style, and the comic energy with which he executes them. Baby Driver is supremely entertaining, a funny, romantic thriller crafted with the utmost care. It’s a little like a souped-up version of Carpool Karaoke, in that each action sequence is set to music.

Baby Driver moves with an effortless fluidity; Wright tapping on choreographer Ryan Heffington to help sync the actors’ movements to the soundtrack. Atlanta, Georgia, often doubles for other locations, but in Baby Driver, the city gets to play itself, becoming an ideal backdrop for thrilling, inventive car chases. Baby Driver features such brazen stylistic choices as cutting a gunfight to a drum solo; editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos giving the picture a rhythm that matches the vibe of the story Wright is trying to tell to a tee.

With Baby’s personal mix of songs helping him to zone in while he works, while carrying sentimental significance for him, there are traces of Star-Lord’s awesome mix from Guardians of the Galaxy. It turns out that Wright consulted director James Gunn to make sure there wasn’t any overlap between the tracks featured in Baby Driver and those used in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Artistes like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Commodores, T. Rex, Beck, Martha and the Vandellas and, of course, Simon and Garfunkel all show up on the soundtrack, making this something of a hybrid jukebox musical action movie. It’s a clever, unique effect.

Elgort’s Baby is one of the more memorable original protagonists in recent memory. There are elements to him we’ve seen before in many a crime thriller: he’s got a tragic past, is embarking on the fabled ‘one last job’, has a parental figure who disapproves of his job, and falls in love with a woman from whom he tries to hide his unlawful ways. Even so, there’s a resonant freshness to the character, as if Wright has remixed said elements. Baby is laconic and withdrawn, existing in his own world created with the assistance of music. ‘Tough’ isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind when describing Elgort, but Baby exudes toughness of a non-traditional sort. The character is roguish, charming and endearing with Elgort having to try too hard at all.

The film’s supporting cast is stacked with talent. James exudes a somewhat old-fashioned girl-next-door sweetness, and while the romance between Baby and Debora unfolds predictably enough, it is still achingly romantic. Emma Stone was initially cast in the role, but left due to scheduling conflicts with La La Land. The character isn’t given the greatest amount of agency, and for most of the film remains an observer, but she plays a crucial role in the movie’s conclusion.

Spacey is Spacey: slyly terrifying and having the time of his life, while displaying commendable restraint. Hamm, Foxx and Bernthal all have their moments, with Foxx being especially easy to dislike as a bank robber who is instantly antipathic towards Baby. The characters who surround Baby are over-the-top, but that never undercuts their capability to be truly terrifying. By the film’s climactic confrontation, Baby Driver dispenses with the humour, and that sequence is intense and brutal. It’s a little jarring, but that turn is mostly well-earned. CJ Jones, who plays Baby’s kindly deaf foster father Joseph, is deaf in real life and is an activist for deaf awareness causes.

Baby Driver is the work of an auteur at the top of his game, with Wright’s stamp on it from beginning to end. The filmmaker makes numerous canny, inspired decisions, and pulls them off with stunning aplomb. Instead of coming off as smug and self-indulgent, it packs in a great deal of heart, feeling polished yet personal. It’s a deliriously good time that’s also deliriously good filmmaking.

SUMMARY: Edgar Wright fires on all cylinders, creating a superb slice of entertainment that’s a visual and aural delight. Baby Driver is also the best showcase for Ansel Elgort’s star power yet.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong