Men in Black: International review

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL

Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson, Rafe Spall, Les Twins
Genre : Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1 h 55 mins
Opens : 13 June 2019
Rating : PG13

          They’ve been absent from the big screen for seven years, but the shadowy organisation that polices and conceals alien activity on earth has resurfaced in Men in Black: International, the spin-off of the Men in Black series.

Agent M (Tessa Thompson) is a newly instated member of the agency, still on probation. After witnessing Men in Black operatives in action as a child, she has long harboured a fascination with the agency and finally gets her dream job. Agent O (Emma Thompson), head of the New York branch, dispatches Agent M to MIB’s London headquarters, overseen by High T (Liam Neeson). There, she meets Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), a hotshot hailed for defeating an alien species called the Hive in Paris alongside High T.

When a shape-shifting alien duo (Les Twins) corners Agent M and Agent H, they learn that the Hive may have been resurfaced, with the predatory invaders after a powerful alien artefact. Their battle against the Twins sends Agent M and Agent H to Morocco, where they befriend Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a diminutive alien. Agent H must confront Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), a powerful, dangerous figure from his past, as he and Agent M discover there just might be a mole within the organisation. The MIB can always be counted on to save the world, but what happens when a threat arises from within?

The Men in Black films are loosely based on the Malibu comics series by Lowell Cunningham. The urban legend of shadowy government agents has existed among UFO-enthusiast circles for decades, but it was the Men in Black movies that cemented the idea in the public consciousness. Being released the year after Independence Day, the first Men in Black movie also further launched Will Smith up the A-list. He and co-star Tommy Lee Jones have become closely linked with the franchise, with the third movie featuring Josh Brolin as a younger version of Jones’ character.

After the third Men in Black movie in 2012, the first we heard of a new Men in Black movie was that it would be a crossover with the 21 Jump Street films called MIB 23, which sounds like such a crazy idea that it just might have worked. Instead, we got Men in Black: International, which is pleasant and harmless if often formulaic and bland, because it takes the format of the first movie and slots new stars into it. Director F. Gary Gray of Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious fame knows how to handle a big Hollywood production, but it feels like he is directing to the brief, with no personal touches discernible. The film trundles along efficiently enough, but nothing in the movie will stick in viewers’ minds afterwards. It’s almost as if the movie was constructed to be watched on an airplane.

          Men in Black: International does what the James Bond movies often do, throwing in a bunch of exotic locales to up the production value. There’s a chase through the streets of Marrakech on a hover bike and one character is based out of Aragonese Castle on the Italian island of Ischia. The movie might have the scale expected of a summer blockbuster, but it doesn’t quite have the quirky soul of the first movie, especially because a lot more of the aliens are created with computer-generated effects. Special effects makeup legend Rick Baker, who oversaw the aliens in the first three films, was not involved with this one.

The logic behind the casting of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the lead roles seems to have been to look at whatever actors from the most successful ongoing movie franchise were available. Hemsworth has a knack for comedy and shifts effortlessly between dashing and goofy, playing a sometimes-bumbling, always-charming action hero with ease.

Thompson’s Agent M is capable, headstrong and determined and is in some ways the audience surrogate character, with this movie acting as her origin story. However, some of the beats in her arc echo those of Agent J’s in the first movie a little too strongly. Thompson brings some personality to the part, but Agent M feels like a textbook “strong female character” with not much that is inherently compelling about her on paper.

Liam Neeson is there to lend gravitas to the proceedings and pace purposefully around High T’s office and not do too much else. Emma Thompson is dryly amusing as Agent O, reprising her role from the third film. Respectable British actors appearing in Hollywood blockbusters for a paycheck is a time-honoured tradition and one that Neeson and Thompson continue here.

Kumail Nanjiani voices Pawny, who as the funny alien sidekick, is designed as the successor to Frank the Pug (who makes a cameo). This reviewer was afraid that the character would come off as annoying, but Nanjiani’s delivery keeps Pawny generally more amusing than grating. The computer animation used to create Pawny and integrate him with the live-action footage is excellent.

French dancers Les Twins, who will next be seen in the Cats movie, enliven the proceedings with their new-style hip-hop moves. However, their characters’ schtick seems to be lifted wholesale from the Twins in The Matrix Reloaded.

The previous films have playfully ‘outed’ celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Bill Gates, George Lucas and Lady Gaga as being aliens. In this film, a social media influencer (presumably a different one for the different markets the film will be released in) gets a cameo. This is one of the most worrying elements about Men in Black: International, indicating that future blockbusters will pander to audiences by shoehorning in people who are famous from YouTube or Instagram.

Men in Black: International is not a poorly made film, but in extending the MIB franchise, it fails to add anything substantial to the world-building or the mythos. Big franchise movies can often feel like products and none this year feels more like a product than Men in Black: International, but its dependable cast and high production value keep things from feeling like too much of a drag.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Avengers: Endgame review

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action/Superhero
Run Time : 3 hours 1 minute
Opens : 24 April 2019
Rating : PG13

The following review is spoiler-free.

Following the catastrophic events of Avengers: Infinity War, earth’s mightiest heroes have been crushed. Thanos (Josh Brolin) achieved his goal, wiping out half of all living creatures in existence. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) are all reeling from this loss.

Our heroes must regroup to fight to restore what was so cruelly taken from them. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who was thought to have been among the decimated, was lost in the Quantum Realm. He returns, meeting the surviving Avengers to tell them he might have an idea. What follows is an epic mission to mend what has been broken, one that will take its toll on the Avengers, but a mission which they must complete.

Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the Infinity Saga, a 22-movie cycle comprising the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a lot on this movie’s shoulders, since it must address the events of Infinity War and function as a satisfying conclusion to the first 11 years of MCU movies. There will be MCU movies after this, of course: Spider-Man: Far From Home is being released in July. However, audiences know Avengers: Endgame must be far from just another MCU movie, and it is.

The ending of Avengers: Infinity War was an audacious mic-drop, a cliffhanger which audiences had to wait a year to see the resolution of. The villain won: it was like The Empire Strikes Back, but orders of magnitude more devastating for the heroes. The intervening year was filled with speculation and theories. Avengers: Endgame packs in the surprises and twists and turns from the very beginning of its three-hour runtime. It’s an extremely clever piece of writing from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and a massive logistical ordeal overseen by directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

Without going into any details about the plot, it reminded me of how Eric Heisserer described writing The Thing (2011). That film was a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name, and writing it involved reverse-engineering specific aspects of that film to show audiences how things got to that point. Heisserer called it “doing it by autopsy”. The writing of Avengers: Endgame must have been a similar process.

This is a movie which is constructed to reward fans who have stuck with the franchise since the beginning. It is mostly fan-service, but “fan-service” has taken on such derisive connotations that it hardly seems fair to call it that. This is a movie which will break box office records and it’s absolutely not a standalone movie – audiences are expected to have a strong familiarity with not just Infinity War, but practically every single MCU movie preceding that, because many of the character arcs trace their way back to the beginning. It’s no coincidence that after Thanos’ snap, the original six team members who formed the group seen in The Avengers remain.

The characters of the MCU and their journeys have earned considerable cachet with audiences, and Endgame is intent on leveraging that for maximum effect. By turns heart-rending and triumphant, there are moments in this film which will feel like moments that fans have been waiting for ages to see onscreen, and other moments that are so sad, fans will hope they never had to witness. The film does tend towards the melodramatic, but perhaps this is justified given the operatic scale of the MCU.

The MCU’s original trinity of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all figure heavily into the plot. Endgame sees Tony taking the loss of Infinity War especially hard, while Steve finds his usual optimism flagging in the aftermath of the snap. Some of the film’s best, most honest moments are quiet dialogue scenes, including when Steve participates in a support group meeting for people coping with the loss of their loved ones in the decimation. The gigantic battle sequences, while cheer-worthy, can feel a little bloated and synthetic as they are in many lesser comic book movies.

While there is a necessary bleakness to Endgame, there are still moments of levity which, unlike in many earlier MCU movies, do not infringe on the emotional heft. The MCU started out with Iron Man, a movie which depicted fanciful technology, but was a safe distance from all-out sci-fi or fantasy. Things have changed since then, characters from the cosmic and mythic corners of the MCU openly interacting with the earth-bound ones. “I get emails from a raccoon, so nothing sounds crazy to me anymore,” Natasha remarks.

Avengers: Endgame is about a clash between good and evil on a cosmic scale, promising blockbuster spectacle and expensive entertainment. While it delivers all that, its greatest asset is its soul. It’s a movie about endings and beginnings, the past and the future and about parents and children. It’s a movie about what we take with us and what we leave behind. There is tremendous catharsis to Endgame and it’s a testament to how Marvel studios constructed something objectively impressive with the MCU, but above all it’s a “thank you” to viewers who have joined the characters on the journey.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Avengers: Infinity War review

For inSing

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Directors : Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 29m
Opens : 25 April 2018
Rating : PG13

We’re going to do things a little differently.

Going into Avengers: Infinity War, you’ve been told to avoid spoilers like the plague, and yet, we want you to read this review, which will be spoiler-free.

This will be a review, and yet not a review. We’re hoping that you’ll read this, but if you don’t wanna, that’s fine.

We’ll say it up front: this is a particularly tricky movie to write a spoiler-free review of, but we’ll give it the best shot we’ve given anything.

Marvel has hyped Avengers: Infinity War as the most ambitious crossover event staged in entertainment media. They’re not wrong. No matter which way you look at this movie, it’s tricky to put together. It’s a puzzle with the pieces constantly moving.

Even with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War under the Russo brothers’ belts, there are still many times during Infinity War when one is wont to wonder aloud “how did the guys from Arrested Development and Community get here?” This is a film with a sprawling scope, even for a genre which is all about scope. The Russo brothers, with the in-built support at Marvel Studios, do a commendable job of wrangling it all.

This reviewer would love to have been a fly on the wall while the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were hammering this out. Imagine all the iterations, all the bits and pieces that maybe didn’t quite work, before we got here.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A studio hasn’t quite been able to announce to the audience “right, you should’ve seen all 18 of these movies, or at least most of them, before you watch this. Off you go, then.” Not even long-running franchises like the Bond movies, Star Wars, or Harry Potter can really demand that, and know that most audiences would have fulfilled that demand. There’s a swaggering confidence about Infinity War, and yet it’s not off-putting or self-congratulatory. If anything, Marvel Studios is deliberately making things really difficult for themselves going forward.

Over the years, the MCU has garnered its fair share of detractors. There are purists, there are ardent fanboys who have fixated on one niggling aspect or another that dissatisfied them, there are those who loyally back the other team (this reviewer has been accused of being both paid off by Disney and being biased towards DC movies), there are those who say it’s all too funny and nothing is taken seriously enough. Depending on the context, some aspects of these criticisms are valid, but it’s important to take a step back and consider all the myriad hurdles that the people making these films have cleared to get here.

At the core of Infinity War is a MacGuffin hunt that has spanned multiple movies, with so much being set up in previous instalments, leading up to this. The film takes inspiration from the Infinity Gauntlet comic book arc in 1991, written by Jim Starlin, and the 2013 Infinity crossover event, written by Jonathan Hickman. Infinity War is the culmination of intergalactic warlord and ‘mad titan’ Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) search for the Infinity Stones. We’ve seen five of the six stones in previous movies, and he’s looking to collect them all.

This is a quest that has attendant consequences and sacrifice, and from the beautifully staged, dramatic and grave opening scene onwards, viewers have a good idea of what to expect. There are plenty of jokes, but unlike in previous MCU movies, this reviewer felt less of a sense that said jokes were stepping on the dramatic beats.

This reviewer wasn’t the biggest fan of Civil War, because there was noticeable bloat and the central conflict didn’t really get enough room to breathe. Weirdly enough, that seems like less of a problem here. Clocking in at 149 minutes and costing an estimated $300-400 million, it seems a foregone conclusion that Infinity War would be more bloated than a beached whale, but it moves with great finesse.

Infinity War could easily have come off as a string of unrelated set-pieces. It’s evident that this was not constructed by devising the set-pieces first, with the plot being filled in around those. Our massive ensemble is handily organised into groups, with said groups meeting and then diverging as the story progresses. The groups all make sense, and there is considerable time dedicated to reinforcing and evolving existing relationships.

The romance between Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) elicited the most emotion out of this reviewer. The Guardians of the Galaxy team up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and we delve a little deeper into the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her estranged adoptive father Thanos.

It seems like Markus and McFeely really enjoyed writing the Guardians, nailing the voices of each character. There’s a consistency which feels organic and yet must’ve been challenging to achieve. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) butt heads and egos, while Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) faces more struggles in getting control of his alter ego, the Hulk. A good portion of the film is set in Wakanda, which in Black Panther, has just opened itself to the outside world, its people getting more than they bargained for here.

It wasn’t really that long ago when we thought we’d never see Peter Parker in the MCU, so it’s a genuine thrill to see Holland’s Spider-Man interact with so many characters and feel like he was always meant to be in this line-up.

Thanos feels like an actual character rather than just an obstacle our heroes must overcome. We get just enough back-story and there is respectable gravity to the proceedings. There’s a lot of fantastic acting on display from everyone involved. This is not a movie in which the spectacle does all the legwork.

Avengers: Infinity War is a staggering work of virtuosic audacity. Its filmmakers play the audience like a fiddle. The ending is either a howl-inducing gut punch or sheer genius – maybe both at once. You’re probably going to be frustrated at some point or another, but there will be gasps, there will be cheers, there will be laughter, and depending on how fragile the audience at your screening is, there might be open sobbing.

Given the nigh-insane parameters the filmmakers were working within, Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie it could’ve been.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

12 Strong movie review

For inSing

12 STRONG

Director : Nicolai Fuglsig
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky
Genre : War/Action
Run Time : 2 h 10 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : NC16

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Armed Forces leapt into action, sending troops into Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. 12 Strong tells the story of Task Force Dagger, who were the first personnel to take on the Taliban in the weeks following 9/11.

Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) has no combat experience, but volunteers to lead Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595. He is backed up by Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), with whom Nelson has trained. Nelson’s team also includes Sergeant First Class Sam Diller (Michael Peña) and Sergeant First Class Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes).

The men of ODA 595 must win the trust of General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), the leader of the Northern Alliance who has plenty of experience fighting the Taliban. Nelson and company traverse the mountainous terrain on horseback, towards the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif. If the Northern Alliance and the U.S. Forces can wrest control of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban, it will strike a crushing blow to the enemy. Outnumbered forty to one, Nelson, Dostum and those under their command wage a bloody, explosive battle.

12 Strong is based on the nonfiction book Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by journalist Doug Stanton. The book was adapted for the screen by Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally and Hunger Games scribe Peter Craig. This film marks the directorial debut of Danish filmmaker Nicolai Fuglsig – his experience as a war photojournalist must have informed the making of this film.

There are many films set during World War II which are couched as inspirational and uplifting, some of them in danger of romanticising the war. The protracted war in Afghanistan and Iraq has weighed heavily on the consciousness of the American public. 12 Strong is an account of a recently-declassified battle that took place early on in this war. While the movie wants to be thrilling and emotional, it’s difficult to overlook the larger context which is not presented in the movie.

12 Strong wants to be an old-fashioned epic, complete with majestic, sweeping establishing shots, and our heroes riding on horseback as explosions go off behind them in slow motion. It also wants to reframe the narrative by emphasising that there were Afghans who allied themselves with the U.S. troops. However, the film’s handling of this comes off as a naive “there were good Afghans! Who would’ve thought?” viewpoint.

The film has some pacing issues, and the countless sequences of our heroes on horseback rounding yet another mountain pass, in between cutting back to the other characters who are back at the base, becomes repetitive. However, the payoff is spectacular: the climactic battle is drawn out and overstuffed, but is visceral and exciting. It must’ve been quite the logistical undertaking: there are tanks, explosions, guns, rocket launchers, helicopters, bombers and yes, horses. However, there’s the niggling feeling that since this is based on a true story, we shouldn’t be ‘enjoying’ the action sequences the way we’d revel in the thrills of a sci-fi action movie or a fantasy picture.

Hemsworth cuts quite the heroic figure astride a horse. While he and the other actors in the cast attempt to imbue their characters with some personality, as is often the case in military movies like this, the characters can become indistinct and blur together. It is fun that Hemsworth’s real-life wife Elsa Pataky makes a cameo as Nelson’s wife in this film.

Shannon, one of the more interesting actors out there, doesn’t get too much to do. Shannon is often cast in villainous roles, but maybe he’s just more interesting playing those characters, as opposed to the straight arrow Spencer. Even then, he’s played heroic characters who were more engaging to watch before.

Negahban is charismatic as Dostum, battle-hardened and commanding. The film’s portrayal of the warlord seems a little simplified for the sake of convenience. Dostum is a polarising, controversial figure, but in 12 Strong, he occupies the role of ‘wise native’. “Stop being a soldier,” Dostum counsels Nelson, motioning to Nelson’s heart. “Start using this”.

“America is famous for making propaganda movies,” Negahban said, adding that he hopes 12 Strong shows “we are acknowledging, we are honouring those people who put their lives on the line to help get rid of terrorism or war, to bring peace.” Maybe it’s a start.

            12 Strong is co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, famous for his high-octane mega-blockbusters. While the film is thrilling and rousing at times, it’s hard to shake the feeling that recent military history has been put through an action movie lens. While there’s spectacle and Chris Hemsworth makes for a great action hero, 12 Strong would like us to believe that Chris Hemsworth can save the day riding in on horseback, when we know it’s far from that simple.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Thor: Ragnarok – Meet The Characters

For inSing

Thor: Ragnarok – meet the characters

Get reacquainted with the God of Thunder and meet his new allies and foes

By Jedd Jong

This week, the Norse god of Thunder/Avenger Thor returns to theatres in Thor: Ragnarok, which promises to be a wild and woolly cosmic adventure. Under the direction of New Zealander filmmaker Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok looks set to be crammed with humour, action and eye-catching visual splendour.

This adventure finds our hero stripped of his armour and his magical hammer Mjolnir, imprisoned on the other side of the universe and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena. Meanwhile, Hela, the goddess of death herself, makes a play for control of Thor’s home Asgard and the realms beyond it.

Before watching the latest Marvel movie, here’s a quick rundown of some of the characters we’ll see again, and some whom we’re meeting for the first time, in Thor: Ragnarok.

#1: THOR (Chris Hemsworth)

The God of Thunder is a cocky, self-assured character, so it’s no surprise that many stories see him being humbled and brought down to earth. That was a key part of his original arrival on earth, and in this film, Thor is defeated by Hela and held captive on the planet Sakaar. Hemsworth had considerable say in shaping the story, saying “I got a bit bored of myself and thought we’ve got to try something different.” Since Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner haven’t had much interaction beyond the latter punching out the former in The Avengers, Hemsworth requested that the Hulk play a major role in Thor: Ragnarok. While some viewers might mourn the loss of Thor’s luscious locks, Hemsworth found Thor’s fuss-free new hairdo quite liberating. “It allowed the whole thing to take on a different attitude. It felt like a completely different character,” Hemsworth said.

#2: LOKI (Tom Hiddleston)

Tom Hiddleston has become this generation’s runaway unlikely sex symbol, winning legions of female fans with his seductive, darkly charming performance as Loki, the god of Mischief. Hiddleston has had the privilege of playing the role across multiple films – typically, supervillains in comic book movies don’t last more than two films. Since the conclusion of Thor: The Dark World, Loki has been ruling Asgard in the guise of his adoptive father Odin, and his reign has been all about self-aggrandisation at the expense of good governance. In serving his own ego, Loki has ignored the looming threats to Asgard, chief among them being Hela herself. In Thor: Ragnarok, Hiddleston had fun “trying to find new ways for him to be mischievous”, while also further exploring Loki’s insecurities. “The idea that Thor might be indifferent to Loki is troubling for him, because that’s a defining feature of his character is, I don’t belong in the family; my brother doesn’t love me; I hate my brother,” Hiddleston reasoned. Thor and Loki must reluctantly work together, but we know that as is always the case with Loki, things are never what they seem.

#3: HELA (Cate Blanchett)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe adds yet another Oscar-winning thespian to its ranks in the form of Cate Blanchett. The character of Hela is based on the Norse deity Hel, the ruler of the underworld also called Hel. Hela is yet another iteration of the “long-buried evil entity breaks free” archetype: “”She’s been locked away for millennia getting more and more cross, and then, with a mistake, she gets unleashed and she ain’t getting back in that box.” In the comics, Hela’s cape enhances her physical strength and maintains her youth. Hela can manifest weapons at will, and wears an elaborate headdress which she can also use as a weapon. The headdress is a defining part of the character’s design, but was cumbersome for Blanchett to wear, so Blanchett performed a portion of the role using motion capture technology. To prepare for the physically intensive role, Blanchett trained with stuntwoman and oft-collaborator of Quentin Tarantino Zoë Bell, and Hemsworth’s personal trainer Luke Zocchi, studying the Brazilian dance-infused martial art Capoeira.

#4: THE GRANDMASTER (Jeff Goldblum)

Jeff Goldblum might well be the best part of Thor: Ragnarok, as Jeff Goldblum is wont to be. The Grandmaster is an Elder of the Universe who pits lesser beings against each other in battles for his own amusement. Two other Elders of the Universe, Taneleer Tivan/The Collector and Ego the Living Planet, have appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy films. The Grandmaster can be seen dancing during the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. In some versions, the Grandmaster and the Collector are brothers. The Grandmaster is so powerful, that in one story, he controlled DC’s Justice League in a game against the DC villain Krona, who controlled the Avengers. Goldblum describes the Grandmaster as “a hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, an enjoyer of life and tastes and smells.” While the character has blue skin in the comics, Waititi opted to let Goldblum retain his own skin tone, because he didn’t want the character to invoke the blue-skinned alien Goldblum played in the comedy Earth Girls are Easy.

#5: VALKYRIE (Tessa Thompson)

Thor: Ragnarok marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut of Valkyrie, a key supporting chacrater in the Thor comics who was, at one point, set to appear in Thor: The Dark World. The character is based on the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, a formidable warrior from ancient Germanic mythology. Valkyrie is not to be trifled with, and is a former soldier in Odin’s elite troops who has become a mercenary working for the Grandmaster. Valkyrie is traditionally depicted as white, and Thompson is of African, South-American and European descent. Director Waititi is adamant that the casting is not to fulfil diversity criteria: “I’m not obsessed with the idea that you have to cast someone just to tick a box… You should cast people because they’re talented,” Waititi said. The director also stated he did not want the character to be “boring and pretty”, but someone would “be even more of the ‘guy’ character than the guys.”

The character is usually seen in the comics wearing armour, but Thompson said “she’s such a bad ass that she doesn’t need a lot of metal to protect her. I’m essentially in leather.” The character is equal to and in some ways superior to Thor, changing the dynamic between Thor and the female lead, who in the two previous Thor films was Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. Valkyrie is set to appear in future MCU movies, and Thompson has pitched an all-female Marvel movie to studio boss Kevin Feige. “Just to be the girlfriend or the wife…to not have your own agency is something that I just can’t relate to because I don’t see it in my life,” Thompson said of the roles often given to women in action films.

#6: HEIMDALL (Idris Elba)

As Heimdall, the Asgardian keeper of the Bifröst Bridge, Idris Elba did not get a huge amount to do in the first two Thor films. Perhaps that will change with the third instalment. No longer clad in gleaming golden armour, Heimdall has gone into exile after Hela’s invasion of Asgard, living in the woods as a wild man. Elba was notoriously outspoken about not enjoying the process of making the Marvel movies, calling them “torture”. While promoting Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Elba griped about having to go to London while in production on Mandela for contractually-obligated reshoots. “There I was, in this stupid harness, with this wig and this sword and these contact lenses. It ripped my heart out,” he said. This go-round, however, Elba seems to have enjoyed himself. “The last one [Ragnarok] was fun,” he said. “The others weren’t fun. They’re work. But on this one, Taika was great,” Elba said, praising the film’s director.

#7: BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK (Mark Ruffalo)

At the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulk was seen in a Quinjet, flying off to some unknown destination. Kevin Feige intended to keep it ambiguous where Hulk would end up, and fans speculated that Marvel were setting up for a Planet Hulk movie. In the comics, Planet Hulk is the storyline in which a group of genius Marvel characters called the Illuminati launch Hulk into space. He ends up on the planet Sakaar, becoming a gladiator and eventually taking over the planet. Elements of this story are incorporated into Thor: Ragnarok. Ruffalo discussed a solo Hulk with Feige, but because Universal Studios holds the rights to any Hulk-led films, this proved untenable, and Hulk was made a supporting character in Thor: Ragnarok. The character is evolved further, and now has a limited vocabulary beyond the grunts and roars we’ve heard from the Hulk in earlier MCU movies. “He’s much more of a character than the green rage machine you’ve seen in the Avengers movies,” Ruffalo said. “He’s got a swagger. He’s like a god.” In the film, the Hulk persona has been repressing the Banner side for years, and the film marks a further separation of the two personas. Hulk’s character arc in Thor: Ragnarok is set to carry on into Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel.

Thor: Ragnarok movie review

For inSing

THOR: RAGNAROK 

Director : Taika Waititi
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins
Genre : Comics/Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 130 mins
Opens : 26 October 2017
Rating : PG-13

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were absent from Captain America: Civil War. In this Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure, we learn of the travails these characters faced on the other-side of the universe.

After the events of Thor: The Dark World, Thor’s adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruling Asgard as a vainglorious charlatan king. Loki’s lack of leadership has left Asgard vulnerable to attack from Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death who has come to claim what she believes is rightfully hers.

In the aftermath of a struggle against Hela, Thor and Loki find themselves stranded on the planet Sakaar. Thor, without his trusty hammer Mjolnir, is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena for the amusement of Sakaar’s ruler, the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor realises that his opponent is the Hulk, who has been on Sakaar fighting as the Grandmaster’s champion for the last two years. Thor must convince his fellow Avenger to help him on his quest to defeat Hela and save Asgard. Joining Thor, Loki and the Hulk is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), formerly a member of an elite Asgardian fighting force who has become a bounty hunter in the Grandmaster’s employ. Back on Asgard, Heimdall (Idris Elba), the guardian of the Bifrost bridge, has disappeared into the woods, trying to save as many Asgardians as he can from Hela’s wrath. In facing off against the goddess of death, our heroes must prevent Ragnarok, the end of days, from coming to pass.

Thor: Ragnarok is directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, continuing the MCU’s penchant for unconventional director choices. This movie looked from the trailers like it was going to be a whole lot of fun, and it is. However, perhaps the end of days shouldn’t be “a whole lot of fun” – or at least, be something more than that. The MCU has sometimes gotten flack for being a little too flippant and quippy in its tone, at the expense of meaningful drama. The two MCU films we’ve gotten earlier this year, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, packed in plenty of humour, but also had genuine heart when it counted the most. Thor: Ragnarok does not fare as well as those films in this regard.

Despite its tonal issues, there is no denying that Thor: Ragnarok is supremely entertaining. There is never a dull moment and the film delivers all the dazzling, meticulously-rendered visual effects spectacle we’ve come to expect from this franchise. This is by far the biggest film Waititi has made, and with the production support built into Marvel Studios, he acquits himself admirably. The central throw down between Thor and Hulk in the Grandmaster’s arena is well choreographed, and the colourful, eye-popping design of Sakaar is a nice homage to artist Jack Kirby.

Thor: Ragnarok might be too funny for its own good, but the central cast displays excellent comic timing. Hemsworth is easily the most likeable he’s ever been in the role, playing a character who is put through the wringer, but doesn’t lose his boyish enthusiasm and charm. He also spends the entire movie showing off his truly impressive biceps, and yes, there’s a requisite shirtless scene.

While Hiddleston is a delight as Loki, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly how much damage he’s done over the course of previous films, even when those events are name-checked. He’s a trickster, but he’s also dangerous, and that latter element seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture turned out to be one of the best MCU villains thus far. Unfortunately, Hela emerges as a far more formulaic antagonist. This reviewer was really looking forward to seeing what an actress of Blanchett’s stature would do with the role, but there really isn’t much more to the character than strutting about and smirking seductively. Hela plainly states her motivations in an expository speech, and while there are ample displays of how formidable she is, the threat never truly takes hold – especially since so much of the film is spent away from Asgard.

Hulk’s depiction in this film represents an evolution in the right direction – he’s now slightly more articulate, when previously all he was capable of was roaring and grunting. While the dynamic that develops between Thor and the Hulk is interesting and amusing, there’s the niggling sense that elements of the Planet Hulk story arc from the comics have been shoehorned into this film. A standalone film based on Planet Hulk might have worked better, that is indeed what Ruffalo wanted, but rights issues prevented that from happening.

While Thompson doesn’t physically resemble Valkyrie as the character is often drawn in the comics, she has the swagger to pull off the character as written and looks to be enjoying herself in the role. This is a warrior who’s one of the dudes, but who is suppressing pain from her past. She’s pretty much any given Michelle Rodriguez character.

Goldblum is basically playing himself, but as a hedonistic Elder of the Universe. It’s an entertaining performance, but Goldblum never disappears into the role, and doesn’t register as someone you wouldn’t want to cross.

There is one scene in the film in which a phalanx of Valkyries, astride their winged horses, charge into battle against Hela. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring tableau that recalls the paintings of Gustave Doré. Alas, this is but a tiny part of Thor: Ragnarok. This is not a bad film, far from it, but it just doesn’t feel like a Thor film. It feels like a Guardians of the Galaxy movie that Thor happens to be in. Where previous MCU movies have balanced the humour with drama and emotion, the jokes here undercut the desired end-of-the-world stakes. That’s not to say Thor: Ragnarok isn’t an exceedingly enjoyable time, but it could’ve been more than that.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters

For F*** Magazine

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy García, Charles Dance
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 56 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

Ghostbusters posterA new gang dons the jumpsuits and the proton packs in this reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a particle physics professor at Columbia University who had a falling out with Abby Yates (McCarthy), a paranormal researcher who co-authored a book with Erin. Abby is now working with nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and an unexplained occurrence at New York’s historical Aldridge Mansion forces Erin and Abby to make amends. After witnessing a ghost on the train tracks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Patty Tolan (Jones) volunteers to join the trio, rendering in-depth knowledge of New York’s history and geography. The dim-witted but handsome Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) is hired as the crew’s receptionist, and they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’. The team traces the recent spate of paranormal activity back to Rowan (Casey), an unhinged hotel bellhop bent on unleashing hell on earth. The Ghostbusters take on both malevolent spectres and repeated attempts to discredit them as the city is brought to its knees by the ghastly apparitions.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

It’s impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without bringing up the spectre of negativity that has clung to it from the moment the idea was mooted. Across the internet, there were innumerable cries of childhoods being ruined, and dismay that the four members of the classic team had been replaced by women. Vitriol including death threats was spewed at all involved. The cast and filmmakers hit back, with McCarthy opining that all opposed to the Ghostbusters remake were man-children living in their mothers’ basements. It just kept getting uglier, on all sides. The original cast endorsed the reboot and several of them have cameos, but leaked emails revealed that Sony was threatening “aggressive litigation” against Bill Murray if he didn’t promote the film. Murray was famously reticent to appear in 1989’s Ghostbusters II and his refusal to co-operate with Dan Aykroyd was what put the nail in the coffin of a third film in the original series.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Sure, some of the arguments against the Ghostbusters reboot have merit, and this is yet another demonstration of how heavily Hollywood banks on recognisable, marketable franchises. It’s not so much that there are no new ideas, but that studio executives largely refuse to put faith in said ideas because they aren’t proven. There’s a lot to strip away, but when one gets down to it, this can’t help but feel like a storm in a teacup – or an ectoplasmic vortex in a ghost trap, if you will. Stop the presses: Ghostbusters ’16 is nowhere near as disastrous as its detractors have been hoping it would be.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon suited up

Director Feig and his cast have a proven track record of bringing the funny, which they do in spades here. The style of humour is brash and in-your-face compared to the more sardonic jokes in the original Ghostbusters films, but a good amount of jokes land. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. Abby, Erin, Jillian and Patty are not merely gender-swapped versions of Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. An adequate balance has been struck between respectful tips of the hat to Ghostbusters movies past and comedic stylings that are unmistakably Feig’s, with Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s affection for the source material readily apparent. As such, it is a bit of an ironic shame that so many die-hard fans have long decided to boycott this reboot when more than a few morsels of fan-service are tossed their way. The cameos are generally pretty fun and had this reviewer wanting to see more, but they’re brief enough so as not to be wholly gratuitous.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on the train tracks

This reviewer thinks McCarthy is funnier when she’s more understated, so it’s great to see her ably take on the position of team leader. This is a cast that absolutely clicks, and we never thought we’d say it, but their camaraderie does rival that of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson in places. Jones’ Patty is plenty loud and sassy and might come off as a racist stereotype, but her character actually feels more like she’s a part of the team than Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did. And hey, a regular everywoman who’s not a scientist is a Ghostbuster; that’s absolutely fine. It is McKinnon who handily steals the show, getting some of the best lines as the team’s resident wacky wild card. McKinnon’s spot-on impressions of Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber amongst others on Saturday Night Live have garnered her considerable attention, but Ghostbusters just might be what rockets her up the comedy actor A-list, where she belongs.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth

Hemsworth is game and entertaining as the receptionist who’s practically too dumb to function, slightly reminiscent of Jason Statham’s sendup of his action hero persona in Feig’s previous film Spy. The characterisation does seem like it comes from some place of resentment though, seeing as Annie Potts’ memorable Janine from the original films wasn’t an airhead at all. The film’s villain is obviously not where the focus lies, but while Casey’s Rowan is creepy, he doesn’t cross over into being legitimately threatening and amounts to a regrettably forgettable foe. It’s also less than ideal that the film’s climax is pretty much a bog-standard big ole CGI-infused melee in Times Square, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. It doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man rampage of the first film, or even the Statue of Liberty marching through New York in the second.

Ghostbusters climactic battle

Is the Ghostbusters reboot the best idea to come out of Hollywood? No. But thanks to the efforts of Feig and his talented, watchable cast, it succeeds where many reboots haven’t, as just enough of its own thing. Feig, Dippold and the other filmmakers have been given enough free rein such that this doesn’t come off as just a studio-mandated cash grab. There’s also no indication that there was any desire to supplant the original films or deny their legacy exists. Stick around for extra clips interspersed through the end credits, plus a post-credits stinger to cap it all off.

Summary: It’s not too hot to handle nor is it too cold to hold, but Ghostbusters is largely funny and well-made. Despite being stuck in the shadow of the towering original, it’s pretty enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

Director : Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach, Sheridan Smith, Sam Claflin
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 14 April 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Once upon a time, there was an actress whose indiscretions resulted in her being booted from a potential franchise which she would’ve headlined. So instead, we turn our attention to the deuteragonist. Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth) was one of a number of children kidnapped and forced into military training, to be groomed into the army of the Snow Queen Freya (Blunt). Defying Freya’s orders that they harden their hearts to love, Eric falls headlong for fellow warrior Sara (Chastain). Many years later, Eric thinks he is free of Freya’s grasp, but when her soldiers threaten Snow White’s kingdom, he has to face the Snow Queen again. Freya has taken the magic mirror, which she uses to resurrect her elder sister Ravenna (Theron), thought vanquished by Snow White and Eric. Joining Eric and Sara in their journey are dwarves Nion (Frost) and Gryff (Brydon). Eric and Sara must face off against the troops they grew up alongside, battling the power of the two sisters.

            Any studio wants franchises, and Universal is certainly no different. They’ve struck a goldmine with the Fast and Furious series and a new Universal Monsters universe is poised to take shape, but there’s always room for more cash cows in the herd. Alas, the action-fantasy take on Snow White seems a wobbly basis for a juggernaut franchise. When Kristen Stewart was given the boot, so was director Rupert Sanders, with whom she was having an affair. Replacing him at the helm is visual effects artist Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, The Huntsman marking his feature film directorial debut. Frank Darabont was initially set to direct, but he left before production began.

There are certain neat aesthetic ideas on display in the film and returning costume designer Colleen Atwood outfits Freya and Ravenna in a selection of splendid couture creations. Unfortunately, it all tends towards the generic. Where the plot is concerned, palace intrigue and dissention amongst the ranks against a medieval fantasy backdrop is readily available in more sophisticated and arresting forms elsewhere. Yes, it’s more ersatz Game of Thrones – or ‘Game of Theron’s’, if you will.

We have a good cast making do with ho-hum material – the presence of Blunt, Theron and Chastain in one movie should have far more propulsive impact than we actually get. But first, the titular Huntsman – For all of Hemsworth’s pulchritude and his ropey attempts at a Scottish accent, the filmmakers seem fully aware that Eric is a patently uninteresting character. We gain precious little from learning the character’s back-story, which is tied into that of the female lead, Sara. Chastain has repeatedly proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with and she kicks plenty of ass in full action heroine mode. But when it comes down to it, a mono-dimensional tough chick who’s totally one of the dudes and doesn’t need no man (or so she tells herself) is not that much better than a damsel in distress. In the cut we saw, a love scene between the two was abruptly truncated – puzzling that the censorship board opted to snip stuff out of a PG-13 fantasy flick that had its Singapore premiere in a theme park.

Incorporating the Snow Queen as the villain of the piece was no doubt a result of Frozen’s continued popularity. The Disney animated film couched the character as an anti-heroine, whereas Hans Christian Andersen created the character as more of a villainess. There was a good deal more to Elsa than there is to Freya, cries of “overrated” be damned. Blunt’s talents are wasted; her performance is pretty much a coolly restrained version of Theron’s. She’s not called upon to do very much at all. Speaking of Theron, she was far and away the best part of Snow White and the Huntsman, her ravenous scenery-chewing injecting the dour fantasy action proceedings with considerable excitement. She’s not in this one for very much and the sisterly bond/sibling rivalry between Freya and Ravenna gets insufficient development.

While the effects work involved in shrinking regular-sized actors down to dwarves is as seamless as it was the first time round, the dwarves obviously serve little purpose apart from comic relief and could be excised from the plot without too much consequence. It’s a relief that a fair number of these jokes land.

The action sequences suffer from shaky-cam and choppy editing, so we don’t get to truly appreciate the deadly skill with which Eric and Sara dispatch their enemies. The U.K. locations, including Waverley Abbey in Surrey, Well’s Bishops Palace and Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean ensure the film does not get swallowed up in computer-generated morass. It’s a shame but perhaps to be expected that the spectacle doesn’t soar and the story ends up flat, the film failing to make a case for its existence. A spot of sequel-begging right at the movie’s conclusion can’t help but come off as desperate; Universal might not get its fairy-tale ending after all.

Summary: Star power, intricate costume design and flashy visual effects set-pieces can’t keep this formulaic, mostly listless sequel/prequel/spin-off from leaving us cold.


RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Meet The Hunting Party: Interviews with Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

As published in issue #75 of F*** Magazine

Text:
MEET THE HUNTING PARTY
F*** sits down with the stars and directors of The Huntsman: Winter’s War
By Jedd Jong
Actors Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain and Charlize Theron, as well as director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, were in Singapore for the Asian premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War. The premiere was held at Universal Studios Singapore in Resorts World Sentosa to much fanfare, with fans shelling out for theme park tickets and braving the overwhelming humidity to catch a glimpse of the stars on the red carpet.
The next day, the cast and director fielded questions from F*** and other local and regional journalists at the Equarius Hotel in Resorts World Sentosa. Hemsworth and Chastain were paired up, as were Theron and Nicolas-Troyan, taking turns to meet different groups of journalists.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH AND JESSICA CHASTAIN

First off, we got to chat with the titular Huntsman himself and his warrior bride Sara. Since Kristen Stewart, who played Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman, was booted off the sequel, the spotlight is trained squarely on the Eric the Huntsman, whose back-story we learn in this film. We are also introduced to Sara, a highly skilled warrior who served alongside Eric in the army of Freya the Snow Queen (Emily Blunt), falling in love with Eric in the process. The duo had a relaxed rapport, with Chastain sometimes turning to check with Hemsworth to ensure she didn’t misremember a detail of working on the production. Hemsworth and Chastain shared about filming action sequences, generating chemistry together, practicing accents and their reaction to the heartthrob being crowned the Sexiest Man Alive.
Jessica, you’ve worked with both Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Without letting present company influence you, which Asgardian brother did you enjoy working with more?

[Chris laughs]
JESSICA CHASTAIN: Chris.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Woohoo! Good girl!
CHASTAIN: [But] I love Tom
What lessons did you take away from the story of Snow White?

CHASTAIN: Well, I didn’t connect to fairy-tales very well. I don’t really relate to the damsel in distress, which is the theme in a lot of fairy-tales. I relate more to this film, where the characters in this film and in the relationship are equals.
HEMSWORTH: I think in fairy-tales, there are messages for children: themes about love, good vs. evil, your actions have consequences, and also just your imagination is inspired as a kid. Whether or not some of the themes or characters may be dated, I just think the idea of make-believe and fantasy is very important for the development of a child. I remember as a kid reading The Hobbit and things like that, or my dad reading it to me, and having very vivid pictures in my mind of what that world was and the fantasy of it.
Do you think that love conquers all?

HEMSWORTH: I believe it’s a pretty good motivator to attempt to conquer anything. I don’t know what stronger emotion or feeling there is to want to destroy all odds. So yeah, I think so.
CHASTAIN: Yeah, I believe love conquers everything.
Chris, what is it like working with Jessica, who is a little less experienced than you are in the action genre?

HEMSWORTH: Aww, she did fantastic! All her fight scenes were in high heels or lifts, her shoes, so that was even more impressive. I remember watching, in the film, the first big fight sequence we had and being kind of blown away at the acrobatics she was pulling off and how easy she made it look.
Jessica, what did you do to get into the mind-set of a warrior for this film?

CHASTAIN: Production flew someone to New York and I worked with them for two weeks. I went to London and worked with the stunt team for three weeks before we started shooting. That was just to learn the fights, but I approached it just like I would approach any film. This is the first of this genre that I’ve done, but I thought about her backstory and where she came from, I thought about her being a child with Eric, and growing up in that situation, what happened with her family, and tried to flesh out the character as realistically as possible. Because yes, it’s an incredible action-adventure fantasy film, but I feel like the characters are really rooted in reality and whatever is happening, so as to feel as real and present as possible.
Were there any mishaps when you were both filming the fights?

CHASTAIN: I hit someone! [To Chris] Did I hurt you at all?
HEMSWORTH: No, we did pretty good actually. I think we were in sync.
CHASTAIN: A couple of times, I fell down, because I was wearing those shoes with the wedges in them and we’d be walking along in the woods and I’d hit a branch and I’d just fall down. I hit a stunt person once because I was doing the fight sequence and I’d rehearsed it where I’d elbow someone behind me without looking over and over again, and I knew how far to go. When they were shooting it, they said “the camera angle, the way it is now, you need to go even further back because it looks fake right now”. So I moved further back, and then I hit him in the face because he didn’t move further back. I was so traumatised I immediately went “oh my gosh!” and stopped and ruined the whole take.
HEMSWORTH: Should’ve kept going, because it would’ve looked very real [laughs].
CHASTAIN: It was very real! [Laughs]
Jessica, were the fight scenes or the love scenes more of a challenge?

CHASTAIN: Well, the fight scenes burn more calories, I’ll say that [laughs].
Chris, was the preparation on this film harder than on the first?

HEMSWORTH: I was probably involved much more with the script and involved much earlier than I was with Snow White; I came in quite late to that. So I was able to develop the character a bit more and [work on] the script with the producers and so on. What was exciting was the opportunity to have something different from the first one and lighten it up in tone; have a greater sense of humour and a sense of adventure; have a bit more spark between the characters. And, have a stronger love story – we were kind of non-specific in the first film, so it was nice to be able to go and hit those themes a little heavier this time around and advance it.
Chris, you were named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2014. How did you take it?

HEMSWORTH: How did I take it? It made me laugh, it was all pretty funny [chuckles]. You can’t take it too seriously, you have to laugh about it, I guess. Then they took it off me, which was heart-breaking.
CHASTAIN: He made a big joke out of it, which was really funny. We’d be on set and he’d say “you know, I am People’s Sexiest Man Alive…”
HEMSWORTH: “…So give me some damn respect!” And then in turn, it got me less respect.
CHASTAIN: Exactly! Then we just teased him!
HEMSWORTH: I don’t take it seriously.
Do you think you’re sexy?

HEMSWORTH: Do I think so? No, not really. Does anyone? I don’t know…[chuckles]. I know all my ridiculous secrets, which are unattractive.
Did you work on the chemistry between the both of you to get it to the level we see in the film?

HEMSWORTH: You just get lucky sometimes, you know? You just have an instant sort of chemistry and connection. Jessica has a great sense of humour, we like a lot of the same films, love the style of films from an audience point of view. You can work at it as much as you want, but if it’s not there, it’s not there. As I said, we got lucky, you know?
CHASTAIN: You have to be open to it, too. We got lucky, but there’s also a situation where if you’re working on something with someone, between every take, if they go to their trailer and leave set, [it won’t work out]. We hung out on set a lot with Cedric and talked a lot, we got to know each other, and I think that always benefits chemistry.
Jessica, you’ve posted photos of you tucking into durians while in Singapore. how did you come to gravitate towards durians?

CHASTAIN: I love durian. I worked in Thailand for four months [on Blackbeard] and discovered the fruit there. I love it. I was in Singapore and Hong Kong a few years ago and had it; every time I come to Asia I have it. We don’t get it much in the United States so for us, it’s very exotic. Chris has never tried it.
HEMSWORTH: I would try it; it’s just never come across my plate. But I’ve heard a lot about it, I’ve heard mixed reviews, that it smells a bit funny, but I would give it a go, I’d try it.
What was it like working on your Scottish accents? How did you find the accents, was it a character choice and did you practice with each other?

CHASTAIN: We didn’t really practice with each other.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, we just had great dialect coaches and you just rehearse the hell out of it. Repetition, repetition, repetition. I listened to a lot of tapes of certain influences and different people for the accent. It has a great musicality to it, for me personally, it lends itself to humour well. That’s nice, and it also separates us from the evil, royal [posh] types.
CHASTAIN: I worked with a coach from Scotland, and what I loved is that I kept asking her “what are little sayings?” Like “you’re a right galoot” or “you’re a right numpty”, things like that. And Cedric would let me kind of sprinkle in a little bit, which was fun. Because I’ve never heard that word “galoot”, have you guys heard that word?
HEMSWORTH: I have.
CHASTAIN: You have? It must be an Australian thing too.
HEMSWORTH: It is.
CHASTAIN: Lots of galoots in Australia!
HEMSWORTH: Lots of ‘em, that’s right [Both laugh]
In the last film, the Huntsman kissed Snow White to wake her, and now we meet his wife, who was assumed to be dead all this time. Could it be considered an extra-marital affair?

HEMSWORTH: For me, I feel like the kiss was full of love, but a love for somebody else. All that was needed in that spell for Snow White to wake up was love; it didn’t necessarily have to be for her. But he was talking about his wife.
CHASTAIN: Talking about me! [Laughs] That was the true love’s kiss, and that’s the only reason I think this film works, Sara being here, it’s because of that scene. I re-watched the first film after I got the offer and I saw that scene and I said “of course! The true love’s kiss, there was that whole monologue about his wife.”
Jessica, you’ve worked with some very experienced directors and on this film, you worked with a first time director. What differences have you found?

CHASTAIN: It’s interesting, because everyone has their own individual point of view. When I was on the set [of The Martian] with Ridley Scott, I knew there was a whole history of filmmaking that I was going to experience and I was very excited about what that was going to be like. Working with Ridley was very different than working with J.C. Chandor, who did A Most Violent Year, [which was] very different than working with Cedric. Which is why I like this industry, to do the same thing over and over again is very boring, so I like to try and mix it up. I’ll go from Christopher Nolan [on Interstellar] to a first-time filmmaker. I hope to work in more foreign films. Those usually are my favourite, I’ve got to learn more languages [laughs], but that’s actually what I enjoy.
In the film, you have the scene with the goblins and they’re not there. What was it like working with creatures who would be inserted later, and what was it like filming the scenes with the dwarves?

CHASTAIN: Well, I was really lucky because we actually had actors. Nick Frost, Rob [Brydon], Sheridan [Smith] and Alex[andra Roach, who played the dwarves,] were all there. Even the goblins, which we knew the drawings of what it was going to look like, there was someone there in a bodysuit with little dots all over them and acting out the body movements, making the noises and doing everything. Yes, they weren’t as big as the goblins ended up being, but it was really helpful that all six of us had the same thing to look at, and it wasn’t just being in a green screen [set].
Chris, how do you stay in such excellent shape?

HEMSWORTH: I just like to stay active. I surf a lot at home, spend a lot of time outdoors, just doing different activities and obviously in the gym, training. The biggest thing is just having a good, clean diet, I think. The healthy, non-processed sort of food is a big thing, even more so than probably the training. For Thor, I had to lift a lot of weight to grow muscle, but as far as staying fit, what you put in your body is number one.
And for you, Jessica?

CHASTAIN: I’m a vegan, so I agree with Chris, so much of your fitness is about what you eat, so I don’t eat any meat.
CHARLIZE THERON AND CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN

Following Chastain and Hemsworth were Queen Ravenna herself and the first-time feature film director who helmed The Huntsman. The Oscar-winning Theron was clearly a dab hand at press junkets, helping the less experienced Nicolas-Troyan along in between playfully ribbing him for his thick French accent.
“Was Chris really boring?” Theron joked as she entered the room. Theron’s scenery-chomping performance in Snow White and the Huntsman is generally regarded as one of the more entertaining aspects of the fantasy action flick, so it is fun to see Ravenna resurrected. The main antagonist for the bulk of the film is Ravenna’s younger sister Freya; Blunt was absent from this leg of the press tour but Theron spoke unreservedly about how much she adores her co-star. Nicolas-Troyan spoke about dealing with the pressures of handling a major production, while Theron, who has become a widely-admired feminist icon, touched on being a role model and how Ravenna’s pursuit of youth and beauty reflects on gender perception in society.
Cedric, you were the visual effects supervisor on Snow White and the Huntsman and are now directing this one. What was the biggest source of pressure in taking on this bigger responsibly?

CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN: Obviously, it’s a harder job. Doing visual effects compared to directing a movie, it’s a walk in the park. Directing a movie is a way bigger deal. So obviously, you have that pressure, but then you work with those guys [the cast] and all that pressure goes away…
CHARLIZE THERON: You’re welcome.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: They just push you [on], and I think also because of the first movie, you’re stepping into somebody’s shoes so you have that pressure for sure, but I think when you shoot the movie, it goes away. I had a great time shooting the movie and working with them, so the pressure went away. Maybe now more than ever, the pressure is on, because the movie is coming out. It’s judgement day, you know?
THERON: It’s all on you [laughs]. 
Charlize, you’ve played some really remarkable characters in your career. Do you feel the pressure to be a role model for women?

THERON: It’s so odd, because I don’t think about anything like that until I come and do a press junket. It’s interesting because I don’t know what’s really in the subconscious and what’s really in the conscious. I think there’s a part of me that feels a responsibility to myself as a woman when I go and do a film, and for an actor the greatest fear is that you won’t be able to get to the truth of a character. And so I feel like my responsibility really starts there.
I want to do something that feels incredibly authentic and truthful, and I think when we do that, we’re hoping that something will resonate with other people, other women. I don’t know if that’s being a role model; I worry about that because I’m so aware that I’m an entertainer. The reason I do what I do is I really love film, I believe in the power of it, I believe in the inspiration of it. I’ve sat in many theatres in a dark room and have had stories move me in such a way that it has changed me. And I think film can really do that and I think I’m a small part of that process. If I do something that really chases after the truth, I feel like that’s the only way that you can hope people can be moved by it, and I can’t hope for anything past that.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She’s a pretty authentic person, I think, with all the work she does with her charity. I’m not a woman, and I’m pretty inspired. It’s true though, I think that as a person, it goes through you, that’s the way I see it.
THERON: Aww shucks!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: It’s true though!
Is it fun to play a villain?

THERON: Yeah! I mean, I wasn’t miserable about it at all!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She comes and she’s really funny, she has that great energy on set, and she comes up with ideas like that. What you see in the movie is just a very small part of what she does on set. There was stuff she was doing that was so fun, I couldn’t put them in the movie for so many different reasons…
THERON: Because they were bad [laughs].
NICOLAS-TROYAN: No, they were not!
THERON: I’ll try anything.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She comes [to set] with so much energy, so much stuff, and it makes those scenes so much better. What I’m thinking I’m going to get from the scene is one thing, what she brings…the whole black stuff [dripping from Ravenna’s mouth], she came up with that. I’m like “that’s cool!”
THERON: It’s such a fun thing being on set, because what you’re doing is throwing a ball back and forth with your director, with your [other] actors, it’s like a sport almost. There’s a constant discovery process. There’s an element with [Ravenna] because she’s the villain in this fantastical world, the world allowed her to bleed outside very confined lines and we got to go a little bigger with her. I didn’t end up in jail [in real life], so that was a good thing. Not yet!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Charlize is a lot softer at the beginning of the film [during the flashback scenes], so we could go really bigger at the back end. That was fun. On set, it’s always like that – “what about this, what about that?” And even among themselves, with Jessica, with Chris, we all have those scenes – this kind of creativity is built on top of the script we already have that just make it so much better.
THERON: [To Nicolas-Troyan] We are lucky because we had you, the director really sets the tone.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: That is so true, I was amazing [laughs].
THERON: You really were. I mean, I had some issues with your…
NICOLAS-TROYAN: …My accent [laughs].
THERON: I couldn’t understand a word you were saying. I just knew I went like this a lot [nods uncertainly]. Your director sets the tone, it’s the shepherd, there’s the leader and you need that in a filmmaker. Cedric was very good at setting a tone for this film that was very collaborative. When he’s talking about a lot of the s*** that we tried, a lot of it was bad, but it was great to have a director who’s open to anything. I learned a long time ago you have to do ten bad things before you find half a good thing.
How was it working with Emily Blunt?

THERON: I wish she wasn’t married, because I would marry her. I was thinking we could move to a polygamist state and just do it; I don’t know if John [Krasinski, Blunt’s husband] is up for it. I love that girl so much. From the first moment we were together, it was just instant chemistry. We couldn’t stop, just a lot of chatter, a lot of Cedric going “girls, we’re rolling.” Both Jessica and Emily are actresses I really admire, and as my peers they’ve been people who raise the bar for me as an actor. Their work is so inspiring, so they’re a huge part of why I wanted to come back and do this. To get to work with not just one but two really amazing strong powerhouses on film, that’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Charlize, what were the differences in working on this film compared to the first one?

THERON: I feel like the process was a little different. On the first one, there was a lot of room to discover this character. There was a script, but there wasn’t that much explored with her. Joe Roth, who’s the producer of both, came to me and said “this is yours. You can do whatever you want with it.” I’d never really been given that kind of freedom, so I worked with the two writers really closely, developing and creating her with Rupert [Sanders, director of Snow White and the Huntsman] so that was a really fun process.
Initially, when the idea came to me, she was a cartoon character. I remember Googling her and getting the cartoon image of the raven hair, the arched eyebrows, the red lips. I thought to myself “it’s such an iconic character, there would be something very inspiring about taking that and turning it on its head and doing something completely new with that.” I was encouraged to do that, so that was great.
That was the process for the first film, so once we solidified that, we had that for the second film, so then we got to explore her in different circumstances. When you take that character that we created on the first one and throw her in these circumstances with her younger sister, it allows for different things to happen with her. I never in a million years thought we would ever see Ravenna love something, and when we found her foundation in the first film, I could never imagine her showing love to something and in this film, we got to explore that and that was really great for me.
What did you take away from the story of Snow White?

THERON: I think thematically, there’s a really powerful story in there for women and the currency we place our value in, which is this obsession with youth and that somehow our value really comes from that. I think it’s a huge misconception about how women think about themselves, but we’ve kind of gotten pigeonholed in a society that has given us almost no out with that. There’s no way we can deny that women age differently in our society in men. I’ve always loved the analogy that we go around thinking that women are cut flowers, that they just wilt after a while, and men are fine wine, they just age better the older they get.
I feel like women have to start taking ownership in changing that concept, and I think this fairy-tale is powerful in that because at the end of this story, Ravenna ends up alone, and none of those things give her anything she thought she was going to have. The Snow White character ends up having a full life, because there’s more to her than chasing those currencies. If you think that this story was written hundreds of years ago and it resonates with us as a society still today, that says something about us.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: What’s great about fairy-tales is that no matter how you take the fairy-tale and what kind of fairy-tale it is; it always [offers] very simple lessons in life. They are written that way for kids to understand: what is good; what is bad? What is love; what is hate? What is wrong and what is right? Those are universal [themes], it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, as a human being, you learn those things.
When we make movies like that, all we’re doing is creating more complex characters that are more anchored in reality, of the reality we know today. But if you look at fairy-tales within themselves, you would see that even in modern movies, they’re always essentially the same lesson, they’re always there to remind us what we should be doing. We live today in a world that is focused on ugliness and negativity, and we have a tendency to look in that direction instead of celebrating what we should be doing. Those fairy-tales have been created from the get-go to teach the kids to not do that, in 20 years, we’re going to do fairy-tales in a different style and a different medium, and it will tell the exact same story.

Winter is Coming – The Huntsman: Winter’s War Singapore red carpet premiere

For F*** Magazine

WINTER IS COMING
F*** is on the red carpet to catch the stars of The Huntsman: Winter’s War
By Jedd Jong

It was a particularly muggy Sunday night, but everyone had winter on the brain. Universal Studios Singapore at Resorts World Sentosa played host to the stars and director of the fantasy action film The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the sequel/prequel/spin-off of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Chris Hemsworth, Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan graced the red carpet and fan premiere on April 3.
Thousands of fans and guests lined the red carpet to catch a glimpse of the cast, bearing witness to the first ever movie premiere held in the theme park. Theron looked exquisite in white, while Chastain was radiant in a sequinned black gown. Hemsworth cut a dashing figure in a navy blue suit. The stars took their time to pose for selfies with and sign autographs for lucky fans. This writer was thrilled when Theron deigned to pose with his custom action figure of Furiosa, her character from Mad Max: Fury Road.
Hemsworth, Theron, Chastain and Nicolas-Troyan had their handprints preserved in concrete for posterity before entering the Pantages Theatre for the screening.
The Pantages Hollywood Theatre, normally home to the Sesame Street stage show When I Grow Up, received a makeover for the premiere. The façade of the theatre was completely transformed to resemble the ice castle in The Huntsman, which the Snow Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) calls home in the film. The 20-metre-tall structure features hand-carved and hand-painted designs, taking one month to fabricate. It was installed over a period of 10 nights. It will remain in place at Universal Studios Singapore until May 2.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War opens island-wide on 14 April 2016.
Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong
Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was the visual effects supervisor on Snow White: and the Huntsman and was nominated for an Oscar for his work on that film.