Annihilation movie review

For inSing

ANNIHILATION

Director : Alex Garland
Cast : Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac
Genre : Sci-fi, horror
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 12 March 2018 (Netflix)
Rating : M18 (Violence And Disturbing Scenes)

Natalie Portman steps forth into the unknown in this sci-fi horror thriller. Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has vanished under mysterious circumstances. Lena learns that Kane went on a mission into ‘the Shimmer’, an otherworldly anomaly. Within the Shimmer lie all manner of mutant flora and fauna, the structure of every living thing in its boundaries transformed by a meteor which hit a lighthouse.

Lena volunteers to join an expedition into the Shimmer, with the knowledge that none who have entered before have ever left. Psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads the team, which also comprises paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), and surveyor and geologist Cassie Sheppard (Tuva Nuvotny). The five women venture into the Shimmer, attempting to decipher its enigma and, more importantly, emerge alive.

Annihilation is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film was adapted for the screen and directed by Alex Garland, who made his directorial debut with the much buzzed-about sci-fi drama Ex Machina. Garland decided not to re-read the book, instead adapting the material as “like a dream of the book”.

There was a degree of intrigue surrounding Annihilation and it is clearly a film that was intended to be seen on the big screen, so it’s a bit of a shame that while it received a theatrical release in the U.S. and China, it is being streamed on Netflix everywhere else. It seems that Paramount financier David Ellison wanted the film reshot after poor test screening results, deeming it “too intellectual”. Director Garland insisted on keeping the film the way it is and was backed by producer Scott Rudin. Paramount eventually made a deal to let Netflix handle international distribution.

With that background out of the way, it’s easy to see why Annihilation might not win over mass audiences, but the very things that set it apart from typical commercial films also make it interesting. Annihilation is a movie that will mess with your head, and if challenging, cerebral sci-fi is what you’re looking for, you’ll find that and then some here.

In Annihilation, what’s scary is also beautiful. The Shimmer is a world in which lots of things have gone wrong – or has everything gone right, and it’s the world outside that’s out of order? Annihilation delves into some heady themes but has the visual invention to hold our interest as it burrows ever further into the madness.

With echoes of H.P. Lovecraft, the works of John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick, Annihilation is deliberately opaque and vague, but is tense enough to reel the viewer in. Cinematographer Rob Hardy plays with the light within the Shimmer, rendering everything ethereal but slightly menacing. The effect, when combined with other atmospherics including the music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, creates a beguiling yet disorienting world that is truly alien.

 

Annihilation isn’t all highfalutin ponderousness: there are a healthy number of visceral genre thrills, including sequences when our characters get chased by monsters like an albino alligator with shark teeth. There is one truly stomach-turning moment of gory body horror, but Annihilation gets under one’s skin with psychological trickery rather than overt grossness. Just like the characters, we’re questioning everything we see. Garland masterfully generates a sense of being sure of nothing except the danger.

It’s worth noting that the film’s main cast is all female. Each of the five characters who go on the expedition are distinct enough from each other and while there isn’t a great deal of development for everyone, there’s sufficient information conveyed about each character that we’re invested in them as a group.

Lena is competent and intelligent but haunted, and Portman portrays the character with admirable sensitivity. She’s somewhat detached from the world, as if she’s lost a piece of herself since the disappearance of her husband. Lena is flawed and difficult to pin down. We see Lena fight battles internal and external, calling on her wits and determination to survive an overwhelming, perplexing ordeal.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is severe and guarded as Dr. Ventress, the authority figure who’s hiding something. We’ve seen Tessa Thompson play badass and assured, so it’s interesting to see her play withdrawn and insecure. Gina Rodriguez is a lively presence who also brings a degree of unpredictability to the table. Of the main cast, Tuva Nuvotny is the blandest, and a scene in which she tells Lena about the background of each team member feels a little on the nose.

For all its trippiness and immersive atmospherics, Annihilation makes several missteps. While the framing device set after the events of the bulk of the film is ostensibly to contextualise the flashbacks, it also means that we know at least some of the outcome of the expedition. There are moments when the film feels like it’s being ambiguous and confusing for the sake of it, but it never feels lazy while doing so.

Annihilation is an intense, thrilling and deeply creepy slice of sci-fi horror that’s sufficiently different from what audiences are used to. Garland continues to show promise as a genre director with an exciting voice, and many spirited discussions about the minutiae of the film and what it all means are bound to ensue. Step into the Shimmer; it’s a wild ride.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie review

For inSing

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Director : Rian Johnson
Cast : Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong’o
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 32m
Opens : 14 December 2017
Rating : PG

(The following review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

In 2015, under the auspices of Disney, Star Wars came back in a big way. The Force Awakens launched a new trilogy, and sparked fevered speculation about where the story would go next. In The Last Jedi, questions are answered, expectations are subverted, and yet more questions are generated – all in engrossing, spectacular fashion.

We pick up where The Force Awakens left off: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has arrived on Ahch-To in search of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has been in self-imposed exile. Luke blames himself for the creation of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the dark warrior who was once Luke’s Jedi apprentice, then known as Ben Solo.

Kylo’s mother General Leia Organa (Carrier Fisher) leads the increasingly battered Resistance against the First Order, headed up by Kylo’s master, the enigmatic Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Ace pilot Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) recklessness puts him in conflict with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Leia’s long-time friend and subordinate. Meanwhile, former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to infiltrate the Supremacy, Snoke’s Mega-Class Star Destroyer. The battle for the galaxy heats up as our heroes and villains inch ever closer to fulfilling their destinies.

The Force Awakens was criticised for being too much of a retread of A New Hope, but it can be argued that audiences needed to be reminded of what it was about Star Wars that hooked them in the first place. With writer-director Rian Johnson at the helm, The Last Jedi does what every great sequel should: build upon its predecessor while taking the story in bold new directions. There are some elements that echo The Empire Strikes Back, but it is not a beat-for-beat do-over of that film. There is a consistency to how the characters we know and love from The Force Awakens and the original trilogy are further developed, and the surprises that lie in store do not feel contradictory to what has been laid out before.

On the level of sheer spectacle, The Last Jedi delivers amply. Key creatives including production designer Rick Heinrichs and costume designer Michael Kaplan return from The Force Awakens, but Johnson brings his regular cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who has worked with the director since Brick, on board.

The opulent casino on the planet Canto Bight has a bit of a latter-day Doctor Who vibe to it, while the mineral-rich planet Crait is blanketed by salt flats that cover crimson clay – the clay is kicked up by the Resistance ski speeders as they hurtle towards the First Order’s walkers. Snoke’s throne room, surrounded by a seamless blood-red curtain, is the ideal locale for one of the film’s most dramatic scenes to unfold in. Hearing those John Williams-composed leitmotifs accompanying the appearance of each character just completes the experience in the best way.

The Last Jedi is also a masterclass in tone: this is an intense movie, but it’s also a funny one, and humour is employed in just the right doses. The levity never undermines the tremendous, galaxy-shattering stakes at hand. Johnson has achieved something which many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have struggled at getting right.

While many might decry the Porgs, cuddly little avian/mammalian critters, as obviously created just to make Disney mountains of cash in plush toy sales, this reviewer found them irresistibly charming. They pop up at just the right points in the story, and are nowhere near as annoying as some find the Ewoks and many find Jar Jar Binks to be. BB-8 gets more screen time and is straight-up heroic, actively aiding our heroes during conflict.

Hamill gets top billing, after making a silent cameo at the very end of The Force Awakens. Luke is characterised as disillusioned and bitter – Rey clearly wants him to mentor her, but given his past failings, Luke is reluctant to take on another apprentice. Hamill’s performance is unexpectedly abrasive, yet moving and deeply sincere.

Rey and Kylo Ren are pitted against each other in a compelling way, the film highlighting their parallels and the danger that Rey could go down the same dark path trodden by Luke’s old student. Ridley’s youthful energy is in full force, while the physical demands of the role are increased. The dynamic between Rey and Luke and between Rey and Kylo sparks with life and keeps the viewer invested.

The film delves further into Kylo’s fractured psyche. The character is ultimately a child playing pretend, trying to fill a void within by chasing the legacy of the grandfather he idolises. He’s destructive and impulsive, and is thus easily manipulated by Snoke. While Andy Serkis does a fine sneery performance, Snoke is saddled with some of the more cliched lines in the film, which veer dangerously close to Bond villain speechifying.

The late Fisher gets many moments to shine as the regal, wise Leia, who keeps her composure under the most stressful situations as she shepherds the Resistance. It is a quietly stirring performance and we can’t think of a better send-off for the actress.

While Isaac’s Poe Dameron was merely the roguish hero archetype in The Force Awakens, this movie deconstructs that trope, and floats the idea that sometimes being brash and anti-authoritarian, as cool as it looks, is self-serving rather than furthering the cause.

Tran’s Rose Tico is a fantastic character, and a great way to shine a light on the Resistance members who aren’t fighting on the frontlines. She’s a bit of a fangirl and is thrilled to meet Finn, the Stomtrooper-turned-hero. Rose also gives the film a chance to comment on social stratification, since her family was exploited by the rich and powerful.

While Dern and del Toro are both reliable, the role of ‘slicer’ DJ, a hacker and thief for hire, seems like a waste of del Toro’s distinctive talents. Dern doesn’t get too much to do, but Holdo is memorable as she is at the centre of a particularly dramatic moment.

If one has become fixated on and overly attached to specific fan theories, The Last Jedi will disappoint for not realising said theories – but then again, it never had an obligation to. Johnson has a bit of fun at the fanbase’s expense, toying with expectations while staying faithful yet not slavish to the Star Wars films that have come before.

The Last Jedi is as exhilarating as it is moving. The Last Jedi feels like a whole movie rather than a placeholder or a mere trailer for the next film to come. While it clearly functions as a middle instalment in the trilogy, it’s also a beginning and an end.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Built to last: meet the characters of The Last Jedi

BUILT TO LAST: MEET THE CHARACTERS OF THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars welcomes back heroes and villains we love from The Force Awakens while adding new ones

By Jedd Jong

Back in the 70s, 80s, late 90s and 2000s, Memorial Day weekend in mid-late May was when everyone knew to expect a Star Wars movie. Starting with The Force Awakens, the space opera franchise has claimed the Christmas period for itself, with that film and Rogue One opening in winter rather than summer. Star Wars frenzy is reaching a fever pitch with the release of The Last Jedi right around the corner.

The eighth instalment in the main series of films has a tough act to follow, considering how The Force Awakens grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office. While some have decried it for being too repetitive in following the template laid down by the original Star Wars film A New Hope, the film was critically acclaimed and announced loud and proud that Star Wars was back.

