Thursday, August 29, 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

For F*** Magazine


Director: Thor Freudenthal
Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Melina Kanakaredes, Brandon T. Jackson, Douglas Smith, Missi Pyle, Yvette Nicole Brown, Mary Birdsong, Nathan Fillion, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Head, Leven Rambin
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Run Time: 106 mins
Opens: 29 August 2013
Rating: PG (Some Violence And Frightening Scenes)

2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was generally written off as a big studio attempt to come out with a franchise to replace Harry Potter, which was nearing its end at the time. However, it did do well enough to warrant a follow-up, based on Rick Riordan’s second Percy Jackson novel, The Sea of Monsters. So, does this seafaring sequel stay afloat or leave the series dead in the water?

The film begins with a prologue depicting the origins of the protective shield around Camp Half-Blood, safe haven for demigods-in-training. When a familiar foe attacks, weakening the barrier and threatening the safety of the camp, Percy Jackson (Lerman), son of Poseidon, sets out to retrieve the fabled Golden Fleece, which will help heal the magical tree that is the source of the force-field. He is accompanied by Annabeth (Daddario), satyr friend Grover (Jackson) and his newfound Cyclopean half-brother Tyson (Smith). Together, they have to traverse the treacherous body of water of the title, more commonly known as the Bermuda Triangle. Percy’s competitive rival Clarisse (Rambin), the daughter of Ares, has also set out in search of the Fleece and must eventually team up with those she has scoffed.

The first film was an entertaining if rather derivative teenage-aimed fantasy-action flick that put several clever spins on Greek mythology, creatively integrating elements like the Lotus-eaters and the multi-headed hydra into a modern-day context. In that regard, this film is very similar, albeit a tad more lighthearted than its predecessor. It’s good to see a young adult novel adaptation that doesn’t take itself so seriously, considering how ridiculously po-faced a lot of them have gotten. It’s paced pretty well, has a straightforward “go get the macguffin!” plot (with the Golden Fleece in place of Zeus’ master lightning bolt) and has enough interesting visuals to hold the attention. For example, there’s a stunning, stylish stained-glass-style animated sequence which brings to mind the “Golden Army” animated prologue from Hellboy II.

Taking over the reins from Harry Potter alum Chris Columbus is Thor Freudenthal, director of Hotel for Dogs and the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid film, whose background is in conceptual and storyboard art. It’s a good thing that, given his résumé, the film doesn’t overly pander to the younger set and still packs decent amounts of excitement for the older kids and parents in the audience. The action set-pieces are not quite as strong as those in the first film, capped off with a slightly anti-climactic denouement set in an abandoned theme park. However, there still are some pretty cool moments, including an attack on the camp by the fire-breathing mechanical Colchis bull that looks like something out of Transformers: Beast Wars, as well as the appearance of the iridescent Hippocampus, a literal “sea horse” that is summoned so Percy and company can hitch a ride.

The central trio of Lerman, Daddario and Jackson appear comfortable stepping back into their roles, Lerman now able to play Percy as a slightly more experienced hero and leader. Newcomer Smith is endearing as the awkward, oafish but good-natured Tyson, who is met with initial hostility from Annabeth. Naturally, we are presented with the moral of learning to look past one’s appearances but hey, better than no character development at all. Rambin has fun with the part of the determined and confrontational warrior – the moral with Clarisse is, of course, the value of humility and trusting in the abilities of others. Thankfully, we don’t get beaten over the head with this. Abel does more unconvincing angsting and flat-line delivery as Luke, but doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time.

This film has to make do without the illustrious supporting cast of the first, the likes of Sean Bean, Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Steve Coogan and Pierce Brosnan (he’s replaced by Anthony Stewart Head) all absent. That’s not to say it suffers overly for this, though: Stanley Tucci is funny as Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy and assorted hedonism-turned stir-crazy camp director and christened “Mr. D”. Nathan Fillion also pretty much steals the show in his one-scene cameo as Hermes, functioning as a Q-type character who dispenses a couple of nifty gadgets to Percy and friends. Being the fan-favourite herald of geekiness he is, Fillion gets to do a wink and a nod to the television shows he’s best known for, Firefly and Castle. Also worth a mention are Missi Pyle, Yvette Nicole Brown and Mary Birdsong as the Graeae; the bickering crones re-imagined as taxi drivers.

The film aspires to be nothing more than a fun, entertaining family adventure flick – and that, it is. We’ve seen these character types and story arcs before and yes, it's been scaled back a bit from Lightning Thief, but the decent visual effects work and ADI’s make-up and animatronic effects make this a lively ride. The novelty of a world in which the tales of Greek myth are all true and lurk beneath the surface of our contemporary existence is put to amusing use, and a third film certainly wouldn’t be something we’d be vehemently against.

SUMMARY: A generally enjoyable adventure that, in spite of several well-worn elements, has enough vim and verve to keep audiences, kids in particular, interested. Also, the 3D’s not half bad!

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

Sunday, August 25, 2013

International Cosplay Day Singapore 2013

I attended the International Cosplay Day Singapore event at *SCAPE Warehouse today - even though I didn't recognise a good 95% of the characters represented, I enjoyed myself. Cosplay culture in Singapore does seem to be geared more towards anime/manga creations, which is to be expected given that Singapore is, well, an Asian country. My lack of an affinity with Asian popular culture doesn't mean I didn't appreciate the work on display; I still very much enjoyed and appreciated the amount of effort and dedication that goes into making and wearing a costume and cosplaying as a character one enjoys. Organized by the Neo Tokyo Project, today's event featured events such as a J-Dansu performance by Republic Polytechnic, panels by cosplayers and photographers, the cosplay runway and the highlight, the annual "Cosplay Chess" - a performance involving the participation of over 60 cast and crew members lasting over two hours. Yes, there were technical difficulties and more than a few cringe-inducing moments, but the heart, enthusiasm and hard work on display was hard to deny, and is very worth applauding. Here are a good number of snapshots from the day. Feel free to let me know what the names of the characters are in the comments section below!

Makeup being applied to a soon-to-be Darth Maul at the Fightsaber booth. 

Gooooodbyeeee Nurse. 

Cosplay photographer Jay Tablante (right) with his art director and makeup artist, giving tips to the audience. 

J-Dansu performance by the folks from Republic Polytechnic

This was a triumph etc. etc.

I really appreciated seeing a familiar DC Comics face (or non-face, rather)

The Question Mark club! 

I don't think I get any points for knowing this guy is Sephiroth (and doing a hell of an amazing job at it too)

Celebrity cosplayer Alodia Gosiengfiao at the piano, playing a medley of video game tunes

Jason Koh of the Neo Tokyo Project (and pretty much the mastermind behind the whole thing) as an unmaksed Dr. Doom. I do love the Asian-inspired redesign of the outfit. 

Neil Gaiman's Death! 

Other than an absent goatee, a really cool take on Iron Man.

From left: special guests Singaporean cosplay pioneer Yuanie, mecha cosplayer Clive and Alodia. 

The Maul the Merrier.