Avengers: Infinity War review

For inSing

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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

We’re going to do things a little differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

I, Tonya movie review

For inSing

I, TONYA

Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Mckenna Grace
Genre : Biography, Drama, Sports
Run Time : 1h 19m
Opens : 1 February 2018
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Sexual Scenes)

Every awards season, we get at least a few inspirational sports biopics about resilient athletes who overcome insurmountable odds, becoming heroes to people everywhere.

I, Tonya is not that movie.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was the first U.S. female figure skater to pull off the extremely tricky triple axel move. If you were around during the 90s, you might have a vague recollection of the rivalry between Tonya and fellow Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). This culminated in Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Jeff’s friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) planning an attack against Nancy. After a hired hand breaks Nancy’s knee with a retractable baton, it isn’t long before suspicion falls on Tonya and Jeff.

The film follows the lead-up to and aftermath of this incident. Tonya’s mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) mercilessly pushes her daughter, and Tonya’s life revolves around abusive relationships. Facing numerous setbacks and eventually cast as a villain by the media, Tonya pursues her dream of being the #1 figure skater in the world.

I, Tonya is an acerbic subversion of your bog-standard awards bait sports biopic. It’s sometimes unpleasant, and intentionally so. Director Craig Gillespie, who previously helmed the more traditional sports movie Million Dollar Arm, takes a black comedy approach to Tonya Harding’s life story. He directs from a screenplay by Steven Rogers – this is easily the Love the Coopers screenwriter’s edgiest work.

Tonally, I, Tonya is tricky. It wants the audience to laugh at the ‘white trash’ characters that populate the story, while also empathising with them. It wants to be cynical and snarky, yet sincere. There are moments when the cracks begin to show, but given the ambitiousness of this juggling of moods, I, Tonya works far better than it might have in different hands.

The film is framed with interview sequences in which the characters, a gallery of unreliable narrators, speak directly to camera. Outside these interview scenes, we also get fourth wall breaks. Everything is caustic, everyone is varying degrees of broken, and yet, it’s funny. The ice skating sequences are also absolutely mesmerising and thrilling, pinpricks of gracefulness in the blackness of awful people being awful.

Robbie, who is also the co-producer through her Lucky Chap Productions label, holds this all together. She throws every ounce of herself into a performance that is impossible to look away from and which has deservedly netted her an Oscar nomination. Piercing through the public perception of Tonya, Robbie paints the portrait of someone who has been knocked about her whole life, Tonya’s unsportsmanlike behaviour and overall demeanour a result of that. Robbie is flashy, sincere, wild and showcases impressive physicality, under the tutelage of coach Sarah Kawahara. This is the ‘sink-your-teeth-into-it’ role actors live for, and Robbie makes quite the meal of it.

Even with that highly unflattering moustache, Stan is still quite loveable. The Jeff character isn’t meant to be – he’s a dope, and he’s abusive, but is he malicious? Is he even smart enough to be capable of malice? The relationship between Tonya and Jeff rivals that of Harley Quinn and the Joker in the ‘toxic and unhealthy’ stakes. The film’s depiction of domestic abuse is harrowing, but doesn’t quite fit in with the devil-may-care glibness established earlier.

Janney handily steals the show as the abrasive, cruel, yet oddly endearing LaVona. Janney undergoes a complete transformation, and while we’ve seen the cigarette-smoking stage mom archetype before, she unearths several layers to the character. LaVona’s abusiveness towards Tonya contributes to Tonya’s acceptance of Jeff’s abuse after they are married. Janney is hotly tipped to take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance.

The film also works to dispel the myth that parents who push their children past their breaking point in the pursuit of excellence are helping their children, and that’s what their children need. LaVona thinks that Tonya performs best when she is enraged, so she engineers situations to throw her child off balance – it’s psychological abuse.

As Tonya’s long-suffering coach Diane Rawlinson, Julianne Nicholson is the sole source of purity, comfort and level-headedness in this sea of scuzziness. Her presence offers a respite from the overwhelming unpleasantness of everything else.

Paul Walter Hauser has a good deal of fun with the role of Shawn, the schlubby friend with delusions of grandeur who ‘masterminds’ a criminal plot with consequences far beyond what Jeff or Tonya could have imagined. This section of the movie plays a bit like a Coen Brothers caper, with bumbling characters who are not very good at being up to no good.