Beloved characters such as Han Solo, Leia and Chewbacca appeared in The Force Awakens supporting roles – in Luke Skywalker’s case, he barely appeared at all. We were introduced to a trio of intrepid heroes: Rey, the scavenger with a destiny to fulfil; Finn, the Stormtrooper who defects to the side of good; and Poe Dameron, the heroic ace pilot – plus Poe’s trusty Astromech droid BB-8. Leading the charge on the side of the villains was Kylo Ren, who answers to the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke.

Director Rian Johnson takes the reins from J. J. Abrams for The Last Jedi, and the trailers have teased that Johnson has plenty of tricks up his sleeves. Fans have been tantalised with the promise of an upended status quo – in the trailer Luke says through gritted teeth, “this is not going to go the way you think!”

Before you watch The Last Jedi in theatres – which we have a feeling you will (the Force told us) – get reacquainted with the characters who inhabit this galaxy far, far away, and meet a few who will be introduced in the new movie. Don’t worry, this piece is spoiler-free – we wrote it before watching the movie.

#1: REY (Daisy Ridley)

After clinching the coveted role of the new lead heroine in a Star Wars trilogy, English actress Daisy Ridley was launched into superstardom. The filmmakers received much praise for putting a woman front and centre – this reflects the reality behind-the-scenes, with Star Wars creator George Lucas ceding control of Lucasfilm to producer Kathleen Kennedy.

In The Force Awakens, Rey, the scavenger from the far-flung desert planet of Jakku, was plunged headlong into the adventure of a lifetime. She shares an unexplained link to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, and touching it triggered a vision littered with little clues that fans were eager to decipher. The Last Jedi will see Rey undergo training at the hands of Luke Skywalker, while resisting the call of the Dark Side as Snoke tries to turn her, just as he has turned Kylo Ren.

Ridley characterises Rey’s arc in The Last Jedi as “more of an emotional journey, than a physical one.” Ridley added that Rey “gets to ask questions about herself and the world around her,” questions which encompass her “parentage and heritage – wherever that may be.” To undertake the combat scenes, Ridley said she trained for a year, and has become more confident in his lightsaber-wielding abilities. Ridley also revealed that even after she has become the new face of Star Wars, her father is still a die-hard Star Trek devotee.

#2: LUKE SKYWALKER (Mark Hamill)

It’s impossible to look at Rey’s arc in The Force Awakens and not draw comparisons to Luke – orphan (?) living on a desert planet who dreams of adventure inadvertently gets roped in to join the fight against an evil empire, taking their first steps towards their destiny. The plot of The Force Awakens involved tracking down a vanished Luke – after his nephew/pupil Kylo Ren (née Ben Solo) turned to the Dark Side, Luke considered this a personal failure and went into self-imposed exile on the planet Ahch-To. Bringing Luke’s lightsaber with her, Rey travelled to Ahch-To to find Luke and learn from him. Hamill says that Luke is dogged by “that guilt, that feeling that it’s his fault, that he didn’t detect the darkness in [Kylo] until it was too late.”

Hamill didn’t find the stardom that many thought would come after starring in the Star Wars trilogy, but he has gone on to become an established and sought-after voice actor, memorably voicing the DC Comics villain the Joker in various animated series, animated films and video games. To reprise the role of Luke Skywalker, once a wide-eyed rookie and now a wizened, haunted mentor figure, Hamill went on a strict diet and exercise regiment, losing around 22 kg.

Hamill admits to being shocked by the direction in which Johnson’s script takes Luke, and initially disagreeing with it. “It it took me a while to get around to his way of thinking, but once I was there it was a thrilling experience,” Hamill explained, saying he hopes the audience will share that thrill.

Hamill said that being appreciated by the fans is a “reward that just never stops giving” and “really moving”. Hamill was conferred the Disney Legend award at this year’s D23 convention, which he called an “out-of-body experience”.

#3: FINN (John Boyega)

The man formerly known as Stormtrooper FN-2187 went from being a soldier for the First Order to a selfless champion of the Resistance. Boyega, who like his co-star Ridley is a 25-year-old from England, has also become a recognisable star. He will next be seen headlining and co-producing Pacific Rim: Uprising, as the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first Pacific Rim movie.

Boyega is a self-professed Star Wars mega-fan, and he brought an action figure of Han Solo for Harrison Ford to autograph when Boyega first met Ford during pre-production on The Force Awakens. Boyega echoes the sentiments of cast members who say audiences are in for a surprise. “[Rian] had a chance to really go crazy, and I’m a big Star Wars buff so certain things I saw I was just like ‘Well, that’s a first,’” Boyega said, calling this “really cool to experience.” Boyega got along well with Johnson, comparing the director to Santa Claus because of his jovial nature. Johnson gifted Boyega the prop blaster that Finn uses in the film.

While it seemed like Rey and Finn were being set up as romantic partners, with Finn having an obvious crush on Rey in The Force Awakens, the characters spend the bulk of the movie apart from each other. “They are separate in this film; it’s like two separate stories,” Boyega said, teasing “maybe they are in a long-distance relationship right now?”

Instead of Rey, Finn is teaming up with Resistance technician Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and both have to go undercover in a First Order installation. As seen in the trailer, he clashes with former boss Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Describing the scenario, Boyega joked “imagine you work at McDonald’s. You push your manager into a chute compactor and then a year later you decide to go back dressed as one of the colleagues. It’s not the best situation.”

#4: GENERAL LEIA ORGANA (Carrie Fisher)

One of the most iconic heroines in science fiction/fantasy film, the Leia character is now shrouded in tragedy. Onscreen, the character must deal with not only the burden of knowing her son has turned evil, but that he has killed his father; her husband, Han Solo. The real world lost actress Carrie Fisher, who has served as an inspiration to many thanks to her honest and humorous recollections of her tumultuous personal and professional life. Fisher died on December 27 2016 and just a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away too. The Last Jedi marks Fisher’s final film appearance.

Fisher had filmed all her scenes before her death, and Johnson has stated that he did not tailor the movie to be a send-off to her, but several emotional scenes have taken on greater resonance in the wake of Fisher’s passing. Johnson and Hamill both called Fisher “irreplaceable”. Johnson felt that he and Fisher “connected as writers”, and he welcomed Fisher’s input on the screenplay. When Fisher died, Johnson was deep into post-production, and he said that coming back to the editing suite after the Christmas and New Year break to watch Fisher’s scenes was “so hard”. Johnson called Fisher’s performance in the film “beautiful and complete”.

The film’s female cast members paid tribute to the trailblazing character and the actress who portrayed her. “[Leia] really stayed with me throughout my formative years,” Christie said, adding that she admired how Leia “doesn’t care what people think and isn’t prepare to be told what to do.” For Christie, this “was really instrumental…as someone who didn’t feel like I fit in that homogenized view of what a woman is supposed to be and there was inspiration there.”

Tran spoke of Fisher’s courage in putting herself on the public stage, flaws and all, to candidly talk about her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. “She was so unapologetic, and so openly herself, and that is something that I am really trying to do, and it’s hard,” Tran admitted. “I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie,” Tran saying, saying she was “so fortunate to have met her” and that Fisher “really will live on forever.” Fisher’s legacy lives on in part through her daughter Billie Lourd, who reprises the role of Lieutenant Connix from The Force Awakens.

#5: POE DAMERON (Oscar Isaac)

The dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is the most swashbuckling figure of our trio of new protagonists – in The Force Awakens, he offers a whoop as his X-Wing skims the surface of a lake on Takodana. Many identified the Poe character as being in the mould of Han Solo. However, Isaac says that the character will veer a little away from that archetype, while retaining his heroism. “I think what Rian [Johnson] did was make it less about filling a slot and more about what the story needs,” Isaac considered. At this point in the story, the Resistance is low on manpower, fleeing for their lives from the powerful First Order, and in need of someone to take the helm. “Leia is grooming me — him — to be a leader of the Resistance, as opposed to a dashing, rogue hero,” Isaac said.

Isaac’s comments strengthen the impression that The Last Jedi will be considerably darker than The Force Awakens, and that our heroes are in for a rough ride. “The heroes get challenged very specifically. It’s almost like you get to discover their character flaws and those things get tested,” Isaac said, adding that audiences will get a better sense of Poe, Finn and Rey “because you get to really know somebody in a crisis.”

Large swathes of the internet are ‘Stormpilot shippers’ – they root for the characters of Poe and Finn to end up as romantic partners. There’s palpable chemistry on display between Isaac and Boyega, and Poe even names Finn. Isaac does a pretty telling lip bite when the characters are reunited in The Force Awakens, after each thinks the other has died. “I was playing romance. In the cockpit I was playing… there was a deep romance,” Isaac said.

Alas, dreams of ‘Stormpilot’ becoming canon have been dashed by Boyega, who said the romantic pairing “only exists in Oscar’s head”.

#6: KYLO REN (Adam Driver)

The villainous Kylo Ren is an impulsive, fiery character, someone whose unconscionable actions can be justified at least in part by having been manipulated by powerful dark forces. Driver, who has been described by some as “unconventionally handsome”, won over droves of fangirls with his portrayal of the brooding Kylo.

Kylo idolises his grandfather Darth Vader, and longs to bring the Empire, in its new guise as the First Order, back to the heights of its power under Vader. “He’s a vulnerable kid who doesn’t know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he’s playing a role,” Driver said of the character. “J.J. had that idea initially and I think Rian took it to the next level.”

Kylo is at the centre of the most talked-about moment in The Force Awakens – the death of Han Solo. Driver understood the gravity of this moment, saying he felt “sick to his stomach” watching the movie at the premiere, in anticipation of the horrible deed his character would execute. “I was holding my wife [Joanne Tucker]’s hand, and she’s like, ‘You’re really cold. Are you OK?’ Because I just knew what was coming – I kill Harrison Ford – and I didn’t know how this audience of 2000 people was going to respond to it, you know?”

As part of playing the character, Driver was withdrawn and self-serious on set. “The things about that character that I find painful, that I really relate to, I kind of prefer to keep to myself,” Driver said of his process.

Various cast members attempting to get him to lighten up. Hamill invited Driver for lunch, but he declined. Boyega attempted surprising Driver with random hugs, which Driver did not seem to enjoy. “He just stands there,” Boyega said. “He just waits for me to be done.”

Driver does have a fun side though: he famously portrayed Kylo Ren going incognito on Starkiller Base as ‘Matt the Radar Technician’ in a side-splitting Saturday Night Live sketch that aired in January 2016.

#7: SUPREME LEADER SNOKE (Andy Serkis)

Other than Rey’s parentage, the other giant magnet for speculation in The Last Jedi is the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. The enigmatic head of the First Order who snatched young Ben Solo from Luke Skywalker’s tutelage, turning him into Kylo Ren. The character is portrayed via performance capture by Andy Serkis, famed for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy.

Serkis has been fielding many questions about the mysterious Snoke. “He’s definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force,” Serkis revealed, adding “that begins to unfold a little in this one,” – whatever “that” may be. Snoke is apparently “extremely strong with the Force,” but Serkis adds that while Snoke is “terribly powerfully”, he is also “a very vulnerable and wounded character.” Snoke’s deformities include a mangled jaw, and to help capture that in his performance, Serkis would tape down the left side of his mouth to restrict the lip movement.

The character was seen in The Force Awakens as a hologram seated on a throne, and appeared to be humongous. In The Last Jedi, we see Snoke in the flesh, and he’s about 2.7 m tall. Snoke has a penchant for luxury, which manifests itself in his gold robes and striking crimson-hued throne room. Snoke’s personal security force, the Praetorian Guard, also wear bright red armour. Serkis characterised Snoke as “flamboyant” and “slightly oligarch”.

In The Last Jedi, Snoke is none too pleased with his young apprentice. “His training of Kylo Ren is not yielding what he wants,” Serkis said. “Therefore, his anger towards Kylo Ren is intensified because he can’t bear weakness in others.” Serkis added that part of Snoke’s manipulation of Kylo involves playing Kylo and General Hux (Dohmnall Gleeson), Kylo’s right-hand man, off each other.

Johnson has warned fans that all the mysteries regarding the character might not be laid bare in this instalment, saying “We’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to.” Johnson added that it was “really exciting” seeing Serkis, whom he called “a force of nature”, play the character, since he got to do “much more in this film than in the last one.”

#8: ROSE TICO (Kelly Marie Tran)

The Last Jedi introduces several new characters, with Resistance engineer Rose Tico touted to have the largest part among these inductees. Rose is played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran. This is set to be Tran’s big break – prior to clinching the role, she was active in improv groups, appearing in the College Humor Originals and Ladies Like Us web series. There are very few actors of Asian descent in the Star Wars saga – prior to Tran, the largest roles played by Asian actors were that of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Tran describes Rose as being “smart, brave and loyal, someone who knows she comes from a humble beginning – she’s not a princess, she’s not a superhero.” The character is someone who has always been comfortable fighting the good fight while remaining firmly in the background, but circumstances draw her to the forefront of a galaxy-spanning conflict. Rose’s older sister Paige (Veronica Ngo) has taken a more active role in the conflict as a gunner.

“I think she symbolises that there are always so many background players in any revolution, and without those people you can’t have those people at the forefront,” Tran said, reasoning that “if their ships aren’t working, they can’t be fighting the First Order.

Tran has admitted to having never seen any of the Star Wars films prior to clinching the role. She has said that because she wasn’t a die-hard fan to begin with, she was able to approach the audition as if it were for any other part, lessening the pressure in the moment. Of course, the fact that she is part of a worldwide phenomenon will sink in sooner or later. “When I saw the action figures, I was like, ‘This is insane,’ but it still hasn’t sunk in or registered on me,” Tran said.

“Growing up I watched a lot of [pop culture] and didn’t really get to see a lot of people that looked like me,” Tran said. “I think that I’m really lucky to be this person, and I get to be part of this franchise. I hope that it is a move in a better direction.”

Tran worked long hours at a temp agency to pay the bills, and revealed that she nearly quit acting. Her persistence has led her to join the Resistance, and we can already see Rose being an inspiration to many young viewers of all backgrounds.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 7 Best Moments from Trailer #2

For inSing  

Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer #2 – 7 moments that have us shook
We dig into the much buzzed-about trailer that has everyone excited for The Last Jedi

By Jedd Jong

As Darth Vader put it so well in The Empire Strikes Back, “it is useless to resist”. The second trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi has us, and numerous Star Wars fans around the globe, in its thrall. The eighth instalment in the main series of Star Wars films continues the stories of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), characters who were introduced to audiences in The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his sister General Leia (Carrie Fisher), reeling from the events of the last film and events preceding it, also return.

This being a Star Wars film, secrecy is key, and the marketing for the film must maintain a balance between guarding the details of the plot while doling out enough morsels to maintain high anticipations levels. The trailer for The Last Jedi does just this, demonstrating an expansive scope and giving us a glimpse of the various new locales and large-scale battles that will feature in The Last Jedi.

The trailer also promises intense and emotional arcs for its key characters, especially for Rey. It seems to imply that as Luke Skywalker trains his new pupil, he is taken aback by the power she demonstrates, power that could make her susceptible to the Dark Side. The trailer is tantalising, but also appears to be craftily edited, combining and changing the order of scenes to plant red herrings in audience’s minds.

Best of all, it doesn’t feel as if we’ve seen too much – Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran, who are set to play significant roles, do not even appear in this particular trailer.

 

Let’s dig into seven of our favourite moments from the trailer!

#1: AT-M6 Walkers

The First Order makes no bones about displaying their military might, and the organisations inventory has only grown since the previous film. Early on in the trailer, we see a phalanx of All-Terrain Mega-Caliber 6 (AT-M6) Walkers marching on the surface of the planet Crait. These are new, heavier-duty versions of the AT-AT (All-Terrain Armoured Transport) Walkers we saw in Empire Strikes Back, but those, as well as the bipedal AT-ST Walkers, are still in use – they can be seen being deployed as Kylo Ren looks out onto a loading deck in the trailer’s first scene.

Design Supervisor Kevin Jenkins explained that the AT-M6 is inspired by the stance of a gorilla, walking on its knuckles with a high, arched back. This allows the Walker to support the Mega-Caliber cannon it carries on its back. Jenkins reasoned that these new Walkers would be impossible to take down with Snowspeeders. “I feel that it’s an iteration forward. A spitfire and a modern jet, you can see the link there,” Jenkins said, explaining the in-universe logic behind this design evolution.  “They’re part of the same thing. That was always my intention with the gorilla. It’s not a start from scratch.”

#2: Raw strength

The trailer intentionally establishes parallels between Rey and Kylo Ren, implying they could be cut from the same cloth, and that Rey has the same potential to be turned as Kylo Ren had.

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power, and beyond that, something truly special,” Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) ominously intones, presumably about Kylo Ren. The trailer cuts from this line to Rey igniting her lightsaber on Ahch-To, where she is being trained by Luke.

“Something inside me has always been there, and now it is awake, and I need help” Rey tells her newfound mentor. However, Luke must confront the horrifying possibility that history will repeat itself, as it is wont to within the Star Wars mythos.

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” the Jedi Knight says. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” We are shown a flashback of the new Jedi Order’s temple/training facility being burnt down, an expansion of a scene glimpse in The Force Awakens. This appears the moment in which Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, betrayed his Jedi master Luke by razing the facility. Something about Rey reminds Luke of his apprentice, and that can’t be good.

#3: “Let the past die”

Kylo Ren has already taken down one of his parents – the haunting scene of his confrontation with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens, ending with a lightsaber through Han’s chest, was one of the most talked-about moments in that film. Now, it appears Kylo Ren is intent on killing his mother too. With a high-tech carbon fibre-esque bandage over his scar, Kylo sits at the controls of the TIE Silencer, his personal starfighter. The TIE Silencer swoops towards the Raddus, the Resistance flagship named for the Mon Calamari Admiral who died in the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One. Standing on the bridge of the ship: General Leia. Kylo Ren has the bridge in his crosshairs, his finger on the trigger. He hesitates, and the trailer cuts away.

Does he end up killing his own mother? Or is there the chance of redemption, and that seeing his mother again might reawaken the good that lies dormant within Kylo Ren? It does seems like two separate scenes have been cut together, because the bridge of the Raddus doesn’t look like it’s in the thick of battle. Having been promised a respectful send-off for the late Carrie Fisher, we’re intrigued to see how it plays out, but know that whatever happens with General Leia, we’ll have to suppress tears.

#4: Porg!

The Last Jedi introduces new cuddly critters called Porgs, adorable little penguin-owl-otter-hamster creatures native to Ahch-To, where they have been keeping Luke company during his self-imposed exile. The Porgs seemed designed expressly to sell toys, and a wide variety of Porg-based merchandise is already available. Many Star Wars fans have become stridently anti-Porg, comparing the creatures to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. However, we find their inherent adorableness impossible to resist. At least one of them makes its way onto the Millennium Falcon, perched on the console as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo) sits in the captain’s chair.

Director Rian Johnson was inspired by the thousands of Atlantic puffins who flock to the Irish island of Skellig Michael from April to August each year. Skellig Michael is where the Ahch-To scenes were shot. Ireland will no doubt see a spike in tourism from Star Wars fans eager to visit Luke’s hideout, but only 180 visitors a day are allowed to set foot on Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some organisations, including An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), have expressed worries that the influx of visitors will endanger the site and its ecosystem.

#5: Finn vs. Phasma

Before he was Finn, he was reluctant First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187. It seems that Finn will never be able to shake off his former life, and the trailer shows him facing off against Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who trained him and other members of the FN Corps. Phasma was hyped up as being a cool new character, the first prominent female Stormtrooper in the Star Wars films, but ended up doing very little in The Force Awakens. This trailer indicates she’ll finally get to showcase her badassery: wielding a telescoping spear, Phasma fights with Finn, who is armed with a Z6 riot control baton. There already is a prequel comic detailing how Phasma escaped Starkiller Base, surviving the end of The Force Awakens.

#6: “Fulfil your destiny”

In this scene, Supreme Leader Snoke is torturing Rey. Rey is wearing her Jedi outfit, writhing in pain as she is suspended in mid-air by the tyrannical Supreme Leader. This scene apparently takes place in Snoke’s throne room aboard the Supremacy, the Mega-Class Star Destroyer that is the flagship of the First Order’s fleet. The trailer is edited in such a way as to make us think Snoke’s line “fulfil your destiny” is directed towards Rey, and that after successfully seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side, Snoke now has his sights set on Rey.

#7: Rey turns evil?

The trailer ends with a corker of a scene that has ignited heated discussion. “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Rey says. In the next shot, Kylo Ren extends his hand towards her, seemingly inviting Rey to join him in service of the Dark Side. Keen-eyed Star Wars fans have already seen through this apparent misdirect: the two scenes are distinct, and have been edited together to trick viewers into thinking that this is what’s going on. Since Rey is in her Resistance outfit which she wears earlier in the film while being trained by Luke on Ahch-To, it stands to reason that she is addressing Luke, and not Kylo Ren. The scenes are similarly lit, and that’s why they work cut together. The prevailing theory is that Kylo Ren is really stretching out his hand to his mother Leia, and that we are seeing part of a potential redemption scene.

Either way, all (okay, most – we’ve got to save some secrets for Episode IX) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits Singapore theatres on 14 December 2017.

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

Director : Bryan Singer
Cast : James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 19 May 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Brief Coarse Language)

The end is the beginning is the end for our ever-expanding cast of mutant heroes as they face their most insurmountable foe yet. The year is 1983 and after a millennia-long slumber, En-Sabah-Nur/Apocalypse (Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant in history, has awoken. Apocalypse goes about recruiting mutants to be his new Four Horsemen: the still-bitter Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Fassbender) is “War”, the telekinetic swordswoman Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Munn) is “Pestilence”, weather-controlling Ororo Munroe/Storm (Shipp) is “Famine” and the winged Warren Worthington III/Angel (Hardy) is “Death”.




