IT Chapter Two review


Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast : James McAvoy, Jaeden Martell, Jessica Chastain, Sophia Lillis, Jay Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, James Ransone, Jack Dylan Grazer, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2 h 49 mins
Opens : 5 September 2019
Rating : M18

            In 2017, It received critical acclaim and became the highest grossing horror movie of all time. Anticipation was high for Chapter Two, which concludes the story of the Losers Club’s battle against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

At the end of the first film, the members of the Losers Club vowed that if Pennywise were to re-emerge, they would return to Derry, Maine to face him. 27 years later, the clown rears his grotesque grinning head. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa as an adult, Chosen Jacobs as a child), who has stayed in Derry and become the town librarian, summons his friends, who have all moved away, back home.

Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell) is now an author and screenwriter, married to actress Audra (Jess Weixler). Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis) is a fashion designer in an abusive marriage. Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) is a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor) has become a successful architect. Eddie (James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst. Stanley (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff) is an accountant. Each has moved on with their lives, but the spectre of Pennywise, of It, hangs over them. As the bonds of their childhood friendship are re-forged, the Losers Club battles Pennywise in his myriad terrifying forms again.

Stephen King’s novel It had a structure that alternated between following the Losers Club as adults and as kids. This two-part film adaptation has changed that by focusing the first movie on the Losers Club as kids, then the second on the characters as adults. The movie is 169 minutes long compared to the first film’s 135. Director Andy Muschietti seems to have been emboldened by the success of Chapter One, taking more risks with Chapter Two. However, those risks do not always pay off.

This reviewer loved the first film, which engendered sincere sympathy and affection from the audience for its characters in a way very few horror films have before. It Chapter Two continues to be character-driven, and part of the reason why its runtime is so long is that we need to spend enough time with each character to see their arcs through. However, there is also a greater emphasis on set-pieces and spectacle. Instead of concentrating the terror, as the scare sequences in the first movie did so well, the set-pieces here seem to diffuse the terror.

There’s a lot in this movie which sounds scary on paper, and several of It’s manifestations are unsettling on a conceptual level. However, they end up being mostly CGI. Even when the visual effects work is very good, on a base level, audiences know that whatever is menacing the actors isn’t really occupying the same space as them. The film evokes practical creature effects classics like The Thing and The Fly, but minus most of the tactility. Even when Spanish actor/contortionist Javier Botet portrays one of It’s forms, the creature has an obviously computer-generated face. The problem with the more outlandish It-erations in this movie is that they tend to take away from Bill Skarsgård’s performance, which is scary enough as is.

While there are several outstanding performers in the cast portraying the grown-up Losers Club, the child versions of the characters are just a lot more compelling. The casting in the film is generally good. Physically, James Ransone is a very close match for Jack Dylan Grazer, doing a lot with his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth to match Grazer’s performance.

Jessica Chastain has made a career playing women who are fiercer and have a harder edge to them than Beverly. Sophia Lillis was the standout in the first film, but Beverly seems a smidge less interesting in this one.

James McAvoy’s Bill is the team’s de-facto leader. While McAvoy is sympathetic and watchable as ever, he sometimes seems to be doing a bit too much. The character is an avatar for Stephen King, meaning we get some meta jokes that are amusing but possibly cross over into being a touch obnoxious.

Bill Hader is the designated scene-stealer. As expected, he’s hilarious, but the film also gives the character several more layers behind his trash-talking exterior. We see that Richie’s sense of humour is a defence mechanism to disguise his true self. Despite the strength of Hader’s performance, the character feels in danger of becoming just the comic relief character.

Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike is sensitive and conscientious, having dedicated the past two decades to studying It’s history. He delivers some clunky exposition, and it’s when the movie explains It’s origins that things get somewhat tedious.

Ben has undergone the most obvious physical transformation. While this reviewer was invested in the love triangle between Ben, Beverly and Bill, Jay Ryan is handsome but not terribly interesting in the role.