I, Tonya is challenging in that it leaves the audience laughing but uncomfortable as they’re doing so. The film is sympathetic to its title character, but also leans into the tabloid perception of her as it attempts to dig beyond that surface. Mostly, I, Tonya is a terrific showcase for Margot Robbie’s increasingly stunning talents as a leading lady.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Logan Lucky

For F*** Magazine

LOGAN LUCKY 

Director : Steven Soderbergh
Cast : Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Sebastian Stan, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Farrah Mackenzie, Hilary Swank
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

         Despite announcing his retirement after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair and off to the races with this caper comedy. The Logan family hasn’t had the best of luck: Jimmy Logan (Tatum) has just been fired, and his brother Clyde (Driver) lost his left arm while on military duty in Iraq. Jimmy loves his young daughter Sadie (Mackenzie), but Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Holmes) plans on moving away with her wealthy new husband Moody (Denman), making it harder for Jimmy to see Sadie. While working his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy hatches a plan: rob the vault containing money from the concession stands during the Coca Cola 600 race, one of the largest annual Nascar events. To pull off the heist, the Logan siblings tap on the skills of demolition expert Joe Bang (Craig) – but they’ll need to break him out of prison first. With limited resources and simple ingenuity, the crew must overcome a host of obstacles to make off with the money.

Logan Lucky has been referred to as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, which is a fairly accurate description. There isn’t a hint of glitz or glamour to be found, and the protagonists are blue collar guys from the South who love John Denver. While the expected stereotypes are trucked out and some fun is had at the expense of the characters and their cultural backgrounds, they’re imbued with humanity and are, for the most part, well-rounded creations. Screenwriter Rebecca Blunt crafts a script that’s not only funny, but is also admirably elaborate when it comes to the mechanics of the heist. There are so many moving parts, and it’s easy to be fooled by the laid-back vibe of the film because there’s a precision to the many hoops our heroes must jump through to pull off the heist.

Part of what makes Logan Lucky feel fresh is its status as a ‘big small’ movie. Soderbergh deliberately circumvented the studio system, formed his own distribution company named ‘Fingerprint Releasing’ and teamed with distributor Bleecker Street, making this technically an indie film. There are big-name stars in the cast, and Soderbergh himself is a well-known director, but like its protagonists, there is a scrappy underdog feel to Logan Lucky. Soderbergh has personally devised a marketing strategy that goes against conventional wisdom, targeting the film’s advertising instead of unleashing the expensive publicity blitz most studio films get. While ostensibly born out of Soderbergh’s disillusionment with the big Hollywood machine, there’s nary a hint of bitterness in Logan Lucky, which is exuberant even as it touches on the very real struggles of America’s working class.

This is Tatum’s fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, after Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects. The Jimmy Logan character taps into all of Tatum’s strengths as a performer, and the ‘lunkhead with a heart of gold’ archetype falls right within his skill set. While Tatum has showed off his comedic chops in other films, he’s largely restrained, and there are even moments when his performance is genuinely moving.

Driver plays well off Tatum, bringing a quiet earnestness to the role of Clyde. Keough is well on her way to A-list leading lady status, playing the plucky Mellie with entertaining confidence. The scenes in which Mellie bonds with her niece Sadie, styling Sadie’s hair before a beauty pageant, are quite sweet. Child beauty pageants aren’t depicted in the film as being exploitative the way they often are in real life, with Sadie taking great pride in her performance. Sadie’s talent showcase is the film’s most unabashedly sentimental scene, and thanks to child actress Farrah Mackenzie, it works.

Craig performs a heist of his own, single-handedly stealing the movie. This is a piece of stunt-casting that pays dividends: sporting a bleached blonde buzz cut, tattoos and affecting a southern accent, this is Craig like we haven’t quite seen him before. As with any good heist crew, there must be eccentric characters, with Joe Bang being the most eccentric of the bunch. Tatum, Driver and Craig develop an unlikely and amusing triple act, the result being silly while not so over-the-top as to lose audiences. Hearing Craig say lines like “I’m about to get nekkid” in a ridiculous drawl is the height of entertainment.

Not all of it works: as is often the case with ensemble comedies, there are a few too many characters and subplots at work. Seth MacFarlane’s turn as egotistical moustachioed Nascar driver Max Chilblain doesn’t land as naturally as the other performances, calling too much attention to itself and feeling awkward and forced in the process. Sebastian Stan, playing Dayton White, a driver on Chilblain’s team, gets very little screen time. So too does Katherine Waterston, who pops up for only a couple of scenes. Hilary Swank appears late in the movie as an FBI agent investigating the heist, and like MacFarlane, she goes a little too broad, registering as off-key.

Funny, packed with quirky down-home charm and containing an impressively-engineered central heist, Logan Lucky is bona fide sleeper hit material, and is enough to make one hope Soderbergh keeps making movies for a while longer yet.

Summary: If you’re looking for a quality comedy somewhere in-between obscure indie and full-on Hollywood blockbuster, you’re in luck: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Redneck Ocean’s Eleven’ is a hoot.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cap’s Night Out: Team Cap Light-Up and Fireworks at Marina Bay Sands

CAP’S NIGHT OUT
Team Cap takes over the Marina Bay Sands skyline
By Jedd Jong


There has been considerable build-up to the finale of Team Cap’s visit to Singapore, so one could excuse us for being underwhelmed by the end result. Team Iron Man had thrown down the gauntlet, with Robert Downey Jr. lighting up the Eiffel Tower in gold and red, complete with glowing ‘eyes’ and an ‘arc reactor’. “Team Cap…I mean, how do you come back from that?” Downey said after the big reveal in Paris. “You are toast!”

Stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), with co-director Joe Russo, answered the challenge with a multimedia display and fireworks show at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort on the night of 22ndApril. Clips from the film were projected onto the ArtScience Museum and the spine of the hotel’s first tower, complemented by pyrotechnics. The show lasted around six minutes, starting and stopping intermittently.


Team Cap only made their way to the podium on the Helix Bridge 45 minutes after the event was scheduled to begin. Access to the bridge was tightly controlled, following the zealous fan turn-out for the Blue Carpet event the previous night. Most of the media weren’t allowed onto the same pod as Team Cap; F*** was one pod away. Safety was a concern, seeing as the bridge has a limited weight capacity. There were also rumours that Evans had been cranky the previous day, with some taking his attire at the Blue Carpet premiere (the same shirt he wore to the press conference, as opposed to Mackie’s and Stan’s three-piece suits) and his much later arrival compared to the director and other actors as indication that he was reluctant to walk the Blue Carpet.

If one had happened to pass by the Marina Bay waterfront and were catching the display from afar, it would’ve passed muster, but the fans and media weren’t so impressed. This reviewer overhead a fan asking her friends, “can we all agree that Team Iron Man won?” as they were filing out after the show.

The promotional tour rivalry will come to a head with Team Iron Man and Team Cap coming face-to-face at the film’s upcoming premiere in London.

Captain America: Civil War is in theatres 28 May 2016.

Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong

Action figure is the writer’s own. 


Captain America: Civil War

For F*** Magazine

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Director : Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast : Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Emily VanCamp, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 27 mins
Opens : 28 April 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Earth’s mightiest heroes are torn asunder in this, the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following calamitous incidents in New York, Washington D.C., Sokovia and Lagos, the politicians of the world seek to establish a governing body to supervise the actions of the Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey) agrees to sign what becomes known as ‘The Sokovia Accords’, while Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) refuses to comply. Sam Wilson/Falcon (Mackie), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch (Olsen), Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (VanCamp), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) take Rogers’ side. Backing up Stark are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany), and new additions T’challa/Black Panther (Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland). In the meantime, Rogers is still tracking down Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Stan), his childhood friend who was brainwashed into becoming a ruthless killing machine. Then there’s the enigmatic Dr. Helmut Zemo (Brühl), who seeks details on one of the Winter Soldier’s past missions to enact a treacherous scheme. If the world’s heroes are too busy fighting one another, who will protect everyone else?


             It’s generally agreed upon that 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is among the strongest entries in the MCU thus far. It’s an intense political thriller with lavish action spectacle and a resonant emotional component woven into a concinnate whole. With that film’s directors Joe and Anthony Russo and its writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely returning for Civil War, we had appropriately high expectations. Civil War is not so much a standalone Captain America movie as it is Avengers 2.5, packing in quite a number of characters from the MCU and introducing a couple of new ones. There are lots of moving parts and the story comes off as disjointed. The film gets off to a wobbly start, lacking particularly striking imagery or an impactful action sequence to open with. The source of the conflict at the heart of the film is established clearly enough, but Rogers’ and Stark’s resentment for each other doesn’t get enough room to really simmer to a boil.

            In the comics, the Civil War event centred on secret identities and superhero registration. Since secret identities have largely been a non-issue in the MCU, collateral damage has become the catalyst for conflict. There are some pretty high stakes and the film wants us to take the rift between the MCU’s two biggest heroes very seriously, but not at the expense of quips and general joking about. There are many humorous moments that do land and a reference to Empire Strikes Back had this reviewer doubling over with laughter. Cap, Falcon and Bucky also share a real ‘bro’ moment that’s quite endearing. However, there are several instances where the one-liners result in a sense of flippancy, undermining the gravity of the situation at hand.

            Both Evans and Downey have become very comfortable with their roles as Captain America and Iron Man respectively. There is a valiant attempt at having both parties make valid points, though the film tends to side with Cap because, well, he’s in the title. There’s plenty of snarky back-and-forth jibes, but the ideological disagreements get no room to breathe. There’s not very much to say about the performances of all the returning cast members, since the characterisation is generally consistent with how they’ve been drawn in previous films. Stan continues to be eminently sympathetic as Bucky – half puppy, half killing machine. Vision and Scarlet Witch share a few scenes together, as a nod to the characters’ romance in the comics, but these come off as superfluous. The budding romance between Cap and Agent 13 feels extremely tacked on. There are plenty of references to previous entries in the series, with an emphasis on Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, so one wouldn’t quite be able to make head or tail of this going in blind.

            Fans will be pleased to know that both Black Panther and Spider-Man are handled as well as possible. Boseman brings a stern dignity to the role of the Wakandan prince who is both royalty and costumed crime-fighter, the requisite outsider with no prior link to the Avengers. Stark ropes in teenage science whiz and vigilante Peter Parker. Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man feels very true to the spirit of the character: the wisecracks, the wide-eyed awe, the pubescent awkwardness, it’s all there in the right amounts. Marisa Tomei briefly shows up as Parker’s Aunt May, and the Spider-Man scenes have increased our anticipation of the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming all the more. The design of the suit is divisive: while it harks back to the more traditional artwork of the likes of Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr., the slightly old-fashioned spandex look doesn’t quite fit in with the established MCU aesthetic, especially since it’s established that Stark designed the suit for Parker.

            The “villain problem” that has plagued most MCU movies continues here. Helmut Zemo, who is markedly different from the costumed supervillain of the comics, is portrayed as a sly manipulator lurking behind the scenes for his own ends, pulling the marionette strings and fanning the flames of internecine strife. Unfortunately, Brühl makes so little of a mark that this reviewer had to go back to write this paragraph after completing the review, initially forgetting the need to elaborate on the villain.

            The standout action sequence is, naturally, the full-on clash between the two factions set at an airport in Leipzig. The scene is packed with fun visual gags and moments engineered to get the audience on their feet, cheering. It’s quite a shame then that the rest of the action sequences, perhaps barring the climactic brawl, are generally unmemorable. The heavy use of shaky-cam and breakneck editing means we can’t take in the choreography or get a good sense of who’s doing what in the middle of a fight.

            There’s a lot in Civil War that works fine and the people making these movies have enough experience under their belts to not make a complete fumble of things. However, because many of us are experiencing comic book movie fatigue, it takes a lot more than general competence to get us truly excited. There’s ultimately very little in Civil War that’s actually truly novel. It’s a victory, but far from a flawless one.

Summary: The introduction of Spider-Man and Black Panther into the MCU are highlights, but Civil War’s lack of cohesiveness and the hard-to-follow fight sequences prevent it from being the earth-shattering event it’s pitched as.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


            

Painting the Town Blue – Captain America: Civil War Blue Carpet

For F*** Magazine

PAINTING THE TOWN BLUE

Team Cap takes Marina Bay Sands by storm
By Jedd Jong

To call it a ‘crowd’ would be a gross understatement. On the evening of Thursday 22ndApril, throngs of fans showed up to try to catch a glimpse or, better yet, a coveted selfie with or autograph from the stars of Captain America: Civil War. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) were overrun with eager folks armed with homemade signs and cheering at the top of their lungs, some of whom had arrived as early as 10 hours before the scheduled start of the event.
That glorious Scott Pilgrim reference though.
In what must have been a heart-breaking move for any DC fan, a black curtain was set up in front of the DC Super Heroes café that overlooked the Blue Carpet area, out of deference to Marvel. It is perhaps an apt metaphor for how Marvel is pummelling the Distinguished Competition at the Multiplex.
A highlight of Team Cap’s visit to Singapore, stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier) with co-director Joe Russo walked the Blue Carpet. Deejay Glenn Ong and model/actress Stephanie Carrington were the evening’s hosts, with actor Paul Foster providing back-up on the Blue Carpet. The event was kicked off with the finals of a cosplay competition, with an enthusiastic Indonesian gentleman sporting accurate Tony Stark-esque facial hair drawn on and eyewear beneath his Iron Man helmet taking the top prize.

Stan looked more comfortable than he did at the press conference that morning, rocking a striking turquoise suit, with Mackie going for a more classic option. Evans looked like he rolled out of bed, wearing the same shirt and trousers he wore to the press conference – but one could stand to be a little sloppy if one possessed even a fraction of Evans’ pulchritude.
The sale of packages priced at $688 and $1288, including access to the Blue Carpet, had become the talk of the town. It was later clarified that the majority of Blue Carpet passes were being distributed to invited children and teenagers as part of Disney and MBS’ corporate social responsibility initiatives; these children would be invited on stage later. Other recipients included contest winners and VIPs. A limited number of Blue Carpet passes were then bundled together with products like collectible t-shirts, figurines and a one-night stay at the MBS hotel.
A considerable number of lucky fans who had arrived early enough to stake out a good spot lining the Blue Carpet were able to get the attention of the stars, who made every effort to sign as many autographs and take as many selfies as time would allow. Mackie even leapt over the barricades to reach fans standing several rows back, with Russo following suit. Even though the measures to prevent the average fan from attending weren’t as extreme as previously thought, the layout of the Blue Carpet did make it difficult for those who weren’t journalists or pass-holders to get very close to the stars.

The under-privileged children who were beneficiaries of MBS’ social outreach programs were welcomed onstage, and some got to ask the stars and director their questions. It’s difficult not to be a cynic in the face of such a blithely manipulative display on the part of a big corporation, but the children did seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves and a boy was overwhelmed with joy when Stan carried him up and swung him around.
Team Cap was presented with artwork by artists Elvin Ching, Guo Junwei, Noval N. Hernawen and Soefara Jafney which incorporated characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe into prominent Singapore landmarks.
The Team Cap festivities culminate on the night of 22nd April, which will see MBS lit up in red, white and blue, with an accompanying fireworks display as an act of one-upmanship aimed at Team Iron Man, who set a tough act to follow by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red and gold with glowing blue ‘eye’s during their Paris tour.

Photos by Tedd Jong 

In Civillised Company – Captain America: Civil War Team Cap Singapore Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

IN CIVILLISED COMPANY

Team Cap and co-director Joe Russo touch down in Singapore to talk Captain America: Civil War
By Jedd Jong
 
 
                It seems our tiny city state has been in a bit of a tizzy, ever since Marvel announced that Singapore would be one of the stops on the promotional tour for Captain America: Civil War, the 13th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). A brouhaha erupted over the obscenely high ticket prices that were being charged for premium access to the blue carpet – the passes, priced at $688 and $1288, did not even guarantee actually meeting the celebrities, and a discussion on the exploitation of geek interests for profit spread across social media. It was later clarified that these were package deals, and fans were welcome to line the blue carpet in the hopes of a selfie or autograph for free.
 
 
 
                This morning, stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and director Joe Russo, one half of the Russo Brothers filmmaking team, fielded questions from the local and regional press at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, including F***. Deejay Glenn Ong moderated the press conference, as Team Cap laid out their plans for domination.
 
                Civil War sees the Avengers fractured after politicians around the world propose a governing body to keep superhero activity in check, so as to prevent the wanton collateral damage the Avengers have incurred in the past from happening again. Half the team sides with Iron Man, who is for regulation, while the other backs Captain America, who is against it. Stars Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine) and Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter/Agent 13), with co-director Anthony Russo, threw down the gauntlet by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red and gold with blue ‘eyes’ during their press tour in Paris. Presumably, VanCamp was brought in as a replacement for Scarlett Johansson, seeing as Agent 13 really is on Team Cap in the movie.
 
                “I saw what Downey did in Paris, and it was great, but I think we can really do something special here in Singapore and show ‘em it’s all about Team Cap,” Evans declared. He was referring to the plan to light up the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort in red white and blue; the light-up will be accompanied by a fireworks display. “The more buzz, the more energy that can be created, the conflict between the two camps is going to help the film,” Evans said, tacitly conceding that the rivalry is obviously manufactured to keep the sales machine going.
 
                The Russo brothers return to the MCU after helming the much-loved Winter Soldier movie. They are also signed on for both parts of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War cinematic epic, which will see the Avengers finally come face-to-face with their ultimate foe, the intergalactic warlord Thanos. Russo cited the interplay between the characters as a key component in the MCU, saying “I think this movie has more character interaction than any movie that has preceded it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Civil War is couched as a culmination of plot lines that have been fomenting across the earlier Avengers and Captain America movies, with Russo promising a film that’s “Heart-breaking but also a great deal of fun and “a well-rounded experience at the movies.”
 
                “It’s a Steven Soderbergh-level of cast,” Russo said of the ensemble he and his brother presided over. “Marvel has done an amazing job of filling out the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some of the best actors in the world, it makes my job very easy.”
 
                “They have a wonderful understanding of cinema,” Evans said, returning the praise. “A lot of directors don’t always want to reference other movies, but Joe and Anthony are true cinephiles.”
 
                The Russo Brothers are known for their work on television comedies like Arrested Development and Community. They slipped Community cast member Danny Pudi into The Winter Soldier, and Jim Rash has a cameo in Civil War. Russo drew a parallel between shooting comedy and staging action sequences, saying “When you execute a comedic gag, there’s a lot of correlation to action: spatial relationships on screen, editing, rhythm.” Russo acknowledged the “incredible support” rendered to them by the Marvel Studios brass, calling the visual effects team “unbelievable”.
 
                In order to decide who would be on whose side, the Russo Brothers sat in a room for months with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to hash out the story beats. “We went through the cast we had available us and the cast we didn’t have available to us and we thought very hard about who would line up against who based on their motivations up to this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Russo added that “surprises for the audience” were on the agenda too.
 
 
 
                Throughout the press conference, Stan seemed the most withdrawn, while still projecting a certain sweetness, whereas Mackie was gregarious and game. Perhaps Stan was freshly defrosted from Winter Soldier hibernation. Mackie was handy with the disses aimed at Team Iron Man, like so many bullets from flip-out submachine guns. “We try to get to know the culture that we’re in, eat the food and meet the people,” Mackie said, tacking the colloquial Singaporean interjection ‘lah’ onto the end of a few sentences. “Whereas Team Iron Man, they’re more about just going from the press conference to the spa, and then from the spa to their jet, stuff like that. We hitchhike. They hang on to me, I put on the jetpack and we go straight across.”
 
                In the film, Falcon’s get-up is referred to at one point as a “bird costume.” Mackie reacted with mock indignation when a reporter reminded him of this, replying “say that one more time, homie? I’m described as what?!” When egged on to denigrate Team Iron Man’s outfits, Mackie offered that Stark himself looks like “a coke can”, that Vision looks like “someone just drew over him”, that War Machine resembles “a trash can” and that Black Panther’s suit seems like it’s made of “Michelin car tyres.” He could not bring himself to insult Black Widow, whom he described as “perfect.”
 
 
                When quizzed on how they get in superhero shape for the films, Evans said there was no magic bullet, “Any type of secret workout, diet, doesn’t really work,” he insisted. “We go to the gym, we pick up heavy stuff, we put that down, we do that until we can’t do that anymore and we get big.” Sounds so easy when he puts it that way, doesn’t it? Mackie jests that Evans really is an Ultimate Frisbee enthusiast. Evans admonishes him, saying that his quip is bound to get lost in translation down the line and invariably get taken seriously by somebody.
 
                The film pushes the relationship between Rogers and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 further along, with Rogers learning that she’s actually the niece of Peggy Carter, the co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. who fell in love with Rogers during his WWII days. Evans stated that it “follows in the lineage of what Cap considers his home to be with Peggy Carter, and Sharon Carter is kind of an incarnation of something familiar.” He said he is intrigued by the suggestion of a romantic bond between Cap and Black Widow, which Mackie objected to, since he has his eye on Black Widow. “They come from different backgrounds and find comfort in each other at different times of distress,” Evans reasoned. “I always thought that would be a really interesting dynamic to pursue, but at the same time, it’s very sweet and very pure that they’ve kept it platonic.”
 
 
 
                Russo delivered the closing salvo of the press conference, calling Civil War an “incredibly important” entry in the canon. “Winter Soldier changed the external structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. I think that this movie changes the psychology of the Marvel Universe in a very significant way,” Russo continued. Teasing what’s to come, he said that “the ramifications of Civil War are not over, they’re going to carry over significantly into Infinity War.” So, from the ashes of war, there is rebuilding to be done.
Captain America: Civil War opens in cinemas 28 April 2016
 
F***’s coverage of the Team Cap festivities in Singapore will continue.
 
Photos by Tedd Jong

 

The Martian

For F*** Magazine

THE MARTIAN

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