Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy


Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Opens : 31 July 2014
Rating : PG13 
Run time: 121 mins

            Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is drawing to a close, the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron imminent. With Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU heads, to quote Dragonheart’s Draco, “to the stars”. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), taken from earth as a child, is in search of a prized orb. His treasure hunt sets him on a collision course with some rather colourful characters. These include Gamora (Saldana), an assassin and the adopted daughter of the intergalactic tyrant Thanos (Brolin), Drax (Bautista), hungry for vengeance after his wife and child are slain, Rocket (Cooper), a smart-mouthed, cybernetically-enhanced raccoon and Groot (Diesel), a humanoid tree creature. This unlikely band calls themselves “the Guardians of the Galaxy”, confronting bounty hunter Korath (Hounsou), treacherous zealot Ronan (Pace) and Gamora’s jealous adopted sister Nebula (Gillan) in order to prevent Ronan from getting his hands on a cataclysmic weapon.

            Following the departure of director Edgar Wright and actor Patrick Wilson from the upcoming Ant-Man, murmurs have begun to swirl that the executives at Marvel Studios are exercising too much creative control over their films. That Guardians of the Galaxy even got made assuages those fears at least a little. Producer Kevin Feige says this is the “riskiest movie [he’s] done since Iron Man” and that is not hyperbole. In the hands of maverick director James Gunn, he of Slither, James Gunn’s PG Porn and Troma Pictures fame, GotG is wild, woolly and drastically different from everything else that has come before in the MCU. If Thor, drawing on Norse mythology, was outré, this is certainly even more so. The screenplay which Gunn co-wrote with Nicole Perlman is sharp and consistently funny, irreverent yet far from cynical and alienating (hee) as it well could’ve been.  

            In an age where it feels Hollywood has gotten more and more homogenised, it is refreshing to see a big-budget, mass-market blockbuster that is, well, this refreshing. Spectacle is not in short supply, the world-building on display truly dazzling and electric. For at least a few kids out there, this is going to be their Star Wars: Xandar, Knowhere, the Kyln, the Dark Aster their Tatoonie, Bespin, Hoth or Death Star. These are colourful worlds but they still retain grit and believability. The visual effects work, the character animation on Rocket and Groot in particular, is very commendable. The tree-creature and the talking raccoon both convincingly inhabit the same space as the flesh-and-blood actors, their expressions and movements nuanced and even genuinely moving.

            Chris Pratt is proving himself to be an unlikely but most deserving leading man, shedding the pounds and putting on the muscle to play Star-Lord. His comedic timing and roguish charm combine to make him an ideal protagonist, reminiscent of Han Solo in the best way possible. Saldana continues to hold her own as the capable, commanding action girl of the moment and Bautista brings heart and warmth to the literal-minded, muscle-bound Drax. Taking Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, arguably two of the bigger names of the cast, and having them provide voices for animated characters can be seen as yet another intentionally unorthodox move on the part of the filmmakers. Saying “I am Groot” repeated ad nauseam may sound like an easy paycheck but Diesel, who broke our hearts as the Iron Giant back in 1999, brings that same basso profundo kindness to Groot – and sounds great angry, too. Hollywood superstars with little real voice-acting experience often “die in the booth” –Cooper does not. As the irascible raccoon, he is amusing but also makes the character far more than the requisite funny talking animal and is certainly a better choice than Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey, rumoured to be attached to the part.

            Unfortunately, the film suffers slightly in the villains’ department. Lee Pace delights in being showy and menacing, Karen Gillan is still a knockout playing against type, even painted blue and with a bald head and Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos is but a teaser for his later involvement in the MCU. All quite serviceable, it’s just that their confrontations with our heroes are not as dramatic and explosive as they could’ve been. Still, this is at the expense of character development for the titular team and this is more than forgivable. The eclectic supporting cast including names as disparate as Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro and Michael Rooker add a distinct flavour to the proceedings as well.

            Guardians of the Galaxy is everything this reviewer loves about movies, particularly movies that defined his tastes during childhood. There’s action, adventure, humour, visual fireworks and just enough heartstring-tugging sentiment. The soundtrack is excellent as well, Star-Lord viewing his mix-tapes as precious family heirlooms and the only physical reminder of his late mother he has left. And ultimately, this is a movie about a ragtag bunch that may be far-out but are still relatable and are totally the kinds of people (and raccoons and tree-creatures) you’d want to sit in a cantina with and just hang out. Oh, and the post-credit scene for this one is the biggest treat any hard-core fan of the weirder corners of the Marvel Universe could ever want.

Summary: Out of this world.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: Zoe Saldana


By Jedd Jong

Zoe Saldana has carved a niche for herself as the go-to ass-kicking femme in everything from Colombiana and The Losers to Star Trek and, of course, Avatar. Like Neytiri from that film, Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is a formidable alien warrior, though her back-story is more tragic – an orphan who is kidnapped, forced to accept a tyrant as her adopted father and forged into the “deadliest woman in the galaxy”. Looking ravishing as always in a subtle low-cut floral print dress, the actress noticed this writer’s Marvel Legends Gamora action figure on the table as she came in to talk Guardians with F***. She appeared thrilled to play with the figure, but upon closer inspection, was slightly disappointed. “That’s not my face,” she said as she examined the bored-looking, expressionless little plastic Gamora. Tsk tsk, Hasbro!
However, it was far too small a matter for Saldana to be bothered by and she was thrilled that she was getting another action figure anyway. She shared about her penchant for sci-fi action adventure parts, her desire to break out of the designated roles for women in films, the design of Gamora’s costume and makeup, working with leading man Chris Pratt and of her support for Argentina in the World Cup.

What’s Gamora like on the inside?

Obviously, on the surface she looks fabulous, she can fight, she can kill, she can do this, but I wanted to know why she was the way that she was. Then you learn that she was an orphan, that she was taken from her planet, that she was forced into a life of violence, battle and crime, she was forced to adopt a father that basically caused so much harm to her and her people so there’s a lot of confusion to Gamora and I felt there’s so many situations in life that we’ve heard in the news, even with the lost kids of Sudan, like if there’s anything I can compare Gamora to, it would have to be that. It’s a very similar story where you’re taken from your home in the middle of the night and you become someone else even though deep, deep down, you’re not as bad as you’re supposed to be. So that was sort of my approach to Gamora because when it came to all the fight sequences, I was like “I know she’s going to be great, they’re going to get an amazing stuntwoman [laughs] to make her look super, super cool, and I’m going to work just as hard as I always do” and then we just focus on the heart factor of her.


When you were filming an action scene, you nearly broke Chris Pratt’s wrist. Could you tell us about what happened?

His wrist. I think I did. I kicked him hard one time and he said it didn’t bother, like he said “it’s okay, it’s okay” but then I saw him kind of limping away…my god! Yeah, it happens, I think I smacked him a couple of times and I think Karen and I would bump our swords and sort of hit each other and go “oh god! I’m so sorry I’m sorry.” You have those moments that you kind of break character and you realise “oh my god, I can really hurt someone if I don’t focus and be careful.”

You were in Star Trek, Avatar and now Guardians. What is it about science fiction films that attracts you to them?

Um, I know and then I don’t know. It’s good stories, they usually come with good directors, I like working with good people, there’s something very fascinating about being able to work with people who can imagine the unimaginable that makes me feel limitless. Also, as a woman and as a woman of colour, the roles on earth are just a little too typical for me – either you’re playing someone’s girlfriend or someone’s wife or someone’s mother – and that’s great, I love doing those roles when it comes in a great package with a great story and a great director, but not all the time, every now and then I want to play something different even though the story’s still going to be the same, you’re still going to fall in love with the guy, but I just feel a little more substantial and relevant to the story, I guess and they all have the coincidence that they’re set in space. I would love to do them on earth, but they’re not [laughs].

Was there some friendly competition going on between you and Karen Gillan who plays your adopted sister and what was it like working with her?

Fantastic, it was really great. I think our characters are very competitive, I think that Nebula is much more competitive with Gamora because there’s a preference that Thanos has with her, that I hope that in the sequel we can go into that, but I feel that in this movie, James did a wonderful job establishing this kind of relationship that Nebula and Gamora have which is very dysfunctional, because it’s one-sided. The hate is from one side and the love is also from one side, so that creates a very big conflict because they’re sisters, even though they’re not [biologically] but that’s the way I see Nebula.
Working with Karen or with a woman will never be competitive, at least from my end and from Karen, it was never competitive. If anything, it’s empowering, it is beautiful because sometimes being the only female in the cast can get to be very lonely [laughs].

How did your life change after Avatar?

It gave me the possibility to be working with a filmmaker like James Gunn, who saw my work in Avatar and thought “oh you know what, she can play a great Gamora” so being a part of an amazing movie like Avatar which is – please don’t think I’m arrogant for saying this, but it’s true – it was considered, no it is the biggest movie on earth! [Laughs] means that a lot of people saw it and it wasn’t just the audience, it wasn’t just the fans and the viewers, it was also filmmakers, actors, producers and writers and it gave them an impression of my work and a feeling that maybe they would want to work with me. It’s given me an exposition that I’m still able to benefit from after all these years and I will always be indebted to that movie, that whole experience, James Cameron and Neytiri for that.

You have several big projects lined up, Avatar 2 and 3

…And 4 [laughs]!

And Star Trek 3, how do you balance your time between your career and your family?

God, I guess…just whatever comes first will have to be…life sometimes just needs to happened as opposed to you just controlling everything. If I create an imbalance in my life where I’m just living to work, then when all of a sudden I’m willing to live, I might miss things that are very important about life so I try as I grow older to incorporate, to try and live in harmony with all the things that are presented on my plate and those things that are presented presently on my plate may push others away or push others to another time then it was meant to be. So I’m just happy that all these franchises that I’ve done are able to be called “franchises” and that they have no intentions of recasting my characters [laughs] and these are filmmakers that I also consider my friends and my family so I know that whatever will be happening in my life, I know that they will have my support as friends and as people first, and then their support as professionals.


How much say did you have in the design of Gamora’s costume and what shade of green she would be?

(Laughs) actually believe it or not, I had, but it didn’t feel like I used it, like I used that power or that privilege or that gift. It felt like such a collaboration of trying to put Gamora together, all of together as a collective from Alex[andra] Byrne the costume designer to Vera Steimberg who did my makeup and created the colouring, the right shade of green to what kind of colour hair she was going to have.

I felt that if she had…and now I had an opinion about it, I felt like her ends needed to be a different colour because I thought it needed to be a non-human colour, a funky colour. If it was all black, then she was just going to have a very mean look. Green has been equated to Martians, to bad and evil aliens, so I was already coming with an impediment and she was supposed to be the female eye candy so I was like “well, good luck with that!” I think she needs a little bit of funkiness and we tried it and it really worked, it felt fun and youthful so we went with it. Alex was all about making her look, obviously, like a badass, but because she’s done many Marvel movies and she’s had to dress a lot of females, comfort is also very important, flexibility, especially because she knows I do a lot of my own stunts so I did not want to be restricted by the costume but I also didn’t want to compromise how beautiful it looked. So we always collaborated.