It Chapter Two attempts to explore how trauma affects us and the burden that childhood pain can have on us as adults. The ensemble cast gets to shine, but the story is less focused in this outing, meaning it’s less scary. There are authentically unnerving moments, but there are far more scenes in which the characters are pursued by various things made of CGI. The film’s ambition is admirable, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed given the sublime quality of its predecessor.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Losers Stick Together: facing fear in IT: Chapter 2

The cast and filmmakers discuss making the horror sequel

By Jedd Jong

In Stephen King’s novel It, the titular entity of pure evil that is most often seen in the guise of a clown menaces a group of characters who form ‘the Losers Club’. The novel alternates between following the characters as adults and as children. The 2017 film adaptation focused on the younger versions of the Losers Club, with audiences being introduced to their grown-up iterations in this sequel, which is set 27 years later when It/Pennywise re-emerges.

The first It film was always intended to be part of a duology. “The big picture, the second chapter, was always in the back of my mind,” director Andy Muschietti said.
“We were always excited about the second part, because it’s really the second half of the story.”

It was praised for how compelling the characters were and how easy it was to be emotionally invested in them, a relative rarity in the world of horror. For Muschietti, breaking up the two timelines was part of creating that emotional investment for audiences.

“I had agreed to make the first movie only about the children, because it would be emotionally more interesting, more compelling without breaking it with time jumps,” Muschietti explained.

With its focus on the adult characters but with flashbacks featuring the young cast also a part of the story, the second movie depicts the “dialogue between the timelines” that echoes the structure of the book. “It’s about the characters’ relationships with the past, looking at events that happened 27 years ago and finding themselves,” Muschietti added.

From left: Ben Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff

In casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were believable as adult versions of characters whom audiences had grown to love over the course of the first film. “For us, of course, the first thing we wanted was great acting, then physical resemblance to the kids,” producer (and Andy’s sister) Barbara Muschietti said. “We just think we got the perfect cast of grownup Losers,” she enthused, adding that the filmmakers “never had Plan Bs” and went with their first choices for each role.

The ensemble cast is led by James McAvoy as Bill Denborough. Bill has always been haunted by the death of his brother Georgie, the first onscreen victim of Pennywise we saw in the first film. Speaking about how Jaeden Martell’s performance as the younger Bill inspired him, McAvoy said “I suppose I stole Jaeden Martell’s emotional vulnerability and his openness. As a kid, I think Bill is a strange mix of suppression and complete vulnerability, and Jaeden nailed that.”

Bill has become a successful novelist and screenwriter and is in many ways patterned after Stephen King himself. McAvoy pointed out that while the members of the Losers Club have generally moved on, there is a curse that still follows them. “The Losers that leave [Derry] all become arguable winners, but they all have this tainted side to their success—none of them seem to be able to have children, for one,” McAvoy remarked, adding that each character deals with “emotional issues that darken all of their, what seem like, perfect lives.”

Jessica Chastain portrays Beverly, the one female member of the Losers Club. Beverly hasn’t quite been able to outrun the spectre of her abusive father, seeing as she is now stuck in an abusive marriage. “For Beverly, she’s still living with her ideas of what love is,” Chastain explained. “The first person she really loved is her father, so this idea—that love means someone you love can hurt you at the same time—has lasting impact on her.”

One of It Chapter Two’s most memorable scenes places Beverly in the middle of a literal bloodbath. The scene required over 17 000 litres of fake blood, something Chastain was game for. “I love horror films, I love Carrie, and I said, ‘Let’s make Carrie on steroids,’” Chastain recalled, referencing another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

Chastain called Lillis’ performance as the younger Beverly “beautiful,” and emulated one specific aspect of Lillis’ physicality. “I hadn’t told Andy [Muschietti] I was doing this, but I was holding my hands the way she did,” Chastain revealed. “When he saw me, he said, ‘You’re walking with her hands.’”

Bill Hader plays the trash-talking Richie Tozier, and his performance has been called the standout of the film. Hader said he “worked within the character lines” that had been drawn by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie in the first film.

“Like a lot of comedy people, you deal with stuff by joking about it,” the former Saturday Night Live star said about Richie, who in this film has become a stand-up comedian. “He’s the first guy, when they realize what’s happening, to say, ‘Oh, I’m outta here. F*** this.’ He has deep, deep repression.”

The most dramatic physical transformation is that of the character Ben, played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan. “Ben, once he leaves town, he starts running, physically and emotionally, for 27 years,” Ryan said. “He learns how to say no, to stand up to bullies, and he becomes a leader in his profession.” Ben, who has become an architect, still holds a torch for Beverly, whom he had a crush on as a kid. “It seems to the outside world that here’s a man who has everything, but he doesn’t really have any real human connections,” Ryan elaborated, saying that Ben is “ready to go back to Derry and really reveal his true self.”

