Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice

For F*** Magazine


Director : Edward Zwick
Cast : Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Lily Rabe, Michael Stuhlbarg, Robin Weigert
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 1 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

Awards movie season has officially begun with this prestige biopic focusing on chess champion Bobby Fischer, often considered the greatest player of all time. Fischer (Aiden Lovecamp as a child, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as a teen and Maguire as an adult) is a chess prodigy from Brooklyn, developing a love for the game at an early at age. At 15, Fischer becomes the youngest player to earn the title of grandmaster. In the meantime, the Cold War heats up and Fischer is adamant on taking on and beating the Russians, considered the best players in the world. Represented by manager and attorney Paul Marshall (Stuhlbarg) and backed up by fellow grandmaster William Lombardy (Sarsgaard), Fischer works his way up to the 1972 world championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland. His opponent: world no. 1 Borris Spassky (Schreiber) of the USSR. As Fischer’s fame and ambition grows, so does his mental instability and paranoia, leaving his sister Joan (Rabe) worried for his well-being as the eyes of the world are fixed upon him, his opponent Spassky, and the chessboard.

            Bobby Fischer has been a magnet for fascination both within and outside the world of chess and has been the basis for several documentaries and narrative films. Pawn Sacrifice combines two subgenres that have proven popular with Academy voters – the “tormented genius” biopic and the historical sports drama. The screenplay by Steven Knight landed on the 2009 Black List of best-liked scripts making the rounds in Hollywood. Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, who have a “story by” credit, also penned the biopics Ali and Nixon.  

Director Edward Zwick knows audiences in general might walk into this with the preconceived notion that chess is boring and inaccessible. As such, he drums up the stakes and the thrills, establishing the background political intrigue. “We’re at war – only it’s not being fought with guns and missiles, not yet – it’s a war of perception: the poor kid from Brooklyn taking on the whole of the Soviet Union,” Marshall tells Fischer. Quite the opposite of “this is not the start of World War Three/ No political ploys,” as the lyric in the musical Chess goes. Pawn Sacrifice has inevitably drawn comparisons to the likes of A Beautiful Mind and The Imitation Game and it is certainly in that mould. There is the feeling that the events have been embellished for dramatic purposes, but then again, what biopic hasn’t done that?

            Thanks to the production design by Isabelle Guay, the costume design by Renée April and art direction by Lisa Clark and Jean-Pierre Paquet, Pawn Sacrifice authentically captures the feel of the era in which it is set; all of it bathed in cinematographer Bradford Young’s warm hues. Zwick is gunning for mass appeal and seems determined for the film not to get stuck in the “arthouse” pigeonhole, even as it clearly primed to compete at the Oscars. To establish the period, flashes of news footage showing John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon are spliced into the montage of Fischer climbing the ranks. It can come off as clumsy and on-the-nose, but it’s not egregious enough to pull one out of the movie entirely.

            This is squarely star and co-producer Maguire’s film to carry, and a role like Bobby Fischer is one many actors would kill to sink their teeth into. Fischer is portrayed as petulant, arrogant and socially inept; Maguire gamely tackling the challenge of playing a protagonist who is inherently difficult to sympathise with, but whom we have to root for. Maguire puts a great deal of effort into capturing the real-life Fischer’s mannerisms and Brooklyn accent, resulting in a performance that is good but not transcendent. Maguire is sometimes too hysterical, Fischer’s paranoia and instability manifesting on the surface level without enough nods at what’s festering deeper within his mind. Fischer’s involvement with the Worldwide Church of God sect is given passing attention – exploring his religious affiliation would have made for rich if risky material. Fischer’s anti-Semitic rants, in spite of his own Jewish roots, are touched on – a crucial element that makes his fall from grace all the more tragic.

            Schreiber is a commanding presence as Boris Spassky. We don’t get to spend a great deal of time with the Soviet chess team, but there is an effort made to characterise them beyond being Ivan Drago-esque “I must break you” types. Schreiber’s Russian line delivery is convincing and his equally-driven but more composed Spassky is a pitch-perfect dramatic counterpoint to the zealous Fischer. Sarsgaard, as the level-headed priest/semi-retired player who becomes Fischer’s coach, is subtly comic while being the reserved straight man. Michael Stuhlbarg has a tendency to play up the stereotype of the harried manager seen in many a rock star biopic, closer to a caricature of someone from the era rather than an authentic portrayal, but given Fischer’s varied antics, it is very easy to empathize with the man who had to keep everything under control.

            While it isn’t the deep portrait of all-consuming obsession and the thin line between genius and madness it is pitched as being, Pawn Sacrifice is a gripping and entertaining biopic. For those unfamiliar with the Bobby Fischer story, it is a straightforward, coherent account of the events and serves up an intriguing slice of history. And yes, it’s Spider-Man taking on Sabretooth in chess, a game that is typically the domain of Professor Xavier and Magneto. So much for getting through the review without making that joke.

Summary: Pawn Sacrifice falls shy of greatness, but there’s no faulting Zwick’s play of couching the biopic as a thrilling high-stakes historical tale.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Martian

For F*** Magazine


Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 1 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Disturbing Scenes)

Someone alert David Bowie – there is life on Mars after all. It comes in the form of astronaut Mark Watney (Damon), who is stranded on the planet after being presumed dead when a sandstorm strikes his crew. The rest of the Ares III astronauts, Lewis (Chastain), Martinez (Peña), Johanssen (Mara), Beck (Stan) and Vogel (Hennie) are bound for home, unaware that Watney is still alive. Watney is left to fend for himself, drawing on every ounce of resourcefulness as he makes the most out of extremely limited supplies, eking out an existence on Mars. Back on earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Daniels), Mars missions director Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), public relations manager Annie Montrose (Wiig), Jet Propulsion Lab director Bruce Ng (Wong) and others labour over devising a rescue plan once they discover Watney did not die as they had believed. In the face of sheer adversity, the “Martian” must survive and work towards finally coming home. 

The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name, which was lauded for being thoroughly researched. There exists a scale, albeit a subjective one, of science fiction “hardness”, with something like Guardians of the Galaxy on the “soft” side and 2001: A Space Odyssey on the “hard” side. The Martian is a rare big-budget Hollywood hard sci-fi film and it emerges triumphant. Director Ridley Scott hasn’t had a spotless track record, coming off last year’s below-average Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. His previous sci-fi film, 2012’s Prometheus, proved hugely divisive. With most of the key crew from Prometheus including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, editor Pietro Scalia, production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates returning, Scott has managed to more than redeem himself. 

The Martian boasts a sweeping, epic majesty juxtaposed with the intimate tale of one man’s survival. Jordan’s Wadi Rum seems to have made a steady career doubling for the fourth planet from the sun in films like Mission to Mars, Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars and this one. While everything does look a little too slick and Hollywood-ised, there’s still a sense of authenticity, the harsh environs and the sheer remoteness of the Martian landscape driving home how slim Watney’s chances of making it out alive are. Real-life NASA staffers must be drooling at seeing manned Mars missions depicted so gloriously on the big screen, given how bureaucracy, a lack of funds and myriad other obstacles stand in the way of this actually being realized. The 3D effects are superb, most noticeably when we get to see astronauts floating through the long hallways of their spacecraft and in the exterior shots of the detailed and realistic Hermes ship drifting through space. 

Screenwriter Drew Goddard adapted Weir’s novel for the screen, and on paper, The Martian certainly sounds like it could be boring, with too many finicky technical details potentially holding the viewer at arm’s length. A good portion of the story unfolds in voice-overs that are packed with scientific exposition, but there is just as much showing as there is telling and the script is light enough on its feet, not getting weighed down by the “boring stuff”. This is a film that celebrates and champions science, all of its characters being the best and brightest. It’s also an extremely human survival story that almost defiantly refuses to spiral into mawkish sentimentality, while still hitting many emotional beats. Perhaps most surprisingly, The Martian is extremely funny. There are stakes and dire straits, but the tone is pleasantly upbeat and optimistic throughout. Sean Bean even gets to make a Lord of the Rings reference, sending many audience members in this reviewer’s screening howling with laughter. 

The Martian has been described as Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, and both films happen to star Tom Hanks. Here, Damon exudes an irresistible likeability that gives even Hanks a run for his money. Watney’s indomitable spirit and how he keeps his sense of humour intact throughout his ordeal keep us keen in seeing him alive. We cheer each instance in which his MacGyvering succeeds and wince whenever he’s hit by another setback. “Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” Watney jokingly proclaims as he sets about growing potatoes. Naturally, there are moments of introspection in which Watney considers the magnitude of his plight, and Damon is able to play those moments earnestly and compellingly. 

While the film is squarely Damon’s to carry, Scott has assembled a robust supporting cast to back him up. Cheesy as it sounds, there is something inspiring about seeing so many people put their heads together in working towards a common goal. Chastain proudly carries on the tradition of capable female characters in Ridley Scott movies, her Commander Melissa Lewis steely yet calm, a natural leader with an amusing penchant for 70s disco music. As NASA director Teddy Sanders, Daniels is the hard-nosed, pragmatic bureaucrat, but in his hands, the character does not become the stereotypical authority figure who’s standing in everyone’s way. Ejiofor does his share of hand-wringing, but it makes sense given the immense pressure on his character. Wiig is fine in a role that is not overtly comedic, though her presence at Mission Control might be distracting to those familiar with her prolific comedic exploits. 

There are places where the film falls back on formulaic genre trappings: the pilot Martinez tells engineer Johanssen to explain something “in English”; there are many scenes where characters take objects like pens and salt shakers and use them as stand-ins for spacecraft and planets in demonstrating manoeuvres and Donald Glover shows up as a hyperactive genius prone to Eureka moments. That said, it is remarkable just how refreshing The Martian is. In this day and age, it seems everything has been done before, especially in big sci-fi blockbusters. That The Martian manages to be so unique and engaging is certainly commendable. In telling the story of the efforts to bring Mark Watney home, Scott has hit a home run. 

Summary: A thrilling, surprisingly funny survival film with a grounding in actual science, The Martian features one of Matt Damon’s most charming performances to date and is a joyous ode to the merits of ingenuity and perseverance. 

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


For F*** Magazine


Director : Baltasar Kormákur
Cast : Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Emily Watson, Martin Henderson
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 24 September 2015
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

There is a Chinese proverb that warns of the dangers of the oceans, which roughly translates to “bully the mountain but never bully the water”. It turns out that mountains aren’t to be trifled with either. It is 1996 and Rob Hall (Clarke), founder of expedition guide agency Adventure Consultants, is leading a group of climbers up Mount Everest. His clients for this season include Doug Hansen (Hawkes), a mailman who has made two failed attempts to ascend Everest; Beck Weathers (Brolin), a Texan doctor; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who has climbed six of the world’s seven tallest peaks and is hoping to complete that list by reaching the top of Everest; and journalist Jon Krakauer (Kelly). Rob’s wife Jan (Knightley) is pregnant with their first child and is awaiting his safe return. It is a crowded climbing season at Everest base camp, with expeditions from various countries and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), founder of the rival expedition agency Mountain Madness, also with their eyes on the prize. When disaster strikes at the roof of the world, every last ounce of determination and endurance will be required to stay alive in the most inhospitable of conditions. 

The 1996 Mount Everest disaster is a well-documented tragedy, covered by multiple books, documentaries and a TV movie. Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air is probably the best-known account, though some have called the veracity of his version of events into question. The poster claims Everest is “the most dangerous place on earth”, though mountains like Annapurna, K2 and the Eiger have claimed a larger ratio of lives. Still, that’s not to diminish the obvious risk inherent in climbing Everest. Director Baltasar Kormákur is clearly striving for a depiction that is as accurate, objective and respectful as possible, lending the movie the vibe of a National Geographic docu-drama re-enactment, but with a much larger budget and better actors. Movies allow audiences a glimpse into worlds they would never step into otherwise, and Everest achieves a sufficient degree of authenticity, thanks to location shooting in Italy’s Ötztal Alps, Iceland and Nepal itself. This is a film that was made for the IMAX 3D format and while there is an actual IMAX 3D Everest documentary, this film offers a more immersive and thrilling experience because of its narrative. 

The movie makes it crystal clear that ascending Mount Everest is a behemoth undertaking, involving training and acclimatisation, complex logistics, the harshest of elements and coming at a high monetary cost as well. The screenplay, credited to Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson, tidily explains the rules and technicalities in layman’s terms while not dropping exposition into the audience’s lap wholesale. The film, via Michael Kelly’s portrayal of Krakauer, directly addresses the question most viewers would have on their minds – “why climb Everest at all?” The famous words of pioneering mountaineer George Mallory, “because it’s there”, are invoked, but the answer – if there is a singular one - seems far more ineffable and we are able to see just how much conquering the famous peak means to the various people in the story. 

Everest boasts an impressive cast by any standards, so there is the danger of it becoming “famous people on a mountain” and losing the verisimilitude of the true story. Thankfully, this is largely averted. Jason Clarke is excellent, portraying Rob Hall as diligent and attentive, while also aiming to turn a profit/make a living. Josh Brolin’s rugged charm is on full display, but it is John Hawkes who turns out to be the emotional core of the film. Hawkes’ portrayal of Doug, whose passion for mountaineering has rendered him near-penniless and has driven a wedge in his relationship with his wife and family, is quietly, painfully sympathetic. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is the laid-back, free-spirited counterpoint to the by-the-book Rob, and the film benefits from never sensationalising the rivalry to cartoony proportions. 

We do wish Naoko Mori’s Yasuko Namba got more screen time – this is a woman who has successfully conquered six of the seven tallest mountains in the world by the age of 47, and is clearly a fascinating person. However, we concede that giving everyone their moment to shine in an ensemble picture is tricky, let alone when set against the staggering backdrop of a mountaineering disaster. The film also falls back on the “anxious wife back home” cliché, with Keira Knightley and Robin Wright as Rob’s wife Jan and Beck’s wife Peach respectively. The fact that Jan was pregnant at the time might come off as emotionally manipulative – but then again, that is what actually took place and while it’s a formula we’ve seen many times before, we can’t think of a viable alternative to portray what the climbers’ families were going through. 

While there is not a huge amount of room to establish the climbers as fully-developed characters, they are several notches up from being faceless victims and it easy to get invested in their plight. There are certain points where it might be difficult to tell the characters apart, since they are all clad in heavy-duty winter gear, are wearing goggles and mostly bearded. 

Many films are pitched as “celebrating the triumph of the human spirit”. There is an element of that in Everest, to be sure, but it is tempered with the idea of Mother Nature as a harsh mistress. As the line in the film goes, “the last word always belongs to the mountain.” There’s no sugar-coating, no manufactured “Hollywood ending”, with the conclusion bittersweet in that it’s 80% bitter and 20% sweet. Everest gets off to a slow start and because the tragedy it’s based on was so well-publicised, many viewers will know how it ends, but this is a journey that is largely worth the while. 

Summary: A respectful, credible account of the 1996 Everest disaster that overcomes the bits of survival drama formula it must include with some terrific performances and harrowing spectacle. 

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Limitless TV Series pilot review


Thanks to RTL-CBS Entertainment Asia, I got a sneak peek at the pilot episode of the new TV series premiering during this fall’s TV season, Limitless. Limitless is a spin-off of the 2011 feature film of the same name, which was in turn based on Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields.

TV shows launched off the backs of movies usually feature the same main character as the film, recast with a different actor, as the series’ protagonist. The Limitless show does something a little different – it is set four years after the events of the movie and Senator Edward Mora, the protagonist of the film, drops in as a recurring character. Mora is played by Bradley Cooper, who since starring in Limitless, has gone on to A-list stardom and multiple Academy Award nominations. He’s also an executive producer on the series and his involvement is the biggest selling point of the show.

The premise of the show, as with the film it’s based on, is built around the miracle drug NZT-48. The circular clear pill grants users access to the full extent of their brain capacity, resulting in superhuman intelligence. Naturally, there’s a catch - the drug is also highly addictive and causes crippling side-effects. Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a struggling musician, has no other options but to take on a temp job at a Wall Street bank. While there, he bumps into Eli (Arjun Gupta), his former band-mate, now a successful investment banker. Eli gives Brian one NZT pill and before he knows it, Brian is in deep over his head, implicated in a crime he did not commit and pursued by the FBI. Brian has to convince agents Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) and Spellman Boyle (Hill Harper) of his innocence, while desperately hunting for his next fix. FBI Special Agent in charge Nazreen Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is interested in tracking down Brian for her own ends, viewing him as a potential asset in the further development of the NZT drug.

The pilot is written by Craig Sweeny and directed by Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man fame. Sweeny has previously written for the CBS crime dramas Elementary and Medium. The pilot sticks closely to the flashy visual style brought to the film by its director Neil Burger, with snazzy graphical representations of Brian calling on obscure snatches of knowledge to get out of a tight spot. There are also plenty of dramatic long zooms through swathes of New York streets. While experiencing the effects of NZT, everything gets a warm amber tint, like in the movie. It feels slickly put together, but also quite generic. This is yet another police procedural on CBS, undisputed home of the police procedural. Even with its high-concept hook, one gets the feeling that the show might fall back on formula at least a little. There’s also the matter of how practically everyone knows that the “10% of your brain” chestnut is discredited pseudo-science.

Jake McDorman is your standard white male TV actor – he’s reasonably likeable, but nowhere near as magnetically charismatic as Bradley Cooper is, and it seems McDorman will remain in the shadow of his American Sniper co-star. The Brian Finch character is meant to be as similar to Edward Mora while being distinct enough to co-exist instead of supplant Mora, which is a tricky thing to do. Both Mora and Brian start out as frustrated artists – Mora a writer; Brian a musician. They dabble in the high-stakes Wall Street financial world, although Brian doesn’t get in as deep as Mora did. Since this is just the pilot, Mora’s role in the story and his motivations have yet to be clearly defined, but it is a definitely a boon for the show that they’ve secured Cooper in a recurring role, as his star power may help paper over whatever familiarity the show possesses for audiences weary of the police procedural genre.

Jennifer Carpenter’s Rebecca Harris is your bog-standard tough FBI agent with a tragic past that will be explored in some capacity as an ongoing arc. The scenes in which Carpenter and McDorman are alone and playing off each other, Agent Harris understandably wary of the super-intelligent suspect, are well-written and competently performed. One thing I did like was that Brian is shown as having a large family and his close to his parents, striving to help his terminally ill dad. It seems inevitable that his family will be put in some kind of jeopardy down the line but it serves as a solid, if predictable, emotional core for the character.

The pilot is entertaining, well-paced and provides enough background information such that one won’t be completely lost without having seen the film that the show is a continuation of. It remains to be seen how much of the show can be sustained by its association with Bradley Cooper, the visual flourishes and the gimmick of the superhuman intelligence. There is something of a “that’s the best they could come up with?” quotient to the idea of using the abilities granted by NZT to solve crimes, but it seems there’s room for that to work on a TV series. If you’re a fan of the movie, it’s worth sticking around to see where this goes. There’s also the added bonus of Jake McDorman not having to deliver any lines in embarrassingly garbled Mandarin!

Limitless premieres Sept 23rd on RTL/CBS Asia, direct from the U.S, airing Wednesdays at 9 pm (8 pm Jakarta/Bangkok)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Black Mass

For F*** Magazine


Director : Scott Cooper
Cast : Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Saarsgard, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 17 September 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language And Violence)

A “Black Mass” is a type of Satanic ritual, a dark inversion of the Catholic Mass. This true crime drama recounts the profane partnership between the FBI and one of the most notorious gangsters in United States history. James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill gang in South Boston. His brother Billy (Cumberbatch) is a United States senator. Their childhood friend John Connolly (Edgerton), now an FBI agent, approaches Whitey with the offer of becoming an informant in order to take down the rival Angiulo crime family. As Whitey’s clout increases, he begins to be more brazen in his criminal activities, with his fingers in everything from drug trafficking to a Jai alai betting racket to funding the Irish Republican Army, almost casually killing anyone who crosses him. Whitey and his partners Stephen Flemmi (Cochrane), Kevin Weeks (Plemons) and Johnny Matorano (W. Earl Brown) continue their criminal reign of South Boston unchecked, benefitting from a deal with the Feds that seems too good to be true. 

Black Mass is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The “unholy alliance” between two childhood friends which would end up having untold ramifications is one of the most morbidly intriguing organized crime stories in recent memory. “Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it for real in the streets,” Kevin Weeks says in the police interview framing device. Working from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk, director Scott Cooper has crafted a crime drama in the mould of Scorsese’s genre-defining mob movies. Black Mass is bleak but never boring to look at, thanks to Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography which is slick but not flashy. Cooper stages several moments that are bubbling over with almost unbearable intensity. It is often downright terrifying and it boggles the mind to think how long Whitey’s criminal activities were allowed to go on for. 

Post-Jack Sparrow, it has been difficult to take Johnny Depp very seriously, even with his three Oscar nods. You know it, we know it and Depp himself knows it too. Suffice it to say that this is a far cry from Mortdecai and is the best Depp has been in years. Great acting is about disappearing into the part, and with the help of special effects makeup designed by Depp’s oft-collaborator Joel Harlow, he does indeed. Cooper hired some of Whitey’s former associates as consultants and they looked at footage of Depp as Whitey, simply commenting “that’s Whitey.” Much of Depp’s later work has been characterized by traipsing about with wild abandon, so the subtle, understated quality he brings to bear with this performance is welcome. He convincingly essays a master manipulator, a savvy criminal with an unpredictable streak and delivers searing, disturbing turn as Whitey in what is definitely a high point in his career. 

While the film is primarily Depp’s to carry, there is a vast number of supporting players. Edgerton balances out Connolly’s self-confident air with his inner conflict between loyalty to a boyhood pal and duty to upholding the law, as his turning a blind eye to Whitey’s criminal exploits eventually snowballs. Edgerton does have a tendency to play the role a little broad, but he does bring a good deal of heart to the role. Replacing the initially-cast Guy Pearce, Benedict Cumberbatch gets precious little to do as Whitey’s brother Billy, and how Whitey could get away with so much when his brother was a senator is a plot point that is never explored to a satisfying extent. He makes a valiant attempt at a Boston accent but struggles to nail it. Kevin Bacon kind of floats in and out of the film as Connolly’s boss, spending most of his screentime haranguing the agent under his charge. As is the case with many mob movies, we don’t spend a lot of time with the female characters, but perhaps that’s just a reflection of the true story. Both Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson get to share excellent scenes with Depp though, one of which is skin crawlingly creepy. 

With its framing device of Whitey’s associates being interviewed by the police years after the fact, the film can come off as episodic rather than sweeping and involving, but it is riveting nonetheless. Director Cooper is clearly a student of the mob movie subgenre and while Black Mass owes a great deal to the work of Scorsese and his ilk, it doesn’t come off as mere mimicry, the violent consequences of his “unholy alliance” laid bare. 

Summary: A true crime biopic that gets under one’s skin, Black Mass may not reach the loftiest heights of the mob movie subgenre but it boasts a stellar, terrifying turn from Johnny Depp. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 


For F*** Magazine


Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal, Maximiliano Hernandez, Victor Garber
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Run Time : 121 mins
Opens : 17 September 2015
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Violence)

As another presidential election rears its head, U.S.-Mexico border issues are as hot a topic as ever. The so-called “war on drugs” rages on in this thriller. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent from Phoenix, Arizona specialising in kidnap response. Kate is selected to join a task force cracking down on drug cartel crime on the border. Department of Justice consultant Matt Graver (Brolin) leads the task force, aided by the enigmatic mercenary Alejandro (Del Toro), a former prosecutor turned efficient hitman.  Kate and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) suspect that Matt and Alejandro are not being upfront with them from the start, and Kate soon finds herself dealing with far more than she bargained for as she wades into the murky waters of the escalating conflict on the border. 

'Sicario' is a slang term for 'hitman' used in Mexico. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who helmed the kidnapping drama Prisoners and is attached to the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. Sicario is a straight-ahead thriller and markedly different from his last directorial effort, the mind-bending psychological thriller Enemy. Villeneuve presides over the proceedings with an even hand, crafting an intense, slow-burning film. Favouring disquieting “calm before the store” moments instead of a flashy bursts of action, this detached approach means that the film always feels grounded instead of over the top. However, it also means that it might be difficult for some audiences to truly sink their teeth into the story, since in avoiding heightened spectacle, Sicario is sometimes dull. 

Action movies are a dime a dozen, but interestingly, there has been a dearth of truly serious action-thrillers. Most contemporary Hollywood action flicks have a mere veneer of grimness and may be entertaining but are rarely really about anything. The violence here is uncompromising and ugly, never slick and glossy, with mutilated bodies hanging from bridges in full view. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan consciously avoids over-simplifying the issues at the heart of Sicario. There is a subplot focusing on everyman Mexican cop Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández) and his family, which attempts to show the toll the war on drugs takes on average folk. Border politics and the nature of this particular conflict are anything but clean-cut and Sicario does a good job of reflecting that the concept of a black and white morality is an antiquated one and old-fashioned good guys just don’t really exist anymore. 

We see this through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, who goes through the familiar arc of the fresh-faced rookie who has her idealism swiftly eroded when she sees how things actually work. While it isn’t exactly untrodden territory, Blunt is excellent in the role, reminiscent of Jessica Chastain’s performance in Zero Dark Thirty. Kate is not afraid to question authority, though as the story progresses, she starts to see less and less of a point in doing so. Blunt continues to showcase her versatility and there are several moments where Kate is brought to her knees that could have been overwrought in the hands of a lesser actress. 

Josh Brolin is right in his element, slyly entertaining as the lackadaisical Matt Graver. He wears flip-flops into serious meetings and doesn’t quite look to be in the best shape, but when means business, he means business. Benicio Del Toro complements him well, his character methodical and deadly but with a vital unpredictable streak. It seems like Del Toro is contractually obligated to appear in almost every drug trade thriller from Savages to Paradise Lost, but he doesn’t phone it in here. Del Toro brings an intriguing mixture of primal animalistic instinct and an underlying sadness and vulnerability to the part. However, the film does trip up on the age-old storytelling trap of establishing a character as unpredictable and mysterious, so we expect him to do the unexpected and it isn’t so much of a surprise when he does. 

Cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who collaborated with Villeneuve on Prisoners, return here. It is not the aerial views of arid desert expanses that have the most impact, but strangely mesmerizing shots of dust particles suspended in the air. Jóhannsson’s dissonant, droning score ups the queasiness provided by alternating thermal imaging and night-vision camera points of view. The twists and turns in the story are not as surprising as they could have been, but Sicario is a tough, riveting thriller featuring on-point performances and helmed by a very promising director. 

Summary: This subdued, grim thriller is almost too restrained but it is well-acted and sufficiently haunting. 

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars 

Jedd Jong 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

STGCC 2015: Jim Cheung interview

by Jedd Jong

British comic book artist Jim Cheung is in Singapore for the first time as a special guest of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. Cheung has drawn for Marvel and CrossGen and has risen as one of Marvel’s superstar artists, having been named a “young gun”, a potential superstar, by Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada in 2005.

Cheung is probably best known for pencilling Young Avengers. Alongside writer Allan Heinberg, Cheung created characters such as Iron Lad, Hulkling, Wiccan, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) and Speed.

At CrossGen, Cheung pencilled Scion and has gone on to draw such titles as New Avengers: Illuminati, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and X-Force for Marvel. He has also done cover art for Avengers vs. X-Men and World War Hulk: Warbound.

Speaking to other journalists and I, Cheung looks back on his career, shares his inspirations and influences, weighs in on the aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and talks about his persistence in getting a page right.

It has been ten years since you were named one of Marvel’s “young guns”.

Oh, don’t remind me! [Laughs]

What was that like and looking back over your career, what has the journey been like so far?

It’s been a hell of a journey, I would see. It was definitely a surprise to be named a “young gun” back in 2004…2005, because I’d already been in the business a good ten years, so to be named a “young gun” was definitely unusual. It was definitely an honour, definitely a privilege to be amongst so many artists and such enormous talent. I guess it did in some ways further my career a lot. Thanks to that book, Young Avengers, it really helped my career a long way, because that was my big return to Marvel because before that, I went to work for CrossGen for a few years. It was an unusual point to jump in, the fact that it became a hit was definitely a big bonus.

What are the main inspirations for your current art style?

Current art style? It’s really like a bastardized style of a lot of my favourite artists. I kind of look at artists that I like and critically break it down, take different elements of what I like and try to incorporate it into my work and then it just becomes natural, that’s just the way it’s always been. I’m more an assimilator in a way, because if you look at my early work, you can see it’s very crude but then it gets more and more refined, because I’m looking at other people’s work and getting influenced by it. That’s why when I went to CrossGen, I was able to be in a studio with a whole bunch of artists for the very first time, and I was able to “steal” from them quite comprehensively.

Who were some of these artists who inspired you?

At CrossGen, there was a whole bunch of people. I worked very simply back in the day. When I was in London, I never worked with a lightbox before, then when I went to CrossGen, I saw people working with lightboxes so I got very curious. I developed a style where I started doing layouts very roughly and placed them underneath the finished board, whereas before I used to draw everything straight and I didn’t think about moving it over, once I started doing that, pieces started becoming starting much tighter. And looking at other artists’ work, like Greg Land who was also in the studio, seeing how much photo reference he was using, how he was using it, how Steve Epting was using the blacks in his pages, things like that were adding to my work.

What went into creating the characters who formed the Young Avengers, alongside Allan Heinberg?

Basically, I was just given the descriptions from Allan and from Tom Brevoort, the editor, and I just went away and did some rough designs. I kept doing multiple designs until I was comfortable with something to hand in to show them. A lot of them were very crude to begin with because they just basically said “do younger versions of the Hulk, of the Avengers characters.” So I was trying to give it a more modern twist while retaining a lot of those classic elements in making those characters, so it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of playing around, a lot of moving things around.

Is there a project you’ve worked on that you’d like to tackle?

I haven’t done any DC stuff in a long time and I’m very curious about that. I’d love to do some Batman stuff, some Justice League, although I really should be shying away from doing team books because it takes me forever to do them. For some reason, they keep hiring me to do team books, like Axis and certain characters.

As an artist, what are your thoughts on the visual style of the films that form the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

I love the fact that they kind of look like superheroes, although in some ways, I’m less keen on some of the complicated outfits because I like things clean, simple, visually arresting. With the movies, sometimes they can get overly complicated with their designs, I think it takes away…it kind of gets generic after a while. If there are rivets and buttons everywhere, then there isn’t that much colour, it can look very samey-samey. That’s some of the issues I’ve had with the movies, some of the characters could be interchangeable and it wouldn’t even matter. I understand that, because they have to make it sophisticated for the movie audience, but at the same time, it can be overdone. The good thing with the Marvel movies is that at least they still somewhat resemble the comic book versions, they’re still very distinctive.

How do you overcome artist’s block?

Partly why I’m so slow is because I’m constantly struggling to get things right, that’s why when people ask me to video myself and put it up on YouTube, my process and how I draw, I’d be like “70% of the time will be erasing what I’ve just drawn so it will be a very, very boring video.” I get artist’s block, unfortunately, I’m too stupid to walk away, I just keep hammering at it. Sometimes I will switch to other pages and they’ll come easier.

What do you struggle in getting right, is it the composition?

The composition, the way I draw a face, it can never come out right sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s important to have a different perspective on things, which is why with the lightbox it lets you switch things over, so you turn the page over, everything’s completely different, so sometimes that helps as well.

If you had a chance to work on a movie or television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, would you be willing to do it?

I don’t think I’m really suited to it. I’d certainly be interested; it’s a whole different field.

Which series would you be interested in?

I want to do a Young Avengers series, yes [laughs].

Is there a character in particular that you enjoy drawing the most?

I really enjoy drawing Thor, I kind of like the Thor eras that I grew up with. I don’t think I’m the best at drawing Spider-Man [but] I do enjoy drawing Spider-Man. I’ve become very comfortable drawing Captain America, even though his costume just becomes more and more complicated. Favourite character…default characters are usually those guys. I’m so used to drawing Marvel characters, that’s the problem, when I’m finally asked to draw DC characters, I’m like “how do you draw Batman again?” [Laughs]

How much leeway to you get to re-interpret a character? When you’re assigned to a book, do you get a chance to redesign the characters’ costumes?

Sometimes. If I’m asked to redesign a costume, then I will try to stay faithful to…I grew up in the 80s so I have a certain image of those characters, so if I’m asked to redesign those characters, I often refer to those as a starting point in a way. Some of the costumes have deviated so much, they look so different than how they used to look that it’s a completely different character with a totally different costume. So I like to bring it back sometimes with more familiar elements. I try to play around with that.

What was your gateway into reading comics?

Very early on, it was Spider-Man. In the UK, they used to reprint all the comics, the weeklies, so I used to come home, after lunch, and read it.

So it was always superheroes rather than war or horror comics?

I did read some of that stuff, but I didn’t really take to it. I read 2000 AD, but I always went back to Marvel characters. I just like the Spider-Man character, maybe it’s because with 2000 AD the stories progressed too slowly, they were always too short, six pages, there was never enough story and by the next week it was another six pages. It just didn’t flow as well.

Most British creators cut their teeth on 2000 AD, how did you break into comics?

I just didn’t start like I was “supposed” to. Back in the 90s, I didn’t really know how to break in. I didn’t know you had to do samples, you had to show them to the right people, so that’s what I did, it just happened to be that the people I showed them to were from Marvel, so I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door there.

What would you say is the hardest part of working in comics?

The hardest part is keeping your game up, I would say. The quality of the artwork these days is amazing. There are kids coming out of high school with better Photoshop skills than I can achieve right now. There’s a level of technology that I never had, they’re so comfortable with those programs, it’s a challenge to try and keep growing.

Does your process involve any digital work?

It does, yes. Nowadays, I do a little fumbling, I scan them in and I play around with them a little bit, I move around elements until I’m happy.

If you were tasked with reimagining the Young Avengers as they are now, what changes would you make?

The way it currently is? I would probably bring it back to the old team. No disrespect to what Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen did, it’s just wasn’t the same team for me, because they were introducing all these new characters and for me, it didn’t quite come across the same way. Maybe it’s the writer; Allan had a certain way with the characters as well. I enjoyed those core characters that I helped design, it’s very personal.

What was it like creating the Comic-Con promotional poster for the new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and would you like to see movie posters return towards hand-drawn art, as unlikely as that may be?

It was actually quite an honour to do that poster for Comic-Con. I don’t think I’m the strongest guy when it comes to likenesses, so I try to shy away from that as much as possible, but when I was asked to do it, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and do something that was like the movie posters, James Bond-style, all the elements, like similar to the old classic James Bond movies. That’s what I wanted to do. Luckily it turned out okay, I think. There’s a few things I would change, but there are always things I would change.

Are there any things in geek culture that you’re looking forward to, be it movies, TV or other media?

I’m trying to stay away as much as I can from the Star Wars stuff, you can’t escape it unfortunately. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how that turns out. I’m also curious to see how the Marvel movies progress, to show the Infinity War. Like everybody else, I’m excited just the same, even though we all have a rough idea of what the story’s going to be like from the comics. It’s always cool to see on the big screen.

In your opinion, what is the most important component of visual storytelling?

The most important element is just clarity of storytelling, making sure the reader can follow everything that’s moving along. One of my rules when I’m laying out a book is that every issue can be somebody’s first, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s clear enough for somebody to pick up, or they aren’t going to be able to follow the story. I’ve picked up books where I’ve tried to read the story, but it’s so confusing because things are bouncing around all the time, it’s lost me even as a seasoned comic book reader. When I see that, I think that’s just missed opportunities – but again, that’s just me being very, very critical. It’s always easy being critical of other people’s work, failing to notice your own flaws.

What do you feel is the reason behind Marvel putting you on a lot of event books?

I don’t know, I think maybe they think I can handle the multiple characters, that’s why they give it to me. I also consider it a privilege, they think that I’m worthy to work on those tentpole events. I don’t question it too much, I just enjoy the opportunity.

Are you involved much with the planning of events?

Not at all, not at all. They just bring me in and show me the script.

Has there been a moment in the industry where you geeked out on a meeting a hero of yours?

I tried to avoid meeting my heroes as far as I can. Sometimes, it can affect your perception of the way you read it, I don’t know if you’ve ever met your heroes, sometimes if they give you a disappointing [first] impression, it affects everything you see from them afterwards. In some ways, I try and avoid that, but the people that I have met are great.

Thanks for an excellent interview Jim!

Monday, September 14, 2015

STGCC 2015: Stella Chuu Interview

By Jedd Jong

Cosplayer and burlesque performer Stella Chuu, something of a celebrity in the American cosplay circuit, is in Singapore for the first time as a special guest of the 2015 Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. She has captured the imagination and attention of geeks everywhere with her portrayals of characters including Psylocke, Irma from Queen’s Blade, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur and Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Stella is active in the “nerdlesque” scene, integrating geeky elements into her performances. Her Tron burlesque routine, in which she portrays Quorra, is particularly well-known. She’s even done a performance as Firefly’s Jayne Cobb. “I’ll be in my bunk,” indeed.

Over STGCC weekend, fans geek out over getting to meet Stella in person and there are selfies aplenty. On Preview Day and Day 2, Stella dons the cape and bracelets as Tharja from The Fire Emblem, and on Day 1 she wields the giant shuriken as Yuffie from the Final Fantasy series. 

At the convention, Stella speaks to other journalists and I about the craft of cosplaying and how she deals with the various responses she has gotten. Read on to hear her thoughts on the portrayal of Asian women in western popular culture, how cosplay has helped her self confidence and the nitty-gritties that go into learning a burlesque routine. It’s apparently really easy to look goofy instead of sexy while removing a bra.

You recently cosplayed as Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, who is a good example of a well-developed lead female character in contemporary movies. Who are some of your favourite female characters in film and television?

Furiosa from Mad Max [Fury Road], definitely. She’s a really great role model as a woman who can really lead a movie with her character. Who else? Mako Mori’s really great, I feel like she kind of started a trend, which is really nice. There are always a lot of problems in American films where the studios think that it’s more important to cater to male audiences but they don’t realise that there’s also a huge female and unisex market. For us in America, we’re definitely in an age where we’re fighting for feminist ideas.

You work is a cross between cosplay and burlesque, do you view it as performance art?

Yeah, I find it really empowering for me to be able to perform burlesque and it’s really great that I’m able to do cosplay with it too because back in the day, burlesque was very different. It was very classic and beautiful and elegant. Now, it can be anything. It can be artistic, it can be strange, it can be funny and it still can be sexy. I perform burlesque because it makes me feel empowered. It’s also an outlet for the artistic side that I can’t express through cosplay.

How would you compare STGCC to the cons you’ve been to in the West?

The convention itself is very similar, the way it operates, but I would say that cosplay is very different here. There’s more of an emphasis on pretty makeup, which is nice. I’ve actually learned a few things while I was here, just looking at other cosplayers. Cosplay photography is very different as well, it’s very cinematic. They definitely take their time to ensure the shots are really beautiful, whereas the difficulty of cosplaying in America is that America is so big that the only time that photographers get any time to shoot cosplayers is at conventions and cosplay photographers have learned to shoot really, really fast. Like 10 minute photoshoots. The photos are really beautiful but they don’t tell a story, it’s not cinematic, there are many limitations to it. It’s unfortunate. I would love to see more planned photoshoots in America. I would love to see more in-depth collaborations between cosplayers and photographers.

Do you feel that the representation of Asians, particularly Asian women, in American popular culture has improved?

Oh, definitely! I mean, back in the 90s, we were the girls who were the waitresses and the sex symbol of the bad guy, like the sidekick, doing kung fu.

The “Dragon Lady” archetype.

Yeah, the “Dragon Lady” stereotype. I mean, it’s not a bad stereotype because it’s sexy, it’s not gross or anything like that, but it is not as empowering as it could be. There are TV shows coming out like Fresh Off the Boat, which is great, it is so perfect. It shows the other side of Asian culture. And movies like Pacific Rim, showing Mako Mori being a powerful woman who’s just fighting for her place. That’s what I feel like we’re doing in America, we’re fighting for our place, fighting for people to understand that we’re more than just this cute Chinese or cute Japanese girl. We’re not submissive, we’re actually very outspoken, we’re very independent and we have a lot of ideas.

Would you say you’re using cosplay as a platform to communicate these ideas?

I don’t have an agenda, I’m not trying to communicate an agenda. I guess it’s a by-product of what I do. I tend to be attracted to characters who are powerful. I don’t like to cosplay characters who are weak because I don’t identify with them. I like to cosplay characters who have strong personalities. The character I’m cosplaying now, Tharja, she is crazy! All she talks about is killing people and summoning demons and being evil, so I find that really entertaining. I don’t want to cosplay a girl who’s weak-minded because I don’t want to have those feelings in me while I’m cosplaying – but I don’t choose characters specifically to show others that I’m powerful. I just choose characters that I feel comfortable with.

How important a role do you feel self-expression plays in building self-confidence?

I think that in all of these years that I’ve been cosplaying, my confidence has sky-rocketed. It was because of cosplay, burlesque and also putting myself out there and meeting people. I still kind of am really shy, I’m a mixture of introvert and extrovert, I guess. When I’m not cosplaying, when I’m not at a convention, I’m actually really quiet, I don’t like talking to people. I think another reason is maybe they’re not geeks so I have nothing to relate to them; I don’t like to have conversations with people who don’t understand where I’m coming from. I’ve noticed, especially recently, that I feel much more comfortable going up to random people at conventions and striking up conversations, especially if I’m not cosplaying and they don’t know who I am. I like talking to people as a normal anything. It’s a nice feeling, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that four to five years ago. I want more people to see the power of cosplay, what it can do for you in developing who you are and who you want to be.

You have a lot on your plate, how do you juggle it all?

It’s really hard, I work 40 hours a week. It takes me one hour to get to work a day, so another one or two hours after that, then when I come home I work on cosplay for about six hours. Give or take a few hours, when it’s off season and I don’t have any conventions coming up, I work on cosplay for maybe two hours a night before I sleep, but if it’s a really busy week, like the week before a convention, I can work on cosplay for anyone from six to nine hours or more. If I’m not working on cosplay, then I trying to hang out with my friends. Each time I get to see them I like schedule it out, I write it down on the calendar. I schedule out my lunch meetings with my friends like three weeks in advance [laughs].

How do you deal with any negativity you might encounter in the community?

There is a lot of negative attention that cosplayers get. I’m a much more risqué cosplayer, I’m so comfortable with my body. I don’t care if there’s nude pictures of me or derpy pictures of me or bad pictures of me, I don’t care, it’s fine. Because of those pictures, people will try to use it against me or something, and I’m like “you have no power here!” And then there’s people who are just saying stupid things all the time, so I like to troll them and just come back at them with really dumb comments. I feel like perpetuating anger and hate on the internet doesn’t help. If you’re mean to somebody else because they’re mean to you, you’re just going to continue being mean.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Yeah, it’s a vicious cycle, it doesn’t help anything; it doesn’t make you feel good. What I like to do when I troll people is to kind turn it around and get them on my side somehow. The best example was recently, I had a photo [of me], someone else’s photo, and the person said “this is a time when PhotoShop just destroys the photo” and I said “’destroys’ as in ‘destroyed it!’” [throws up the horns sign] and he’s like “no, kind of ruining it” and I said “’kind of’ like ‘kind of like it?’” and I kept trolling him until finally he’s like “sort of?” and I said “sort of awesome?” and he was like “…yeah.” You can see the comments getting more and more confused until he finally accepted it. It was great; that’s what I like to do.

What is your process when it comes to devising a burlesque act?

I need a stroke of insight; it’s really hard for me to just sit down and brainstorm, I have to be like “Eureka! There’s an idea!” I don’t like burlesque-ing just to burlesque. One of the common problems with nerdy burlesque is performers will just come on stage in character, they’ll dress as the character and just striptease. There’s no storyline, it doesn’t make sense – why is this person stripteasing? I always make sure with my burlesque that I tell a story, that there’s something happening that the audience can understand the effect because if you’re just stripteasing without any context, then it’s not nerdlesque. Nerdlesque is about being the character and portraying the character.

How do you prepare for a performance?

First, there’s a lot of training, definitely. I take classes and stuff – in New York they have a place called The School of Burlesque where they teach classes, because not only are you dancing, but you’re learning certain techniques that are very complicated. You’d think it’s easy to take off your glove – it’s not, there’s a process to it. Learning how to dance with fans, learning how to take off your bra the correct way without looking stupid, taking off your corset on stage is really hard as well. One of the hardest things is being able to engage the audience, because you’re not just going on stage to take off your clothes, you’re like “hi, I am here, look at you [points], look at you [points]”, you’re staring at the audience, your eyes are meeting with them. Those are things that take a long time to learn. The first two years that you’re performing, you’re going to suck! You’re going to suck so bad! Over time, I’ve gotten better and better and what’s great about burlesque is that it lasts forever. You can start burlesque-ing when you’re 20 years and you can keep going until you’re 50, 55. I know plenty of people who are in their late 40s and are still performing, who have been performing for the last 20 years. Keep practising, I guess.

How have your family and your friends who are outside the geek circle reacted to your fame?

I just don’t tell them about it. If they don’t know it, I just don’t talk about it.

What are some of the most unconventional or unexpected materials you’ve employed in 
constructing a costume?

I was cosplaying Yuffie yesterday and I have a big shuriken. One of the things is there are rivets in it, but instead of actually putting rivets in, I put googly eyes then I spray painted them. They really have the perfect size and shape, so when you shake my shuriken, you can hear the googly eyes shaking!

Big props have become something of a cosplaying trend. Do you have any advice for cosplayers who are constructing and carrying around big props?

It’s tough because the problem with big props is that they’re fragile and they take up too much space, they’re really hard to transport. If you can avoid bringing them to a convention, you should just bring them to a photoshoot but not to a convention. I have very big cosplays with big feathers and big wings and I only bring them to photoshoots – what I do is I make smaller versions of those to bring to conventions. Make mini versions of your props, I guess – it depends on what’s important to you. If you want really good cosplay photos, then save your good props for cosplay photos. If you want your cosplay to be seen at a convention and you want people to look at your cool costume, you need to pick your battles.

How do you deal with people who might be a tiny bit creepy at cons?

I’ve gotten really good at it, to the point where I almost don’t worry about them anymore. We’re geeks, we’re all socially inept [laughs], we hide in our basements. I do get a lot of creepers but to be honest, the people who are the most inconsiderate and rude are the people outside the convention. When I’m walking from the hotel to the convention centre, there are dirty old men who’ll just be like “hey baby!” whereas at conventions, people are a little bit more respectful, it’s just that they don’t understand what’s the right thing to say. They’re not trying to be malicious, so I always see [it as] “okay, why are they saying this word? It’s because that that’s rude or something” They’re coming from this different place. I never try to be angry or yell at anyone, I always try to read between the lines and see where they’re coming from. I know how hard it is to be a geek.

That’s a very empathetic approach.

Yeah, if I stay angry, it’s not good for me.

Do you still meet people who don’t view cosplay as a viable art form, and if you do, what is your response to them?

I feel like I haven’t met them in real life, but definitely online, there are a lot of people who complain about cosplay having more attention than the artists who created the comic books and I don’t know what to say to them, because they might be fighting for something and I represent what they don’t like. I can’t change their minds, I’m just going to keep doing what I do, I’m not going to call them an idiot or anything like that. They’re entitled to their own opinion; I just hope that over time, they see more stuff that will change their opinions, but I’m not going to waste any time to argue with them.

What are your cosplans for the future?

My plans for the next convention, New York Comic-Con, I’m going to be doing a Gundam Girl and because I live in New York City, it’s easier. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to bring it to another convention. Also, I’m going to be cosplaying from Evolve, which is a game where you’re a bunch of people fighting the monster or you’re a monster where you’re trying to kill all the people, a really fantastic game. I haven’t picked out what I want from that yet. That’s it for this year, yeah.

How many costumes have you made this year?

This year specifically, I’m going to have in total 12 costumes that I’ve made. Last year, I think I had 15-20. There are fewer this year than last year because I wanted to concentrate on the craftsmanship to make sure that the costumes are whole and complete and well-made. Some of the problems I’ve had in the past is that my costumes fall apart really easily or pieces of it weren’t very well-made, so I just want to make sure that as I get better at crafting, my costumes get better because of it. 

Thanks for the excellent interview Stella!
Photos that aren't my own are used for illustrative purposes only and belong to their respective owners.