In the meantime, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) has become an icon to mutants everywhere following her actions in Washington D.C. ten years earlier. In her mission to free oppressed mutants, she rescues Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee), a circus performer with the ability to teleport. Among the new students in Professor Xavier’s (McAvoy) school are Scott Summers/Cyclops (Sheridan), Jean Grey/Phoenix (Turner) and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Condor). These young, inexperienced X-Men must look up to mentors like Professor X and Hank McCoy/Beast (Hoult) for guidance, with speedster Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Peters) returning to the fray as well. Everyone will be caught in Apocalypse’s unrelenting thirst for absolute power, as the X-Men have to fight for their lives and their future.

 X-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth film in the X-Menseries, counting Deadpool from earlier this year. With the successes of both Days of Future Past and Deadpool, expectations for Apocalypse were understandably high. While there is a surfeit of wink-and-nod references for fans of the source material to lap up, Apocalypsedoes suffer from ‘sequelitis’ – it’s not an incurable case, but the symptoms are there. The 144-minute run time does mean this is bursting at the seams – if you thought there were too many characters in the earlier films, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The pacing, particularly in the front half, suffers, then the latter half of the movie almost drowns in frenetic, overwrought action sequences. The film’s reach tends to exceed its grasp, and there are so many complicated visual effects-heavy scenes that the large-scale destruction tends to feel synthetic and bereft of weight.


The central tempestuous and compelling relationship between Charles and Erik was the driving force of First Class. While this plot thread had to share screen time with many others in Days of Future Past, it was still given enough play. Here, it gets pushed to the sidelines, but director Bryan Singer seems eager to assure us that he hasn’t forgotten about it. As good as McAvoy and Fassbender are in their respective roles, most of the interaction between the two characters here seems like a re-tread, with Magneto’s character development going around in circles. Even more obvious here than in the previous film is the sense that Mystique has been pushed to the forefront to capitalise on Lawrence’s current stardom. There’s also an excuse written into the plot for why we see so little of Mystique in her scaly blue true form. Lawrence seems the tiniest bit checked out, as if she’s glad that she’s still part of a juggernaut franchise after the conclusion of the Hunger Games series, but would rather move on to something else.

When the first images of Apocalypse as depicted in this film were revealed, the comparisons to Ivan Ooze started flooding the internet. For this reviewer, the problem is not so much that the supervillain physically resembles a Power Rangers baddie, but that he acts like one. The original omnipotent mutant should be a force to be reckoned with, but Isaac’s hammy performance and some clunky snatches of dialogue prevent Apocalypse from actually being intimidating at all. It’s a shame that this unstoppable, ancient entity comes across as petulant and unintentionally funny.


Quicksilver stole the show with the slow-mo kitchen sequence in Days of Future Past, and there’s a generally decent attempt to recreate that here with a set-piece set to Sweet Dreams Are Made of This. It’s too bad that it can’t help but feel like a desperate attempt to bump a breakout character up the roster. The younger versions of Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler are generally fine – this reviewer particularly enjoyed McPhee’s turn as the sensitive, easily-startled and good-hearted Kurt. Fans of the X-Men: Evolution animated series will probably enjoy what is the closest we’ve come to a live-action version of that show, in the moments when the recruits are hanging out. And yes, the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo is a hoot.

In between all of this, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg find the time to make a particularly nasty dig at X-Men: The Last Stand, in a line of dialogue uttered by Jean as she, Scott and Jubilation are leaving the theatre after watching Return of the Jedi. Sure, The Last Stand’s flaws have been consistently acknowledged and Days of Future Past exists predominantly to wipe it off the slate, but perhaps Singer and company shouldn’t be so smug. There’s less room for the character dynamics to breathe, the action is more generic and less inventive, and at times the large ensemble comes across like the Rockettes performing a kick line at Radio City Music Hall. On top of all that, a major supervillain whose live-action debut has been highly anticipated is disappointingly realised. Here’s hoping this is a momentary stumble, because if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, there’s more to come.



Summary: X-Men: Apocalypse has its entertaining moments and there’s no shortage of things for eagle-eyed fans to catch, but these are generally drowned out by loud, generic action and an overstuffed cast.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For F*** Magazine

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Director : J.J. Abrams
Cast : Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Gwendoline Christie. Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Max von Sydow
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action
Run Time : 2 hrs 16 mins
Opens : 17 December 2015
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

We’re well aware that this is one of the most pointless reviews we’ll ever publish. You’re all going to see this movie, you want to stay spoiler-free, you don’t want to read on regardless of how much we promise to consciously omit crucial plot details. It doesn’t matter; we’ll be okay. We love you; you know, yadda yadda.

            Still here? Awesome! Okay, so it’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi and an evil regime following in the footsteps of the Empire named The First Order has arisen. The astromech droid BB-8 is carrying vital information that Kylo Ren (Driver), a dark warrior who is the tip of the First Order’s spear, is in pursuit of. Scavenger Rey (Ridley), defecting Stormtrooper Finn (Boyega) and ace pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) are all drawn into the conflict. Our heroes meet up with Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca (Mayhew), General Leia Organa (Fisher), C-3PO (Daniels) and R2-D2. Leia is the leader of the Resistance against the First Order, who are developing a deadly superweapon in the form of Starkiller Base. General Hux (Gleeson), the leader of the base, is itching to unleash its power. Secrets will be uncovered and destinies will be fulfilled as good rises against evil in the grand Star Wars tradition. 

