Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience (Singapore) Review

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS – THE LIVE EXPERIENCE

29 August – 8 September
Singapore Indoor Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resident director Ian Waller

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Lewis (Huxley)

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

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

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

Suit performer Neal Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

Dora and the Lost City of Gold review

For inSing

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

47 Meters Down: Uncaged review

For inSing

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Angel Has Fallen review

For inSing

ANGEL HAS FALLEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ready or Not review

For inSing

READY OR NOT

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Cast : Samara Weaving, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 35 mins
Opens : 22 August 2019 (exclusively at Cathay cinemas)
Rating : M18

        None of us truly knows what we’re getting into when we marry into someone else’s family. Sure, the weird uncle or two or the cousin who not-so-secretly despises you is par for the course, but sometimes things are a little more complicated than that. Such is the case in this dark comedy horror thriller.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry the love of her life, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Alex is heir to the Le Domas gaming fortune – the empire began as a playing card printing business and now encompasses the ownership of four pro sports teams. Grace senses that she won’t be accepted into the family, but Alex’s mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) attempts to assuage her fears.

On the night of the wedding, tradition dictates that Grace draw a card from a magic box and play the game stated on the card: in this case, ‘Hide and Seek’. What starts out being a little strange soon becomes deadly, with Alex’s father Tony (Henry Czerny) leading the other relatives in hunting Grace down to kill her. Over the course of the night, Grace must survive this terrifying ‘tradition’ as she gets to the bottom of why her new husband’s family is convinced that they must murder her.

            Ready or Not plays like an alternate universe version of Crazy Rich Asians: a woman’s boyfriend is not being 100% upfront about the truth of his wealthy family, and when she meets them, hijinks ensue. Here, the hijinks are considerably bloodier than in Crazy Rich Asians. The movie draws viewers into its twisted premise, getting more engrossing as it progresses. It’s a tense, funny, sometimes gross horror comedy which has ‘cult classic’ written all over it.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are two-thirds of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, who made the 10/31/98 segment of the horror anthology film V/H/S. Working from a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have crafty an enjoyable little genre movie that is just the right degree of nasty.

One of the trickiest things about horror comedies is getting the tone right. Ready or Not does a good job with its world-building, drawing audiences into the mystery surrounding the bizarre blood sport at the plot’s centre. In the meantime, the characters all seem close enough to people you might be related to, hopefully minus the murder. Ready or Not takes the Eyes Wide Shut-style conceit of rich people engaging in arcane rituals behind closed doors and puts a slasher movie spin on it.

A big part of why this works is Samara Weaving. The Australian actress is a bona fide scream queen who displays a remarkable sense of timing and delivers a spectacularly committed performance here. Weaving brings some Emma Stone-ness to bear, in that she’s likeably plucky but is also unafraid of being afraid. When she screams, it’s a hoarse, desperate, truly frightening yell that makes the audience genuinely worry if Grace will make it out alive. Weaving proves that she’s game for a whole lot as the movie throws horrible obstacle after horrible obstacle at Grace. The imagery of a woman in a pristine wedding dress who gets grimier and more covered in blood as the film goes on is not especially original, but it works for Ready or Not.

The rest of the cast consists mostly of Canadian actors. Mark O’Brien’s performance is best described as “boring on purpose”: Alex is meant to be more down-to-earth and different from his eccentric, possibly cultist family, so he’s not very interesting by comparison.

Adam Brody gets the juicier role of Alex’s drunken brother Daniel, who is conflicted about his role within the family and of the Le Domas’ attitude towards violence.

Henry Czerny is intense as patriarch, with that intensity being sporadically punctured by goofiness. Andie MacDowell is coolly unflappable as his wife, and while she isn’t the first name that comes to mind when one pictures a crossbow-wielding badass, MacDowell acquits herself well.

Kristian Bruun is deliberately annoying, while Nicky Guadagni gives the archest performance as Aunt Helene. The film gradually reveals how Aunt Helene winded up as scary as she is now.