James Ransone plays Eddie, who was portrayed by Shazam! star Jack Dylan Grazer as a kid. “I thought, ‘That kid talked really fast. If I can keep up with him, everything’s gonna be fine,’” Ransone joked.

“He’s probably spent a lot of his time pretending to not think about his childhood by focusing on his wife,” Ransone said of Eddie. Eddie winds up marrying a woman who is reminiscent of his constantly nagging mother. “You get in those type of relationships, where it’s a constant project that needs fixing. You focus on that so that you don’t have to think about yourself,” Ransone mused.

Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, the one character who has stayed behind in Derry. Mike has spent the last 27 years researching It and coming up with a plan to defeat the monstrous creature. It is Mike who summons his friends back home and reconvenes the Losers Club. “I believe he felt a responsibility to stay in Derry, to be the custodian of this energy that they cultivated as a group,” Mustafa said. “So, once that evil returned, he could call his friends and say, ‘Let’s do this thing again.’”

Andy Bean plays Stanley, who was played by Wyatt Oleff as a kid. Bean described the character as having a good marriage and leading “quite a beautiful, content, comfortable life.” The horrible childhood memories he has been repressing come bubbling back to the surface when Mike calls. “I think he had buried his memories so deep that he didn’t really remember anything until he heard Mike’s voice—it’s his voice,” Bean said.

Just as the Losers have grown and evolved, so has Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård. “He wants them back, in a way,” Barbara Muschietti said of Pennywise, adding that he’s “also angry, because they defeated him before, and in coming back, they are showing brave behaviour…which he can’t stand.” To fight the Losers, Pennywise must “become a more evil, bigger monster,” manifesting in startling and dramatic new forms.

Speaking about how Pennywise is different in this film, Andy Muschietti said “He’s changed in the sense that the fears are more about things that frighten us as adults.” While said fears are rooted in traumatic events from the Losers’ childhoods, they take a shape that is more threatening to them 27 years after their initial encounter with Pennywise.

“This is a journey that the Losers need to take back to their childhood, to access the power of belief,” the director said. The mission for the Losers is to take that horrifying entity of their past, “to be able to confront it, understand it and ultimately, overcome it.”

One of the film’s central themes is that of facing one’s fears, and how there is an unspoken power to the bonds of friendship. The Losers “return to face their past—it’s a brave and powerful thing to do,” Barbara Muschietti opined. “Your fears go with you until you really face them, and that’s when you grow.”

Interview transcripts courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

X-Men: Dark Phoenix review


Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast : Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Tye Sheridan, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Ato Essandoh
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 54 mins
Opens : 5 June 2019
Rating : PG13

Dead comic book characters have a habit of coming back to life, and none more so than Jean Grey/the Phoenix. “Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors,” Professor X declared in X-Factor #70. The X-Men film series has a second go at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline in what is also the final entry in this series.

During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is exposed to an unidentified cosmic force which alters her telekinetic and telepathic superpowers, unleashing a powerful entity called the Dark Phoenix. Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the leader of the shape-shifting alien D’Bari race, arrives on earth to harness the power of the Dark Phoenix for herself. Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is angry at Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) for endangering Jean in the name of what she feels is his self-aggrandisement.

Jean’s increasing instability directly endangers her boyfriend Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), with the rest of the X-Men struggling with the onset of her destructive powers. Xavier must reluctantly join forces with his old ally-turned-enemy Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to contain the threat posed by the Dark Phoenix.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix has had a rocky path to the big screen, with its release date being postponed at least three times. With long-time writer and producer Simon Kinberg making his directorial debut, Dark Phoenix feels like a group project which everyone worked hard on, but nobody is particularly proud of – something that got submitted just in time and which everyone is happy to be done with. This is a far cry from the grand finale that a film franchise as important to the current landscape of comic book movies as the X-Men series deserves.