            The very microsecond this new Star Wars film was announced, expectations and hype began building, reaching critical mass over the last few months. Even in this age of mega-blockbusters, few movies have arrived bearing such an enormous burden, with so much to live up to and so much to atone for. Ideally, The Force Awakens should sweep the audience up, taking them along for the ride, making them look beyond the labour that has gone into its conception and execution. In this regard, the film is largely successful. Director J.J. Abrams has strived to recapture the magic of the original trilogy, and its essence has been preserved. Where the prequel films belied a preoccupation with gee-whiz technology over compelling storytelling or genuine thrills, The Force Awakens possesses a crucial forward momentum, a genuine emotional core and a welcome humanity.

Abrams is fully cognisant of the honour bestowed upon him, yet this doesn’t feel like a film made by a director who is scared. The Force Awakens is very respectful of the venerated original trilogy and if anything, sometimes echoes A New Hope and bits of The Empire Strikes Back too strongly. There are many scenes that mirror ones from those earlier films almost beat for beat, but the exuberant energy that permeates The Force Awakens helps to keep it from feeling too slavish. Where the prequels were criticised for often jarringly stilted dialogue, the screenplay by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt absolutely works. Han and Leia sound like we remember them, the nods to iconic lines are just obvious enough and there’s a wit and tonal assurance with the humour that comfortably eases the audience back into that wonderful original trilogy mode. Hearing those John Williams motifs again, plus new music from the master composer, brought the chills on big time for this reviewer.   



Just as it is with the story, there must have been multiple considerations to bear in mind with regards to the design. It’s got to be close to what we remember, what we love, but not too close. There is a satisfying tactility to The Force Awakensand Abrams’ decision to favour practical in-camera approaches to the effects work whenever possible does pay off. Elaborate animatronics, guys in suits, special effects makeup, that’s the good stuff. The digitally-rendered characters portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Serkis via performance capture do not stick out as jar(jar)ringly as some of the characters in the prequels did.

The spherical astromech droid BB-8 is a true triumph of design, becoming an iconic character even before the film’s release because of how cleverly it’s been conceived. BB-8 was an actual physical prop on set, and the dynamism in its movement and how much expression the droid can convey via beeps and whistles and a slight tilt of its head does feel authentically Star Wars-y. Since most of the ships riff on established designs, we don’t get any particularly inventive spacecraft, but that’s fine because everything just looks so good. The action sequences are kinetic but easy to follow and a chase scene between the Millennium Falcon and a TIE Fighter squadron in the planet Jakku’s atmosphere is one of the most gripping of the entire series.

There was a simplicity and purity about Star Wars that made it so easy to get into, before the cinematic universe expanded to a daunting, intricate extent. The new characters introduced are archetypes through and through, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring ciphers. Ridley’s Rey is a resourceful, capable female lead and it’s to the relative newcomer’s credit that her performance doesn’t yell “look at me, I’m a resourceful, capable female lead!” every other second. Her hardscrabble existence and dusty home planet remind us of Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, but she comes into her own at a quicker pace. As the Stormtrooper who decides he no longer wants to be in service of the bad guys, Boyega has a likeability about him and displays some excellent comic timing. Isaac has often been cast in villainous roles, but he wears the part of the old-fashioned swashbuckling hero well, relishing the chance to yell “woo-hoo!” as his X-Wing swoops out of the sky.

Seeing Ford reprise the role of that loveable scoundrel and seeing him do so with such willingness and conviction is an almost unspeakable joy. This is exactly the same Han Solo we know and love, with all the smirking and wisecracks feeling entirely appropriate. At the same time, there is a sweetness, sincerity and maturity in his interactions with Leia that is actually touching. Fisher brings a dignity and a quietly commanding presence to General Leia and seeing the pair back on the screen does feel like a big warm hug. Chewbacca is on hand to provide actual big warm hugs, too. Where is Luke Skywalker (Hamill)? We’re not going to answer that!


            In the villains’ camp, Driver’s Kylo Ren has been shrouded in mystery, his true nature a closely guarded secret. There is the danger that he comes off as an ersatz Darth Vader, but this is somewhat justified in that Ren feels it is his duty to fulfil Vader’s legacy. There is a petulance to Driver’s portrayal of the character that sometimes veers dangerously close to Hayden Christensen’s pouty temper tantrums, but one can tell that there’s more going on beneath the surface with Ren. As General Hux, Gleeson does a lot of supercilious sneering and it harks back to Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in the most wonderful way. Christie’s Captain Phasma is a visually striking right-hand woman, but the character doesn’t have too much to do. Similarly, Indonesian martial artists/actors Yayan Ruhian, Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman make only the briefest appearance as members of the criminal Kanjiklub Gang. There are many characters to juggle as it is, but the film’s woeful underuse of Max von Sydow in particular is a shame.

            This is Star Wars in the same great original flavour we know and love. While there’s some rehashing going on, there are just enough new moves to keep audiences on their toes, while reminding them of what made those original three movies so spellbinding. This being the starting point for a new trilogy, there are plot threads that remain unresolved and there are tantalising hints of what’s to come in the sequel. While perhaps not 100% satisfying, Abrams has crafted a movie that is truly worthy of the name “Star Wars”. There are bound to be audiences this won’t please, but for this reviewer at least, The Force Awakens is quality entertainment.



Summary: The story beats and character types are familiar, but in embodying the soaring adventure and heartfelt simplicity that made the original trilogy so great, The Force Awakens is worth the agonising wait.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong