The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

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The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

Gaze upon the many faces of the star of The Shape of the Water

By Jedd Jong

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Todd Williamson/JanuaryImages/REX/Shutterstock (9225445l)
Doug Jones
The Shape of Water film premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 15 Nov 2017

If Andy Serkis is the actor most closely associated with performance capture roles, then Doug Jones is the actor most closely identified with the more old-fashioned ‘men in rubber suits’ technique of portraying movie monsters. Jones has over 150 credits to his name, and has often played characters under layers of prosthetics.

Director Guillermo del Toro with stars Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones

Jones co-stars with Sally Hawkins in director Guillermo del Toro’s new period fantasy romance The Shape of Water, in which he plays a humanoid amphibian creature known only as ‘The Asset’. Jones’ lanky proportions make him the ideal canvas on which special effects makeup artists can work their magic: the former contortionist comes in at 1.92 metres tall. He got his start in advertising, playing a mummy in a Southwest Airlines commercial and the moon-headed piano player in the McDonald’s ‘Mac Tonight’ ads.

The actor’s association with del Toro began in 1997, when Jones was brought in for reshoots to play the humanoid cockroach creature in Mimic. “He loves creepy monsters and wants to talk about them,” Jones recalled. The two formed an instant connection, with del Toro excited to learn about the various famous makeup artists with whom Jones had collaborated.

Special effects makeup artist Shane Mahan, designer Mike Hill and Doug Jones

Jones went on to co-star in del Toro’s Hellboy movies, and has worked all del Toro’s films since then except Pacific Rim. Jones’ other projects include Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Bye Bye Man, Batman Returns, Hocus Pocus, and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, in which he played The Operator, a character based on the Slender Man internet mythological character.

There’s more to what Jones does than putting on a rubber suit and walking around. “Acting is acting,” he stated. “So whether I’m wearing a light dusting of powder that day on a sitcom, or wearing heavy rubber prosthetic make-ups, I still have to find the heart and soul of the character. That’s really where it starts with me.”

The Shape of Water has become something of an awards season darling, nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Del Toro also won a Best Director Golden Globe for the film, and the film took home best picture at the Producer’s Guild Awards. Lead actors Hawkins and Jones were praised for their physicality, and for making the outlandish, weird relationship between woman and fish-man beast feel plausible and emotional.

Here is a look at five of the most memorable roles Doug Jones has played throughout his career as the go-to guy to give monsters some heart.

#1: ABE SAPIEN in HELLBOY and HELLBOY II

Early glimpses of the Asset in The Shape of Water immediately attracted comparisons to Abe Sapien, a similar-looking character Jones portrayed in the two live-action Hellboy movies. The thoughtful, reserved aquatic humanoid blue-skinned Abe serves as an ideal foil to the brash, red-skinned Hellboy (Ron Perlman). The character was voiced over by David Hyde Pierce in the first film, but Jones voiced Abe himself in the sequel. Jones also voiced Abe in two animated Hellboy films. Referring the trio of Hellboy, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe, Jones said “between the three of us, I think we represent the freak in all of us, in all of humanity, we all feel, even supermodels that I’ve known, feel insecure and freaky at times.”

To play the intellectual Abe, Jones drew inspiration from his older brother Bob, a college professor with a PhD in molecular biology. “Abe has always been something of a lost soul, as is Hellboy, and I think that’s why people can relate to them is because we all feel like freaks in our real life at some point,” Jones said. The Abe Sapien makeup application process took seven hours for the first film, which was streamlined to five hours for the sequel. In Hellboy II, Jones also played two additional characters: the Chamberlain and the eerie Angel of Death. Jones said the mechanical wings he wore as the Angel of Death “weighed as much as a Vespa”, and even left him bleeding. “Those are small sacrifices to make when you look at the final product and say, ‘Okay, that’s what we made,’” Jones remarked graciously.

#2: THE FAUN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In the haunting, lyrical Spanish-language dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, Doug Jones portrays the Faun. The Faun guides the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) into a fantasy world where she must complete a series of quests. Jones, who doesn’t speak Spanish and had to learn the screenplay phonetically, received an email from del Toro, in which the director proclaimed “You must be in this film. No one else can play this part but you.” For research, del Toro gave Jones specific advice, telling the actor “Dougie, I want you to study the back end of barn animals’ — like cows, goats, you know, how do their hooves meet the ground, and how they shake their tails.”

“I read it within hours of getting it…I couldn’t put it down,” Jones said of the screenplay. “I turned the last page closed, wiped a tear and said, ‘I do have to be in this movie.’” During the five-hour long process of putting on the makeup and animatronic effects components to play the Faun, Jones would practice his Spanish dialogue and the makeup artists would help him. Jones’ voice was later dubbed over by Spanish theatre actor Pablo Adán.

The Faun also ages in reverse – he starts out looking decrepit, with moss growing all over him, but his hair eventually turns an auburn colour and he looks more youthful as Ofelia progresses in her quest. Jones had to cooperate with various others artists and technicians to bring the Faun to life. “A lot of things had to work in concert with them together and with puppeteers operating half my face and all, so he had many various elements that had to be screwed on mechanically and zippered and pinned and snapped and Velcroed,” Jones explained.

#3: THE PALE MAN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In Pan’s Labyrinth, Jones also portrayed the exceedingly creepy Pale Man, one of the various obstacles Ofelia must overcome. The Pale Man has a bloodied mouth and an eyeless face – his eyes are instead in his palms. The fact that Jones plays both roles is intended to suggest that the Pale Man is a creation of the Faun, or even the Faun himself in another form. The Pale Man’s pursuit of Ofelia through his palace is one of the film’s most heart-stopping moments. “I have had the great honour to sit next to Stephen King during the Pale Man sequence and to see him squirm like crazy,” del Toro said, comparing the feeling of having frightened the renowned horror author to winning an Oscar.

The Pale Man’s sagging skin indicates that at one point he was plump – when he had plenty of children to eat. Ofelia is the first child to enter his lair in eons, and the Pale Man is sure she will not escape his grasp. Del Toro’s direction to Jones for the chase scene was to move like “a George Romero zombie”. To save time and allow the makeup team and himself to get more sleep, Jones would leave part of the Pale Man makeup on and wear it back to the hotel. “I didn’t tell anybody this during the shoot because I knew that Guillermo would have my hide for it because he wants me to relax and out of this all. But I had them take my head and neck off and my hands off but leave the arms and the torso on,” Jones revealed.
#4: LT. SARU in STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

We leave the realm of movies for a bit and beam over to TV, where Jones is currently a regular cast member on Star Trek: Discovery. The long-running Star Trek franchise has introduced a multitude of iconic alien species to audiences, including the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians and the Borg. In Star Trek: Discovery, we meet a new race: the Kelpians. Kelpians are a prey species, used to being at the bottom of the food chain. Cmdr. Saru, played by Jones, is the first Kelpian to rise through the Starfleet ranks, becoming the science officer and third-in-command on the USS Shenzhou. One of Saru’s distinguishing features is his ‘threat ganglia’, an organ at the back of the head that helps him sense oncoming danger.

Saru has a somewhat contentious but generally friendly relationship with the show’s heroine, First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), which Jones compares to a brother-sister bond. “We annoy each other, but we have a deep love and respect for each other as well. Saru thinks she’s the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever worked with. So that’s where the intimidation and the competition really comes from,” Jones reasoned. The makeup application process was initially four hours long, but makeup artist James McKinnon has gotten that down to two. “His detail and his finery of getting this on to me every day is amazing, but he’s getting faster at it. Mercifully so,” Jones said. “When you’re doing a long-running series, you don’t want to be in makeup four hours a day. So, getting it done in two is very helpful.”

#5: THE ASSET in THE SHAPE OF WATER

And now, to the man – or the humanoid amphibian, rather – of the hour. In The Shape of Water, set in 1962, Jones portrays a mysterious creature brought back from South America and held in a top-secret government lab in Baltimore. Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, becomes fascinated by and eventually falls in love with the Asset, who is tormented by the sadistic ex-soldier Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa eventually hatches a bold plan to break the Asset out of the underground lab in which he is held.

The Asset has become something of an unlikely sex symbol, and that was entirely by design. “A note Guillermo gave me, as far as [the Asset’s] physicality goes, he kept pushing the sexy,” Jones said. “This character has to be sexy. When watching the film you have to believe that someone could actually fall in love with him and find him sexy and want to take their clothes off in his presence.” Del Toro said he set out to create the ‘Michelangelo’s David of fishmen’. He collaborated with fine artist Mike Hill, whom del Toro met at the Monsterpalooza trade event, in designing the Asset. Del Toro was unsure if Jones, a practicing Christian, would be comfortable performing some risqué scenes. “I asked what could possibly be the problem and he goes, ‘Well, there’s a f*** scene.’ As only he could say,” Jones recalled with a laugh.

Addressing the physical similarities between the Asset and Abe Sapien, Jones said “Guillermo was very specific, he did not want Abe Sapien in this film at all,” and that del Toro wanted The Shape of Water to stand alone as “its own piece of art”. While Abe is intelligent and articulate, the Asset is animalistic, and cannot speak – which is a way in which Elisa relates to the Asset, since she is mute. Jones said that the relationship between the two characters was “so lovely to explore on film.”

The Shape of Water opens in Singapore theatres on 1 February 2018

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SGIFF 2017: Looking for Lucy – Josh Hartnett Interview

For inSing

SGIFF 2017: LOOKING FOR LUCY – JOSH HARTNETT INTERVIEW

Josh Hartnett tells inSing about his role in Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh, Lucy!

By Jedd Jong

Josh Hartnett’s face graced the bedroom walls of many a teenage girl in the late 90s-early 2000s: Hartnett’s career began with a leading role in the crime drama series Cracker. He then appeared in the teen-aimed horror films Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and The Faculty, and achieved stardom after starring in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, which were both released in 2001.

However, Hartnett was never quite comfortable with how he was packaged, and had always been intent on pursuing artistically-driven, less commercial projects. This was at odds with the studios’ desire to sell him as a teen heartthrob. Hartnett took a hiatus from acting to do a little soul-searching, returning to his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hartnett returned to the scene with a starring role in the British-American horror drama TV series Penny Dreadful, and has been focusing on independent film projects. Hartnett has worked with international film directors including Roland Joffé, Tran Ahn Hung, Robert Duvall and James Franco.

Hartnett stars opposite Shinobu Terajima in the comedy-drama Oh, Lucy!, written and directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film is Hirayanagi’s feature film debut, and is based on the short film of the same name which she directed and which made the film festival rounds in 2014.

Hartnett plays John, an American working in Tokyo as an English teacher. Terajima plays Setsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman who feels invigorated after attending John’s lessons. John’s unconventional methods include giving Setsuko a blonde wig and renaming her ‘Lucy’. Setsuko soon becomes attached to this persona, and develops a preoccupation with John. When John vanishes, Setsuko travels to California in search of him.

Kaho Minami and Josh Hartnett in Oh, Lucy!

Oh, Lucy! Is being screened as a special presentation feature at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). Hartnett and director Hirayanagi will be in Singapore as special guests of the festival. Ahead of his trip here, Hartnett spoke exclusively to inSing on the phone from Los Angeles. He discussed making the film in Tokyo, the unique tone of the movie, his hopes for his career when he was a young actor, and passing on roles in major comic book films.

INSING: Tell us about John, your character in this film.

JOSH HARTNETT: John is a guy who’s escaping from a lot of stuff in his life. He’s living in Tokyo at the beginning of the film working as an English teacher, but he doesn’t speak much Japanese, so he’s not a very good English teacher. He has a policy that attracts certain types of people. He’s very tactile, very huggy, and he makes them speak English when they’re in the classroom. He attracts a few lonely people to class, one of which is the lead of the film whom he renames ‘Lucy’, and she becomes a little bit obsessed with him, and the story moves on from there.

Did you base John on any teachers or instructors you have had as a student?

I look at John and think he is trying his other to escape the responsibilities in his life, and he is doing anything he can to survive. He winds up in a situation, not really knowing how to teach in this way, and he’s a bit of a charlatan. I’ve live in New York for the last two years, where there’s no shortage of charlatans, and I now I’m in Los Angeles where they’re everywhere. I’ve seen a lot of people within this industry who prey on people who are getting started as actors. They represent themselves as acting coaches or voice coaches, some managers even – people that find a sort of Svengali approach to separating young people from their money, under the guise of helping them with their careers. I think that John has no qualms about doing that. I don’t think he’s particularly ambitious – he doesn’t necessarily want to hurt anyone, but he’s not against taking money from them for doing very little. I’ve come across a lot of people like John, but nobody in particular that makes this character who he is.

Andrew Barker, writing for Variety, called Oh Lucy! “a chocolate trifle with an arsenic core”. Do you agree with this description of the movie?

Yeah, in a sense. Chocolate with arsenic inside…there’s definitely a poison core to Lucy herself at the beginning of the film. But I think the film is incredibly honest about not only what this character is going through, but what can happen to a person who’s inverted their own expectations of life to fit in, [finding] themselves depressed and not knowing which way to turn. I do think that there’s a lot of comedy in the film, but it also is dramatic. That tone is difficult for a director to find, you don’t see a lot of films that ride that knife’s edge well. I think that Atsuko does this perfectly with this film.

Josh Hartnett and writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi

Leading on from that, what was Atsuko Hirayanagi like as a director? Seeing as she also wrote the film and it is based on a short film that she made, I assume that her vision is very strong and pure.

Yes, that’s what attracted me to the project to begin with. She had a very clear vision for what she wanted to achieve, and looking at her short film, I was able to see what she wanted to achieve. To work with Atsuko is to work with someone who’s very open to your ideas, very interested in having conversations about your character or about the story. In the end, she knows the parameters of what she wants to achieve, and that to me is the perfect director, a director who will take the time to listen to tell you, and tell you either “you’re right on” or “no, that’s not what we’re looking for”. It just makes thing so much easier as an actor to come in and be clear about what you’re going to be doing.

What insight did you gain into Japanese culture and societal attitudes working on this film?

There are things that I already knew – I’ve been in Tokyo before doing press for movies that had come out there over the last 15-20 years. I had been around Tokyo before, but I’d never spent as much time there, and never as much time at my leisure, wandering around the city. I’d never been on a set in Japan before. The set was extraordinarily efficient, of course, but there was a sense of importance, a respect for the work that sometimes is missing from American films. It’s not necessarily that people don’t respect the work, it’s just that there’s a casual approach at times.

Like they’ve gotten used to it?

Maybe that’s it, maybe it’s just day-in day-out work, and in Tokyo there aren’t as many films being made in this way, so there was a real sense of importance that people were bringing to the set. To me, that was very exciting. It’s always exciting to be on a set where people feel like they’re a part of something special.

Woody Harrelson and Josh Hartnett in Bunraku

You starred in a very different film that incorporates elements of Japanese culture: Bunraku. How would you compare that experience with working on Oh, Lucy!

[Laughs] That’s entirely different. Bunraku was the brainchild of an Israeli writer director [Guy Moshe] who has a great affinity for Samurai films and for Westerns. His view of Japanese culture was cinematic. This film is maybe the opposite, in a way it’s trying to pull back the curtain for all of these characters about their misconceptions of what the other culture is like. Entirely different, from that point of view. Also, that film was so physical, and this film, I did almost nothing but smoke pot [laughs]. There was nothing physical about this film. Apples and oranges, for sure.

Josh Hartnett in Pearl Harbour

Starting out in Hollywood, it seemed like the studios wanted to package you as a teen heartthrob, but perhaps that wasn’t the image you wanted for yourself as an actor – you’ve spoken about being self-conscious after being on the cover of every magazine. What was it like re-evaluating your life and career after that period, and looking back now, what are your reflections on that time in your life?

In a way, I wish I hadn’t taken it so seriously, but I couldn’t have done anything else when I was that age. I was a very serious young man. I wanted to prove both to myself and to the directors and producers of Hollywood that I was an artist, and always wanted to be a part of artistic films. I also was always attracted to that when I was younger.

I worked in a video store when I was 15, 16 years old, and became a gigantic fan of independent cinema and foreign cinema. If I was going to have an opportunity to express myself in film and work with the types of directors I wanted to work with, I was going to take it. It wasn’t necessarily the career path that people within the industry wanted for me, because they wanted to me to fulfil the image they had set for me, which would make everybody some money.

I was always clear about what I wanted from the industry, and I had to be true to who I am. I couldn’t tell that young man anything about which way to go, because he was too strong-minded, and I’m sort of proud of myself for that.

There’s a difficulty as an actor in balancing big studio projects with independent films, is there a tendency to place actors in one box or the other?

In a way, yes. It’s somewhat more just what my expectations were of myself at that time. I didn’t necessarily think about that balance between the system, I was more about “how do I get to work with people like Tran Ahn Hung?” At the time, I really wanted to work with Wes Anderson, and I almost did a film with David Fincher and that film fell apart. To be able to work with these types of people was what I wanted all along. I spent some time talking to Julian Schnabel about working with him on a film. A lot of films didn’t quite come together the way I hoped they would, but I was always pursuing the films that I was interested in as a moviegoer and as a fan.

Josh Hartnett in Penny Dreadful

Following Penny Dreadful, will you be pursuing more arthouse films like Oh, Lucy!, are you planning to go after roles in studio movies, or a little bit of both?

Right now, I’m pretty much doing independent films. I’m reading everything that comes across my desk. I’ve done four independent films since we finished Penny Dreadful, and I’m about to start the fifth in 2 weeks. Then I might work on a play – John Malkovich and I worked on a film last year [Valley of the Gods] together and he asked me to do a play that he’s directing in London, I might do that.

In order to make a good living in this industry, you have to do something within the system. I’m not unaware of that, so I will try to find something that’s good within the system. I thought that Penny Dreadful was right smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood system, but it was also very interesting and way outside the box. I’ll try to find something else like that if I can.

That was John Logan’s wheelhouse, where he has done artistic, interesting stuff within a studio context.

Yeah, he does that quite well. If you can find someone to work with who can pull that off within the system, then that’s the perfect place to be.

You were offered several roles in comic book films, and you said you regretted passing on the role of Batman. What are your attitudes towards the genre, given how prevalent comic book and superhero movies are today?

At that stage in my career, I was being offered everything. I was, as I explained before, very focused on working with certain types of directors. I didn’t know Chris Nolan was going to be able to pull off that type of work in that film. I think the way that people interpret interviews is sometimes a little off-based. I don’t have enormous regrets about that, it was an off-hand comment. I wish I would’ve seen the forest for the trees at the time, having a relationship with a director, and I used him as an example. Sometimes, that’s a better choice than just worrying about the film itself. Sometimes, a great director can take a genre piece and elevate it, that’s all I’m saying. The way John Logan did Penny Dreadful, he elevated a horror genre piece to something that was special. I’m more aware of that now than I was at the time, and that’s all I’m saying.

Josh Hartnett and Shinobu Terajima in Oh, Lucy!

You’ve been politically active. How has your activism been affected by the big changes in US politics over the last two years?

[Sighs] The bizarre thing in my life that’s occurred is that since the western world has lost its mind, I’ve been having children [laughs]. So my focus has become more internalised and focused on family while these big events have occurred. That being said, I’ve become very interested in how these current events will affect the future, for my kids’ sake. There’s a time for outrage, and there’s a time for expressing one’s hopes for change. We’ve gone through a cycle of both over the course of the last couple of years.

My girlfriend [Tamsin Egerton] is English, and we’ve spent time in England after Brexit. There’s a real long slump where people feel their country has been taken away from that, a lot of people in London felt that way. Then of course, the election here, a lot of people feel that way as well. It is important to remain engaged, and I feel like I am engaged, but we need to affect change within the system in a positive way, otherwise it won’t last.

As far as I can tell at this point, the best way forward is to keep doing what we’re doing, and continue to stymie Republican efforts to take away people’s rights, and hope that in the next couple of years, elections will swing things back towards sanity. You just have to remain focused on the end goal, which is just not letting people be persecuted in your country.

I absolutely agree. Before I let you go, have you been to Singapore?

I’ve only been to the airport in Singapore so far, but we are coming in for the premiere, so I’m looking forward to it.

What are your impressions of the country, and what have you heard about us so far?

Okay, so I have a lot of impressions that I know from people who’ve lived there. The producer Han [West] went to school there. Recently I watched a BBC show about extraordinary hotels, and a lot of that was based in Singapore, so I learned about the culture through that. I think I have a pretty interesting perspective, I have a lot of expectations for it, but I’m sure I’m way off base. It’s not a culture that I know enough about, I’ve just heard stories from people. I’m excited to come take a look.

 

 

 

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.

Resilience Under Fire: Miles Teller Interview for Only the Brave

For inSing

RESILIENCE UNDER FIRE: MILES TELLER TALKS ONLY THE BRAVE 

The actor tells inSing about making the fact-based firefighting drama

By Jedd Jong

Only the Brave tells the harrowing true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters within the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department. In June 2013, the Hotshots battled the fearsome Yarnell Hill fire, resulting in a staggering loss of life. When then-Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial service for the firefighters killed in the incident, he said “all men are created equal. But then, a few became firefighters.”

In the film, Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now, War Dogs) plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a young ne’er-do-well slacker who decides to pull his life together and become a firefighter after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to their daughter. The film also stars Josh Brolin as the team’s leader Eric “Supe” Marsh, Jeff Bridges as Eric’s mentor Duane Steinbrink, and Jennifer Connelly as Eric’s wife Amanda. James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze and Ben Hardy are among the actors who play fellow firefighters. Joseph Kosinki (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directs from a screenplay by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, The International).

Teller spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone from Los Angeles about making the film. He discussed meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough, working with Josh Brolin, the physical preparation he undertook to play the role and working with the stunt team to film the realistic firefighting scenes.

INSING: The character you play, Brendan McDonough, starts out as irresponsible and aimless and embarks on a journey towards heroism. Tell us more about that journey.

MILES TELLER: Brendan, he was a little, I guess ‘aimless’ is a good word. I think he was lacking some kind of mentorship or some kind of guidance, something that at that age is really helpful in terms of helping you to become the person you’ll become later. I think at that age; a lot of people are battling with immaturity and irresponsibility. Brendan, he was into drugs and committing some small crimes. He ends up going to jail, and when he goes back home, his mum throws him out of the house. That was an ultimatum. For him, he realised it’s time to stop being so selfish and get his life together. That’s when he decided to try out for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and he met Eric Marsh, who became such a strong fatherly figure for him, up until the day of the tragedy.

Leading on from that, I think that after enduring JK Simmons yelling at you, nothing would faze you, but was it intimidating having someone like Josh Brolin play your boss?

No, it’s actually kind of the opposite of intimidating. I was really grateful, and I think we all benefitted from Josh’s leadership on the film. He got rid of any kind of divide or any kind of ego that could’ve been there, just because he’s done 50 movies and there were certain guys on the movie that it was their very first film. He was the best, man. He was having guys come to his house to work out and his trailer door was always open. He was really such a leader, not even just in the physical portion of the film. He would always be the first guy in the line, whether we were doing running, racing, cardio workouts. He’s in great shape and we really benefitted in the cast by having Josh as #1 on the call sheet.

What about the story of Brendan McDonough and of the Granite Mountain Hotshots resonated with you the most?

I have so much respect for anybody who’s in the position to be a first responder. The town that these guys came from, kind of a Southwest small town, I grew up in the south in a pretty small town. Especially after going to their hometown, I felt like I would’ve been friends with those guys, those were my kind of guys. Then obviously the tragedy that happened, and to get the opportunity to put a story like that of real-life heroism on screen and to do the story justice and celebrate their lives, then you’re lucky, because not every story has that kind of integrity to it.

With Brendan, I like any character who goes on a journey, a big arc or any character who goes through a big transition. And Brendan, starting out on the drugs and committing crimes to where he ends up being such a high-contributing member of society, that was interesting to me.

What was it like meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough?

I flew down to Prescott, Arizona, where the story takes place. I met Brendan, and it was uh, I’ve played a few real-life people at this point, and the first interaction is always…I was going down there basically to show face, and to show him that I was taking this very seriously. I just kind of allowed him to talk, and say what he wanted to say, and get any weird feelings about making a movie about his life out of the way, and then after that, we just hung out. We just got along and hung out for a couple of days. Apart of the work, it was fun, but it was also beneficial in playing the character.

What was it like working with director Joseph Kosinski?

Joe was great. Joe is everything that you want in a director: he’s extremely prepared, he’s extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and he absolutely wanted to maintain the integrity for these guys, he wanted the authenticity to play. That’s something that, for a movie of this budget, you don’t always get that. He was our captain on this thing, and he was also open-minded. He was open to ideas from the guys as to what they wanted to do with the character, and he’s a master behind the camera, but also in front of, in terms of talking with the actors. I couldn’t have asked for a better director.

In meeting with real-life currently active Hotshots and firefighters, what was the most surprising thing that struck you about these guys?

The actual people, like not too much. The work that they do is extremely tough. It is difficult. I have no idea what these guys go through to be able to fight these wildfires. I guess what surprised me about the guys is that they’re guys, they’re Hotshots and you feel “I’m sure I could lift more weights”, but the work they’re doing is extremely tough. And the guys that make it through, some of them surprise you because on the surface they don’t look like it, but really it’s an inner courage and strength that these guys have, that keeps them going week after week, month after month during fire season.

How does the physical work you had to do for this film compare to the preparation for a movie like Bleed for This?

It was different. For this one, we have like a two-week boot camp, where everybody got their butts kicked and got into shape. It’s a lot of physical labour, whereas boxing is such a different kind of training. Boxers are training to go 12 three-minute rounds in a fight, whereas these guys it’s more cardio, endurance, longevity. So the training was a little different, but both are tough.

What was the camaraderie like between the crew when you were training and filming, and out of all your castmates, who do you think you bonded with the strongest?

We had a great camaraderie, and I think it was very smart of the producers and the director to have that be the first introduction to everybody. To me, that brought us closer than any kind of rehearsing the scenes would have done, because you’re all links in a chain. When you’re doing these workouts, it’s not about the individual at all, it’s all about the group. I felt that was a really smart way to get everybody all in. They brought in some real Hotshots to do the training so we knew it was authentic, and everybody just bonded from the beginning.

It wasn’t necessarily one individual. We all got close. There were 20 guys including Brolin, and we were all hanging out. We were in Santa Fe, fairly small town, and we were all just hanging out.

With any film that’s based on a real-life disaster, there’s a balance between how respectful the film has to be while delivering the spectacle it has to, without being exploitative. How do you feel Only the Brave pulls that balance off?

It’s tough, because I don’t know how many people who are going to see the movie necessarily know what happened with the true story; people can look it up. I think a lot of people are going to see it based on the actors that are involved, the occupation that it is, firefighting, Joe the director, and these different elements, but I think what Joe and our screenwriter Eric Singer did is not rushing to the tragedy, not building this movie on the last catastrophe. They really do a good job of showing these guys and what they stood for, and not exploiting them for their deaths. They did a good job of not skipping through the first two-thirds of the movie just to get to that ending, which you know is going to be emotional and tragic and all those things. They did a really good job, and that is difficult to do – and there is nothing cliché about this movie at all.

What was it like working with the stunt team and the special effects crew, learning how to work with the practical fire elements?

The stunt team did a really great job. I had a stunt double for a few things, really not that much, but the entire stunt team and production too, they were able to construct this fake area of wild lands so that they could control the fire. There were times, absolutely, when the fire was really, really hot, but that’s how it goes. In real life, these guys, that’s what they’re feeling and they still have to focus and do their job. It added a sense of realism for the actor, which is always helpful.

It gives you something to interact with and act off against.

Yeah. The fire, there actually will be some CGI fire just to show the scope of it, but when you see the actors feeling the heat of the fire, that’s real fire.

I’m a big comic book movie geek, and in this movie, there are so many actors who’ve been in comic book movies. Were there any moments when anyone on set went “there’s Mr. Fantastic, there’s Gambit, there’s Thanos, there’s Obadiah Stane” and was geeking out over there?

No…I think when we were filming, Josh had [just] been cast as Thanos, so we would chat with him a little bit about that. This story was so important to everybody, everyone was kind of focused on that and wanted to do these real guys justice.

Finally, do blondes have more fun Miles?

Um, they do. When I dyed my hair blonde, I felt just very free and liberated. I just felt better about myself than when I was a brunette.

That really holds true?

Yes.

Heist Stakes: 5 heist movies to set your adrenaline pumping

Heist Stakes

In anticipation of Logan Lucky, here are five other caper flicks to check out

By Jedd Jong

The heist comedy Logan Lucky has been called “redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, eschewing the glitz and glamour of high-end Las Vegas casinos for the dusty heartland that is home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, was drawn to Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay for Logan Lucky because it felt like the antithesis of the cool, slick Ocean’s movies.

Heist movies are a particularly captivating film genre: they can be light-hearted romps or intense affairs filled with double-crosses and clever gambits, and audiences enjoy seeing a complex robbery come together, then unfold – but not always according to plan. Sometimes it’s a team of scrappy underdogs reclaiming what they feel is rightfully theirs – like the Logan family in Logan Lucky. Other times, our heroes are seasoned career criminals who must outfox dogged law enforcement agents to pull off an intricate heist.

Before (or after, we won’t judge) you catch Logan Lucky in theatres, delve into the realm of fiendishly clever schemes, honour among thieves and best-laid plans going awry with these five heist movies.

#1: OCEAN’S ELEVEN

This 2001 remake of the 1960 film of the same name has arguably overtaken the original in terms of impact on pop culture at large. The 1960 film starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson – the 2001 film matched that star power with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Clooney’s Danny Ocean hatches a plan to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos on the Vegas strip, assembling a team of highly-skilled experts to help him pull off the job. Johnny Depp was considered for the Linus Caldwell role, and Mark Wahlberg was briefly attached to the part, but Matt Damon clinched the role instead. Director Steven Soderbergh and the main cast would return for two sequels: Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, and Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007. Soderbergh said that after the death of Bernie Mac, who played Frank Catton, a fourth film would be unlikely. Instead, we can look forward to the all-female spinoff Ocean’s Eight, starring Sandra Bullock as Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, alongside Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna, which will be released in June 2018.

#2: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Morton Freedood (under the pen name ‘John Godey’), The 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is considered one of the best thrillers of the 70s. The film is about four hijackers who commandeer a New York City subway train, demanding $ 1 million to be delivered within the hour, and promising to kill one passenger per minute after the deadline expires. The leader of the hijackers, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) faces off against Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walther Matthau) in a game of wits, with the lives of 17 passengers hanging in the balance. The Transit Authority of New York was reluctant to allow director Joseph Sargent to film in the actual subway, fearing that the movie would inspire train hijackings. The film was mostly filmed in the tunnels leading to the decommissioned IND Court St. station in Brooklyn, with the station doubling for Grand Central and 28th St. stations. The station is now home to the New York City Transit Museum. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade as a TV movie in 1998 starring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio, then as a feature film in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

#3: ENTRAPMENT

This 1999 thriller may not have the glowing critical acclaim enjoyed by the other entries on this list, but it is a sentimental favourite for this writer. In Entrapment, undercover investigator Vriginia “Gin” Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones) becomes entangled with debonair gentleman art thief Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Sean Connery). Their partnership culminates in a plot to steal $8 billion from the International Clearance Bank located in the North Tower of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on New Year’s Eve of 1999-2000. Malaysian viewers baulked at a scene in which a shantytown is depicted a short distance from the Petronas Towers. The shantytown is in Malacca and was superimposed over a shot of the Towers. While certainly not the first to feature a thief weaving through a ‘laser tripwire’ security system, Entrapment was one of the films that codified the trope. The film was not-so-subtly marketed with trailers prominently featuring Zeta-Jones in a slinky catsuit seductively squirming between thin red threads, as Gin practices for the heist. The leading man and lady of the film are separated by a staggering 39 years, but Connery’s charm is almost enough for it not to seem icky. Almost.

#4: INCEPTION

Christopher Nolan’s film, often cited as a foremost example of the “thinking person’s blockbuster”, puts a sci-fi twist on the heist movie formula. The film’s protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialist in stealing not money or diamonds, but ideas, entering the minds of his marks as they dream. He is given the near-impossible task of planting an idea, or “incepting”, but Dom is haunted by the memory late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), impairing his ability to pull off the mission. The cast also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine. By combining spectacular action set-pieces with heady themes that muse on the subjectivity of dreams and reality, all enacted by a stellar cast, Nolan created an indelible experience that filmgoers eagerly discussed, dissected and watched repeatedly. Inception’s mind-bending dreamscapes were brought to life with a mix of practical and digital effects, including a 30-metre-long rotating set used to film the signature Zero-G hotel hallway fight sequence. The film won four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for four more, including Best Picture.

#5: HEAT

With his 1995 crime thriller Heat, Michael Mann elevated the cops-and-robbers movie to a fine art. Like any good heist movie, there’s a cat-and-mouse element at the heart of Heat: professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is relentlessly pursued by LAPD detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the robbery-homicide division. The film is praised for featuring some of the best performances from its leading men (before either fully settled on accepting roles in bad movies to pay the bills) and for its elaborate action sequences, including an epic street shootout and a climactic confrontation at the LAX airport. Heat also stars Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, William Fichtner and Natalie Portman.

The film was a remake of a television pilot that Michael Mann had made. The pilot wasn’t picked up to series, but aired as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown. This was in turn inspired by true events: the real-life Neil McCauley was a former inmate at Alcatraz who was eventually hunted down by Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson in 1964. Because of the violent, explicit depiction of the heists, Heat was cited as an inspiration for a spate of real-life armoured car robberies. The 1997 North Hollywood shootout, involving a faceoff between bank-robbers and the LAPD, was often compared to Heat. In the realm of film, Christopher Nolan took inspiration from Heat for The Dark Knight, also a sprawling crime epic.

The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

For inSing

The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.

Bouncing Off the Walls – Spider-Man: Homecoming Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon Interviews

As published in Issue #89 of F*** Magazine  


Text:

BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS
Spider-Man: Homecoming stars Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon tell F*** how excited they are to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
By Jedd Jong

Imagine you’re an average American high-schooler. You get bitten by a radioactive spider, and gain superpowers. Pretty cool. Then, a billionaire tech innovator and founding member of the Avengers ropes you in to his team, has you join in a battle against an opposing faction of superheroes, and then drops you off back home. There’s no question: your life’s not going to be the same after that.

Similarly, Tom Holland’s life has changed forever, after he became the latest actor to don the red-and-blue tights as Spider-Man. Holland debuted as the wall-crawling hero in Captain America: Civil War, and is now headlining a movie of his own.

Photo by Michael Muller

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker/Spider-Man navigate life as a high-schooler, nursing a crush and fending off bullies, all while facing off against villains armed with cutting-edge tech. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), taking on the role of mentor to young Peter, cautions that the teenager shouldn’t bite off more than he can chew, but Peter wants nothing more than to join the Avengers. Tony has provided Peter with a fancy suit enhanced with gadgets, but threatens to take the suit back if Peter proves he cannot shoulder the responsibility of his powers. As Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his associates Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City with gadgets made from stolen alien technology, Peter quickly finds that his superhero exploits endanger those he cares about, including his beloved Aunty May (Marisa Tomei).

Spider-Man was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, first swinging through the pages of the Amazing Fantasy title in 1962. Spidey is arguably the most iconic Marvel character, right up there with Iron Man, Captain America and Wolverine. After reaching a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns the film rights to the Spider-Man character, Marvel Studios could introduce the character into the MCU. This makes Holland’s version of Spider-Man the first film incarnation to officially exist in the same reality as other Marvel superheroes, giving the “Homecoming” of the title meaning beyond just referring to the American high school tradition of the homecoming dance. Taking the reins for Spider-Man: Homecoming is director Jon Watts, who caught the attention of Marvel Studios executives with his indie thriller Cop Car.

Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

Holland and Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds, were in Singapore to promote the film – the Southeast Asian nation was the first stop on their month-long press tour in the lead-up to the movie’s release. On the closed-door red carpet at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands, Holland and Batalon greeted cosplaying fans, were surprised by a torrent of confetti unleashed above them, and played with this writer’s customised Spider-Man action figure.

“I feel like we’ve flown to a better planet,” Holland enthused when asked about his first impressions of Singapore during the press conference. At the age of 21, he’s already built up a respectable résumé, leaping into showbiz as Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. Holland has since appeared in films like The Impossible, How I Live Now, In the Heart of the Sea and The Lost City of Z. Holland has also been announced as playing young Nathan Drake in a film prequel to the Uncharted video game series, but that hasn’t been written in stone yet.

“Every day felt like a dream,” Batalon said of his experience on the Spider-Man: Homecoming set, adding wistfully “I hope to never wake up”. Batalon was attending a two-year program at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts when he was cast in the film, which is only his second onscreen credit, after the independent student horror film North Woods. In the comics, the character of Ned is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. Ned has been revised to become Peter’s best friend and confidant, who discovers that Peter is secretly Spider-Man and is thrilled to no end to learn this.

Joining the press conference via a video link, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige commented on the film’s young stars, saying “Tom and Jacob are very similar to Peter and Ned. They’re enthusiastic, they’re happy to be in this big movie. Peter and Ned are happy to be involved with the Avengers and see this world.” Feige likened Peter’s situation to “going back to your high school band after being overseas touring with the Beatles”. Feige made his case to producer and former Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group Amy Pascal, eventually coming to an arrangement. This would see Sony, still holding on to the Spider-Man rights, make, pay for, distribute and market the movie, but allow Marvel Studios to fold Spider-Man into the MCU.

F*** sat down for an interview with Holland and Batalon at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, who were thrilled with every moment of their overseas adventure. They had earlier posted the requisite selfie taken in the famous Infinity Pool of the hotel up on social media. Holland kicked off his shoes, picking at his toes during our chat, while Batalon rested his baseball cap on his knee. Holland was accompanied by his best friend Harrison Osterfield, whom Holland had gotten hired as a personal assistant.

Holland and Batalon discussed the relatability of the Spider-Man character, Holland’s ‘method acting’ preparation to play an American high school student, uncomfortable stunt rigging harnesses, working alongside the film’s female cast members, and sharing the screen with titans like Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.

Tom, your father Dominic is a comedian, and he wrote a book called How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad. What was it like growing up with a comedian and writer as your dad, and what is it like being more famous than him and having him admit that?

HOLLAND: I’ve been very lucky that my dad is in this industry. It’s an industry that really is like no other. I’ve just been very lucky that I have someone in my family, especially my dad, who can give me advice on what to expect and how to deal with certain situations. The book Eclipsed is a really great, funny read. It’s a lot of fun because I learned a lot about my dad’s career that I didn’t know about, and I learned a lot of my career that maybe I’ve forgotten about, and it’s been a great reminder of what I’ve been through and what he’s been through.

Jacob, this is your first studio film. How did you win the role of Ned Leeds?

BATALON: Our director Jon Watts chose the right person for the job as opposed to the person who looks right for the job. Tom and I’s chemistry has been pretty apparent from day one. Because of that, because of the way we are, it’s a lot simpler to just go with that. I believe in being in the right place at the right time, and it all sort of came together.

What has your experience been working with your female co-stars, including Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Angourie Rice?

HOLLAND: What a lucky bunch of guys we are!

BATALON: They’re really, really great, talented and very beautiful.

HOLLAND: Fantastic, really talented, really, really interesting people and all very interesting and unique. Laura Harrier’s character Liz Allan is obviously Peter’s crush. He is infatuated by her and loves everything she stands for. Michelle, played by Zendaya, is sort of the weird, quirky friend within the friendship group. She’s a very interesting character, one that I’m very interested to see progress in the movies. Angourie Rice plays Betty Brant, Liz Allan’s best friend in the movie.

In the comics, she’s the secretary to J. Jonah Jameson.

HOLLAND: Yes! So hopefully, something can develop there, with Angourie. We were very lucky that we had such a strong female cast, and they were able to carry themselves and make it such a strong, female-oriented [project].

How did you gain the gymnastics expertise required to play Spider-Man?

HOLLAND: I started gymnastics when I was about 9, and I have been training quite solidly since then, with a few gaps here and there – injuries, stuff like that. I was doing a show in the West End that required me to have a very basic gymnastics background, and I continued with that after my training.

The hardest…the most uncomfortable stunt I had to do was the scene when Jacob finds out I’m Spider-Man, and I’m crawling on the ceiling. The closer you are to the ceiling, the more uncomfortable it is on your bum. It really stretches your bum. That was a very, very uncomfortable day.

The rig, right?

HOLLAND: Yeah, I was on a rig. I would go upside-down and they would go like “rolling!” Jacob would break the Death Star or something and they would say “hold!” and I would go “arrgh, no, please!”

One of the things that has endlessly fascinated me is the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. It was originally directed by Julie Taymor with Reeve Carney playing Spider-Man, and was plagued by lots of production problems but I think it’s gained a cult following. Are you familiar the show, and what are your thoughts on it?

HOLLAND: I think we should make Spider-Man [Homecoming] 2 a musical! I never got to see the show, I wish I had. From having to do my work on set where you can do it over and over again if you mess it up, I have huge respect for the guys who have to do it onstage live, that must’ve been incredibly hard work and they must have been at the top of their game. I heard it was a fantastic show and was really, really impressive.

Tom, in the comics we recently had All-New, All-Different Spider-Man by Dan Slott. In that story, Peter Parker became a very Tony Stark-like figure, in that he was a billionaire playboy, he had a fancy car, and he had offices in China. This has since been undone, and another reboot in the comics has brought him back to high school age. How important do you feel the underdog quality is to the character, and how does that manifest in your take on Peter Parker?

HOLLAND: I think part of the reason why Peter Parker and Spider-Man is such a successful and beloved character is because of how relatable he is. Everyone can relate to Peter Parker in some way, whether it’s struggling to do your chemistry homework, struggling with school, talking to a girl. Whereas it’s difficult to relate to Tony Stark because he’s a billionaire. His problems are “my Lamborghini didn’t show up on time”, whereas Peter Parker’s problems are “I don’t have enough money for the bus fare”. It’s nice for young people, especially young boys going through high school, being a superhero and going through the same problems they go through.

Photo by Michael Muller

Tom, you went undercover in an American high school to prepare for the role. What was that experience like?

HOLLAND: High schools in America are so different from high schools in England. I learned so much about my character and how he should act and behave in front of his teachers and his peers.

No uniforms?

HOLLAND: No uniforms. All of a sudden, I was going “oh no, what am I going to wear today?” In England, you just wear the same thing every single day.

Flash Thompson was kind of influenced by my trip to the New York high school. There are no [traditional] bullies there, no jocks, so the bully was the rich kid who made snide comments about how ugly your shoes are or something. Tony Revolori’s character was largely influenced off of my trip.

How did you perfect your American accent?

HOLLAND: I just practised and practised and practised. I spent time with Jacob. It’s like a muscle, your tongue is a muscle and it needs working out.

Jacob, in the comics Ned Leeds is white, and in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series he was Korean and renamed ‘Ned Lee’. What are your thoughts on the representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, especially in these big comic book blockbusters?

BATALON: I think minorities in general don’t get the spotlight they deserve in the industry. The industry is very indicative of where society is going right now. Society is moving in a much more forward-thinking way, and that’s kind of how it is right now in the industry. Equal opportunities are coming a lot more for minorities right now. Being Asian specifically, it makes me proud to be part of that stepping-stone process. I think it’s a great thing to have all types of interpretations of a certain character.

HOLLAND: I think Jon Watts really did a good job with casting for who you are, not for where you’re from. It’s kind of the first step to making a difference, making a change, and I’m proud that our movie is a movie that’s doing that.

What are the similarities between you and your characters?

BATALON: I think if anything, Ned influenced my life in reality. Ned is super happy and bubbly all the time, and that’s made me happy and bubbly in real life.

HOLLAND: Very true [laughs].

I love Spider-Man. I genuinely feel like if Peter Parker [were] a real person, he’d be part of our friendship group and we’d be really good friends. He’s a very hardworking, nice kid, very down-to-earth, and I like to consider myself those things. I’m very lucky that I get to play a character whom I can see myself in, and I look forward to playing him for many years.

Tom, what was it like going toe-to-taloned-toe with Michael Keaton’s Vulture?

[Both Holland and Batalon laugh]

I’m very proud of that, by the way.

HOLLAND: That was really good, well done.

BATALON: Really, really clever.

HOLLAND: It was pretty intimidating, you know? He is a very formidable force on set, especially when he’s playing a character like the Vulture, because he didn’t hold anything back. He went for everything. The interesting thing about Keaton’s version of a supervillain is that if a regular kid can become a superhero, then a regular guy should be able to become a supervillain. That’s exactly what Keaton did. In the movie, he plays a regular guy who’s very unhappy with what’s happening in society, so he makes a stand for himself, instead of being a billionaire alien scientist.

If both of you could have one superpower each, what would it be?

HOLLAND: I would go with time travel. Because if you think about it, time travel is basically teleportation at the same time. You can pause time, travel to somewhere else, and then click ‘time play’ and it’s like you’ve just teleported. I’m very interested to see if dinosaurs really looked like what we think they look like. Who knows if they looked different?

BATALON: I would want the power to tell the future. Not just vague versions, but like…

HOLLAND: Then you’ll know when you’re going to die!

BATALON: I wouldn’t know my life. Like I would know exactly where you’re going to walk, what you’re going to wear. If I know what’s going to happen, I can do something about it.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Jacob, as Peter’s best friend, I guess you could be considered a sidekick. You’re also playing one of the greatest sidekicks of all time, Sancho Panza, in The True Don Quixote. What do you think makes for a memorable, scene-stealing sidekick?

BATALON: I think that being a sidekick is really understand that you’re not #1, and that’s okay. You’re willing to do the things for the main person. Loyalty and being a good person kind of plays into that whole factor. You really can’t be selfish, you have to just be there for your person. I watched a lot of Lord of the Rings, a lot of Harry Potter.

HOLLAND: He is my Samwise Gamgee. My Ron Weasley.

Your Chewbacca?

[Both laugh]

HOLLAND: Yes. Jacob is the scene-stealer of the movie. He really is.

BATALON: Okay, you’re going to make me cry in front of everyone right now [laughs]

Tom, we’ve seen you in The Impossible, which was a harrowing, emotional movie. Which would you say are more challenging: emotional scenes or action scenes?

HOLLAND: It’s different, because emotional scenes take place over a day, let’s say – there obviously are cases when it can take a lot longer – but an action sequence can go on for months and months and months. The work load for an action movie, there’s a lot more. When you make a movie like The Impossible, there’s a lot of action in it while maintaining a very high level of emotion. That’s one of the hardest movies I’ve ever made. But the unrelenting amount of action on Spider-Man was really, really difficult.

Tom, you screen tested with Robert Downey Jr. for Captain America: Civil War, and in this movie, Tony Stark is kind of a mentor to Peter Parker. How has the chemistry between the both of you developed?

HOLLAND: Robert and I really hit it off from day one. Even in my screen test, it was apparent that we had good chemistry and we would work well together. It’s something that’s just continued to develop over the last two years. I’m really, really honoured that he was willing to be in this movie and to help me out. It really feels like a homecoming. He is the godfather of the MCU, and the fact that he was in my movie, supporting me, was a really, really heartwarming thing for me.

It’s amazing and a little eerie that five years ago, when you said you would like to be the next Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, it came true. Five years from now, what other roles would you like to undertake? James Bond?

HOLLAND: Yeah, James Bond! The thing is, I said that once. In that interview, I said I wanted to be Spider-Man, I only said it one time, and it came true. Now that I have to do all this press, everyone is like ‘do you want to be James Bond’? We may do Uncharted, we’ll have to wait and see.

How does Spider-Man: Homecoming balance being both a high school movie and a superhero movie set in the MCU?

HOLLAND: I think the nice thing about the film is that without the Spider-Man parts of the movie, you still have a really strong high school movie. It really has the best of both worlds: it’s a strong high school kids’ movie, while still maintaining that superhero, epic Avengers vibe. I think Jon Watts did a very good job with maintaining the synergy between the two genres.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in Singapore theatres on July 6 2017.

Generally Speaking: War Machine press conference/red carpet

For F*** Magazine

GENERALLY SPEAKING

Brad Pitt dons the fatigues for Netflix’s comedy-drama War Machine

[Tokyo Exclusive]

By Jedd Jong

The meteoric rise of online streaming giant Netflix has made several major cinema chains quake in their boots, and for this particular battle, Netflix has come armed with one of the biggest movie stars of the last 20 years: Brad Pitt, who stars in and produces War Machine. F*** was at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Tokyo for a press conference attended by Pitt, writer-director David Michôd and co-producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner.

War Machine is based on the non-fiction book The Operators by the late Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings. Pitt plays General Glen McMahon, a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of real-life general Stanley McChrystal. A decorated soldier credited with the death of an Al Qaeda leader, McChrystal’s military career came to an end when disparaging comments he made about Vice President Joe Biden appeared in a Rolling Stone article.

Glen McMahon is characterised in the film as a blustering buffoon; Pitt visibly enjoying playing the over-the-top role. Pitt said that he and the filmmakers settled on certain traits, including the character’s awkward posture while running, by deciding what “just made [them] laugh the most.” Pitt observed that McMahon “portrays and sees himself as an emblem of greatness when actually he looks quite silly,” and that the “absurdity of the general” embodied the ultimate pointlessness of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.

Pitt was clad in a black jacket over a grey shirt and white trousers, seeming relaxed as he attempted to keep things light by cracking jokes. “I take full credit for the shorts,” Pitt quipped, referring to the shorts that McMahon wears while jogging. He dared all the men present to “start a new trend together” by mimicking the none-too-flattering look. The humorous comment didn’t draw much of a reaction from the Japanese press, and because of the need for questions and answers to be interpreted back and forth from English to Japanese and vice versa, there wasn’t much spontaneity or momentum to the proceedings.

Michôd said it was “terrifying” that the war in Afghanistan has been going on for 16 years. “I couldn’t work out why it has been going on for so long and how it is possible that people- who I would assume are quite smart and capable-are still pretending as though there is some kind of victory waiting for them just around the corner,” Michôd mused. After reading The Operators, it all clicked. “What I saw at the
centre of it was a character, a general who was kind of delusional because he was so removed,” Michôd revealed. In the book, Michôd saw how McChrystal’s ambition “removed him from the experiences of the troops on the ground, and from the civilian world that he was there to serve.” From Michôd’s point of view, the root of the protracted involvement of American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was “plain human delusion”.

“Quite honestly, without a delivery system like Netflix, this movie wouldn’t have been made,” Pitt said, praising Netflix for taking risks on challenging material. He praised Netflix and online delivery systems like it, saying that thanks to these platforms “there’s more content getting made, there’s more risk out there, there’s more films, there’s more stories being told, there’s more filmmakers getting shots.” All involved took a “big leap” for War Machine, which Pitt called a “big, bold move for Netflix, quite frankly.”

p5232435.jpg

Gardner echoed Pitt’s sentiments on Netflix, saying “I think everyone has similar intentions, but not everyone has the courage.” Gardner said she “could not have dreamed of a better partner” than Netflix, and that Plan B also had a positive experience working with Netflix for Bong Joon-ho’s upcoming film Okja. Gardner called the Netflix personnel “rock stars”, saying “we try and push boundaries in the stories we tell, and when you meet a company like Netflix who says ‘okay, we want to do that too,’ and they say ‘We have the money for it and we’ve got the manpower to support you’, it’s like a gift from on high.”

War Machine is available on Netflix from 26 May 2017

Read the full article in the upcoming issue of F*** Magazine

 

 

Sister Act the Musical Press Call

For F*** Magazine

SHE AIN’T HEAVY, SHE’S MY SISTER
F*** joins the congregation for the preview of Sister Act the musical
By Jedd Jong

The Asian tour of the musical Sister Act takes the soulful nuns to Singapore, following a U.S. national tour. F*** was at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the press call on 8th May 2017, ahead of the show’s premiere on 9th May. We were treated to a performance of two numbers from the show, spoke with some of the cast and crew, and took a backstage tour to get a glimpse of the production’s inner workings.

Based on the beloved 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act chronicles the misadventures of Deloris Van Cartier (Dené Hill), a lounge singer who inadvertently witnesses her mobster boyfriend Curtis (Brandon Godfrey) commit a murder. For her protection, Deloris is placed in a convent, where she runs afoul of the Mother Superior (Rebecca Mason-Wygal), a stickler for tradition. Deloris winds up revitalising the convent with an innovative approach to religious music, befriending Sister Mary Patrick (Emma Brock) and helping the shy Sister Mary Robert (Sophie Kim) unearth her powerful potential as a vocalist. In the meantime, Curtis gets wind of her whereabouts, as police officer Eddie Souther (Will T. Travis) hunts Curtis down.

Sister Act’s libretto was written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane; with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Menken and Slater have also collaborated on Disney’s animated films Tangled and Home on the Range, and the film-to-stage musicals The Little Mermaid, Leap of Faith and A Bronx Tale. Sister Act opened on London’s West End in 2009 and ran for just over a year, with a revised version of the show running on Broadway from 2011 to 2012. Sister Act was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, but won none.

While the plot remains largely faithful to that of the film, audiences should expect some differences. The film tooks place in the early 90s, which is when it was made, while the musical is set in 1970s Philadelphia. Music director Chris Babbage described it as a “musical snapshot of a moment in history,” stating that the score incorporates elements of “disco, a little bit of funk, a little bit of Motown”.

 

Unfortunately for fans attached to the covers of I Will Follow Him, My God (My Guy) and Oh Maria performed in the film, those are absent from the stage version. “Everything in this score is fresh,” said Babbage. He promised “intricate harmonies among the nuns as they learn to sing and as they have their big show-stopping numbers, 2, 3, 4-part harmonies,” adding that the lead role of Deloris is vocally challenging because the disco numbers require a large range. Babbage’s personal favourite number is Fabulous, Baby!, which establishes Deloris’s character at the top of the show, that he said “encapsulates Deloris and her energy,”

Sophie Kim, who plays Sister Mary Robert, is the first Asian actress to win the role in an English-language production of Sister Act. Kim is an established musical theatre star in South Korea, having performed in productions of West Side Story, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia and Rent there. In 2010, she made the leap to Broadway, attending the New York Film Academy’s Musical Theatre Conservatory, working hard to overcome the language barrier. She went on to play Gigi in Miss Saigon and Tuptim in The King and I. Kim explained the affinity she has with Mary Robert, saying “this character is just like me in [the] U.S. I obeyed and followed whatever [anyone] told me to do. I always followed rules as well.” According to her, it is Mary Robert who “is going through the biggest change in this show.” Kim admires how Mary Robert becomes a “really brave, amazing woman who can stand up for what she believes,” saying its why she loves the role.

Brandon Godfrey plays Curtis Jackson, the mobster who goes from Deloris’ boyfriend to ruthlessly pursuing her after she sees him kill a man. The equivalent character in the film was named Vince LaRocca, and in the first version of the stage musical, was named Curtis Shank. Godfrey, alongside the actors playing Curtis’ goons, performed When I Find My Baby for the press.

When asked if it’s more fun to play the bad guy, Godfrey replied “Oh, absolutely.” Godfrey, who also played the abusive Mister in The Colour Purple, said he is often cast in villainous roles “because of [his] size”. While he might play a tough guy on stage, Godfrey has a sensitive side: his favourite part in the show is when Mother Superior finds a Bible under Deloris’ pillow, and softens her attitude towards the nightclub singer. “The whole time, Mother Superior has been angry at this girl, and then she realises ‘wow, we’ve done our job’, so that’s my favourite part,” Godfrey said.

Production stage manager Molly Goodwin took a group of journalists backstage for a glimpse behind the scenes. Goodwin was also the stage manager for the 2014-2015 US tour of the show, and thus knew Sister Act inside-out. Five shipping containers are required to transport the set pieces, costumes and other gear. Goodwin showed us where she’s stationed during each show: a console with monitors showing the front-of-house and the music director in the orchestra pit, with a cue sheet on a stand indicating when various lighting, sound and set cues are meant to occur in the show. Goodwin explained that she has more than 12 people, handling various aspects of the production, in her ear via a headset during each show.

Goodwin introduced us to a star of the show with no lines: the statue of Mother Mary. The figure stands just under five metres tall, and is covered by a tarp whenever the curtain is down. The statue has two sides: for most of the show, the side painted in normal colours is what the audience sees. Then for the finale, the statue is spun around to reveal a facade completely covered in mirrored tiles, like a disco ball. The statue is not the only one who gets a sparkly makeover: the cast don sequinned habits for the climactic number Spread the Love Around, which was performed at the press call. Goodwin described the mass backstage costume change as being choreographed like a dance.

When this writer asked Goodwin how she deals with the stress of stage managing a major production like Sister Act, Goodwin said that she feels in her element, and that sitting behind a desk and accounting would be really stressful for her. She said she sometimes has to remind her co-workers, “Guys, guys, we need to take the stress level down! We’re not cutting anybody open, we’re playing dress-up and make-believe!”, adding “we just have to keep a realistic perspective on everything.”

What’s the biggest thing audiences can look forward to from Sister Act? According to Nancy Evans, who plays Sister Mary Lazarus, it’s a good time. She hopes audiences will find themselves “having fun and feeling good about themselves as well as the show,” adding that “it’s a high-energy show that makes people laugh and cry, and stand up and sing at the end.”

Sister Act is presented by BASE Entertainment Asia and runs from 9th May to 28th May at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are from $65 to $185 via Sistic and MBS.

Taste Paradise: Wonder Woman media launch

For F*** Magazine

TASTE PARADISE
F*** samples Wonder Woman-themed dishes at the DC Super Heroes Café
By Jedd Jong

After making her big screen debut in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, superheroine Wonder Woman will finally get a movie of her own. Tying in to the highly-anticipated film, a homegrown marketing effort is rolling out Wonder Woman-centric accessories, apparel and food. F*** was at the DC Super Heroes Café in the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the product launch on 4th May.

Irwan Sukarman, creative director of JT Network, presented the Wonder Woman product line that will be hitting the shelves of DC Comics Super Heroes fashion and lifestyle stores in late May. JT Network owns the retail stores and the café, under license from Warner Bros. Consumer Products. Sukarman stated that the design principle boiled down to the three elements of “mythology, metal and strength,” to convey the “fierce grace” which is central to the Wonder Woman character. The items include tops for men, women and children, coasters, headphones, iPhone cases and bangles.

The product design competition WeDesign has partnered with DC Comics Super Heroes stores and Vendermac Distribution, theming this year’s contest to Wonder Woman. On 20th May 2017, the atrium at Bugis+ mall will host a design marathon where 120 designers will work on a given Wonder Woman-themed design challenge over a 4-hour period. The top five entries will win cash prizes, movie premiere tickets and limited edition collectibles. The winners will undergo the process of turning their designs into an actual product collection to be launched in the market. Head project manager Lee Kwan Ter unveiled Vendermac’s range of clutches, sling bags, keychains, pouches and laptop sleeves, which feature washed faux-leather and brushed metal details.

Chef Martin Woo explained his inspirations behind the special menu. Last year, the café also had tie-in dishes in the run-up to promote Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The Wonder Woman menu card itself is shaped like the titular character’s shield. Chef Woo stated that the governing theme in devising the menu was that of empowerment and vitality, and he wanted to emphasise the organic nature of Wonder Woman’s home, the paradise island of Themyscira.

First up was Themyscira: My Salad Origin ($16.90), which comprises cabbage, purple cabbage, green papaya, beetroot, cherry tomato, baby red radish, sliced carrot, sesame seeds and sweet corn in a creamy sesame dressing. This was largely unremarkable, and not unlike a salad one could whip up at home. The beetroot, cut into star shapes, was the most unique element of the dish. Chef Woo explained that to remove the earthy, astringent taste of the vegetable, the beetroot was wrapped in wet dough and baked before being sliced into shapes.

Our second course was Paradise Island Mac and Cheese ($18.90), inspired by the scene in the trailer in which Wonder Woman dives off a cliff into the ocean. The baked pasta dish comprises Conchiglie Rigate (shell-shaped pasta), a five-cheese and mentaiko (smoked cod roe cream) sauce, with prawns, white button mushrooms, turkey bacon and garlic. While we counted only two prawns in the whole dish, it tasted pleasant enough. Macaroni and Cheese is a go-to comfort food for this reviewer, and he was satisfied.

Then came the Truth and Beauty mini burgers ($22). It’s not sure whether Truth was chicken and Beauty was beef, or the other way around. The beef burger had a filling of ribeye steak, shitake mushroom, purple Spanish onion and cabbage, while the chicken burger had a chicken patty stuffed with cheddar and smoked mozzarella cheese, an onion ring, pineapple salsa, peanut butter, cabbage and a sunny-side up quail egg. The yellow bun was coloured with turmeric, and the pink with beetroot juice. The chicken slider was similar to the Superman-themed burger from the Batman v Superman menu last year, which also used peanut butter. The chicken patty was standard, ho-hum stuff. The beef slider fared significantly better, with the ribeye steak slices being remarkably tender and tasty.

For dessert, we had the Shields of Truth pancakes ($15.90). Each pancake was emblazoned with the Wonder Woman ‘W’ insignia, and they were served with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, strawberry ice cream and a whipped cream topping. The pancakes themselves were sufficiently moist and dense, but the ice cream seemed awfully cheap, as if it was from a supermarket home brand.

To complement the meal, we had the optimistically-named Wonder Woman’s Box Office Power drink ($10.90), which came in a glass styled to resemble the character’s armoured bustier. An ice-blended salted caramel popcorn-flavoured drink, this was a dessert in a cup – i.e., really sweet.

As a DC fan, this writer always enjoys visiting the café, but just as we’ve said in our previous reviews of their themed menus, the food is akin to what would find in a theme park – in terms of both quality and price. It was a surprise that no Greek-themed dishes were showcased, seeing as Wonder Woman draws heavy inspiration from Greek mythology, and that seemed like an obvious direction to go in.

Wonder Woman opens in cinemas on 1st June 2017.

Wonder Woman custom action figure is the writer’s own