There were a number of external factors acting on this film, and while Kinberg has claimed that the film was always planned as the end of the franchise and that Disney’s acquisition of Fox had no impact on the making of this film, there has been speculation to the contrary. This certainly feels like a much smaller film than X-Men: Apocalypse, its immediate predecessor in the mainline series of X-Men films. There is nothing wrong with a smaller X-Men film, and Logan proved how taking a more dramatic, less spectacle-driven approach can work within the larger framework of the franchise, but Logan this is not. At every turn, it feels like the filmmakers were settling for whatever they could manage, such that Dark Phoenix never touches the awe-inspiring grandeur of some of the previous entries in the series.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, the Dark Phoenix storyline had to jostle for real estate with the Gifted plot. There is more room in this film to explore what happens to Jean Grey after the Dark Phoenix is unleashed, but nothing carries the intended emotional impact. Still, Sophie Turner does an excellent job of playing a character who manifests immense power, and it’s clear that she understands the central conflict of Jean Grey. While the movie doesn’t delve deep enough into Jean’s tortured psyche, this is far from Turner’s fault.

McAvoy and Fassbender have become as identified with Professor X and Magneto respectively as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have. While it is good to see them return to play these characters one last time, the weight of the tumultuous and far-reaching relationship between the two characters is all but absent. Xavier has become more self-absorbed after mutants have become accepted by wider sections of the populace, but this is far from the most compelling work McAvoy has done as the character.

The X-Men franchise got a hold of Jennifer Lawrence before she truly hit the big time, and her role in the Hunger Games movies seems to have caused the franchise to treat the character as a hero, when she has typically been a villain. It appears that Lawrence cannot wait to leave this role behind and is the most checked out she’s ever been in this film.

The film’s villains are almost laughably generic. The D’Bari come off like aliens from The X-Files. This is the first time extra-terrestrial beings figure into the X-Men movie franchise, but their existence is treated as no big deal. Jessica Chastain, an actor who can be a force of nature in the right role, is wasted as a character with no discernible personality to speak of.

While the script seems to strain to give everyone something to do, many of the supporting mutants are just kind of there. Characters like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit McPhee) mainly seem to be in this movie because they were in the earlier movies. It’s a shame given that these actors are all visibly doing the best they can.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not quite the flaming train wreck that is its central action set-piece, but because it’s the last film in the series and because it’s being released about a month after Avengers: Endgame, it is a deeply underwhelming affair. X-Men Dark Phoenix is a movie that has the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming a disappointing send-off for a movie franchise that many have become attached to.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Molly’s Game movie review

For inSing


Director : Aaron Sorkin
Cast : Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Jeremy Strong, Joe Keery
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 4 January 2018
Rating : NC16

The tagline to the recent Justice League film was ‘all in’ – that film has nothing to do with Poker, but ‘assemble’ was taken. This biopic is about someone who could be considered the Wonder Woman of high-stakes Poker.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) has had a rough go of it. Growing up in Colorado under the tutelage of her father Larry (Kevin Costner), she has long harboured dreams of becoming a professional skier. Molly overcame a spinal injury in her childhood, but a career-ending accident dashed those dreams.

Needing to reinvent herself, Molly moves out to Los Angeles, working as a cocktail waitress and as a personal assistant for investor Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). Dean runs a poker game out of LA’s Cobra Lounge that attracts Hollywood A-listers and business moguls, and places Molly in charge of hosting the game. Molly quickly learns the ropes, and sets up her own game, operating out of a plush penthouse suite. When she moves the game to New York, she attracts a whole new set, including Wall Street power brokers and sports stars. However, the Russian and Italian mafia soon get involved, and Molly finds herself investigated by the FBI. She hires Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her, telling the attorney her story.

Molly’s Game is the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the scribe behind The Social Network, Moneyball, A Few Good Men and The West Wing. We know what to expect from Sorkin screenplays: every exchange of dialogue is a verbal knife fight, with quotable barbs flying in all directions. It’s easy to be dazzled by the witty verbosity, but it can also be a turn-off because Sorkin’s style can feel glib and self-satisfied.

Sorkin has found the ideal source material with which to make his directorial debut, as the true story includes elements that he’s played around with before. The protagonist is wildly ambitious and dives head-first into a glamorous, seductive, sometimes dangerous world. It’s all there in the subtitle of Bloom’s book: ‘From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker’. It’s a fascinating true story, just add cinematic style, which Sorkin brings plenty of.

The film establishes a smart alecky tone from the outset, with Bloom going over her backstory in voiceover. There are stylistic devices including graphics on the screen that attempt to explain specific moments in the Poker games – even with the visual aids, it all flew over this reviewer’s head. Sorkin might be known for his writing, but he displays a keen awareness of how film works as a visual medium, and the movie never feels static or airless. Sorkin achieves a blend of the lurid and the cerebral that fits the material like a glove.

Chastain is spectacularly adept at playing powerful women, and she makes quite a meal of this role. It’s not dissimilar to her turn in the lobbyist drama Miss Sloane, but there’s the added physical element of Molly being a skier. Molly is sharper than a tack, and any man is putty in her hands. Chastain is mesmerizing – the character wields her sexuality like a dagger, but never makes the fatal strike. She sinks her teeth into this and then some, and is wildly entertaining in the process.

Elba takes a backseat as Charlie, and the interactions between him and Molly begin as sizing each other up, before evolving into something approaching sincerity. Molly and Charlie are on the same side, but it is never an easy alliance, and Elba and Chastain engage with the material and with each other in a lively manner.

Molly’s Game features a veritable carousel of dopey guys whom Molly has wrapped around her little finger. They generally seem intelligent and are all successful, but when they’re in Molly’s thrall, they are rendered dopey. Chris O’Dowd is entertainingly schlubby and it’s fun to see Joe Keery, best known as Steve from Stranger Things, pop up in this – complete with famous coiffeur.

The casting of Michael Cera is a bit weird. He’s playing a Hollywood star referred to only as ‘Player X’, but the identity of Player X can be determined with a quick Google search. Cera doesn’t quite sell the competitive streak and treachery hidden behind a disarming exterior that is crucial to the role.

Costner has settled into gruff mentor roles well, and the relationship between Molly and her father has its moments, even if it ventures into cliché territory. When her father visits Molly late into the film, it’s meant to be an emotional moment and Costner does his best to sell it, but the sarcasm in the dialogue doesn’t let up, somewhat undercutting the sincerity.

Unlike many awards season biopics, Molly’s Game is not a chore to sit through. It speeds along, seducing the audience as it goes. It does feel like the work of someone who is a little too pleased with himself and it could stand to be a mite less smug, but thanks to Chastain’s confident, hypnotic turn, Molly’s Game is engrossing and entertaining.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Zookeeper’s Wife

For F*** Magazine


Director : Niki Caro
Cast : Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl, Michael McElhatton, Iddo Goldberg
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 2h 6min
Opens : 30 March 2017
Rating : NC-16

After the second world war, various accounts of everyday heroism started coming to light. The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the true story of Antonina Żabińska (Chastain), who along with her husband Jan (Heldenbergh), ran the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. On September 1st 1939, the German invasion of Poland began, with the zoo devastated by bombings, many of Antonina and Jan’s beloved animals killed. The couple attempt to raise their son Ryszard (Timothy Radford and Val Maloku at different ages) amidst the horrors of war. They also become involved in the Polish underground resistance against the Nazis, using the zoo to house over 300 Jewish “guests” escaping from the Warsaw ghetto. During this time, the Warsaw Zoo is frequently visited by German zoologist Lutz Heck (Brühl), who spearheads a Nazi program to recreate extinct breeds of cows and horses. Heck begins to suspect something is amiss, as Antonina rebuffs his advances, all while ensuring the safety of those who have found a safe harbour in the Warsaw Zoo.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman. As crass a thing to say as it is, many audiences have developed a jadedness towards biopics set in Europe during WWII. Most of us have a general idea of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and these films tend to be sombre, stuffy affairs, often too concerned with being respectable to have a visceral impact.

While The Zookeeper’s Wife has much in common with your average WWII prestige pic, there are fascinating, moving elements to the story. For one, there’s the setting of the Warsaw Zoo, and the depiction of the menagerie that Antonina, Jan and their staff cared for. There are elephants, camels, lions, tigers and birds of prey, with the film doing a good job of setting up how dear the animals are to the zookeepers. When everything is ripped away, we get a sense of their pain.

The film was predominantly shot in Prague, with production designer Suzy Davies creating a convincing environment for the story to unfold in. A combination of well-trained animal actors and visual effects work bring the zoo’s denizens to life. A battle sequence in Warsaw’s Old Town area is appropriately intense. There’s also a haunting scene in which the Nazi troops setting the ghetto ablaze with flamethrowers is intercut with the Jews hiding in the zoo observing Passover, singing a seder song.

War films tend to have male protagonists, and it’s easy to see why director Niki Caro and star Jessica Chastain were drawn to Antonina’s story. Caro made waves with her film Whale Rider, and is attached to direct the upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan. Chastain is as radiant as ever, essaying utmost poise in the most desperate of circumstance. Antonina is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and early on, resuscitates a new-born elephant calf. As with many films of this nature, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a story of sacrifice and principles. We can’t tell if that’s a good Polish accent she’s affecting, but it’s not as distracting as it could’ve been.

The relationship between Antonina and Jan goes through a trial by fire. Heldenbergh is believably rugged, a rough-hewn hero who cares deeply for those around him, even if he doesn’t show it on the surface. Like many German actors, Brühl seems typecast as a Nazi, but he makes for a layered antagonist here. At first, Lutz doesn’t seem quite so bad as his compatriot – after all, he loves animals. However, the depths of his viciousness are gradually revealed.

With the focus placed squarely on Antonina, we don’t quite get to know the people who are huddled in the basement of the zoo’s residential villa, such that The Zookeeper’s Wife sometimes succumbs to the pitfalls of making them faceless victims. The film also hits a considerable lull in the middle, and could have benefited from more suspenseful moments. Caro does strike a balance in portraying the cruelty of the German occupying forces without making the film gratuitously gory.

Throughout The Zookeeper’s Wife, there are glimmers of the bracingly powerful film it could’ve been. Instead, this is largely standard war biopic stuff, but it will bring the story of Antonina and Jan Żabińska to a larger audience than ever before.

Summary: While it’s bolstered by a stirring, engaging lead performance from Jessica Chastain, there’s not too much to distinguish The Zookeeper’s Wife from other wartime biopics of its ilk.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong



The Huntsman: Winter’s War

For F*** Magazine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHASTAIN: I’m a vegan, so I agree with Chris, so much of your fitness is about what you eat, so I don’t eat any meat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For F*** Magazine

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

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

Crimson Peak

For F*** Magazine


Director : Guillermo del Toro
Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Doug Jones, Leslie Hope, Burn Gorman
Genre : Supernatural/Mystery
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Violence)
Guillermo del Toro beckons you to enter Allerdale Hall. Dare you step through its foreboding gates? In this period horror flick, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young author who falls headlong in love with the mysterious stranger Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). Sir Thomas comes from Cumberland, England to Buffalo, New York, accompanied by his sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Chastain). After the tragic and sudden death of her father Carter (Beaver), Edith marries Thomas, while her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) continues to harbour feelings for her. Alan begins to suspect that there is more to the siblings than meets the eye, as Edith is spirited away to Allerdale Hall, the ancestral home of Thomas and Lucille. Situated atop a clay mine, the mansion has fallen into disrepair, its walls hiding restless spirits and arcane secrets. Our heroine must unearth the mysteries buried in Allerdale Hall before it devours her whole. 
Director Guillermo del Toro has said that following the rough time he had making Mimic, he reserves his lyrical macabre fantasy horrors for his Spanish-language films, with most of his English-language movies being more accessible blockbusters. After cultivating a good working relationship with Legendary Pictures’ head honchos on Pacific Rim, del Toro was allowed to unleash his dark imagination in a big Hollywood movie with Crimson Peak. These days, horror movies seem to be predominantly low-budget affairs; found-footage movies proving especially popular with studios. Blumhouse has cornered the market with the Paranormal Activity franchise and its ilk. There is nothing inherently wrong with low-budget horror and there have been several excellent small movies in this genre. However, there is no denying that aficionados of classic horror have been hankering for a grand, lavish fright flick, and Crimson Peak should go a good way towards sating that appetite. 
Crimson Peak is a wholehearted throwback, with del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins citing 1963’s The Haunting and 1961’s The Innocents as primary influences. It also owes a great debt to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic Gothic short story The Fall of the House of the Usher. Clockwork contraptions and dead insects, which the director has a particular fondness for, figure into the plot. The central setting of Allerdale Hall was constructed from scratch at Pinewood Toronto Studios in all its eerily dilapidated glory. Del Toro, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, art director Brandt Gordon and the rest of the film’s creative team can take a bow knowing that they have crafted such a sumptuous, spooky world. Placing the house atop a red clay mine is an inspired touch, allowing for the haunting imagery of the blood-red clay seeping into the snow above, hence the name “Crimson Peak”. The ghosts, rotting carcasses enrobed in wispy, black ether, are suitably grotesque and benefit from the physicality of performer Doug Jones, an oft-collaborator of del Toro’s.
The film is essentially a blood-drenched soap opera, theatrical, highly mannered and often quite arch. As such, del Toro runs the risk of the audience feeling like they are being held at arm’s length, unable to fully sink their teeth into the proceedings. There is very little subtlety to be had – for example, Edith announces upfront that in the story she’s writing, “The ghost is more a metaphor – for the past.” It is possible to step a little too far back and leave the realm of the story. Not entirely dissimilar from American Horror Story or Penny Dreadful, then. One does need to be in the right frame of mind to take in Crimson Peak and this reviewer did appreciate the theatricality; the lurid, saturated palette echoing Italian giallo horror films. In the cut that we watched, a sex scene was truncated, presumably to get an NC-16 instead of an M-18 rating. 
“We have scary ghosts, but even scarier people,” del Toro proclaimed while promoting the film at Comic-Con. A gorgeous set means nothing without a talented cast to inhabit it, so it’s a good thing then that this cast is very talented indeed. Wasikowska, who has played the “ethereal waif” fairly often in her career, is the ideal leading lady for this project. Emma Stone was originally cast, and Wasikowska does seem better-suited to the Edith part. This is a determined woman who would rather be Mary Shelley than Jane Austen, and the balance between strength and vulnerability is one that Wasikowska absolutely nails. She is the outsider who finds herself plunged into an unfamiliar, frightening world – it’s not a new character type in this genre, but Wasikowska does breathe new life into it. 
Hiddleston can play “enigmatically charming” in his sleep, and Sir Thomas Sharpe is enigmatically charming to the hilt. Replacing the initially-cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Hiddleston looks right at home in the period costumes and sets. There’s an immediately appealing warmth that he brings to the part while ensuring we’re still questioning his motives every step of the way. Chastain’s turn could have used a little more ambiguity, but her icily sinister Lady Lucille is threatening and beguiling all the same. Pacific Rim star Hunnam fares a little worse, playing the “nice guy” who lacks the edginess Hiddleston has and whom convention dictates won’t get the girl. He also doesn’t fit into the late-Victorian/early-Edwardian setting as well as his co-stars do. It is pretty fun to see Burn Gorman, also from Pacific Rim, pop up in a cameo.
Crimson Peak is the work of a director who is right in his element, given free rein to indulge his dark imagination and reaping rewarding results while at it. It does veer dangerously close to pastiche at times: Fernando Velázquez’s musical score is very on-the-nose, the climactic confrontation involves somewhat brandishing a giant shovel and there might be one too many uses of the iris wipe transition, which most audiences know best from Bugs Bunny going “th-th-that’s all folks!” However, more than enough of del Toro’s earnestness and adoration for classic horror comes through and the splendid production values are a treat amidst the sea of cheaply-made, grainy, shaky contemporary fright flicks. 
Summary: Guillermo del Toro delivers a handsome, stately horror film that is a throwback to the heyday of the haunted house subgenre, with no shortage of gruesome wince-inducing brutality for good measure.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

The Martian

For F*** Magazine


Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 1 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Disturbing Scenes)

