Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Premium Rush

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 91 mins
Opens: 27 September 2012
Rating: PG13 - Some Coarse Language

Premium Rush - Review Quick, off the top of your head, name some dangerous jobs, lines of work where risking life and limb are all part of the daily grind. Fighter pilot? Fireman? SWAT Officer? Naval Diver? How about bicycle courier? Fuelled not by diesel nor octane, just adrenaline, these daredevil deliverymen (and women) put the ‘special’ in ‘special delivery’, and the ‘rush’ in ‘rush delivery’, taking the merciless New York traffic head on.

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a rather extreme example, who puts getting the job done and the thrill of it a fair bit over his personal safety as he weaves through the city streets at blinding speeds astride his brakes-less, single-gear fixie bike. His ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Ramirez) is also his colleague, and he faces competition in both professional and personal fields from his cocky rival Manny (Wole Parks). He is tasked with delivering a mysterious envelope from Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Chung), and soon finds himself being pursued by crooked cop Bobby Monday (Shannon), who is in deep with Chinese gambling syndicates and needs to pay his way out. Wheels are spun, blows are traded, bullets are fired, cars and bikes are wrecked – and Wilee needs to stay on top of it all, somehow.

The idea of an action story based around the world of bike messengers is not completely new: there was the 80s film Quicksilver, starring Kevin Bacon, Taylor Lautner’s upcoming flick Tracers, and the 1998 novel The Ultimate Rush – the author of which has actually sued the filmmakers of Premium Rush for copyright infringement. Still, it is pretty novel to see the central vehicles in high-speed road chases not be muscle cars, souped-up choppers or Humvees, but rather comparatively humble bicycles. The key is in making said chases still feel exciting, still having them carry an element of danger in spite of the more mundane modes of transportation used to carry them out.

Premium Rush’s greatest strength is that the chases – and there are loads of ‘em – do indeed feel intense and exhilarating. Director David Koepp and his crew had the task of getting audiences’ blood pumping as they stay seated for two hours, and Premium Rush does a mighty fine job in that regard, with dynamic camerawork and a real tactile feel to the action, genuine enough to draw gasps from all those very, very close calls. There are however, one or two spots where one can tell that Gordon-Levitt has been replaced by a stunt double. The film may have gotten a little carried away in the style department, with sequences showing how Wilee mentally maps out the immediate path to take in “bike vision”, and a visual representation of New York City in miniature buildings-3D map style. At times, this can get a little too dizzying, and one gets the sense that perhaps Koepp was trying a mite too hard to make this ‘cool’ and ‘hip’.

The story is rather straightforward and this is an old-school chase flick at heart. Our hero has something the villain wants, and thus needs to evade the villain by any means necessary. There is actually nothing wrong with this relatively simple story, and it is made more interesting by being told in non-linear fashion, the action occasionally flashing back to show how we got here. It can be a little distracting, but it also adds a layer or two to the proceedings. The plot can be compared to that of the Jason Statham-starring film Safe, also involving a protagonist caught in a web of Chinese mobsters and dirty cops. However, where Safe was generic and boring, Premium Rush is frequently refreshing and a lot of fun.

And then there are the performances, which truly elevate the material. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast as Wilee, the combination of youthful energy and focused intensity he brings to the part well-suited to a bike messenger living life on the absolute edge. Dania Ramirez as his love interest and colleague is good too, she brings a certain physicality to the part of Vanessa and with those toned arms and the athleticism she displays, it isn’t hard at all to buy her as someone who cycles at 50 mph for a living. Wole Parks as the requisite rival is annoying, but then again the character is meant to be. Jamie Chung is a tad stiff and struggles somewhat with her Mandarin Chinese lines, but is okay anyway.

The show is stolen squarely by Michael Shannon as corrupt policeman Det. Bobby Monday – and it seems that was the actor’s intention to begin with. Shannon will play Superman villain General Zod in next year’s Man of Steel, and if his turn as the antagonist here is any indication, Supes had better watch out. Shannon’s portrayal is utterly unhinged, and he manages to be over-the-top yet still intimidating, his Det. Monday sometimes comic, but always scary. It brings to mind Gary Oldman’s iconic portrayal of psychotic DEA Agent Stansfield in The Professional, and while Shannon may come off as a little goofy to some, he still makes for a memorable adversary to Wilee.

Premium Rush makes for a pretty exciting time at the theatre, its buoyant tone with tongue somewhat in cheek making sure it’s always light on its feet – or its two wheels, as it were. Perhaps where it went a little off track was in gearing itself a little too much towards the younger set.

SUMMARY: Lightning-paced entertainment that doesn’t stop to put on the brakes, but has a basic narrative bodywork and sometimes gets a little carried away in its stylisation.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Monday, September 17, 2012


Movie Review                                                                                                             18/9/12


Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Directed by: Pete Travis

            2012 has been quite the year for marquee-name superheroes: Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers…they’ve all made quite the splash. Now, along comes the underdog: Judge Dredd, not from big guns DC or Marvel, but British sci-fi comics imprint 2000 AD. Judge Joseph Dredd has made it to the big screen once before in 1995’s Judge Dredd – though that left quite the bitter taste in the mouths of many a 2000 AD devotee. Now, everyone’s favourite helmeted future lawman hops back astride his lawmaster motorbike and into cinemas.

            Our story takes place in Mega-City One, a sprawling, chaotic hellhole of a megapolis on the east coast of what was once North America. The only thing keeping the peace? The Judges of the Hall of Justice, specially trained and equipped men and women who form an ultra-police force of sorts. Joseph Dredd (Urban) is one such Judge, and today he’s tasked with assessing newbie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Thirlby) by taking her out for her first day in the field. She may not look like she has what it takes, but Anderson is a powerful psychic empath, her skills a valuable asset to the Judges. Dredd and Anderson go to investigate a triple homicide in the mega-apartment complex Peach Trees, arresting clansman Kay (Wood Harris) - only to find themselves trapped in the locked-down building by the ruthless drug lord Ma-Ma (Headey), Ma-Ma bent on ensuring the Judges have no chance to take Kay to interrogation. It’s 200 storeys of hell for Dredd and Anderson – and judgement day for the scores of Ma-Ma’s henchmen out for their blood.

            A common complaint among us moviegoers these days is that Hollywood seems to be falling back increasingly on ‘reboots’, ‘remakes’ and ‘re-imaginings’, that it seems studio executives are content with coasting on an established franchise’s name as opposed to coming up with something original. However, if ever there was a character and a movie who needed a reboot, it would definitely have to be Judge Dredd. The 1995 film left a sour taste in the mouths of 2000 AD devotees – the tone was all wrong, it was way too clean and commercialized, and Sylvester Stallone seemed to have huge amounts of trouble trying to pronounce the word ‘law’. The folks at 2000 AD seemed to share this sentiment, and legend has it that Judge Dredd’s co-creator John Wagner walked up to Stallone on the set of the film and told him “you’re shooting the wrong script.” Ouch.

            It’s safe to say that 2012’s Dredd is an exponential improvement. The first thing this one’s gotten right is the tone. The 1995 Judge Dredd was much too colourful and soft, but here we get the impression that Mega-City One is truly the nastiest, nastiest place anyone could ever have the misfortune of calling home. It’s been noted that many recent films set in futuristic dystopias compromise a tad, with elements that still make that world look attractive – well, Dredd isn’t one of them. Its milieu is unflinchingly depressing, as raw a portrait of a city gone to hell in a hand basket as you’ll ever see onscreen.  This realm of grim squalor is one where it would make sense to have a police force on steroids, as it would seem to be the only way to even attempt to keep things in check, and the filmmakers have successfully sold  this conceit. The illicit substance ‘slo-mo’, a drug that makes time seem like it’s passing at 1% its normal speed, is a great excuse for some flashy slow-motion shots that may seem gimmicky, but are honestly a nice break from the intensity of it all. 

            And how about Dredd himself? Once again, this film has topped its predecessor by leaps and bounds, Karl Urban is a far, far better fit for the character than Stallone ever was. Urban marshals a tough, uncompromising figure of justice, expertly balancing the sides of underappreciated do-gooder and tough, no-nonsense supercop. In the hands of a less-skilled actor, Dredd could have easily become a laughable, overly-posturing caricature of macho bravado. However, Urban plays the part with remarkable restraint, and it is also admirable that he turns in such a riveting performance with his eyes obscured by his visor for the whole film (as it should be) – the eyes being one of the greatest tools any actor has in his/her arsenal.

            Olivia Thirlby is a revelation as Judge Anderson, and this could well her breakout role. She is fresh-faced and beautiful, a rookie out of her depth but one who musters up every ounce of courage to hide her fear and face the harshness of the outside world head-on. Anderson’s conflict regarding excessive uses of force and the brutal nature of the job is handled laudably by Thirlby; instead of slouching in a corner bawling “I DON’T WANT TO SHOOT THAT MAN!” she’s able to convey the muted turmoil in quite an understated fashion. There’s a fantastic scene where she enters Kay’s mind, and as he tries to shock her with ghastly mental images, she gamely one-ups the lowlife with mind games of her own. The other female presence Lena Headey makes for an intimidating villainess, a large scar marring the actress’s normally-gorgeous visage. Thing is, Ma-Ma isn’t a particularly memorable or remarkable villain, and truth be told she doesn’t do much, spending much of the film dictating her mooks as they do her dirty work for her.

            This leads us to the weaknesses of the film. The story is laid out in pretty familiar fashion – it’s our heroes trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time, the odds stacked 200 storeys against them, having to fight their way to the big boss at the top floor. It’s quite Die Hard, and really, really reminded this reviewer of the Indonesian sleeper hit martial arts movie The Raid: Redemption. It’s just not a particularly interesting premise, and means the action is largely confined within the Peach Trees complex. This is a way of working around the limited $45 million budget, we suppose, but ends up becoming quite formulaic. There are also issues with the pacing, and the film drags itself out considerably, leading up to what can be considered a lackluster climax. Most of the film consists of Dredd taking on or running away from scores of thugs, which can get a little bland after a while. There is a fantastic action sequence set in a drug lab which pits Dredd against three corrupt fellow Judges, and this reviewer would have loved to see more scenes of this nature that allow Dredd to truly show off how much of a badass he is. The 3D is halfway-decent, but results in an already dimly-lit film looking even darker because of the polarization.

            Dredd lays the groundwork for what has the potential to be a truly incredible, refreshingly visceral comic book movie franchise. It pulls no punches with its hard violence that’s sure to get some squirming in their seats, and seems to have nary a sense of Hollywood mega-studio artificiality to it. It’s just that the story of this film probably isn’t the best that could have taken place in the environment, and hopefully a sequel comes along that will progress the grim world of Mega-City One even further.

SUMMARY: Dredd serves up Urban justice on a plate, and in terms of style and tone is exactly what 2000 AD fans will wholeheartedly enjoy. However, this is clearly just to lay the Mega-City’s foundations, and hopefully will be followed up with more compelling and exciting entries to come.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

Ruby Sparks

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             12/9/12


Starring: Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Chris Messina
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

            All writers know that there’s nothing quite as intimidating as a blank page – this reviewer is faced with one right now. Even the most prolific of writers can get bad cases of writer’s block induced by nothing more than a little white space, and prodigious young novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is no exception. At the age of 19, he shot to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list and captured the imagination of the public, but has had a hard time matching his success in the intervening ten years. His therapist Dr Rosenthal (Elliot Gould) gives him a simple writing assignment to get him going.

            That night, Calvin has a dream in which a beautiful, quirky young woman named Ruby (Kazan) approaches him in the park while he’s walking his dog, and offers to do a drawing of Calvin’s pet pooch. Inspired, he awakes the next morning and writes away. Gradually and inexplicably, personal effects of some non-existent woman pop up in his house, as discovered by Calvin’s concerned brother Harry (Messina) and Harry’s wife Susie (Toni Trucks). Then, the utterly impossible happens – Ruby, the woman who had hitherto only been a product of Calvin’s imagination, materializes before him. Calvin has to come to grips with this absurd turn of events, questioning his sanity and making his brother even more worried, when he realises that whatever he types on his page, Ruby will manifest. In other words (heh), Calvin now has the perfect girlfriend all to himself – but the situation may not be as ideal as he’s imagined once reality sets in. 

            This fantasy romantic comedy-drama is helmed by the same directing duo famous for Little Miss Sunshine, so one can get a rough idea as to the offbeat, gently humourous and quirkily intelligent tone. Ruby Sparks was written by Ruby herself, Zoe Kazan, and boy did she do an amazing job as both scribe and leading lady. Directors Dayton and Faris have helped Kazan handcraft a true masterpiece, a film that completely took this reviewer by surprise in how profound and moving it ended up being. On the surface, this looks like a fun little flick with a fantastical premise, sort of Stranger than Fiction meets Pygmalion. There are indeed laughs aplenty to be derived from Calvin’s extremely peculiar predicament, and from how Ruby can be bent to his will at a mere keystroke.

            However, beneath that bubbly surface lies Kazan’s eloquent meditation on the process of writing, the process of falling in love, how the two intersect, and the moral and ethical implications of having complete control over one’s partner. The film expertly eases the audience from the lighter stuff into the psychological drama, and there is a truly intense confrontation at the film’s climax that one completely would not expect, yet it does not feel out of place in the slightest. As an aspiring writer and a hopeless romantic, the film struck this reviewer to the core, its observations ringing clear as a bell in spite (or perhaps because of) its outlandish jumping-off point. Even with the element of fantasy, this film never resorts to caricatures or broad strokes; even Calvin’s hippie mother and her new boyfriend (played by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas respectively, enjoyable in their small roles) aren’t made out to be like Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman’s similarly-characterised roles in Meet the Fockers. There’s a deftness, an elegance to the way the whole thing is handled, one example being a seemingly throwaway gag involving Ruby speaking French, which gets an impactful payoff at the end. All this may come off as pretentiously hipster to some, but is actually very refreshing amidst the sea of production-line, puerile comedies Hollywood seems to be churning out like butter these days, and not once does the film feel smug.

            Paul Dano, a Little Miss Sunshine alum, has yet to truly hit the big time – but judging from his performance as Calvin, he definitely deserves to. He is believable and likable to a fault as the awkward writer, and he never overplays Calvin’s ineptness as actors tasked with playing characters of this sort often do. When Calvin’s darker side creeps to the surface during the afore-mentioned climactic confrontation, Dano is absolutely riveting in that display of acting range. Kazan actually bests him a tad, probably because she wrote the part of Ruby for herself to play. They have incredible chemistry, likely a result of the actors’ real life romantic involvement with each other. Ruby is essentially a deconstruction of that ever-present “manic pixie dream girl” trope, embodied by such actresses as Zooey Deschanel and Krysten Ritter. Ruby can be all doe-eyed and kooky, but can switch personality traits at the drop of a hat, thanks to Calvin’s control over her. It’s engrossing to watch Kazan play the puppet of sorts, a woman unaware that she is actually nothing more than a figment of her boyfriend’s imagination come to life – and even more interesting to see Ruby assert her own identity when push comes to shove.

            Ruby Sparks is, to put it plainly, one of the very best romantic comedies this reviewer has ever seen. It almost defiantly breaks free of the mould of gratingly commercial ‘chick flicks’, instead serving up some rather deep ideas cloaked in a ‘what if?’ comedy, it’s artfully-lensed and brought to vivid life by its very capable leads. Just as Ruby leaps off the page and into Calvin’s life, so this film will very likely leap off the screen and into the hearts of many a viewer.

SUMMARY: An intriguing premise, skillfully-written screenplay, intelligent direction, compelling performances and unexpectedly thought-provoking philosophical undertones turn this Spark into a brightly-glowing flame.


Jedd Jong


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

For F*** Magazine Singapore

Resident Evil: Retribution

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Li Bingbing, Johann Urb
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 97 mins
Opens: 13 September 2012
Rating: NC16 - Violence

Resident Evil: Retribution - ReviewVideo game movies have long had a bad rap, and one would be hard-pressed to name a flick based on a game that isn’t terrible, let alone any good. When one thinks of the bottom of the cinematic barrel, video game movies are often lining the base, from Super Mario Bros. to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. The Resident Evil film franchise is by far the most successful among video game films. That is, however, not to say these are good films by any stretch. Unfortunately, Retribution is nothing but further evidence of that. 
The film opens promisingly enough, with an interesting-looking-if-indulgent action sequence shown in reverse, of an assault on a freight tanker ship that results in the capture of Alice (Jovovich). She awakes in a high-tech prison cell as a captive of the Umbrella Corporation from the previous films, and it’s not long before her buddies come to break her out, characters such as Leon S Kennedy (Urb), Ada Wong (Li) and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) numbering among them. Alice discovers her former ally Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) has been mind-controlled by the Umbrella Corp to turn against her, and unravels a conspiracy involving simulated arenas and mass cloning as she fights to preserve whatever’s left of the human race.

And then it’s pretty much downhill from there, the film proceeding to rip off all manner of science-fiction/action films that have gone before, relying on cheap tricks and lazy writing to shove the ‘story’ along, and concluding with an outright shameless bit of sequel baiting. Whatever life this franchise may have once had has well and truly been replaced with a sense of the undead. It’s rote, boring, and has an odd direct-to-video feel – at its worst, it gives off Uwe Boll vibes. We’re serious. For the uninitiated, the film includes an exposition dump near the beginning, with Alice talking directly at the camera, summarising the events of the previous movies while clips from those films play in the background. While it does provide some setup for those new to the series, it’s clunky, very on-the-nose, and just poorly-executed – setting the tone for what follows.

The Resident Evil films have gained a degree of notoriety among fans of the video games because Alice, the protagonist of the movies, is nowhere to be found in the games that inspired them. This has led many to the conclusion that it’s all an excuse for director Paul WS Anderson to show off his wife – and that he does once more in Retribution. It’s cold comfort to see other characters actually from the source material appear in the film, but the focus is still solidly on Alice and her scenes are even more proof that she’s nowhere as fun to watch as the others. Li Bingbing is so laughably stiff as Ada Wong that it’s not just bad acting – it looks like a parody of bad acting. The Becky character played by partially-deaf child actress Aryana Engineer, ostensibly a surrogate child for Alice to grow attached to as the film progresses, seems like a shameless rip-off of the Newt-Ripley relationship in Aliens, and to resort to putting a child in jeopardy to get a reaction out of the audience is a cheap and ineffective tactic. Michelle Rodriguez seems to be having the most fun out of the cast, playing “good” and “bad” cloned versions of her character, but even then she is prone to histrionics.

The film’s tagline, “Evil Goes Global”, is an utter misnomer. It is quickly revealed that the supposed globetrotting never takes place, and that locations such as New York, Tokyo and Moscow are merely simulated environments created by the Umbrella Corp to test their clones in – so it’s more like “Evil Goes Epcot Centre”. The action moves from each of these enclosures to the next, giving the film a videogame-like structure of multiple levels – a structure that just doesn’t work on the big screen. Our heroes run around level 1 killing zombies, then run around level 2 killing zombies, then have a car chase with zombies in level gets old really, really fast, and it almost seems as if the filmmakers actually intended to make audiences apathetic. There seem to be no emotional stakes, and while Alice and Co. get into jams fairly often, it won’t be easy to actually care.

All that said though, at least the 3D is employed effectively. There are several scenes where one can get a nice sense of depth looking down endless shafts and tunnels, and there is the occasional blade that flies out of the screen in quite convincing fashion. In a film like this one, it’s perfectly fine for the 3D to be gimmicky; it’s meant to be part of the fun. Ironically though, the good stereoscopic effects tend to expose the relatively weak CGI and visual effects work – you’re looking down a tunnel, sure, but you can easily tell the tunnel is made of computer graphics.

Ultimately, Resident Evil: Retribution is a very frustrating film to sit through. It’s not so much egregiously bad as it is a very, very unnecessary sequel, and it appears that absolutely nobody involved in this project put in any effort, instead content to churn out another mediocre instalment in their sleep. Also, the story goes nowhere, the whole film essentially setting up for yet another sequel. If Paul WS Anderson and co. wish to continue making these films, they had better rethink their strategy, because if this fifth instalment achieves anything, it’s in showing some sacred cash cows are probably better off slain.

SUMMARY: Resident Evil: Retribution clearly displays that the tired franchise has long outstayed its welcome, and that no matter how hard you try to kill it, it will still keep gnawing on your brain.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mark Nagata Interview at STGCC 2012: Part 2

Hey everyone, here is part 2 of my interview with toy designer/collector and illustrator Mark Nagata of Max Toys Co.


STGCC 2012: Interview with Max Toy Co’s Mark Nagata – Part Two

Mark Nagata

Source: Max Toy Co

Mark Nagata of Max Toy Co was kind enough to speak with Jedd-the-Jedi at STGCC. If you missed it, click here to check out the first part of the Mark Nagata interview. In the conclusion to the interview, Mark tells Jedd about finding his toy Holy Grail, his top five toys, and more!

Do you have a special story of a collectible toy of any kind that you obtained through extraordinary circumstances? Have you gotten a hold of something you never dreamed you’d be able to own in a million years, something so extremely special?

(Laughs) Yes, I do! Yes, I do have a story about that. So, there’s a Bullmark figure, which is a Japanese company from the 1960s and 70s, and they issued, in very small numbers, a standard size Ultraman figure in red vinyl. Now the reason why they released it in red vinyl is they were hoping the colour red would appeal to girls, instead of the grey or like silver colour of what Ultraman is supposed to be. But Ultraman never was red in the series, and then the girls hated the figure anyways, so it never sold, it was a flop for them.
So going forward when I started collecting the figures in the late 80s-early 90s, and I’m doing research about all the different types of figures I had to find, when I found out about the red Ultraman that was always at the top of my list, like if I go back to Japan I’ve gotta look for this, or if I’m looking at eBay or Yahoo Japan or something I gotta find this. So on one trip to Japan, we were in the Nakano mall, which is a very famous mall with like different shops, like Mendorake and toy stores.

One of my friends said “Hey, go look over in the case; I think that’s something you’re looking for!” So I walk over there and there’s a red Ultraman sitting there right, so I was like “oh my God”, and I had to find out, I had to go over and ask how much, right? So I went over and in my very, very poor Japanese asked “Ikura desuka?” – you know, “How much?” And the guy goes “$5,000” – USD $5,000. I just thought… ”I can’t, I can’t. My wife’s gonna kill me!” And I only had $2,000, that’s all I had – for the whole trip, so no way, and I don’t wanna use credit card or anything. So all my friends said “Oh, you know, I’ll loan you a couple of hundred dollars, maybe you’ll get enough to make a big pool or something,” and I said “No no no, I don’t want to have to owe you guys!” So, I left.

So about a week later, I come home to San Francisco, and I’m still thinking about that figure. I can’t believe I couldn’t get it, right? So I’m looking around my room and I’m like “okay”, I have maybe $1,000 saved for toys, but maybe can I sell $4,000 worth of things to get the $5,000? So over the next three weeks, I gather up all kinds of figures and I sell them. And I raised the $4,000, plus the $1,000 I had saved, so I had $5,000 ready to go.

I have to email another friend to run down to the store to make sure the figure is still there, and luckily, it’s still there. So I PayPal the money to my friend, he goes down a second time, buys the figure, and so I tell him “Look, you send it to me EMS. Full insurance, please $5,000 insurance. Put it in a secure box, lots of tape, lots of bubble wrap, this is… this is it, this is my Holy Grail. I’ll pay whatever it costs to get it to me!” He was like “No problem, no problem.”
So a week later, the mailman comes and, you know, EMS box, and I’m looking at the box. It’s a shoebox, a Nike shoebox. It’s crushed. So, it goes like this (an indentation) right in the middle. EMS, it’s from my friend, so I’m thinking “I hope my figure’s not in there.” So I sign for it, I open up the box and the figure’s in there, with two pieces of newspaper. And it’s crushed right, but luckily the figure is fine. So I’m like “good, I got my figure now, I put it in my case, everything is great, right?” I’m looking at the label – he insured it for $5! ¥500. So I just… you know I just thought it got crushed, he didn’t even pack it well, but it got to me alright so… it was meant to be! (Laughs).

Thank you, that’s a great story!

Well, not at the time. I was so mad! I was like “What’s wrong with you?!” and he was like “I forgot… ”

It would probably be hard to ask you to pick a favourite out of the thousands of figures you own, maybe that Red Ultraman would be one, but if you had to – a desert island sort of question – what five figures would you rescue if your house burned down – knock on wood. 

Eyezons at STGCC
Source: Toy Karma

Oh wow. Number one has to be – well one of the five, I can’t rank it – has to be the Red Ultraman. I actually have a wax sculpture of the most kaiju that I sell called Eyezon. Even though that’s not really a figure, for me it’s very special because that’s like the original sculpt (master sculpt). See, I’m trying to think of… ohh… these are tough questions! What do we got… three more… there’s a… about a 20 inch tall Marusan Talking Ultraman that I have… that… that was actually very hard to get too so I gotta put it on there. I think I’ve got to get a couple of kaiju in there, so, there’s a giant-sized Kitty Fire – it’s a kaiju from the Mirror Man show. And then, um, probably last one…

Wouldn’t Godzilla be somewhere in there?

You know, actually, I’m not a big Godzilla fan. Yeah. I mean I watch the movies, but in terms of collecting, um, you only have so much money, so all my focus went into Ultraman. Whereas my other friends it was Godzilla or Toho figures. So you know, if I want to see a Toho figure, I just go to my friend’s house and he has all the Godzilla figures (chuckles).

When I was younger, my Dad would always say “Don’t start a new collection, don’t start a new collection!”

Oh yeah, yeah of course! Yeah, it’s, uh, it can be bad.

You’ve said that handpainting toys preserves a tradition. Do you think mass market toys lose too much of the personal feel given to them by sculptors and painters in mass production, or does modern day toy technology adequately duplicate, to a certain degree, the handcrafted original product? 

You know, I actually visited a factory in China, for some of my early toys, and the thing that I realised is even though you don’t know the people’s names in the room, they’re all humans. They’re all hand-painting the toys! So even if one woman is just doing the eye, it’s by hand. And she just passes it to the next person, and then maybe they just do the chest, and then the next person but in the end, humans are all touching the toy! Even like a Star Wars figure, you know, they make two hundred thousand of them, it’s still hand-processed. For the actual painting they use a mask, they spray, they put another mask and it goes down the line, so you know, sometimes I don’t understand why people get so down on Chinese-made toys, because what I used to tell them is, well, “Maybe you don’t know their names, but these are people that are still doing the same; similar techniques – just on a bigger scale than what’s happening here, but you should still appreciate the effort that’s going into it,” so…

I guess people have this misconception that mass-market toys come off a production line like cars, you know, where it’s all robots… 

Right right, with the robots… well exactly, I understand. If you look at the room and there’s like a hundred people all dressed alike, and you don’t see their faces then you don’t have a connection, a human connection, but even with like, you know, the Hot Toys, they’re sewing all the clothes, sewing the pockets and putting the buttons on… it’s all handwork, it’s amazing.

So, how much of the handiwork do you think most collectors will appreciate? How much of what you do ends up in the collector’s hearts and minds? 

Well I would hope that because I like to talk about the process and I videotape them pulling the vinyl, and the guys painting it, I hope that in a little way people will realise that there is that human element in all of these toys and even thought it’s a collectible to just realise that, you know, even if I do twenty of these, really no two are the same. If you line them all up, they look the same, but you start looking and go “oh, maybe this eye is a little this way or this tooth is a little like that” – so actually each one is unique.

My last question is: are you optimistic about a possible kaiju movie revival in the States? With Godzilla and with Pacific Rim and films like that? 

Yeah, I am more excited about Pacific Rim (laughs) than I am about Godzilla, only because, uh, I think you know Godzilla has such a long history, that it’ll be very difficult for anybody to come up with something fresh or new… ah… without going so far away from the original Godzilla look?

It’s kinda like how people said “You can’t tell a new Joker story” before The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger came out. 

(Laughs) Right!

So there is that concern.

Yeah, there is.

Do you think Guillermo del Toro will handle the heritage well, with Pacific Rim?

You know, I’ve barely heard any, uh, reports on it. So um, let’s hope! I love his um… I love Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hellboy, yeah so I think he’ll do a good job.

Thank you so much!

Big thanks to Mark for the interview, and to Jedd for providing some awesome coverage of the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention. For more of Mark Nagata, check out: Max Toy Co, Toy Karma, and mark nagata illustration.

Click here for more of Jedd’s STGCC updates.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

STGCC 2012 Pics!

About a week late, here are a selection of photographs from the Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention 2012!

I was covering the event for

Press Preview Day
Play Imaginative Super Alloy Batman
Hot Toys Batman and The Dark Knight
Hot Toys Avengers
Interview with Mark Nagata - Part 1

 I'm with comics book writer and co-creator of 'The Losers', Andy Diggle.

 Play Imaginative's exclusive Super Alloy Batman figure.

 I'm with artist Kelvin Chan and a print of the 'Dredd' movie poster he drew

 With cosplayer Sarah Ann as Cassandra Cain Batgirl!

 From left: Andy Diggle, artists Leinil Yu and Tristan Eaton

 Tristan Eaton at work

 Leinil Yu at work

 Leinil Yu's completed 'Singaporean Superhero' piece

 The lovely cosplayer Victoria as Poison Ivy. I feel an itch coming on!

 Anne Hathaway as Catwoman by Hot Toys.

 Christian Bale as Batman by Hot Toys

 Heath Ledger as the Joker by Hot Toys

 Michael Keaton as Batman, with the Keaton-car, by Hot Toys

 The Avengers diorama by Hot Toys

 The Hulk gives me a hand!

 Hot Toys! 

 Nicole and Hillary as Gender-flipped Joker and her Harley Quinn.

 With toy designer, collector and illustrator Mark Nagata, after the interview with him.

 With a cosplayer dressed as Zatanna

 The lovely faces behind the lovely faces of Hot Toys: the sculptors and figure artists

 Michael Keaton as Batman by Hot Toys

 Clare as the Oracle

 "Accessing database now, Bruce..."

 The Empire would very much like to take me hostage.

 At the 501st Legion booth; a donation to the Children's Cancer Society gets you a change to fire NERF bullets at this unfortunate stormtrooper. And they have a working R2 replica! 

 More of Hot Toys' striking Avengers diorama

 Thor, Loki, Sif, and, uh, me

 Hot Toys' camo Batmobile

 Tom Hardy as Bane, by Hot Toys

 Jason as Batman

 Reno as Bane and Vivianne as Catwoman - should I be concerned that he's pointing in my general direction?
 This Diablo suit was killer, lit up and everything

 In the same vein, one of the very, very best Iron Man cosplays I've ever seeen

 The fine folks at 'Fightsaber' constructed their own replica lightsabers and choreographed a very neat stunt saber performance, complete with shocking twist ending.

 The DC gang is all here! I was in geek heaven.

 With Kiellne as Red Robin

All the minors Bruce Wayne has endangered over the years

 Reboot Lara with an action figure of Angelina Jolie's movie incarnation!

 There's a doctor in the house!

 He's brandishing flick-out knives, I'm brandishing an empty Fanta sample cup

 This was cool - Mara Jade and Mini Mara! Apparently the Dad was dressed as a Scout Trooper, too!


 Deadpool strikes a pool-pose

Hot Toys' 1/4 scale, 18-inch Batman with all the accessories! 

Including an uncanny Christian Bale headsculpt.

 STGCC Exclusive: Hot Toys POTC Angelica

 STGCC Exclusive: Hot Toys SWAT Commissioner Gordon

 STGCC Exclusive: Hot Toys Rescue Captain America

Hot Toys Jake Sully, from Avatar

 Hail to the (Master) Chief!

Sure would be hard for her to stay 'low-key' in this outfit.