I think my biggest issue with the whole thing was probably the boots. They were made by specific people that obviously they [Marvel Studios] were always working with and talking to, but they felt…they were different levels and I would have lower ones whenever I was running, higher ones whenever I was standing and the flat ones whenever we were doing hard, stunt-y scenes, not only me but also my stunt double. And then the sets were just uneven, the flooring, so you want to be careful, you don’t want to break an ankle and then compromise the whole production so there were a lot of observations that I had with the shoes. The older you get, you just get pickier with your shoes [laughs]. I thought that was never going to happen! I was 29 years old, looking at women going “put your shoes back on, why are you changing into your trainers, we should walk in heels every day!” and now look at me [gets up to walk around] – flats! People change I guess!


The film is about saving the universe. Is there something that you’re passionate about on earth that you would like to save?

Saving the universe. I’m joking. Something I’m passionate about…women. I’m very passionate about women. I love being a woman, I am a devout artist, that is who I was born to be, and I am starving for a feminine presence, more of a feminine presence in art, not just in film, but also in our directors, in our painters and sculptors, we need that. Not just women, men need that. Men need women. It’s very important that if art is supposed to imitate life, we need to have a more accurate depiction of what life really is in our art. So, it’s very discouraging for me as an art-lover and a film-lover that whenever I’m not shooting films and I want to go to movies, I don’t have a decent selection of films where they’re female centred. And the female films are usually precious little movies, I just want to see harder movies! I want to see women playing characters that the men get to play, that are psychopaths, that are villains, that are crazy, that are cops, that are detectives, the heroes sometimes because in reality, that’s who we are, you know, just as much as the men are, so that’s one thing I’m very passionate about.

Is that how you choose your roles?

Yeah. I don’t choose it because I have this duty; it’s natural to me. I wasn’t just made to be someone’s wife or someone’s mother or someone’s girlfriend, it’s like that’s a part of me, but if I did that all day I’d be like “oh god, how boring!” I’m a serviceable human being. Yes, servicing is part of who we are supposed to be as a human race, but not all of it, so it’s not real. It’s unnatural to me to see women in a movie who just come out and oh, she’s sexy or she’s naked and she’s making love and the man always talks to her like she’s a piece of crap and then he walks away and then she dies! And he doesn’t cry for her. Oh my god, that doesn’t even represent the men I know in my life, you know what I’m saying? And our action movies sometimes are voided of sentiment and drama and human behaviour, accurate human response to something.
That’s why I love Guardians because Quill, to me, is the perfect hero. He’s so broken, he’s so scared, he’s so flawed, he’s such a player, all these things are what makes him special, what makes him the worthiest candidate to save the universe, as opposed to somebody who just comes and bends steel. It’s like “okay, great” [laughs]. I want somebody to learn to bend steel because they’re unlearning ugly things about themselves. I hope I stayed on the same…I tend to trail away, sorry! [Laughs]


Speaking of Quill, how was it working with Chris Pratt?

It was wonderful, he is sweet, talented, humble, everyday kinda guy, super diverse in his acting, it was just…and he’s a husband and a father, everything about Chris Pratt is made for a star. That is an individual, an actor who is worthy of being called a movie star and these are things that I don’t believe in, I don’t believe in “stars” and “fame” and “celebrity”, I believe in artists. But this man, I would want to see stories being told through his eyes because he’s fun and he takes you with it, he’s just great. And, he doesn’t think that he can do it. And I’m like “I think it’s a little pattern, a little shtick you’re pulling here, you know what you’re doing, you planned this out...”

No, he’s totally, just naturally like (imitating Pratt) “I don’t know if I could do this…”

I say “Chris, just do it!” And then he does it and it’s just great. I mean, look at the transformation that he did with his body for this movie, it makes me want to cry because he worked so hard for it and it wasn’t just for aesthetics. It wasn’t just a cosmetic thing because that would give out the wrong message.

He was coming from one place and one world where he always got used to being told “you’re gonna be second because you’re not attractive, you’re not the material that you need to make a movie star”.

And he said “well first of all, that shouldn’t be the material that you’re basing a movie star on, but if that is, I’m just going to do it for health reasons first and two, to prove that it can be done.” And then everything else just fell into place, it was beautiful to watch.

When you were talking about female directors, I was thinking if perhaps you would consider working with Lexi Alexander, who did Punisher: War Zone, she’s an interesting female director.

What movie is that, can you tell me?

Punisher: War Zone

When did it come out?

2008. It was buried by the studio…

Gary? Is my publicist here? Can you make a note of that?

Her name is Lexi Alexander, she’s a martial arts champion and an Oscar-nominated short film director who made a comic book movie and wants to create action films.

I like her already!


You were in Infinitely Polar Bear alongside Mark Ruffalo, and perhaps Gamora and the Hulk would get along because they’re both green. Do you think the Guardians will get to meet the Avengers further down the line?

Yes. I think that that reunion is inevitable. I just hope that I’m in it, I really do.

(To Gary) There’s this filmmaker, Lexi Alexander, who made this movie called Punisher, Punisher: War Zone. Can you remind me to go get it? Where is she from, the States?

Germany, I think.

Nice! I like her already.

Have you been watching the World Cup?

Yes, are you kidding me [laughs]?! Ask me what time I woke up today! 3, okay, and I saw the entire Argentina match, did I tell you guys about it?

How are you awake and fresh now?

Because remember guys, I come from L.A. and it’s 15 hours behind, I don’t know what time it is now, is it the middle of the night?

Gary: It’s 10 o’clock.

Zoe: That’s why. Give me two hours, I’m going to be miserable [laughs]. I’m joking actually.

Did you sleep after watching the match?

No no no, because we were so excited that Argentina won! The makeup artist is from Argentina, so I have to root for Argentina because otherwise she wouldn’t have helped me [laughs].

You’re supporting Argentina in the finals?

Yes. I’m Latina, I’m a first generation Latina, I grew up in the Caribbean so half of my friends are called “Diego” [after Maradona]. Latinos just do that. When you have a boy, they say “let’s name him Diego!” and thank God the women go “no” (laughs). If not, the whole of Latin America would be named Diego Maradona! Football is something that I grew up watching, my husband [Marco Perego] used to be a soccer player and now there’s even more soccer in our lives, my brother-in-law was from England and he’s a devout soccer fan so there’s a lot of soccer from one house to another. You should see our Whatsapp, that’s all we ever talk about! Never thought I would do this, but I’m passionate about soccer!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: Dave Bautista

For F*** Magazine

By Jedd Jong


There’s no doubt that Dave Bautista is a physically imposing man, standing at 1.98 m tall, his bulging arms completely covered in tattoos. At the Southeast Asia press tour for Guardians of the Galaxy held in Singapore, he sported a beard and an ivy cap, looking laid-back and casual. As a professional wrestler going by “Dave Batista” or simply “Batista” and nicknamed “The Animal”, he is a six-time world champion. Currently on hiatus from wrestling, Bautista has turned his attention to the screen and takes on the role of Drax the Destroyer in the Marvel sci-fi fantasy adventure flick.

While he has played a good many giant bruisers, Bautista comes across as an unlikely gentle giant, living up to how he describes himself – as “socially awkward”. Sitting down with F***, Bautista opened up about just how much clinching the role meant to him, how he was pranked on set by his co-stars, the frustration of not being able to tell anyone that he had snagged the coveted part and what he thinks of the Drax action figure made in his likeness.


Your makeup took four hours to apply…

It took 4 hours to apply, but it also took about 1.5-2 hours to take off. By the end of the film, they got it down to 3 hours application, 1.5 hours removal.

Did it hurt?

No, it didn’t really hurt. It got uncomfortable sometimes; it’s okay. Like a few days in a row, it would be okay, but 4 days in a row you’re no longer comfortable, 5 days in a row you get really itchy and 6 days in a row I just want to peel my skin off. 6 days in a row weren’t all that often, but that did happen a few times. They use chemicals to put it on, then they also use chemicals to peel it off. If they just peeled it off, my skin would come with it because a lot of it was prosthetics glued to my skin.

How did you manage to stay standing for 4-5 hours straight during the application process?

I had 5 people working on me, what they did was I had to stand up but they had these posts on which I could rest my arms with tennis balls on them. Just…I don’t know, I’m a pretty patient person. It was layers and layers of paint and pieces and pieces, I don’t remember how many pieces it was but I want to say like 25 separate pieces that all had to be glued on. They had to do it in a way such that when I moved, it wasn’t wrinkling and folding. My team was so talented, best makeup people in the business. By the end we were like family; I still keep in touch of them. One of them, my makeup artist’s kid, went to Wrestlemania with me. We developed close friendships because we spent so much time together and they were so good about making sure that I was taken care of and that I was comfortable, they were such pleasant people that it didn’t bother me, it just flew by.

Will you avoid accepting a role that involves such heavy makeup in the future?

No, not at all. I don’t know, I mean Drax is the only role that I wanted to do like this. I don’t want to keep repeating roles that are superhero movies. This is like a dream role for me, but I want to do other stuff. I don’t always want to be an actor that’s in makeup, I want this to be that role for me because to me, it doesn’t get any bigger, it doesn’t get any better. I’ve topped out as far as superhero roles go, this is it. I can’t imagine doing anything else [in this genre].

How does being an introvert like you described yourself earlier help in playing this character?

I don’t know if it helps [laughs]. But I think…I don’t know, I don’t over-analyse things. I think that’s the reason I fell in love with acting because it’s an outlet for me, I internalise everything. I usually let everything out at the gym, that’s who I am. Actually, I spent so many years in the gym, I tell everybody it’s my therapy. If I don’t go to the gym, I start getting stressed out, anxious. So I think that kind of outlet lets me be somebody who I’m really not. Drax is very chest-out, a power guy, and me, I get social anxiety! It gives me that opportunity to be somebody that I’m not, maybe somebody that I wish I could be.

You are a collector of vintage metal lunchboxes, which is very retro cool. How do you think the retro element of Guardians of the Galaxy will appeal to audiences? It was awesome hearing “Hooked on a Feeling” in that first full trailer, but there were some fans who didn’t know what to make of it. Also, what do you think of the Marvel Legends figure that’s been done of you as Drax?

I love it. (This writer passes the figure on to Bautista). I’ve seen it; I love it.

Dave Bautista and Drax action figure 2
Do you think it looks like you?

Yeah! This is the kind of stuff that instantly turns me into a little kid, like how cool is this?! [Laughs] but as far as like the music…it’s weird, because when you say they hear the music and they don’t know what to make of it I think that every trailer I’ve seen, people have thought ‘the movie’s going to be this, it’s going to be a comedy’ – no, it’s not what you think. Because it’s just so multi-levelled, you just can’t put your finger on it [based on] one trailer that has a bunch of laughs in it because it’s got everything. So no matter what you’re thinking when you walk in, it’s not going to be what you thought – it’s going to be a lot more than what you thought. It’s got something for everyone, it’s just so entertaining across the board. I think James touched on it earlier, but I think that people are, whereas not with other superheroes, at least not so much, that people will be able to relate to these guys. They’re just normal people with kind of troubled pasts and they’ve all got their baggage that they carry around with them and everybody can relate to that in some sense. I think they’re just going to be easier to relate to, the superheroes from Guardians.

What elements of your character do you relate to, and why?

I think kind of the easiest thing and not so much on the level of Drax, but the easiest thing I can relate to is the sense of loss. I’ve lost people very close to me, I’ve lost family members, maybe not even so much literally like lost them because they passed away, but just lost them for various reasons. So yeah, I relate to that, not as extensive as his loss, but kind of the same pain.

Were there any funny incidents on the set while making this movie?

The funny thing about this is that every day was so much fun! There were long, long hours and I think we bonded and became really close because the hours were so long, but at the same time, it was so much fun because James just made everything fun! It was light-hearted and easy-going and it wasn’t like going to work every day, it was like going to hang out with your buddies. Chris is just so funny and Zoe, those two were just, you guys got a little sense of that, she’s so funny and it was so much fun. If I had to put my finger on one thing, there was one day where they decided to have – I think it was kind of a joke thing – but Chris Pratt, they were having like a dance-off on set, it was a big joke and what James did to amuse himself was to get everybody, hundreds of extras and he had the whole cast like dancing, it was kinda ridiculous – but the joke to that was that I was the only one who came on the set without knowing what was going on, the joke was on me and I was like “what the hell are we doing?!” When I saw everyone dancing I was like “oh yeah, now I get it.”

Will we see that as an extra on the Blu-ray?

I hope so, I imagine that they’re going to do something with it, I would love if it were a DVD extra.


Do you hope that this will spawn a franchise, and how many films are you signed on to?

I hope that it will lead to sequels. How many sequels? I don’t know, you guys know as much as I do. Maybe not as much, because of Marvel’s hush-hush policies. But I really hope this will lead to sequels, because I’d like to see more of the Guardians personally, myself.

There was a photo you posted on Twitter of you at the spa, and some movie news sites ran with the idea that the masks on your face at the spa were makeup tests for Drax. Did you have to hide a lot of details of this film from your family and friends? What were the most frustrating moments of “I wanna tell you, but I can’t!”?

What was so funny is that that picture, I have a friend, she’s a female bodybuilder named Kris Murrell and she’s in L.A., and she insisted that I go to this facial place with her. She’s the one who actually took the photo and posted it and somehow it got twisted into the makeup test for Drax. I don’t know how that ever started, but the hardest thing was because even after I did get the role, for months I was not even allowed to tell anyone that I had the role, it was hard. My friends were still, there were so many rumours that Jason Momoa had been offered the role and my friends were kind of heartbroken for me and I wanted to tell them so bad but I just couldn’t because I didn’t know if they would tell someone, and one person tells another person, and the next thing you know the internet rumours…I did, my manager and my agent knew and we didn’t tell anybody. It was pretty rough because all the rumours were still going around, particularly about Jason Momoa getting the role and I wanted to say “I got the role! In your face!” because it was not easy getting the role, it was hard and stressful and I couldn’t have been any happier when I got it. To have all that joy pent up after so many months of stress, it was hard, not telling them.

Did you tell your family?

I told my fiancée, that’s the thing, I was driving on my way to the gym and when I found out I turned around and went home. She cried with me, she had to deal with the stress of all those months. The downside of that was that I had to say goodbye, she’s pretty busy herself but we were separated for six months (while shooting the movie).

Could you elaborate on the details of the audition process?

The funny thing is when I first had an audition, my agent told me “this is a really long shot but I had to fight to get you in front of them to audition” so I went in not really thinking much of it, I was thinking “I have a shot at this” but at the same time, I really wanted this, I really wanted it after hearing about Drax, hearing about how cool this role was going to be. I went into the audition, I don’t live in L.A. so I flew out there just to go this audition and was flying off the next day, and Sarah Finn who is the casting agent called me and asked me if I would stay in town and come back to read for the director. I was like “wait a minute, I wasn’t expecting this!” My hopes started to be elevated, but also my pressure started to be elevated, so that night I didn’t sleep. Anyway, I went back to audition, and like James said earlier, I just clicked with him right away, I was at ease with him right away. I went to that and it went well and went on the side a few times to audition, I went back for another audition, then I had a screen test, then I had a screen test with Chris [Pratt] and then I’d come over for makeup tests. With auditions, screen tests and makeup tests, I probably went in 7-8 times. This was over 3-4 months, and this all waiting, this is not even having been given the role yet! So each time I went in, my hopes got higher higher and higher, but each time I went in, I was also afraid that I was going to get the call that said “you didn’t get the role” because then I would be heartbroken. It was a stressful, stressful period.

Drax’s spirit is that of a human being whose family has been killed by Thanos, that spirit transplanted into a powerful alien body. How did you try to bring across the humanity still inside Drax?

You know, I didn’t put too much thought into it, I pretty much…I just tried to put myself in that place, how would you be if your family was killed in front of you? I put myself in that place emotionally and I never really thought of that being the “human” side of Drax, I just thought of that being the “husband and father” side of Drax.

How familiar were you with the Guardians of the Galaxy Comics before you were given the role?

I wasn’t, I wasn’t familiar with them at all and that’s been brought up a lot. I’m right there with everybody else, I had no idea, I had never heard of Drax, but the one thing that made it very challenging was I just couldn’t find that much reference material, because I wanted to be prepared for this audition to have some sense of who Drax was but really, I didn’t have any reference material, he’s changed so much throughout the years. The one thing that I saw that I connected to was in the latest version of Drax in the comic, I related to him visually because I looked at him and said “he looks like me” [laughs). But I didn’t…when I auditioned, when I played the part of Drax, it’s just how I perceived he would be so it’s just a huge part of me. I didn’t rely on any reference material, it was just how I would be.


James Gunn said earlier that “there are more outsiders than insiders”, would you like to elaborate on that?

He was just saying that I think if you ask any person, if you asked all of us individually if there’s something provocative, something you feel like you have social anxiety about, there’s something you feel like other people couldn’t relate to you about, I think everybody would probably say “yes”. I think some people just come to terms with that, they accept it about themselves and they know they’re awkward and they’re comfortable with it. Then there are those other people who have that as well, but pretend like they don’t and I think it’s just become more common, people are more open about being socially awkward, I’m socially awkward. If you look at me, I look like a big jock. I’m like a big musclebound jock. Socially, I’m just awkward but I came to terms with it a long time ago because I look like this (motions to himself) but inside I’m like this (hunches up). I look like a big jock but really I’m a big geek, but I think people are more open about it, you’re not an outcast anymore, you’re more open now. Everybody’s just kind of open about it, they’re open about their geekiness.

I did a movie called The Man with the Iron Fists

Bronze Body!

Brass Body. He’s my buddy and he’s the director, his name is RZA, he’s from one of the most famous rap groups ever and most people would perceive him to be kind of thuggish, kind of hardcore, from the streets. He comes to me and says he’s a big nerd! He’s always been a nerd his whole life. To look at him to hear him, you wouldn’t think it, but talk to him for 10 minutes and you’re like “okay, he’s a nerd.” He came out and said it to me, and I said if this guy, this hardcore rapper, can say he’s a nerd, then you see how things have changed. It’s okay to be a nerd, you don’t have to be embarrassed about it.

Each member of the Guardians is a misfit or outcast in some way. Did the cast get time to rehearse and work out the dynamics amongst the team or did it develop on set as you were filming?

That was cool, I think it developed more as we bonded more, the more time we spent together the more time we got to know each other. I think that because of James, who was so particular about who he wanted for each of the certain parts, he said he wanted all of us to have chemistry, he doesn’t want any prima donnas on set. Thanks to him, he got him. We all had chemistry and we bonded and I think it really comes across, as we were filming we felt comfortable with each other, while we were shooting there was no awkwardness and we all trusted each other. Chris and Zoe in particular, they knew that I was a little insecure about my acting because it is new to me and this is a huge step to me and I don’t try to hide it, I was very open about it, very open that I was nervous, and they were always comforting to me, complimentary and helpful so we did, we bonded and they helped me elevate my acting.

Was it filmed roughly in sequence?

No, it was all over the place. We shot between three studios and many separate locations, but the sets were immense, just crazy. When I walked in [the Kyln prsion set] it was crazy, this thing was 360 degrees it was like being in a real prison, the biggest set I had ever seen in my entire life, it was so elaborate, it was crazy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On Guard! Guardians of the Galaxy in Singapore

For F*** Magazine

By Jedd Jong for F*** Magazine 11/7/14
Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong

Here in Singapore, we’re hooked on a feeling and high on believing after director James Gunn and stars Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista journeyed from the furthest reaches of the cosmos to our sunny shores. The Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference was held on Thursday, 10 July at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre. Before that, we were treated to a tantalising 17 minute preview of the film in IMAX 3D. The sequence showcased the titular team after they had just been formed and flung into a space prison called The Kyln. Packed with humour, action and attitude, it was an exciting way to whet the appetite for what Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has called “the riskiest movie I have made since Iron Man.”

The titular team consists of a thief, an assassin, two thugs and a blade-wielding psycho. “I’m going to be arrested for inviting such company to peaceful Singapore,” host Glenn Ong remarked. Gunn, Saldana and Bautista took to the stage at the press conference to the strains of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, one of the songs on Star-Lord’s “awesome mix tape”.

Right off the bat, director Gunn took charge, opening with “look how pretty Zoe Saldana looks…and look how pretty Dave Bautista looks too!” The director, known for his background in edgy, low-budget cult horror flicks, let his eccentric side show when he commented that Marc Quinn’s giant baby sculpture, residing in the Gardens by the Bay, as his “favourite thing I’ve ever seen in [his] entire life”. When asked about the humorous tone of the film, Gunn said “I think that really Guardians of the Galaxy is about characters. I think that these characters are in and of themselves funny, so it wasn’t so much a matter of me trying to pack in the comedy, it was just letting these characters and these actors here fully express themselves so that the humour was able to come out in a natural way.”

When Ong reminded all present not to broach personal questions, Gunn sportingly leapt in with “You can ask personal questions of me – ask about my personal life, my love life, my cat, I’m an open book, ask away! I’ll give you all the gory details,” to uproarious laughter.

Turning to pro wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista, Ong jokingly said to the 1.98 m tall man, “thank you so much for increasing the average height of people in Singapore, for this week at least”.

Bautista said he still finds his fame and recognition “weird”. “I don’t know man, I think inside I feel like such a normal guy and also somewhat of an introvert too,” he said softly.
“Yes, he’s very shy,” co-star Saldana confirmed.

Commenting on playing a physical brute, Bautista observed “that’s always been the easy part for me. I’m a physical guy, working out is kind of my thing, it’s my release and my therapy, so physically it wasn’t as tough as it was as just stretching myself as an actor. It’s all kind of new to me, it’s such a large role, stepping on stage with some of the best and most talented people in the world, actors and directors, it was challenging.”
Elaborating on the character of Drax, Bautista said “he’s always described as this warrior who’s hell-bent on rage, I always say ‘no, at the core of Drax, Drax is heartbroken over the murder of his family and he’s just this very vulnerable guy.’ Very literal, and there’s that insane side, that sociopath side – I don’t think Drax knows it’s wrong to kill people,” he laughed. “Actually, he’s got a heart that’s bigger than his brain, he’s a very noble character and his core is his heart.”