Someone alert David Bowie – there is life on Mars after all. It comes in the form of astronaut Mark Watney (Damon), who is stranded on the planet after being presumed dead when a sandstorm strikes his crew. The rest of the Ares III astronauts, Lewis (Chastain), Martinez (Peña), Johanssen (Mara), Beck (Stan) and Vogel (Hennie) are bound for home, unaware that Watney is still alive. Watney is left to fend for himself, drawing on every ounce of resourcefulness as he makes the most out of extremely limited supplies, eking out an existence on Mars. Back on earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Daniels), Mars missions director Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), public relations manager Annie Montrose (Wiig), Jet Propulsion Lab director Bruce Ng (Wong) and others labour over devising a rescue plan once they discover Watney did not die as they had believed. In the face of sheer adversity, the “Martian” must survive and work towards finally coming home. 
The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name, which was lauded for being thoroughly researched. There exists a scale, albeit a subjective one, of science fiction “hardness”, with something like Guardians of the Galaxy on the “soft” side and 2001: A Space Odyssey on the “hard” side. The Martian is a rare big-budget Hollywood hard sci-fi film and it emerges triumphant. Director Ridley Scott hasn’t had a spotless track record, coming off last year’s below-average Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. His previous sci-fi film, 2012’s Prometheus, proved hugely divisive. With most of the key crew from Prometheus including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, editor Pietro Scalia, production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates returning, Scott has managed to more than redeem himself. 
The Martian boasts a sweeping, epic majesty juxtaposed with the intimate tale of one man’s survival. Jordan’s Wadi Rum seems to have made a steady career doubling for the fourth planet from the sun in films like Mission to Mars, Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars and this one. While everything does look a little too slick and Hollywood-ised, there’s still a sense of authenticity, the harsh environs and the sheer remoteness of the Martian landscape driving home how slim Watney’s chances of making it out alive are. Real-life NASA staffers must be drooling at seeing manned Mars missions depicted so gloriously on the big screen, given how bureaucracy, a lack of funds and myriad other obstacles stand in the way of this actually being realized. The 3D effects are superb, most noticeably when we get to see astronauts floating through the long hallways of their spacecraft and in the exterior shots of the detailed and realistic Hermes ship drifting through space. 
Screenwriter Drew Goddard adapted Weir’s novel for the screen, and on paper, The Martian certainly sounds like it could be boring, with too many finicky technical details potentially holding the viewer at arm’s length. A good portion of the story unfolds in voice-overs that are packed with scientific exposition, but there is just as much showing as there is telling and the script is light enough on its feet, not getting weighed down by the “boring stuff”. This is a film that celebrates and champions science, all of its characters being the best and brightest. It’s also an extremely human survival story that almost defiantly refuses to spiral into mawkish sentimentality, while still hitting many emotional beats. Perhaps most surprisingly, The Martian is extremely funny. There are stakes and dire straits, but the tone is pleasantly upbeat and optimistic throughout. Sean Bean even gets to make a Lord of the Rings reference, sending many audience members in this reviewer’s screening howling with laughter. 
The Martian has been described as Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, and both films happen to star Tom Hanks. Here, Damon exudes an irresistible likeability that gives even Hanks a run for his money. Watney’s indomitable spirit and how he keeps his sense of humour intact throughout his ordeal keep us keen in seeing him alive. We cheer each instance in which his MacGyvering succeeds and wince whenever he’s hit by another setback. “Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” Watney jokingly proclaims as he sets about growing potatoes. Naturally, there are moments of introspection in which Watney considers the magnitude of his plight, and Damon is able to play those moments earnestly and compellingly. 
While the film is squarely Damon’s to carry, Scott has assembled a robust supporting cast to back him up. Cheesy as it sounds, there is something inspiring about seeing so many people put their heads together in working towards a common goal. Chastain proudly carries on the tradition of capable female characters in Ridley Scott movies, her Commander Melissa Lewis steely yet calm, a natural leader with an amusing penchant for 70s disco music. As NASA director Teddy Sanders, Daniels is the hard-nosed, pragmatic bureaucrat, but in his hands, the character does not become the stereotypical authority figure who’s standing in everyone’s way. Ejiofor does his share of hand-wringing, but it makes sense given the immense pressure on his character. Wiig is fine in a role that is not overtly comedic, though her presence at Mission Control might be distracting to those familiar with her prolific comedic exploits. 
There are places where the film falls back on formulaic genre trappings: the pilot Martinez tells engineer Johanssen to explain something “in English”; there are many scenes where characters take objects like pens and salt shakers and use them as stand-ins for spacecraft and planets in demonstrating manoeuvres and Donald Glover shows up as a hyperactive genius prone to Eureka moments. That said, it is remarkable just how refreshing The Martian is. In this day and age, it seems everything has been done before, especially in big sci-fi blockbusters. That The Martian manages to be so unique and engaging is certainly commendable. In telling the story of the efforts to bring Mark Watney home, Scott has hit a home run. 
Summary: A thrilling, surprisingly funny survival film with a grounding in actual science, The Martian features one of Matt Damon’s most charming performances to date and is a joyous ode to the merits of ingenuity and perseverance. 
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong