Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TV Review - Scorpion

This Fall, CBS is debuting its new action drama sereis Scorpion (or, as the title card has it, </scorpion>). The show will air in Singapore on RTL CBS Entertainment and I attended a screening of the pilot tonight.


Scorpion is created by Nick Santora, whose TV credits include The Sopranos, The Guardian, Law & Order, Prison Break and Lie To Me. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenwriters behind Star Trek (2009) who are showrunners on Sleepy Hollow, are executive producing. Also executive producing is Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame; he directed the pilot. Touted as being based on a true story, Scorpion is inspired by the life of self-proclaimed Irish genius Walter O'Brien. O'Brien hacked into the NASA computer system at age 13 and made an extradition deal with the Americans. This is dramatised in the opening scene of the pilot, which also features ineffective, creepy-looking de-aging makeup on Robert Patrick. Anyway, O'Brien went on to establish the Scorpion Computer Services company, using his expertise to solve cybercrimes. 


I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the premise. It's a team of high-functioning misfit super-geniuses whom the government calls on for help because nobody else is smart enough. It's been described as The Big Bang Theory meets CSI. A tad late on the "nerds are cool" bandwagon there. O'Brien (Elyes Gabel) states in the opening voiceover that Einstein had an IQ of 165 and he has an IQ of 197. Most of us don't run into "eccentric geniuses" on a daily basis, but they're all over TV. Everything from Numb3rs to Sherlock has amply proven that audiences love a protagonist who's that many steps ahead of everybody else. And then there's the team: Trilby-wearing behaviourist Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), mathematician and programmer Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) and mechanical whiz Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong). They answer to stern Federal agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick), with whom O'Brien has a sour history. These are character types we've seen plenty of times before and character traits like Sylvester's OCD are annoying rather than amusing. Of course, this being just the pilot, there's probably room for meaningful character development and perhaps the bunch will grow beyond the caricatures they're presented as in the pilot. 


Something I didn't expect was how the show touches on the difficulties of raising a high-functioning kid. There's a subplot involving diner waitress Paige Dineen (Katherine McPhee), a single mother who struggles with understanding and nurturing her extraordinarily gifted son. By the end of the episode, she joins the Scorpion crew as the "one normal member", the de-facto heart of the team, if you will. There are moments in the pilot that are kinda sappy, but the connection that Walter shares with Paige's son adds some warmth to the fast-paced techno-babble-driven proceedings. Of course, a romance between Walter and Paige is teased. It's a fun cast and they seem to have decent chemistry together, but I need to see more to make a proper judgement. What is noteworthy is that Elyes Gabel's portrayal of Walter O'Brien does not come off as arrogant and obnoxious, as "insufferable genius" types in TV shows are wont to, and that is to his credit. I'm calling Eddie Kaye Thomas' Toby as the fan-favourite breakout character. 


In the pilot, the Scorpion Computer Services team is called upon to solve an emergency bug in the software at the LAX airport control tower, with the lives of hundreds of airline crew and passengers at stake. The series creators have promised a more realistic portrayal of hacking and computer systems than audiences are used to. I'm no expert, so I can't vouch for the veracity of any of it, but at least there aren't the floating, spinning graphics of Hackers and Swordfish. Any realism and grounding the show has flies out the window by the time the pilot's denouement rolls around, but it flies out the window in a most entertaining fashion. Justin Lin is at the helm, so there are really fast cars involved. It's one of the most gleefully ridiculous, over the top action climaxes I've seen in a TV show and it does rival something that might appear in Lin's Fast and Furious movies. I'm not going to give too much away but the pilot is definitely worth a watch for that rather ambitious sequence. If the show continues to deliver set pieces akin to the one in the pilot, it'll be quite the hoot. 


Scorpion premieres on Tuesday 23rd September on RTL CBS Entertainment, Mio TV Ch. 318/StarHub TV Ch. 509


A Walk Among the Tombstones

For F*** Magazine

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Director : Scott Frank
Cast : Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Ruth Wilson, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Sebastian Roche, David Harbour, Mark Consuelos, Astro
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Opens : 18 September 2014
Rating : NC-16
Running time: 114 mins

Pierce Brosnan strutted his “older man of action” stuff recently in The November Man and now Liam Neeson, the definitive “older man of action” of the moment, is at it again in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a former NYPD cop, now an unlicensed private detective and a recovering alcoholic. Drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Stevens) engages Scudder’s services when his wife is kidnapped and killed even after he’s paid the ransom. While doing research in the library, Scudder befriends homeless teenager TJ (Bradley), whom he takes under his wing. Scudder discovers that the psychopaths responsible are targeting young women related to figures in the drug world, knowing they would be unable to go to the police for help. Working outside the law, Scudder must prevent the serial killers from striking again.

            
A Walk Among the Tombstones is adapted from the 10th book in Lawrence Block’s long-running Matt Scudder series (there are 17 books now). Jeff Bridges played Scudder in 1986’s heavily panned and largely forgotten 8 Million Ways to Die and this film has been in the works for quite a while, with Joe Carnahan attached to direct and Harrison Ford to star at one point. Writer-director Scott Frank’s realisation of A Walk Among the Tombstones is slick, stylish and foreboding, lean and effectively chilling. At times, it seems reminiscent of David Fincher’s work, if more pedestrian. A slow-motion sequence in which the killers leer at a young girl walking her dog, set to Donovan’s “Atlantis”, is a very darkly comic touch. The book was published in 1992, but Frank chooses to set it in 1999, hinting at Y2K paranoia with the symbolism of people being “afraid of all the wrong things”, as the tagline goes. This doesn’t seem to add a lot to the story but it is an interesting textural detail.

           
          However, beyond the look and feel of the film, the story is a pretty conventional one. Yes, the serial killer antagonists are very creepy, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in dozens of police procedural or detective TV shows. They drive around in a van, kidnapping women to torture and kill and they’re unbalanced and evil – not exactly a unique or compelling situation for our hero to be up against. It’s a good thing then that our hero is Liam Neeson, a master at the art of being quietly intimidating. He’s effortlessly cool throughout the film and you’ll want to cheer when he snarls “are you listening, motherf***er?” through the phone at the kidnappers. More than that, it’s entertaining to watch Neeson’s Scudder just doing some old-fashioned sleuthing about, cleverly cajoling information out of various subjects. Neeson is sufficiently low-key and yet never seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film. He also has the approval of author Block, who thought Neeson would make the ideal Scudder since watching him in Michael Collins.


            Less conventional than its main “catch the kidnappers” plot is the relationship between Scudder and tagalong kid TJ. TJ could have very easily been unbearably irritating and Brian “Astro” Bradley did get on many nerves as a contestant on American X Factor. However, he holds his own opposite Neeson and their interactions lend the film a slight hint of dry levity without the character being “the comic relief”. There’s some sentimentality there too, TJ stricken with sickle cell anaemia, having nowhere to go and drawing superheroes in his sketchbook. The scene in which Scudder chastises TJ for picking up a gun he found in a dumpster is particularly well done and a discussion about cool detective names displays a self-awareness of the genre without it being obnoxious.


           
           Some fans of Liam Neeson have bemoaned that since Taken, the Oscar nominee has starred in a string of run of the mill actioners that don’t particularly test his abilities as an actor. A Walk Among the Tombstones puts less emphasis on the running and the shooting -though there is some of that, to be sure. While the role of Matt Scudder isn’t wildly different from the cool tough guys we’ve become accustomed to seeing Neeson play, there is more here for Neeson to sink his teeth into and this film certainly is more of a grown-up, intense, sometimes disturbing thriller than his more action-oriented movies. And isn’t it nice that the novel’s original name was preserved instead of the title being changed to some snappy synonym for “vengeance”?

Summary: Liam Neeson fans will want to take this walk, his lead performance as the old-school detective and the creepy atmospherics making up for the familiar narrative.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Friday, September 12, 2014

STGCC 2014: Interview with David Mack

For The Shortbox

STGCC 2014: DAVID MACK INTERVIEW
By Jedd Jong 9/9/14



David Mack was in Singapore for the Singapore Toy Games and Comics Convention and The Shortbox was able to sit down and chat with the artist/writer. This year, he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his creation Kabuki and will be doing the covers for the Fight Club sequel comic book series, written by Chuck Palahniuk with interior art by Cameron Stewart. Mack also discusses the stylish end credits sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for which he did the art. 

What was your impression of Fight Club after first seeing the movie or reading the novel?

I saw it in 1999 on a Friday night, I went home and immediately did big drawings of it. I was so fascinated with that movie and there were actually a couple of lines in the film that were very similar to the lines I wrote in Kabuki. I remember turning to my girlfriend at the time going “I love how this guy writes, he writes like how I try to write.” I was so connected to the movie that the next day, Saturday, I went and saw it again, like two days in a row. Every time I saw it, I saw new things about it, I just really appreciated it, the metaphor of the movie. I saw it in the theatre twice and I’ve seen it a lot on DVD, I’ll just put it on while I’m working.

I was so connected to the movie, I was like “who is this guy?” I found out it was based on a book and I found all the other books that he’d done at that time, Invisible Monsters, and I was travelling through Europe, reading all his books on the train. I was really fascinated by the story so I wrote Chuck Palahniuk in the mail and told him I connected to his stuff and that I do some work too and he wrote back and told me to send him certain things that I did. At the time, 2006, there was a documentary film about my work called Alchemy of Art and I sent that to him also and he wrote back and he really liked it and he had this idea some day of getting together different creators from different mediums and doing some kind of, in his words, “tour bus” to sort of show people that they have their own responsibility to create their own culture.

I published that letter he wrote to me in the back of the Kabuki book. He sent his phone number in the letter and said “next time you’re in Portland, come meet up with me” and so every time I was in Portland, I would meet up with Chuck. I was usually staying at Brian Bendis’ house in Portland. Brian and I would stay up all night, go to sleep at like 7 in the morning, so Brian would wake up at noon and I would go “oh, I’m going to have lunch with Chuck Palahniuk, I’m coming back” and I would come back but he never would meet Chuck. He thought that maybe I was making it up, that Chuck was my Tyler Durden. But then I would have these lunches with Chuck that were so inspiring. He would come back and say “I’ve been writing all day long, in a trance, fugue state writing so much” and we’d talk about our ideas and the creative process.
Even early on, Chuck had a real curiousity about comic books and graphic novels and storytelling, he asked me lots of questions. Early on, the Daredevil: End of Days story had just come out in the last couple of years, 2006, 2007, Brian and I were writing it together. We had such great conversations and I invited him back to Brian’s house. He asked “what are you doing” and I said “I’m writing down our entire conversation”. I had this idea to do like an illustrated version of our conversation, it would be very fun to make it more abstract, move it around, the entire conversation was about ideas, how to make ideas real, he was asking questions about something I was working on and vice versa. And so, I just had this connection with him, every time we were in Portland we would meet up. Scott Allie, the editor-in-chief at Dark Horse, he told me that they were announcing a Fight Club sequel and he said “tell him to contact me, consider us as publisher.” I think Chuck probably chose to go with Dark Horse because they’re around Portland, where he is.

For the Winter Soldier end credits that you did, how much access did you have to information or material of the film and what was the process of coming up with that like?

It’s an interesting story, the origin of the Winter Soldier project because I did a design festival last year in Barcelona called OFFF Fest, mostly it’s digital designers and artists so I was really the only guy there that doesn’t use digital but I still gave a presentation and spoke there. I met a lot of other interesting photographers and designers there, we would see the sights and visit Barcelona together. One was this woman named Erin Sarofsky who has her own design studio and then last November, I think right around Thanksgiving, she sent me a text and said she had worked with the directors of Captain America [Joe and Anthony Russo] on something else before and now they were doing this film. They said that they already had a whole bunch of Marvel-approved design studios who were submitting pitches but she knew these directors so they were offering her a pitch too. She said “we’re going to send in five or six pitches, if you want to submit a pitch of your own, we’ll show it also and then we can collaborate on it.”


And so, that Thanksgiving I was leaving on a trip to Fiji and this would be like a 12 hour flight. She needed the pitch for it immediately, so on the 12 hour flight to Fiji I did all kinds of drawings of ideas for it. I talked to her on the phone and she had just seen the film with the directors so she gave me a sense of what kind of film it was. Based on that, we both mentioned Saul Bass, this iconic artist and designer who’s done stuff for Scorsese, Hitchcock, Kubrick; an incredible designer that we’re both inspired by and also I suggested to her that I was very inspired and influenced by Jim Steranko for the art of it and he had done Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America so it would be a great homage to his comic book work as well.


And so we discussed like the look, we were both thinking black and white, stark qualities to the artwork and then on that plane trip, I stayed up the whole time drawing, it was a very enjoyable plane trip and then on the beach, I was inking it all, I would take a photo of it and email her the photos. I had half a coconut shell with my ink in it and there were all these mongooses running around. I had a backpack with my food and the mongooses would come up to my backpack with my art supplies and I would feed them breadcrumbs on the beach, you know, drawing Captain America. I took the photo, emailed it to her and she pieced it together, the sequence, she did all the typography and how it would all fit together, finessed it. She called back in a couple of days and I was on this island without much connection to anybody but she updated me and said we got the job, of all the different pitches they had, they chose the one that I sent. So that was great. And then there are some of those drawings in the original pitch that made it through to the final images in the film.



She works at a design studio in Chicago so they flew me out to Chicago in December and I worked at their studios in Chicago. There was a lot of security, like the Marvel guys came to the studio and said “in order for us to give you this job, we have all kinds of different security measures”. All kinds of security on our hard drive, a secure room with locks…they spent a lot of expenses to make their facility approved under the standards of Marvel. And then Marvel would send me all of the details, like all of the behind-the-scenes footage of Captain America, photographs that they had taken of all the equipment and all the actors. But it was all like super double-encrypted emails, it was a big hassle but it was so secure the way they worked. I had done certain things without having that reference so I had to redraw a lot of it so it was the exact hardware and tech from the film. So I just did that in Chicago, I was doing all the drawing and she was pinning them up onto the wall and like putting it in different orders and doing all the type. She had a whole team of animators all in the same room on the computers so they scanned in my drawings as soon as I finished it, they vectorised it and made it all three-dimensional and were moving it around.

Did you get to meet any of the actors from the film?

I met Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, yeah. I was in Chicago two weeks ago at the Wizard World show and they were there and I was talking about how I did the drawings for them. Also, the Falcon, Sam Wilson, in Daredevil: End of Days, he’s the president in the Marvel universe so I mentioned that to them.

Shocker Toys did an action figure of Kabuki and they are kind of controversial; several 
independent comics creators have spoken out about working with them. What was your experience with Geoff Beckett and Shocker toys like?



Um, I don’t know that much about any of that controversy stuff, I had done like a series of action figures with Moore Creations, Clayburn Moore sculpted some amazing action figures, some Kabuki masks, he’s offering brand new masks and yeah, the Shocker people did a Kabuki action figure, it had more joints and stuff, but I felt like I didn’t really feel like we were working that close together. When I worked with Clay Moore, he would send me like every stage of the process and we discussed it, I would send him drawings from it, I approved every stage of it with Clay and the other people. I’m still working with Clay on some new stuff too, he’s working on new Kabuki statues and masks now.

Did David Fincher have anything to say about the new Fight Club comic?

Not a word. I don’t think he said anything. Hopefully, it will be such a great, awesome book that he kind of can’t resist doing a sequel based on our sequel. It’s pretty exciting though, when I was reading the script, all the dialogue written in the script I felt was so accurate and so dead-on to the characters that we’re familiar with, that were in the original book and the film. After you hear them talking in the film, you can’t help but hear the film voices reading everything.














STGCC 2014: Cameron Stewart Interview


STGCC 2014: CAMERON STEWART INTERVIEW
By Jedd Jong 9/9/14


As the new co-writer and artist on Batgirl, Cameron Stewart is currently the toast of DC. The redesign of Batgirl’s costume that he and Babs Tarr created has gained a massive fan following, as evident by the mountains of fan art and cosplay of the new look seen on various social media platforms. In Singapore for the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention, Stewart discusses Batgirl and the upcoming Fight Club sequel comic, for which he is doing the interior art.

Do you feel the pressure of taking over the Batgirl book from fan-favourite Gail Simone and did you speak to her after getting the job?

I did actually, I spoke to her shortly after I was offered the job, kind of reaching out and getting her blessing, it was kind of the incoming writer paying respect to the outgoing writer. I didn’t really ask her too many questions about the book itself but I just wanted to make sure it was a smooth transition, a nice handover and Gail was very nice and very complimentary. We have great respect for her and the contributions that she’s made to the character and we’re doing our best to…even though we’re often going to be doing our own thing that’s actually going to be quite, quite different than what she was doing, we still want to respect what she’s done, so we’re sort of moving on and building on top of what she’s done, taking it in a different direction.

Whenever a character that’s been around for a while gets re-designed, there are bound to be readers who aren’t onboard. How do you go about redesigning an iconic character like Batgirl?

For me it was just about looking back over the history of the character. Batgirl’s been around for almost 50 years, she was invented for the television show in the 60s and she’s had different incarnations and so for me, it was about getting to the heart of what was iconic for that character, I think that even now in 2014, Yvonne Craig is still the iconic vision of Batgirl that we have so it was really going back to that and realizing that there’s a reason why that’s the iconic version and why that’s had endurance. So it was a matter of going back to that, picking out what I like about that costume and sort of coming at it from the approach of “if this character was being created in 2014 for the first time, how do I take the elements that are so successful in this iconic version to update it and contemporize it and make it modern?”

Tell us more about the re-designed Batgirl costume.
I was offered the book, DC contacted and asked if I would be interested in taking over Batgirl as writer and as artist. They wanted to offer me the whole thing to do, just on my own. My very first question to them was “can I redesign the costume?” Me taking on the job was conditional on them, me getting to redraw the costume. Because the New 52 armoured thing…it’s not me, it’s not my taste, I didn’t really want to draw that. There’s nothing really wrong with it, it’s just not me. I was like “I’d like to draw something that’s more to my taste” and suited the vision I had for what I wanted to do with the story. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do with the story yet but I knew what I wanted the tone to be. The tone was definitely going to be something that was light and fun, upbeat and positive because everything prior to that had been very dark and grim, violent and in the rain.

Death of the Family

Yeah, exactly, that’s not me either. Particularly for something like Batgirl, I wanted it to be positive and happy. So the costume has to reflect that and so I thought that that black-and-gold armour-plated thing wasn’t the right look for it. And I wanted to make something that was convincing for a 21-year-old girl to make herself. It’s something that I felt like a 21-year-old girl would actually want to wear. So I went to a bunch of fashion blogs, going through [them] and looking for those elements that related to the Batgirl costume but were reflected in contemporary fashion. So I was able to go and find things like…I wanted to use a slim leather jacket, leggings and Doc Martens already made yellow boots, that was a thing that already existed and that was perfect, that was like “yes! There’s no way that I can’t use that.”

How did all the clasps come about?

I was looking for just kind of a different spin on the costume and to my knowledge, I don’t think anyone’s ever done snaps and I like the idea. As I was saying, in the story, she kind of loses everything in a fire and she has to start over. She moves to this new part of town that’s like the hip, trendy area of Gotham and she’s building the costume herself out of necessity, so I wanted things that were real-world. So I was noticing on the jackets like snaps, I just thought it would be a fun idea to have the cape just be something that she could put on and take it off immediately and almost be able to wear the jacket on its own without the cape on. It was a thing that I just had as a fun idea and it turns out that it’s one of the things that people really responded to, everyone loves that idea.

So once I had my first pass at the costume, then it became clear that because I’m also working on Fight Club too, that I didn’t have the time to do Batgirl entirely on my own. We started looking for another artist that I wanted to work with and I’d still sort of be the “showrunner” if you like, the person in control of everything without necessarily doing it all on my own. So I took the design that I’d done and once we settled on Babs Tarr as the artist, I gave her that design and I said “this is what I’m thinking of for the costume. What do you think of this?” and she was like “this is great – but – how about we do this?” and she took a second pass  at it and she kept it pretty much as I had it but she added all of these extra design elements to it. It was her that put the snaps on the gloves to mirror the ones on the shoulders and she added the seams on the jacket and the things around the collar, I had just a straight zipper but she added like a little belt around the collar with a snap there and the detailing on the belt, all of these things that I don’t necessarily know if I would have thought of by myself. Because she’s a woman and she knows better than I would what a woman would wear, she was able to kind of add these little details, these little touches of flair that really make it. Her contribution to the design is invaluable, I don’t think it would’ve been as good if she didn’t put in her own thing.

There’s an element that she could pull off the cape, turn the jacket inside-out and just wear it on the street…

Exactly, yeah. We run a tumblr site that’s got a lot of fanart and cosplay pictures and one of the things that we see is people posting fashion tips, like outfits that are inspired by the costume. Not cosplay, but it’s kind of like clothes that are inspired by that outfit and we kind of like that idea that it doesn’t necessarily have to be superheroic, that it can be something that’s just fashion that people could wear in a real-world setting.

There have been many fans speaking out about representation and diversity in comics and you have engaged in these discussions on social media platforms.

I have, yeah.

Is it easier for readers of both genders to accept men writing female characters?

Well you know…this is the thing that I really was concerned about when I was offered the book because Gail is extremely popular among women, she’s a very popular writer among women, she’s a very outspoken feminist voice and that is really necessary. When they offered it to me, I was very conscious of that. It was like I’m taking the book away…I’m going to be the guy who’s taking over the book that I wanted to aim at women, and what makes me qualified to do this? When it came time for me to find other people to work with, especially artists, it was absolutely vital for me that I worked with a woman so I was only looking at female artists to work with and I think that that’s kind of interesting because even though it’s myself and my partner Brendan writing it, we’re coming with the story and I’m doing the layout drawings but still, with Babs’ artwork and Jordie Bellaire on colours, our story is being filtered and ultimately presented for women, which I think is really a great thing and essential for this book.

As for the question of men writing female characters and vice versa, I think it’s valuable that men learn how to write women in comics and so while I am a man writing a book than I am intending for a female audience, I am fortunate that I’m very surrounded by a lot of amazing women in my life: I have my girlfriend, tons of smart women and I use all of them as a sounding board. So I’m giving them scripts, asking for advice and they’ve helped already, they’ve pointed out things and they go “don’t do this, this is not the way that woman would act” or “this is not a positive thing to say for a woman” and it’s made me very conscious of those things so I think it’s…I don’t necessarily feel that only women should write women or people of a certain ethnicity should only write characters of a certain ethnicity. Those groups are absolutely necessary and need to be in comics and I hope that there’s more and more opportunities for women and people of other ethnic groups to be part of the industry but I also think that it’s valuable that a white man such as myself is able to empathise and understand from another perspective. That helps me personally, not just as a writer, it’s better for me as a person to be able to step into that position and learn how to write this stuff.

Fight Club is in part a critique of consumerism and yet consumerism is very much a part of geek culture, so how do you reconcile that?

I don’t know, I don’t think that…are you talking about the Fight Club comic? I don’t know if that’s going to be like a comic book for collectors in a way that other comic books are. We’ve talked about doing variant covers and things like that so maybe it will be that way. With that project in particular, I’m trying not to think of anything like that. I’m only trying to execute Chuck’s vision for it and anything that happens after that…Fight Club has a history of being misinterpreted by its audience. There are a great number of people who are fans of Fight Club who think that Tyler Durden is the good guy and that’s totally wrong. You can never really know how an audience is going to interpret the work and whether they’re going to embrace it and whether they’ll respond to it in a way that’s “correct” or “incorrect” or whatever. We can only do what we want with it and hope that the message gets through. If it’s an anti-consumerist thing and people are buying ten copies to collect and share and trade and whatever I mean I don’t know, I don’t know what you can do about that.

What was your impression of Fight Club after seeing the film and what attracted you to the comic book sequel?

I saw the film first, like most people I think, and I loved it. I saw it in ’99 when it was released and was absolutely blown away by it. I saw in the credits or read in a magazine article that it was based on a novel and I went and bought the novel right away. I read the book and I loved the book as well. So that just set me on the path of being a Chuck Palahniuk fan. I kept up with his writing over the last 15 years. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I’ve read probably about 80% of what he’s written, and so I’ve just been a really big fan of his and when Fight Club 2 was announced as a comic, I was interested. I didn’t even think that I would anything to do with it but I thought “that looks interesting.” Not ever would I have expected to hear it as an actual thing. I thought it would be interesting then I found out that it was going to be published by Dark Horse, or might have been published by Dark Horse, it wasn’t definite yet and I have a history with Dark Horse and so I started actively pursuing it and saying “I think I really want to do this book. I think it would be a really interesting thing, I’m a huge Palahniuk fan,” and I think too that it wasn’t like…you see this happen a lot where it’s like [on the cover of the book] “Stephen King”, but it won’t be Stephen King, it would be Stephen King and there would be another writer under it that Stephen King maybe had one conversation with and the writer went to write it. I wasn’t interested in doing that. When I found out that this was Chuck Palahniuk writing the book himself and that it would be me and Chuck, only, that’s what really excited me about it.

I thought that because Fight Club is such a huge pop cultural phenomenon, such a huge part of pop culture, that I just wanted to be a part of it you know, I thought this would be an amazing thing to have in my résumé, something I could do and it might be one of the bigger things that I do, even outside of the comic landscape. I mean, the work that I’m doing on Batgirl or anything else, the chances that it will cross over into so-called “mainstream” pop culture is kinda slim. But Fight Club will be. Fight Club will be in bookstores everywhere and it will be “the new Chuck Palahniuk book” and so I think in terms of exposure and the circulation that will have and the number of people that will see it, it’s probably going to be much bigger than anything else I’ve done.

Did you work closely with David Mack on this title?

Not really, no. David’s doing covers so we’re not working like super-closely together, maybe we’ll have a conversation about what covers might be and what the interior work is, but David’s David, he does his awesome work and I completely trust him to do what he’s going to do and have it be amazing. I moved to Portland, Oregon for the summer so that I could be near Chuck and everyone else on the team because everyone else is in Portland, so I went there for the summer and we were able to get together and have a bunch of creative meetings. Unfortunately, David was never there because he was travelling around and so on so we haven’t yet had that opportunity to sort of like actually sit down and discuss that. Maybe we will this weekend!

Is there the possibility that Fight Club 2 will be adapted into a film?

I don’t even know. The thing that’s interesting about Fight Club 2, having read the script, whatever you think a sequel to Fight Club is going to be, whatever you have in your head, it’s wrong. It is not what it is. It’s something that I think almost can only be a comic. If they ever talk about making a movie out of it, it will probably have just a basic similarity to it because it really goes off in these very unusual directions. I can only say so much but it’s almost metafictional, it’s kind of a comic on the cultural response to Fight Club as much as it is a sequel to the book. I don’t even though if they can make a movie out of it.

What was it like travelling to Vietnam to research The Other Side?

Amazing, one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. I wanted to do that because I had no real concept of it and I felt like doing that book would be really important to be accurate with it and to get a personal experience with it that I wouldn’t have. I felt like just watching a bunch of Vietnam War movies and Google Image Search wouldn’t do it, so it was very important for me to actually travel there and have first-hand experience. It was incredible, I think it made the book a lot better than it actually would’ve been otherwise, it was great.








Thanks for the kind words about my Batgirl custom figure Mr. Stewart!




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Coup de grâce: Grace Press Conference

COUP DE GRACE

The stars of Grace dish on HBO Asia’s horror drama mini-series
3/9/14 Jedd Jong


This October, HBO Asia is hoping to add its own dash of spookiness to the usual Halloween festivities with Grace, its original four-part mini-series. F*** was at the Conrad Centennial Hotel Singapore for Tuesday morning’s press conference.

Revolving around what could be any upper-middle class Asian family, Grace shows how one man’s indiscretions doom his family to a series of eerie happenings. Present at the press conference were leading man Russell Wong who plays Roy Chan, Pamelyn Chee who plays Roy’s mistress Ya Yi, Constance Song who plays Roy’s wife Angela and George Young who plays Roy’s son-in-law Charles.


Grace features several alumni from last year’s HBO Asia co-production Serangoon Road, including Wong, Chee and Australian director Tony Tilse. With deejay Maddy Barber moderating the proceedings and everyone seated on couches decorated with HBO throw pillows, Wong jokes that it feels like they’re in for family counselling. The Chinese-American Wong, known for films like The Joy Luck Club and Romeo Must Die, leads a cast that includes many Singapore-based artistes in addition to Taiwanese actress Teresa Daley and New Zealand-based actor Yoson An.

Wong’s reputation as the roguish charmer from The Joy Luck Club precedes him, but it seems he has mellowed somewhat. Mostly shy and laid-back, he says “I had a good time working on Serangoon Road. It’s Asian content in English. Sometimes in the States there’s still a little bit of stereotyping going on and trying to fit into the martial arts genre…at my age it’s not working so well. So this works great!”

Young was the enthusiastic jokester of the group, making a crack about how there was “a lot of sexual tension” between him and Wong. “I wanted to give him some watermelons, ‘xī guā!’” Young says, alluding to The Joy Luck Club. “I gave him a couple, not during the scene though.” He adds sincerely, “Russell being mixed Asian-Caucasian as well, kind of similar to me, I see him and I want to learn from him.” Young describes Grace as a “Greek tragedy with an Asian twist”, adding this is perfect for him given that he is half-Greek and half-Chinese. When the cast is asked if they are superstitious, Young says he practices “touching wood” (get your mind outta the gutter) to avoid jinxing anything.

Pamelyn Chee says her character has no qualms ripping Roy’s ideal family apart. “It could just be my real life,” she jokes. Chee was given the script without being told which actor would play Roy, but she guessed Russell Wong and she was right. When asked if the emotional nature of the role made it challenging, Chee responds “I think emotions are overrated. I don’t feel like it’s about being emotional, that’s an easy sell for an actor, I feel like it’s portraying the different levels and layers that the character has and it doesn’t always has to be emotional, it can be scary, it can be wild and there are so many other layers that are under-explored by actors in general.”

Constance Song, who made her television debut in 1998’s The Return of the Condor Heroes, is a familiar face to fans of Chinese-language drama series on Channel 8. Stepping outside her comfort zone to take on an English-language part, she says that she practised with English-speaking friends and that “actually it’s not so bad after a while”. She called the chance to act alongside Russell Wong “unbelievable”, saying “Russell is always making me so nervous. I think it’s just his presence.”

Ever the gentleman, he said of Song “she has a great restaurant,” referring to the actress’ other venture, a tapas bar.
Song admits that she couldn’t help but crack up when Wong had to deliver some dialogue in Mandarin. When Barber asks the actor how his command of the language is, he replies “mó mó hú hú”, meaning “vauge”. Our expert tells us this isn’t even the right term, but far be it from us to play Chinese grammar police.

When asked if the Singaporean cast members would travel to the States to visit Wong, Young quips “yup, I’m crashing at Russell’s place. Russell didn’t know this, but I’m borrowing his car, he’s got a few, I’ll borrow a couple…” Apparently, the cast has gotten close enough to go out for dinner that evening on their own accord.


A journalist asks about the significance of the series’ name. Director Tony Tilse, sitting in the front row, takes over the microphone to answer. “It all came out of the concept of the story,” he says. “Ultimately Grace is about forgiveness, mercy, elegance, all those things. I think the idea of Grace is that it’s all those things, so in a way it’s about, because of the story we chose, we saw grace as about wanting forgiveness, the whole idea behind it so that’s the whole meaning behind it.”


Grace premieres Friday, October 17 at 10 pm (9 pm Thailand/Jakarta) on HBO and HBO HD. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Boxtrolls

For F*** Magazine

THE BOXTROLLS

Director : Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Cast : Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Jared Harris, Tracy Morgan
Genre : Animation
Opens : 11 September 2014
Rating : PG
Running time: 100 mins

We know we’re not alone in mishearing the lyrics to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit as “here we are now, in containers”. Orgeon-based animation studio Laika brings us the story of loveable, misunderstood beings - in containers. Evil, greedy pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) misleads the residents of Cheesebridge into believing that they are plagued by subterranean baby-eating monsters called the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls, so named because they “wear” cardboard boxes, are really harmless tinkerers who collect discarded knick-knacks to build their own amusing doodads. The Boxtrolls raise a baby, whom they name “Eggs” (Hempstead-Wright), as one of their own. An adolescent Eggs discovers the world above and has to learn how to fit in as a regular boy, the precocious Winnie Portley Rind (Fanning) becoming his friend and teacher. Eggs and Winnie have to convince the populace of Snatcher’s deception to save the Boxtrolls from being completely wiped out as Eggs learns how he came to be cared for by the Boxtrolls.



            Based on Alan Snow’s fantasy novel Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls is Laika’s third feature film, following Coraline and ParaNorman. Short of location filming on the surface of the planet Venus, stop-motion animation has got to be the most painstaking way to make a movie ever. With every movement needing to be tactilely manipulated, every tiny costume hand-stitched, every minute prop machined, it’s easy to see why it’s not a commonly-seen form of animation in theatres today. While the stop-motion work in The Boxtrolls is enhanced with computer animation, everything still has that quaint handmade feel to it. The studio manages to marry the old-fashioned with the cutting edge, using 3D printed parts in their puppets. The effort and care taken to craft Cheesebridge, the Boxtrolls’ domain below and all the inhabitants within is readily apparent and is something moviegoers should cherish, standing in sharp contrast with the production line feel of a film like Planes: Fire and Rescue. So, hats off to directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, lead animator (and Laika CEO) Travis Knight and all the artists and technicians involved.


            Just like the two films before it, Laika has wrangled a wonderful, predominantly British voice cast for The Boxtrolls. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, best known as Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, plays Eggs as a sweet, amiable, slightly lost fish out of water – it’s a good performance, though there are times when he can sound a little stiff. Elle Fanning is entertainingly headstrong and off-kilter as Winnie and follows in her older sister’s footsteps, Dakota Fanning having played the title role in Coraline. It is Ben Kingsley who truly steals the show with his rumbling, sneering turn as Archibald Snatcher. Combined with the grotesque character animation (that allergic reaction Snatcher has looks truly disgusting), Kingsley gives life to a vile, despicable villain who recalls the most memorable baddies from British children’s literature. The Child Catcher from the film and stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems to have been a major source of inspiration. Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade are expectedly comical as two philosophical lackeys, with Tracy Morgan as the demented third henchman. Also noteworthy are the veteran voice actors who provide the Boxtrolls’ vocalisations, including experienced animated monster/creature portrayers Steven Blum and Fred Tatasciore.


            The message in The Boxtrolls is one we’ve seen before in family films – “different is good”. However, it is articulated in a sincere, charming manner here. The sweetness and fuzziness is balanced with gross-out moments that will have kids going “eww – but yeah!” There’s also some social commentary, with the aristocrats in charge of running Cheesebridge deciding that a giant wheel of Brie is a better use of their money than a children’s hospital and with Snatcher hankering after a white top hat, a symbol of status and power. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of visual invention that Coraline did and it is not as emotional and poignant as ParaNorman, that Laika magic is in full force in The Boxtrolls. Stick around for a mid-credits scene in which Mr. Trout (Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Ayoade) wax existential as the truth about the nature of their very being is revealed.



Summary: Laika keeps the flame of stop-motion animation burning bright with a warm, very funny, beautifully-crafted film, served with a side of the weird and gross.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sunday, September 7, 2014

STGCC 2014 Day 2: Mega Picture Post

DC Day! I was in something of a euphoric state through much of this day. Also got some halfway-decent photos of the big cosplay runway event! Thanks to everyone for letting hang around to take photos, crack jokes and just be a generally annoying fanboy.


Kai Le as Jason Todd

The gang's all here, thanks to Hot Toys.




Jaye Tempest as Elizabeth from Bioshock 

Reno in a Bram Stoker's Dracula-inspired outfit

Sara as street Cass Cain

Matt as "Rico Vrataski", a gender-flipped version of Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow

Frasier as Huntress and Jenny as Black Canary

Cry for Justice


This one's for the Helena/Dinah shippers


It's no use, he'll just wake up and re-live the day again!



Batgirl finds herself stuck in this fiendish trap called the "Skyhook"

That smile is made of pure evil. Which is to say Sheril did a good job as the character because she is very nice in real life. 




"Sometimes, a bad headache can feel like a knife through your head." 


Shaun shows off his T-800 makeup


Sandy! 

Crane!


Orbakat Cos as Scarlet Witch

Rachel Rynx as Hawkgirl

I hope he finds it soon.

The game is afoot.

Gun show courtesy of Jes as Wonder Woman and Ka as Power Girl! 


Rul as Nathan Drake! 


Statue re-enactment attempt #1

Lil Steve and Lil Natasha are welcome even if they aren't DC.


First the Joker cripples Batgirl, then he takes the chattering teeth to her crotch. 

I call this one "a guy can dream" *goes to cry in my corner*




Joel Schumacher wasn't the only one with Bat-nipples on the brain


A single tear. "MY PARENTS!!"

Rorschach realises my journal isn't quite as interesting as his own.


Run little Barry! 




It's Kie as Tim! 


Theodora as Black Widow

THERE WAS A SHAUN! Come and get it, it's a running buffet!

Don't nobody tell Frasier, but I think Sarah was the better Huntress.


Zann as the smiley Squire! 

Statue re-enactment attempt #2

Don't shoot the fanboy!

Cards against Bat-family

"You broke the fourth wall INTO THE WRONG UNIVERSE!!" 

Rex as Green Lantern - toting an actual green lantern! 

Fun fact: the Evil Queen never says "mirror mirror", it's always "magic mirror". This is like "Beam me up, Scotty".


Double the Loki

Don't tell my pastor I bowed my knee to an outlaw spirit

Popular Australian cosplayer Evey Dantes as Supergirl. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see her in her Batgirl get-up.

Star-Lord is holding my tiny Baby Groot sculpture.

Magic-users unite! 

Isobel, Wanping and Charissa

Snowman already built.

Ollie & Helena



With a sketch by Cameron Stewart

That's Rocky as DoFP Wolverine

The story of Bucky is about how one guy realised "Bucky" wasn't all that cool a name and spent his next life trying to make up for that.

Scythe Scythe Baby

Don't cross the streams!

So. Much. Abs. Envy.

Nathan Drake can't grasp the concept of a superselfie

Tim & Conner 4eva!

The Predator macho hand clasp


Gwen as classic Star Lord

Batgirl has every right to be scared - there's Raymond as the Joker, combining the New 52 Death of the Family look with the Bronze Age one.

Sakura Llama as Legolas!

Archers showdown!

Bat-family for life.


Jason's revenge

The feels

Batman facepalm.


"Alas, poor Jason". Isn't "infinite jest" more the Joker's thing though?

When the helmet goes on, the gloves come off.

Accidental whirly shot is probably one of my favourite photos of the day.



Get lost, Joker!



Not so cool when I wear it. No fair.


My Little Tony (yes, I'm way prouder of coming up with that than I should be.)

Cosplay runway time!








The Mass Effect trio











Goin' Rogue


















The Iron Giant is puppeteered by Orvis Evans. It is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

Father-daughter day!





Cameron Stewart nailed the scowly face.

The "trophy case" in the hotel room some of my friends were staying at. I guess the glasses are Commissioner Gordon's trophy.