It became very clear that Bautista was a surprisingly sweet, shy person behind his musclebound exterior. When a reporter asked if he shed a few tears upon receiving the news that he would play Drax, Bautista replied “It was true. I literally broke down, it wasn’t a few tears! I was driving…I literally just broke down, I drove home, I was a mess…It was a big deal to me, I can never explain how big it was to me, it was a life-changing moment.” He confessed that the transition from wrestling to acting was far from an easy one. "My first acting gig, I did as a favour for a friend and I realised two things: one of was how hard it was and two was that I loved it, I wanted to pursue it. There’s just not a lot of similarities, the only similarity is that cameras are pointed at you and that’s all it is. Wrestling is so broad, so conversational and acting is so much more intimate and intimidating!”

He continued, “It was hard for me to leave behind wrestling, and I worked and struggle, worked and struggled and auditioned I finally got the dream role of a lifetime, it was like make or break, I pretty lost everything I gained while wrestling, I lost it all because I took a chance on myself because I was passionate to pursue it. So it was worth a few tears, I broke down. It meant that much to me.”

Gunn was moved by Bautista’s earnestness. “From the beginning, sometimes you meet actors that you really like as people and you really want to get them the role but they aren’t right for the role, you give the role to the person who deserves the role and from the moment I met Dave, he and I have a sort of connection. Within minutes of talking, I kind of liked Dave and I liked him so much as a person that I was rooting for him to come through, through a series of screen tests and a lot of different things he had to go through to try and get the role, and when he proved himself to be by far, the only person we ever thought of for the role was Dave Bautista despite some stuff that the press might have said, Dave was the only person we offered the role to because he was the best. Dave actually was that good, it was touching for me and I say this of all the cast: they’re people whom I really like as people, but they’re also the best people for the role.”

Zoe Saldana said she had stayed up all night to watch the World Cup semi-finals game and was overjoyed that Argentina emerged victorious. In spite of this, she looked alert and radiant. Even though she was contacted directly by Gunn for the part instead of having to go through multiple auditions, she still found it a nerve-wracking experience. “The first thing you feel is flattered, super-blessed, your ego gets a little peaked a lot, but the second thought is absolute panic because if you say ‘yes’, there’s a lot of expectations lying on your shoulders because work that you’ve done before has [been] brought [to] the attention of this awesome director and he’s relying on you delivering what he’s seen you deliver before, which he thought was so cool.”

Saldana was hesitant given the demanding nature of the role, but decided to leap right into it. “ I was a little nervous when they said yes, and then they told me about the 5.5 hours of makeup every day, and then they told me about the shooting it for five months and we were going to be shooting it for six day weeks, and there was going to be a lot of action and fighting and rehearsals and then I said ‘okay, yes’. I kind of went ‘okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!’ because I didn’t want to realise what I was getting myself into but it ended up being a great experience, because it had everything that I grew up wanting movies to have: it had action, it had comedy, it had a lot of imagination and the story was really complete and all the characters had such a beautiful journey from beginning to the end individually, but also as a collective, and I thought ‘this is a great ensemble picture to be part of’.”

On being the only female member of the Guardians, Saldana said “It feels great, it’s empowering because I know that it delivers a very strong message to young women that besides being beautiful and delicate flowers, that you can also channel your strength and not be afraid of it. It’s very rewarding when you know you can climb a tree, or you can grab a weapon, even though we’re in the world of make-believe, you can see yourself kind of doing all these things and you feel very empowered.” She was grateful that she was not alone – Gamora has a fearsome adopted sister whom she clashes with. “I’m actually very happy to say that I’m not the only female in this cast and Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, did an amazing job and it’s really great to know that I was sharing screen time with not only amazing male actors, but also with another female actress because sometimes being the only female actress can be a little lonely.”

Gunn chimed in with “Karen and Zoe were a lot of fun to watch on set because they had a huge fight scene, with these two super-powered females fighting each other, and it was like two female Clint Eastwoods battling it out and duelling and all of a sudden I would yell ‘cut!’ and they would go ‘tee-hee hee hee! Hee hee hee hee!’”

Gunn was given the job of taking the wild and woolly Guardians and making them movie stars to stand alongside their better-known Marvel counterparts. “I feel like because Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, they are not quite as well-known as say Captain America, Iron Man or the Avengers, I felt like that gave us a lot of freedom to really create the cinematic version of Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that Guardians of the Galaxy is more at home on screen than in the comic books, and it is first and foremost a cinematic property, so I felt like it really gave me a lot of freedom to do something interesting with it and create loveable characters.”

Ong did a double take. “Did you just say ‘loveable’?”

“Yeah, they’re ‘a bunch of a-holes’ but they’re still loveable characters, even Drax!” Gunn affirmed.
Marvel movie fans have wanted to know the extent of Avengers director Joss Whedon’s involvement with Guardians, and Gunn confirmed “Joss and I have been friends for a long time, he read the script and gave me notes on the script, and the biggest note he gave was to make it ‘more James Gunn’. And I said ‘it’s your funeral’.” The character of Thanos, who first appeared in the mid-credits stinger scene in The Avengers and who is a major player in Guardians (played by Josh Brolin) is a figure who will link the earth-based Marvel movies and the “Marvel Cosmic” ones. “I pretty much had free rein and it wasn’t so much about making this movie lead somewhere but it was about creating a great foundation so that it could lead somewhere, you don’t want to just have ‘fill in the dots’, we want to create something that has substance that we can believe in it, that’s really exciting and real and true. Then it gives a lot of the fans some of the answers [that] we leave unanswered so that there are places to go, for the Guardians to go in future,” said Gunn.

Gunn maintained that he was given a satisfactory degree of freedom from the Marvel Studios higher-ups. “I pretty much do what I believe [in] and I don’t approach a small movie like Slither or Super any differently than I approach a big movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. I do everything I can with my heart, as true as I possibly can, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career thus far to have producers like [at] Marvel to let me have free rein and do something really creative and excellent even though it’s for such a large budget.”
Guardians is really about a group of outcasts, a group of people who feel like they don’t belong, coming together, finding something within themselves that they didn’t know was there – something heroic, something wonderful and very simply something good,” Gunn said pithily. “And I think what the movie is about includes all of us, no matter what country you’re from, no matter what part of the world you’re from, the love of ourselves and each other and finding the good within ourselves. And if there’s anything that makes this movie worthwhile and worth spending two years of our lives doing nothing else but this film, is for people to be able to walk out of the theatre feeling a little better about themselves, feeling a little better about the person they were sitting next to in the theatre and feeling a little better about the world in general.”

James Gunn couched Guardians of the Galaxy as a movie made by outcasts, about outcasts and for outcasts. “I think one of the things about Guardians of the Galaxy is it’s about this group of oddballs, outcasts who are plucked from obscurity in Marvel Comics and turned into these big movie stars, and I think that we’ve talked about this a lot, that we all feel like that. My last movie cost $3 million, it was an independent film, Dave is a wrestler whom people didn’t think of as a real actor, Zoe has been pushed to the sidelines for her whole life because she’s a person of colour from a place that not everybody is from in this industry, Chris Pratt was a chubby guy when he got this role, Vin Diesel’s a weirdo, Benicio del Toro’s a weirdo and the biggest weirdo of all was Michael Rooker. We were just a group of oddballs and outcasts and came together to make this movie and made something we all feel really good about. The parallels are very interesting to me all the time and I think we all feel this way, that through the process we’ve come to love each other. You’ll hear us all talk about how much we love each other and you hear this on all movies. The thing is, usually they’re lying but this time, it’s true,” he concluded to applause. 

Saldana said what was on everyone’s minds: “part 2, everybody!”

We definitely like the Guardians enough to want to see more – like the Jackson 5, we want them back!

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in Singapore on 31 July 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

For F*** Magazine


Director : Matt Reeves
Cast : Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary
Genre : Sci-Fi, Action
Opens : 10 July 2014
Rating : TBA 
Running time: 132 mins

Three years on from the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this reviewer is still impressed with how effective, intelligent, innovative and just plain good that reboot was. In this sequel, set ten years after the events of Rise, earth’s human population has dwindled at an alarming rate in the wake of a devastating “Simian flu” pandemic. Caesar the chimpanzee (Serkis) leads a flourishing shrewdness of apes, including his son Blue Eyes (Thurston) and his aggressive advisor Koba (Kebbell). The human remnant sequestered in what remains of San Francisco is headed by military man Dreyfus (Oldman). Malcolm (Clarke), one of the survivors in Dreyfus’ camp, forges a fragile alliance with Caesar in order to gain access to a hydroelectric dam to generate power for the human settlement. Caesar grows to accept Malcolm, his wife Ellie (Russell) and their son Alexander (Smit-McPhee). However, having been severely mistreated by humans while in captivity, Koba strongly disapproves of this arrangement and incites an explosive conflict between the apes and the humans.

            Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sees Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame taking over the director’s chair from Rupert Wyatt, working from a screenplay by Rise scribes Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, with Mark Bomback. This is everything a good sequel should be, furthering the plot in a logical and intriguing direction without slavishly re-treading the story beats of its predecessor and without trying to be superficially “bigger and better” in terms of bombastic spectacle. Equal storytelling attention is given to the apes and the humans and the audience is fully able to buy into this world and accept each player in this story, be they human or computer-generated ape, as legitimate, well-formed characters. There’s a whole lot of meaningful character development going on and admirably enough, much of the conflict is derived from the characters’ individual nature instead of contrived circumstances. Despite the ten year time skip, there is still very strong connective tissue linking Dawn to Rise, building on the emotions generated from Caesar’s early years as depicted in the previous film.  

            Of course, credit has to be given to visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri of Weta Digital. The many artists and technicians involved give vivid life to the performance capture work of actors like Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell, applying their expressions and physicality to intricately-crafted CGI apes. The interaction between the apes amongst themselves, the apes and the environment and the apes and the live-action human actors is seamless. As impressive as the animation in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, it is stepped up here, to the point that the film’s opening shot is a tight close-up of Caesar’s eyes – those eyes lifelike and actually acting. Serkis, Kebbell, Thurston and the other actors portraying the key apes all deserve praise for essaying these figures with such nuanced physicality, but the visual effects wizards carrying that baton to the finish line should be duly recognised as well. In Dawn, great acting and great effects go hand-in-paw to create not just creatures, but honest-to-goodness characters.

            The human cast is our way in, and Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all convincing as the members of the family central to the story. The terseness between Malcolm and Caesar that eventually gives way to mutual respect and understanding but is always threatened by both apes and humans is played exceedingly well by both Clarke and Serkis. Gary Oldman’s role is not as big as the promotional material would have you believe, but he brings a heart-wrenching humanity to Dreyfus in addition to his signature explosive scenery-chewing (delivered in just the right amounts).

            1968’s Planet of the Apes was a landmark achievement for being an entertaining film that also pushed the boundaries of filmmaking technique (particularly in terms of special effects makeup) and was very thought-provoking. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is commendably similar in all those regards. There’s always been a silliness inherent in the premise, but following Rise, Dawn continues to effectively mitigate that. The film is unflinchingly brutal, even disturbing when it has to be but also articulates genuine emotion. It can be construed as anti-gun, interesting considering that the star of the original Planet of the Apes, the late Charlton Heston, was the president of the National Rifle Association. However, that is not where the focus lies – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, like Rise before it, is a true character piece. Many summer blockbusters are touted as “character pieces” and that fools no one, but here is a film that intelligently and compellingly comments on prejudice and war while delivering the action flick goods and visual effects spectacle. A fine antidote to Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Summary: A new day is dawning, as the revitalised Planet of the Apes franchise marches onwards in just the right direction.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong