In the Heart of the Sea

For F*** Magazine

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Michelle Fairley
Genre : Action/Adventure/Drama
Run Time : 121 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Pull up a chair, because director Ron Howard’s got a whale of a tale to tell you lads, a whale of a tale or two. Author Herman Melville (Whishaw) travels to Nantucket Island, Massachusetts to interview innkeeper Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson), in order to research the novel Moby-Dick. At age 14, Nickerson (Holland) was a cabin boy aboard the whaleship Essex, sailing with Captain George Pollard, Jr. (Walker), First Mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth) and Second Mate Matthew Joy (Murphy). It is the year 1820 and whale blubber is a valuable commodity for its use as fuel. While off the South American coast, the Essex is rammed by a bull sperm whale and sinks, stranding its crew at sea. Nickerson recounts the harrowing events to Melville, confronting dark memories of starvation, madness and survival, during which the crew drew lots to determine who would be killed and eaten for the others to live.

            In the Heart of the Seais based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction book of the same name. The film was originally set for release in March this year, but was pushed back to December presumably for awards season consideration. The true story seems like it has all the makings of a gripping film, but while the end result is competently executed, it fails to be truly thrilling or moving. By now, audiences know what to expect from a survival at sea drama – the elements will be braved, there will be desperate situations, the crew will be at each other’s throats, the survivors will have to band together to stay alive and so on. In the Heart of the Sea hopes to offer something different in the form of the whale, but there is very little of the film in which the crew of the Essex actually face off against their Cetecean nemesis.

            This is a film about extremes that often plays it very safe, even with the depiction of cannibalism. There are times when In the Heart of the Sea comes across like it’s trying to emulate a prestigious British costume drama epic and while effort is made to capture the whaleship setting and time period, the film never quite attains the desired level of authenticity. Because of the way the framing device is set up, with the middle-aged Nickerson reluctantly telling Melville about the events he braved in his youth aboard the Essex, there is a significant amount of exposition. It feels like we have to wade through the history to get to the exciting bits, as opposed to being actually invested in these characters and caring about what happens to them.

            The cast take the material very seriously and while this is not a poorly acted film, there isn’t quite enough personality to each of the historical figures. There is conflict between Captain George Pollard, Jr. and First Mate Owen Chase, because Chase was promised the captaincy but Pollard got the position through his family connections. The two men eventually come to an understanding, but given the circumstances, their interaction should be more riveting than this. Hemsworth, reuniting with his Rush director, famously went on a diet of 500 calories a day to portray the starving sailor. Bidding farewell to all that muscle must be like sending a firstborn child off to college. Hemsworth’s Chase is the hero who looks out for his men, a very straight-forward role. Walker is often quite bland opposite him and even though he’s playing the captain, there are moments when this reviewer almost forgot he existed.

            Murphy’s usual magnetism and subtle unpredictability are all but absent from his turn as Second Mate Matthew Joy, and given how the story is told from Nickerson’s point of view, we expected Holland to be given more emotional beats to play. The sequence in which the Essex goes down in flames after it is struck by the enraged whale is excitingly staged, but most of the drama is predictable and the film stops short of being truly immersive. There are also scenes depicting baby whales in the pod, and one can’t help but side with the whales at times. Sure, the whalers are doing their job and we don’t mean to get all Greenpeace, but at the end of the day, this is a movie in which our heroes are killing animals that wouldn’t bother them if they didn’t get all up in their business. This reviewer never really felt like he was stranded alongside the crew of the Essex and the detachedness is what ultimately lets In the Heart of the Sea down.



Summary:What should be an epic adventure is mostly dull and doesn’t offer anything drastically different from other survival at sea films.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

For F*** Magazine

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Director : Joss Whedon
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 141 mins
Opens : 23 April 2015

(The following review is spoiler-free)

Earth’s mightiest heroes boldly step forth into a new age in the closing chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second phase. The Avengers, comprising Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Thor (Hemsworth), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) have unfinished business to attend to. Loki’s sceptre is being held in a Hydra stronghold, and in the process of retrieving the otherworldly weapon, the team confronts the twins Pietro (Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Olsen) Maximoff, the products of Hydra genetic enhancement experiments. Stark and Banner have an experiment of their own, the artificial intelligence system Ultron (Spader), intended as a security net for the world. However, the sentient robot has nefarious plans of its own, violently rebelling against its creators. The Avengers’ only hope may lie in Vision (Bettany), an old friend in a new form. 

            2012’s The Avengers was a monumental event, the glorious apex of Marvel Studios’ diligent world-building. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has truly earned the right to call itself a “universe”, Age of Ultron uniting a multitude of familiar faces while introducing new players. There’s the welcome feeling that the gang’s all here, but not just for the sake of it. This is a significant achievement on multiple levels; writer-director Joss Whedon taking on the Herculean challenge of topping the first Avengers film while charting a course forward for all of these characters. Once again, Whedon demonstrates a remarkable command of the tone, peppering the screenplay with delightfully zippy witticisms (Stark references playwright Eugene O’Neill and the practice of Prima Nocta) yet establishing the stakes and delivering genuine drama when it is required. 

What stands out as the most impressive element of this blockbuster isn’t the wham-bam spectacle, it’s the character development. While many action movies are marketed as being “character-driven”, more often than not, the plot seems like a minor inconvenience at best, fiddly bits of story standing in the way of stuff blowing up. This isn’t the case here. Whedon cleverly builds upon the relationships established in the previous films, including the “science bros” bond between Stark and Banner and the dysfunctional family dynamic within the team as a whole. Whedon is unafraid to have sizeable stretches of the film driven solely by drama or comedy in between the action, without the movie feeling like it’s spinning its wheels until Hulk next smashes something or Cap tosses his shield. The conflict has its place, there is angst but not moping and the bristling tension that arises from disagreements within the team is balanced with the sheer satisfaction of seeing our heroes work in conjunction with each other.
This is not to say that the spectacle is in short supply – far from it. This is a major tentpole release that was guaranteed to do gangbusters even before a single word of the screenplay was written, but if Avengers: Age of Ultronis anything to go by, producer Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel Studios are not about to rest on their laurels or just let these movies “make themselves”. The film’s opening, which involves the Avengers storming Baron Von Strucker’s (Thomas Kretschmann) mountain fortress, reintroduces viewers to our heroes in the thick of it with a slick, unbroken long take. There’s also a fair bit of globe-trotting, the story taking the team from their home base in New York to the fictional Eastern European city of Sokovia, South Africa and South Korea.

The movie’s signature set piece is the battle between Iron Man in his heavy-duty Hulkbuster armour and the Hulk. Stark is reluctant to fight Banner, shading the knock-down drag-out brawl with more emotional hues than a typical beat ‘em up. The climactic showdown, while familiar in the sense that it’s the plucky good guys against a horde of bad guys while trying to get innocent citizens to safety, is sufficiently different from the “big fight in a big city” finales that have become the norm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After defeating Loki, the Avengers’ primary adversary in this sequel is the titular Ultron, voiced by James Spader, who also performed some motion capture work to play the 8 foot tall robot. Ultron is both a physical and intellectual challenge to the Avengers and his motivations are set up quickly and efficiently. Malevolent artificial intelligence is something of a hoary sci-fi trope and one could argue that 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 still stands at the top of the heap, but Ultron certainly fulfils all the big bad pre-requisites. Spader is a casting coup; his sonorous, supercilious line delivery both threatening and entertaining. There’s also the appeal of the “I’ve got no strings” motif, even more amusing given that Robert Downey Jr. is rumoured to be playing both Geppetto and Pinocchio in an upcoming live-action version of the story.

Whedon has put admirable effort into improving the characterisations we were presented with in the first film. Hawkeye in particular gets his moment in the sun; Renner having voiced his disappointment that the character spent most of the first Avengers under Loki’s mind control. Paul Bettany finally steps out of the recording booth to play cyber-butler JARVIS’ corporeal form, Vision, lending the character an elegant combination of strength and serenity.

The character of Scarlet Witch, with her ability to play dangerous mind games as she enters into the memories and feelings of those under her thrall, presents the audience with an opportunity to explore the deepest, darkest fears of our heroes. Elizabeth Olsen is a haunted, ethereal presence as Wanda, her powers taking their own toll on her psyche. The hallucinatory scenes also shed light on Black Widow’s past, these unsettling sequences feeling straight out of a horror movie.

Much was made about how Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past beat Marvel Studios to the punch when it came to putting speedster Quicksilver on the big screen. While Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro doesn’t quite have a bit as memorable as the “Time in a Bottle” kitchen run from DoFP, his Quicksilver is still pretty cool. The bond between the twins is conveyed convincingly by both Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. Mark Ruffalo continues to be an excellent Bruce Banner, this film showing how the character is at once Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster and the inner turmoil that results from this dichotomy. There’s also a romance between Banner and Romanoff which can feel a little forced at times but is for the most part really quite sweet. A scene early on in which Black Widow tries to calm the savage beast reminded this reviewer of the interaction between King Kong and Ann Darrow.

It pains us a little to say this and we don’t want to come off as dismissive of the efforts of the army of visual effects artists who slaved away on this film, but the CGI does border on the excessive. It’s not sloppily done and there are a mind-boggling number of visual effects shots, but at times during the Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight, the two computer-generated characters going at it seem like just that, as if one were playing a video-game. Still, this is a minor quibble and if the film were nothing but pixel-heavy battles, then we’d have a problem. Instead, we have a compelling, dramatic story, characters that are fleshed-out and easy to get invested in, plenty of morsels for hard-core fans and lots of quotable lines and some imagery courtesy of cinematographer Ben Davis that’s destined to become iconic. While there is no post-credits stinger, there is a tag after the main-on-end titles sequence that’s as tantalising as ever. Bring on Phase 3!
Summary: Avengers: Age of Ultron can boast that it’s about the Avengers as characters and Joss Whedon’s ability to deliver excellent dialogue and moving storytelling in addition to earth-shattering spectacle remains unparalleled.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Blackhat

For F*** Magazine

BLACKHAT 

Director : Michael Mann
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Wang Leehom, Viola Davis, Holt McCallany
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Run Time : 133 mins
Opens : 15 January 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Scene of intimacy and some coarse language)

Following the scandalous, crippling hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, cybercrime is back at the forefront of public consciousness. Director Michael Mann brings us Blackhat, purporting itself to be a techno-thriller for a post-Snowden world. A cyber-attack sabotages a Chinese nuclear power plant, causing a catastrophic meltdown. Chinese cyber-security expert Captain Chen Dawai (Wang) concludes that in order to catch the perpetrator, Chinese and American authorities must call on the expertise of convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth). Chen, alongside his sister Lien (Tang) and FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett (Davis) cross the globe in pursuit of the cybercrime syndicate responsible, travelling from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

            Cybercrime, a globe-trotting hunt, a furloughed convict aiding the authorities, geopolitics – it all sounds pretty exciting. Therefore, it’s a shame that Blackhat ends up being pretty dull. It’s not a poorly-made film, just a boring one. Even with the requisite shootouts and chases, Blackhat never fully grabs hold of the audience. There are some surprises, even a few thrills, but each step forward in the plot feels merely perfunctory. Techno-thrillers are an interesting genre because those films often feel really dated really quickly and are mocked for their Hollywood-ised depiction of hacking – try sitting through Hackers or The Net with a straight face. It is after watching Blackhat that we realise a “realistic hacking movie” just isn’t all that entertaining a proposition, and this is something that should’ve been a foregone conclusion.

Hemsworth isn’t exactly believable as a hacker – we get that the film wants to step away from the image of the hoodie-clad teenager with thick coke-bottle glasses but Hemsworth never quite sells it. Part of the appeal of his portrayal of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that he’s not the brightest of the Avengers, which only seems fair because he has, arguably, the most impressive physique. Call us insecure, but we refuse to believe anyone would have the brains to go with all that brawn.

            One thing the film has going for it is the Asian characters do not feel forced into the story in an obvious bid for international appeal *ahem*Transformers: Age of Extinction*ahem*. They are integral to the plot and are not depicted in a stereotypical manner. Wang Leehom acquits himself reasonably well and we’d be all for American audiences becoming familiar with his handsome mug. Tang Wei struggles more, her line delivery rather stilted. There’s a forced romantic subplot between her character and Chris Hemsworth’s, which feels all the more unnecessary because they have practically no chemistry together. Viola Davis is the same no-nonsense boss lady she usually portrays. Singaporeans might get a kick out of seeing a well-known local actor in a minor supporting role.

            In addition to being middle-of-the-road all the way through, Blackhat just isn’t that pretty of a film to look at either. Michael Mann has drawn flack for shooting in the digital format with sometimes cheap-looking results and there certainly is no shortage of noise-filled night scenes in Blackhat. Mann also favours handheld close-up shots, which can be slightly nausea-inducing. During a brawl in a restaurant, the film goes into full-on shaky-cam mode, standing in stark contrast to some pleasant sweeping aerial establishing shots.

This reviewer was looking forward to Blackhat and was puzzled to find out it had been given a January release date, since it didn’t quite look dump month-worthy. Now, he has a bit of an idea why. There is a novelty factor in seeing Southeast Asian locales featured so prominently in a Hollywood flick and unlike many films where hacking is tantamount to sorcery, Blackhat never lapses into the realm of the all-out ridiculous. However, coming from the acclaimed director of The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Heat and Collateral, Blackhat is a let-down, continuing Mann’s disappointing streak, seeing as how Miami Vice and Public Enemies weren’t great either. At least “Blackhat” works a lot better than the movie’s working title “Cyber”.
Summary: It could’ve been a breathless, high-stakes chase across continents but instead, Blackhatis plodding, boilerplate and decidedly average.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

San Diego Comic-Con International 2014: The Celebrities

One of the key elements of Comic-Con is that it’s where fans get to meet creators, where those who enjoy and consume pop culture have a chance to rub shoulders with those who produce it. Hollywood has seized upon Comic-Con as an opportunity to market directly to the most passionate of target audiences and while that means the formerly comics-centric gathering has gotten commercialized and, some might say, bloated, it also means we get lots and lots of big stars descending on San Diego. This year, I was able to go in with a press pass and was granted access to the hallowed Hall H on Saturday (look out for my article on the experience coming soon). Besides Zack Snyder and his Trinity of Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot showing up, there were lots more famous faces gracing the Hall H stage – and, as is customary, incognito on the convention floor, disguised in a mask or something of that sort.
A dose of the Cumber-chins for Penguins of Madagascar

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!

Unfortunately, Cumberbatch did not stick around for the press conference and we were all really disappointed. My theory is they needed to whisk him away to Hall H through some secret tunnels so he wouldn’t get utterly mobbed.

Author Lois Lowry and star Brenton Thwaites for The Giver

Jeff Bridges and leading lady Odeya Rush

The Paramount panel kicks off with an appearance by the voice of Spongebob Squarepants himself, Tom Kenny.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman throws his full support behind the new movie.

Director Jonathan Liebesman

Our April O’Neil and Vern, Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively

Dwayne Johnson makes a surprise appearance to tell everyone that he’s booked out three theatres to treat us all to a screening of Hercules. First come, first served! 

The Rock demonstrating his “pimp lean”, as per his throwback Thursday Twitter post. Look that one up, fanny packs are involved.

Clark Duke exhorts, “if you see only one Hot Tub Time Machine sequel this year, make it this one.”

The star of Interstellar himself, Matthew McConaughey. Alright x 3. 

For an even bigger treat, his director Christopher Nolan makes his Comic-Con debut.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, showrunners of Sleepy Hollow and screenwriters of Star Trek, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers.

Greg Berlanti (Arrow/Flash), Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries) and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) complete the Showrunners panel.

Ralph Garman moderates the Batman ’66 panel. This November, the entire series is finally being released on Blu-ray, completely remastered in HD! 

Julie Newmar is helped on stage by her minions.

The eternal Boy Wonder.

Lee Meriwether, who was Catwoman for the ’66 film.

Our dynamic duo!

Thank you Burt and Julian for this opportunity! 

And who should we serendipitously run into but Guillermo del Toro himself! 

I told him I wanted to hug him because of how much I enjoy his films. This was a moment. Thanks Tedd for taking the photo.
Kurtwood Smith, Frances Fisher and Devin Kelley from the TV show Resurrection.

Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher sharing an affectionate moment.

Devin Kelley looking lovely.

Omar Epps

Batman comic book writer Scott Snyder

Managed to grab a selfie with Willa Holland, Arrow‘s one and only Thea Queen! 

Press conference for The Maze Runner

Will Poulter and Kaya Scodelario

Director Wes Ball

James Dashner, author of the book series

Kaya Scodelario

Kaya Scodelario and Dylan O’Brien

Guillermo del Toro, producer of Book of Life.

Christina Applegate and director Jorge Guttierez 
Channing Tatum

Ron Perlman

Giggles.

Hannah Ware from Hitman: Agent 47.

Zachary Quinto, main antagonist of Hitman: Agent 47

Artist Dave Gibbons and writer Mark Millar, creators of The Secret Service.
Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson
Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson 
Sofia Boutella and Dave Gibbons

I can tell you that Samuel L. Jackson was not very pleasant at all. The journalists had placed all their phones and other recording devices on the table. When one of the phones rang, he picked it up, yelled down the line and then asked the journalist to “claim your f**king phone.” 

Keagen Michael Key and Nina Dobrev of Let’s Be Cops.

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Rob Riggle

Willa Holland, Stephen Amell and Colton Haynes, stars of Arrow.

John Barrowman and Willa Holland share a cute daddy-daughter moment.

Willa Holland proves she can tough it out with the guys of the cast.

Producer James Tucker, John DiMaggio (King Shark), Troy Baker (Joker), Matthew Gray Gubler (Riddler) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Director Jay Oliva, James Tucker, John DiMaggio, Troy Baker and Matthew Gray Gubler.

We kick off Saturday in Hall H with moderator Chris Hardwick as Marty McFly.
It wasn’t on the schedule, but we were all hoping to see something from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder presents 30 seconds of teaser footage.
And his World’s Finest

Make that the Trinity, plus Hardwick unable to resist snapping a selfie.

Channing Tatum has something of a tough act to follow, talking Jupiter Ascending.
Hardwick with George Miller, director of all the Mad Max films – including the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.

Time to head to Middle Earth with Stephen Colbert, dressed as his cameo character “The Laketown Spy” and seen here with his son.

Director Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens, Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug, Sauron), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Andy Serkis (Gollum)

Jessica Chobot and Legendary Studios chief Thomas Tull open the Legendary Studios panel.

John and Drew Dowdle, the brothers behind As Above, So Below.

Michael Mann, director of Heat, Thief, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral and now Blackhat

All swoon for Chris Hemsworth 

Warcraft director Duncan Jones, wearing a shirt from his earlier film Moon.

Guillermo del Toro talks Crimson Peak.
The voice stars of The Boxtrolls, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning and Ben Kingsley.

Direcotr/animated Travis Knight 
The Sin City: A Dame to Kill For panel begins. Director Robert Rodriguez, comics creator Frank Miller, Rosario Dawson (Gail), Josh Brolin (Dwight) and Jessica Alba (Nancy)

Gotta love Miller’s face here.

The Women Who Kick Ass: Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).

Comic-Con gets antsy: Producer Kevin Feige, director Peyton Reed, actors Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne) and Corey Stoll (Darren Cross)

A rose by any other name…

Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff), Paul Bettany (Jarvis/Vision), James Spader (Ultron), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff)
Where are your Avengers now? Here they are! 

Josh Brolin and his toy Infinity Gauntlet crash the party! 

Hey Jensen Ackles. Lookin’ handsome as always.

The Supernatural panel: Jeremy Carver, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard. 

Special appearance from Osric Chau! 

Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman of the Young Justice animated series

DC Animation producer James Tucker 

Producer Michael E. Uslan, co-owner of the Batman media rights 

Selfie with James Tucker! 

As with last year, my Comic-Con adventure concludes with watching Jim Lee, the master, at work. 

“Alfred, never sext me again.”
Tasteful note to go out on! See you guys in San Diego next year.