The film’s Toronto and Ontario-area locations, including Casa Loma and Parkwood Estate, contribute to the setting of an old family property that hides many secrets. Brian Tyler’s score is reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s work in parts, and like much of the rest of the movie, is just heightened enough.

Ready or Not isn’t an especially subtle movie and it does have its share of gory violence, but directors Bettnelli-Olpin and Gillett demonstrate restraint and tonal mastery with a film that depicts unpleasantness but remains an enjoyable genre romp. Look out for more of Samara Weaving, who proves she deserves to hit the A-list after this.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review

For inSing

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

Director: André Øvredal
Cast : Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1 h 48 mins
Opens : 15 August 2019
Rating : NC16

            We’ve heard the expressions that stories can be powerful, but it’s a figure of speech. In this horror movie, stories have literal, dark power, as a group of friends find their lives upended by a cursed book of spooky tales.

It is 1968, and in the town of Mill Valley, there is a local legend: a mansion on the outskirts of town is haunted by the spirit of a young girl who killed herself there almost a hundred years ago. On the night of Halloween, friends Stella (Zoe Colletti), August (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) meet stranger Ramon (Michael Garza) at a drive-in movie. They are pursued by the bully Tommy (Austin Abrams), and they all find themselves in the mansion.

There, Stella comes across a book in which Sarah Bellows, the young girl in the myth, wrote horror stories. New stories appear to be written by themselves, as Stella and her friends are targeted by the otherworldly monsters that feature in said stories. Stella, August, Chuck and Ramon must unravel the mystery behind who Sarah Bellows was to save themselves from her deadly stories.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the series of children’s books by Alvin Schwartz. The first volume was published in 1981, and they are akin to the Goosebumps books but for slightly older readers. The books were known for their haunting, nightmarish illustrations by Stephen Gammell, which were replaced with new illustrations by Brett Helquist in the 2011 edition.

When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would produce and possibly direct an adaptation of the books, it seemed like a good fit because of the director’s imaginative take on the horror genre.

Del Toro is credited with co-writing the screen story and as a producer, with André Øvredal directing. The Norwegian Øvredal directed Trollhunters and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark follows in the current resurgence of live-action horror-tinged adventure stories starring kids, like Stranger Things and It: Chapter One – this can arguably be traced back to 2011’s Super 8, which was itself patterned after films E.T. and The Goonies. Unlike those other films and TV shows, the setting is the 60s rather than the 80s, complete with Nixon references.

While Scary Stories is a largely well-made movie that isn’t as cheesy or goofy as it could’ve been, it faces the conundrum of how scary a horror movie that is aimed at kids should be. Scary Stories often finds itself stuck in the awkward position of being too scary for kids and not scary enough for adults. The film is rated NC16 in Singapore but is rated PG13 in the US. This is of course considering that ‘scariness’ is subjective. The movie has more on its mind than the typical teen-aimed jump scare fest but struggles a bit with being consistently thrilling and entertaining.

Scary Stories does get a lot right – structurally, framing the individual stories with the device of a cursed book and the mystery of that book’s author prevents the film from feeling as episodic and disjointed as it could have. However, because the movie draws on multiple stories, some are noticeably stronger than others.

The film’s creature design is a mixed bag – a few of the monsters seem generic, but a few are ingenious and inspired, with one that both stays close to the original Gammell illustration and bears the hallmarks of a del Toro-influenced design. A lot of the practical makeup effects work is great, but the more obviously computer-generated monsters lose a bit of their scariness, even if the visual effects used to create them are technically competent.

Zoe Colletti’s Stella is a sympathetic and sensitive lead character. As a girl who’s a horror fan and aspiring writer in the 1960s, Stella is an outcast who finds solace in horror movies and novels. Having a writer as the protagonist in a movie about stories is one demonstrate of the film’s thematic awareness.

Michael Garza is handsome, but ultimately comes off as too innately decent to be convincing as the mysterious bad boy from out of town.

Gabriel Rush’s August is the voice of reason, while Austin Zajur’s Chuck is the deliberately annoying prankster character. There are attempts to make them more than the archetypes they stand in for, but the slasher movie mentality of the characters just being there to get picked off does creep in.

Austin Abrams’ Tommy does some despicable things, but Abrams himself is not sufficiently intimidating as the jock bully.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has just enough of a del Toro touch to it to set it apart from the typical horror movie aimed at the younger set and it is driven by an affection for and appreciation of the book. While it is doubtful than any adults will find it truly frightening, it is wont to give kids a nightmare or two.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Blinded by the Light review

For inSing

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

Director: Gurinder Chadha
Cast : Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Aaron Phagura, Meera Ganatra, Nikita Mehta, Tara Divina, David Hayman
Genre : Biography/Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 1 h 58 mins
Opens : 15 August 2019
Rating : PG

            From the director of Bend It Like Beckham comes ‘Sing It Like Springsteen’, a coming-of-age tale about a boy whose life is changed by an encounter with the music and lyrics of the Boss.

It is 1987 and Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is a 16-year-old kid growing up in Luton, a town in the east of England. Javed is British-Pakistani and feels trapped by his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Javed has a secret passion for writing but knows that his father will never abide it. When Malik is laid off from his car factory job, Javed’s seamstress mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) must work twice as hard to provide for the family. Javed’s sister Yasmeen (Tara Divina) is about to get married, and Javed feels like in his family, only his other sister Shazia (Nikita Mehta) understands him.

On his first day of Sixth Form college, Javed bumps into Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh classmate who introduces him to “the Boss”. Javed becomes enraptured by the music of Bruce Springsteen, feeling like the New Jersey singer somehow understands all his struggles. In the meantime, Javed finds his relationship with his childhood best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) affected by their differing musical tastes, while he attempts to woo student activist Eliza (Nell Williams).

Javed’s English teacher Ms Clay (Hayley Atwell) encourages his writing and his enthusiasm for Springsteen, while his father becomes enraged that Javed wants to write for a living. In the meantime, racial tensions in Thatcherite England mount, as Javed and his family find themselves the target of National Front extremists. It’s a lot for a boy to deal with, but he finds the Boss leading the way.

Blinded by the Light is based on journalist and documentarian Sarfraz Manzoor’s autobiography Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. This film’s themes will be familiar to anyone who has watched a coming-of-age movie or two, but its specificity to the context of growing up in 1987 Luton gives it a meaningful point of view.

Movies like this can be insufferably rote or feel manufactured as they try to be inspirational. Blinded by the Light is sometimes cheesy and corny, but it is powered by the sheer force of its earnestness. This is a movie that whole-heartedly believes in the transporting power that resonant art can have, and that as overly dramatic as it might sound, art can change one’s life.

Every stage musical heroine and by extension, every Disney Princess, has an “I Want” song, in which they sing wistfully about their dreams and desires. One of cinema’s most beautiful, poignant scenes is of Luke Skywalker gazing out over the Tatooine Dune Sea as the twin suns set behind him in Star Wars, yearning to be part of something greater.

           Blinded by the Light is a distillation of that energy, of the desire to be something more and find something better, a desire articulated by the songs of Bruce Springsteen. Through his music, Springsteen voiced his frustrations, a feeling of being trapped and needing to escape, a vital desperation and rebellion. “Born to Run” is the most obvious example of this, with “Born in the USA” being a song about the plight of Vietnam War veterans who had been forsaken by their country, dressed in the appearance of a typical patriotic song.

While there are similarities with Bend It Like Beckham in that both films are about a South Asian teenager in the UK who is inspired by a prolific celebrity to pursue their dreams while facing opposition from their family, Blinded by the Light is less broadly comedic. It feels like an evolution of Bend It Like Beckham, a little more nuanced and with more pain lying beneath its feel-good movie exterior.

Newcomer Viveik Kalra is an appropriately shy, endearing lead, his eyebrows constantly knitted in a mixture of frustration and embarrassment. Watching Javed blossom and gain confidence as he learns to express himself and is empowered by Springsteen’s music is gratifying and even thrilling.

The film deals with all Javed’s different relationships surprisingly well – his relationship with his parents, especially with his father, and his siblings is well-defined. His falling out with his long-time friend Matt and his newfound friendship with Roops play out in believable ways. The role his teacher Ms Clay plays in nurturing his interest in writing is heart-warming. The way the conflicts are resolved also feels earned, rather than all tied up neatly in a bow. Javed’s romance with Eliza is probably the part of the film where it gets the most conventional, but Nell Williams delivers a charming performance.

Blinded by the Light is strongly acted and has a good tonal balance of comedy and drama, confronting heavy issues without ever becoming bleak. Its good-heartedness is its strongest asset and it overcomes the more conventional aspects of its coming-of-age narrative with a clear-eyed realness and irresistible sincerity.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Kitchen review

For inSing

THE KITCHEN

Director: Andrea Berloff
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Camp, Margo Martindale, Common, Brian d’Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Jeremy Bobb
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1 h 43 mins
Opens : 8 August 2019
Rating : NC16

It is 1978, and the New York underworld will come to know and fear three women.

Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Caroll (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) are the wives of three Irish mobsters who get caught by the FBI and are shipped off to prison. Seeing an opening and left with little choice, they decide to step in, running their own protection racket. This causes them to run afoul of their husbands’ compatriots like Little Jackie (Myk Watford) and Ruby’s mother-in-law, the mob matriarch Helen O’Caroll (Margo Martindale).

Further complicating matters is the return of Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), an enforcer who escaped to lie low and is now back in town. Claire finds herself falling for Gabriel, while Kathy and Ruby butt heads over how the business is to be run. The ladies eventually find themselves dealing with powerful Italian mafia don Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp), based out of Brooklyn. While they find success with their burgeoning criminal empire, the bodies start piling up and the women realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

The Kitchen is based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novel of the same name, written by Ollie Masters and illustrated by Ming Doyle. The film marks the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing Straight Outta Compton. The Kitchen is a brash, stylish film that plays on audiences’ familiarity with gritty gangster movies. The 70s New York portrayed in The Kitchen looks authentically grimy at first but leans into the “I’m walking here!” stereotypes and the movie is beholden to expectations of mob-centric media.

The film lulls viewers into a false sense of security in knowing where everything’s headed, before a final act packed with explosive twists. This is an appropriately bloody, violent movie, but there is some levity sprinkled throughout. The Kitchen seems to face the dilemma of wanting to give us three-dimensional characters while delivering as many recognisable mafia movie elements as possible.

Another dilemma is that the film is presented as being empowering and is fronted by three women, but at the end of the day, they are committing crimes and it can be a bit uncomfortable to find oneself cheering as bodies get sawn up.  It is possible to say “it was a different time” and go along with that, to a point. Perhaps it is a way of reclaiming how movies like The Godfather, Scarface or Goodfellas seemed to model masculinity, but The Kitchen does not dig into its moral greyness as deeply as it could’ve.

A big part of what makes this work as well as it does is the cast, led by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy’s Kathy is likeable, non-violent and innately decent, but is also ambitious and resourceful. Even though the characters are engaging in criminal activity, McCarthy’s sympathetic performance is often just enough to keep audiences in the protagonists’ corner. She knows there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, but the women keep barrelling towards – and past – said line.

One of the major changes from the source material is the Ruby O’Carroll character, who is depicted here as a black woman who has married into an Irish mob family and resents her status as an outsider. Haddish brings a fire to the role but can’t quite evince the same depths that McCarthy can and seems ever so slightly more limited as a performer.

Elisabeth Moss’ Claire has the arc of going from the victim of domestic abuse to revelling in practicing violence on anyone who stands in her way. Moss is entertaining when Claire is unhinged, but the character is overall less interesting than the other two, who also have more control of the narrative.

Domhnall Gleeson’s quietly, disconcertingly detached Vietnam veteran hitman character provides some of the film’s more memorable moments, but Gabriel’s romance with Claire seems played more for laughs than for drama.

The film’s supporting cast includes excellent character actors like Margo Martindale and Bill Camp doing fine work, with Common getting not a lot to do as an FBI agent who watches things go down from afar.

If you don’t watch many mob movies, there’s enough to like about The Kitchen, with director Berloff showing plenty of panache. The cast seem to enjoy making the film, and McCarthy is especially outstanding. However, the film doesn’t attain the level of complexity it seems to be shooting for and is sometimes torn between serving up visceral thrills and shocks and being a compelling character study. Still, it is a good change of pace from the typically male-driven 70s mob movie.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw – Meet the Characters

FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAW

MEET THE CHARACTERS

By Jedd Jong

“I don’t have friends, I got family” – so said Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto in Furious 7. Dom and the other main characters of the Fast and Furious franchise might not appear in Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, but this spinoff gets audiences acquainted with the ‘extended family’.

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) make an unlikely team: one’s a righteous DSS agent, the other’s a shadowy SAS officer-turned-mercenary with a criminal history. Naturally, Hobbs and Shaw have not exactly gotten along in the past – in Furious 7, they had a vicious throw-down in the Los Angeles Diplomatic Security Services office, which left Hobbs hospitalised for most of that film. In the following film, Hobbs ends up in the same prison in which Shaw is held, and the duo fight their way out together.

When nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake, Hobbs and Shaw must set their differences aside and begrudgingly team up. Read on to learn about our titular duo and the other badass characters you’ll meet in Hobbs & Shaw.

LUKE HOBBS (DWAYNE JOHNSON)

Director David Leitch and Dwayne Johnson

Agent Luke Hobbs is a United States Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent and bounty hunter who entered the Fast and Furious series in Fast Five. In that film, he was hunting our heroes, but eventually came to respect and team up with them. Since that movie’s release in 2011, there has been talk of a Hobbs-centric spin-off, which has finally come to fruition.

Hobbs is a dedicated family man, raising his daughter Samantha (Eden Estrella) alone. In Hobbs & Shaw, we get to meet Hobbs’ long-lost family back home in Samoa, including his mother Sefina (Lori Pelenise Tuisano) and his brothers Jonah (Cliff Curtis), Mateo (Roman Reigns), Timo (Josh Magua) and Kal (John Tui). Wrestler Reigns is Johnson’s cousin in real life. Johnson further gets in touch with his Samoan roots by performing the Siva Tau, a traditional Samoan war dance akin to the Māori haka, before the film’s big action finale. Johnson is Samoan on his mother’s side, and a photo of his real father Rocky Johnson can be glimpsed in the background in Hobbs & Shaw.

“Hobbs has always been a personal character for be because so much of Hobbs and his DNA derive from who I am as a human being and a man,” Johnson told Kidzworld, calling Hobbs & Shaw “a deeply personal film”. He compared depicting his Samoan heritage in this film to showcasing Polynesian culture in Moana, in which he voiced the demigod Maui.

We’ve seen Hobbs wield a variety of weapons and do some hand-to-hand fights, but in Hobbs & Shaw, he gets truly visceral. Johnson said he has “waited his entire career” to perform fight scenes that are “raging, savage and primal and without weapons or without guns,” which we see when Hobbs leads his Samoan compatriots into battle at the end of the film.

DECKARD SHAW (JASON STATHAM)

Jason Statham and director David Leitch

Deckard Shaw arrived in the Fast and Furious series with a bang, murdering the character Han (Sung Kang) in the post-credits scene of Fast & Furious 6. The character is a former United Kingdom Special Forces operative who went rogue. Deckard’s brother Owen was the main villain of Fast & Furious 6, and Deckard waged war against Dom and his crew to seek vengeance for Owen’s defeat.

Shaw transitioned into a heroic role in The Fate of the Furious, in which he and Owen helped to save Dom’s baby from the villain Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) plane. By the end of that film, it seemed like Deckard had been accepted into Dom’s family, but as we learn in Hobbs & Shaw, he and Hobbs are far from bosom buddies.

The film is filled with back-and-forth smack talk between the two leads, which spilled over into real life. Statham proclaimed that Johnson was too big to fit into the McLaren the two ride in during a London-set chase scene. “We had to CG him into the McLaren,” Statham quipped. “One: his arse was too big to get into the seat, and two: he gets very nauseous when we’re going rather fast. Because he’s more used to driving these big lumbering trucks, so anything over 30 miles per hour, he gets a little nauseous.”

Just as we meet Hobbs’ brothers, Shaw’s family also figures into the film: Helen Mirren returns from The Fate of the Furious for a brief appearance as Shaw’s mother Magdalene, while Vanessa Kirby stars as Shaw’s younger sister Hattie: more on her later.

“It’s a great privilege for many reasons,” Statham told ET Canada about being part of the Fast and Furious series. “Franchises don’t last more than two or three, and if you’re lucky four – this has gone on and on and on.” He said that the team behind the Fast and Furious series “try to make movies that strike a chord with people, and the fanbase of these movies is so passionate. It means a lot to be part of these films.”

BRIXTON LORE (IDRIS ELBA)

Hobbs and Shaw need a formidable opponent, and they don’t come more formidable than Brixton Lore. Idris Elba portrays the former compatriot of Shaw’s, who has been subjected to a series of cybernetic upgrades which have made him a superhuman fighter. Brixton works for a shadowy organisation called Eteon, who use him as a tool in implementing a terrifying new world order – a world in which Hobbs and Shaw have no part.

Elba visibly enjoyed playing the over-the-top supervillain, telling ET Canada that “It’s super exciting to me just because it’s one of the most successful franchises in the world.” Elba described the way Brixton was written as “very exciting,” adding that “he’s a real sort of step away from the kind of characters I get to play.”

“David and I really talked about how we want[ed] to take this complex human being who has been killed before and brought back to life and made into this robot and make a believable bad guy,” Elba told Digital Spy. “He works for Eteon, for this company, and their ideology is to wipe out half the planet and save ourselves,” Elba added. “That’s kind of a complicated thing to get your mind around.”

One of the fancy toys at Brixton’s disposal is a futuristic robot motorcycle, which was an added draw for Elba, who is a motoring enthusiast in real life. “It is definitely one of the highlights of making a film in this [franchise], if you like cars, you like automobiles, you like speed, this is the one you want to do,” Elba said. “A lot of the bike stuff was real and the CGI stuff was definitely an enhancement of what we shot,” Elba stated, adding that “the bike kept evolving” in concept from the script to the finished film.

HATTIE SHAW (VANESSA KIRBY)  

Hobbs and Shaw can’t save the world alone, and it becomes a family affair when Shaw’s younger sister Hattie, an MI6 agent who has been targeted by Brixton, is drawn into the fray. Hattie throws a spanner in Brixton and Eteon’s plans to unleash a deadly virus on the world, meaning she as is important as the two leads in preventing global destruction.

Actress Vanessa Kirby is the first to admit she never thought she would be starring in a Fast and Furious movie alongside Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. “I never thought I’d be in action movies ever, it’s not my natural habitat,” Kirby told ET Canada, insisting “I belong on stage!”

However, she acquits herself well, taking the role seriously. “Vanessa Kirby maybe kicks — dare I say — at least as much ass as the guys,” executive producer Kelly McCormick told Us Weekly. “She showed up, she worked out, she learned how to fight.” Kirby was in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, but did not get a lot of action to perform herself. In this film, she even gets a one-on-one fight with Johnson himself.

“It’s really important to represent women in action movies in a certain way, and this is a massive opportunity to do that,” Kirby said, saying she seized the chance “to change something for little girls in the audience.”

“If you remember all the movies growing up like E.T., it was always the boys that get to do everything,” Kirby remarked, adding that the filmmakers ensured that Hattie “was never saved or never rescued by the men, that she was always actually getting herself out of the situation, even to the extent that she saves them at some point,” Kirby pointed out. “It definitely feels like a time when we’re able to do that and there’s a responsibility to do that.”

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw opens in theatres on 1 August 2019