Scare Diego unleashes terror as Comic-Con kicks off

SAN DIEGO: Early arrivals at San Diego Comic-Con were treated to a preview night scream-fest Wednesday as New Line Cinema unleashed exclusive footage of its most hotly anticipated horror movies.

The Warner Bros-owned studio kicked off the evening at a packed downtown theatre with an exclusive first look at “It: Chapter Two” and its terrifying antagonist, Pennywise.

There was also world-first footage from the upcoming “Conjuring” spin-off “The Nun” and a look at “The Curse of La Llorona”, a terrifying childhood myth from Hispanic folklore.

The two-part feature adaptation of “It,” Stephen King’s 1986 novel, follows seven smalltown children who are terrorized by a killer clown.

While last year’s “It” was totally a homage to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film “Stand by Me” — another King coming-of-age story — the second instalment looks scary as hell.

“It: Chapter Two” is set 27 years after the first film, and the Losers Club have grown up and moved away — but a devastating phone call brings them back together.

The sneak peak gave the audience their first glimpse at the grown-up cast, which includes Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, in a reunion at a Chinese restaurant.

Director Andy Muschietti, who made the first film, promised the sequel, due for release on Sept 6, would be an altogether more terrifying prospect.

“It’s going to be scarier, it’s going to be more intense, so bring your adult diapers,” he joked after the climactic jump scare provoked a cacophony of shrieks.

The Comic-Con fan convention brings 130,000 visitors a year to San Diego, where they spend four days catching up on the latest movies and TV panels, collecting comics and dressing up as their favourite pop culture characters. — AFP

‘Equalizer 2’: first sequel for Denzel, director Fuqua

LOS ANGELES: Like the Dark Knight without the gadgetry or Deadpool without the snark, The Equalizer is an avenging angel, delivering justice from the end of a steel-capped boot for those who have a problem and nowhere else to turn.

The character, former black ops operative-turned-vigilante Robert McCall, was made famous by the late British actor Edward Woodward, who played him on 1980s TV as a cross between Jack Reacher and a mildly irritated actuary.

Denzel Washington took over the part in filmmaker Antoine Fuqua’s big screen version in 2014 and reprises the role in “The Equalizer 2,” out in the United States on Friday.

Incredibly, this will be the first sequel ever undertaken by Washington or Fuqua, who have made a combined 60 movies — four together — over four decades.

“When I did ‘one’ I didn’t think about ‘two’ because I think you would fall into a dark hole. You never know you’re going to get a chance again and you’ve got to leave it all on the field,” Fuqua told AFP.

“I just gave it all I had on the first one, and that’s that movie. When it came up about ‘two’ I said, ‘Let me read it to see — if you didn’t know anything about (number) one, and this was a movie on its own, would it hold up?’ And it did”.

‘Dark angel’

“The Equalizer 2″see McCall — an outwardly ordinary man with devastating combat skills — coming to terms with grief, reading Marcel Proust and working as a Lyft driver, while beating up baddies by night.

His past catches up with him and he ends up in a deadly game of cat and mouse, pitted against an adversary he was least expecting.

For Fuqua, part of the franchise’s appeal lies in its repurposing of the ancient mythology of the “dark angel” meting out brutal justice for the downtrodden in a world that usually denies them the privilege.

In the violent conflict between McCall and his enemies, the movie articulates its resonant central dilemma: how can people be held to account for their transgressions when the very concept of morality is under threat?

“Our moral compass says you should pay for what you do in life, and that’s what separates us from animals,” Fuqua said.

“The people who have lost their way feel like it’s just shit people do to one another and that it doesn’t really matter or have any consequences. That’s not a good thing and that’s a bad place to be because then you have no moral compass and your humanity has been lost”.

The film’s supporting cast includes Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo and Ashton Sanders, the 22-year-old rising star who won acclaim for his performance as the teenage Chiron in 2017’s best picture Oscar winner “Moonlight”.

Role model

Sanders plays Miles, a young man who lives in McCall’s building in Boston and looks up to him as a mentor.

Lacking a positive role model, Miles looks like he might be getting into the kind of trouble that could soon put his life in danger, or even end it, when McCall steps in.

The student-mentor relationship came naturally, says Sanders, since he and Washington, 63, clicked immediately.

On the shoot, Washington would offer his protege the benefit of his nearly 40 years of showbiz experience.

“I remember being on set that first week, and just being super-nervous, psyching myself out when I didn’t need to,” Sanders told AFP.

“We were in between takes, and Denzel comes out to me, sees me across the room and he’s like, ‘Hey I noticed you over here — what’s going on?'”

Sanders says he explained his problem and Washington simply reminded him he’d been picked based on his audition, that he had already shown he was good enough.

“That was the first week and I wasn’t trusting myself over something that had nothing to do with acting,” Sanders said, flashing a grin at the thought of the confidence boost Washington gave him.

“It just intervened, like got in the way of what I was trying to create. That’s something that I still carry with me to this day”. — AFP

Discovery chronicles Thai cave rescue mission

FROM THE moment the heartbreaking news broke that 12 young Thai soccer players and their 25-year-old coach were stuck in a cave complex near the Myanmar border, the world has been glued to the rescue and recovery details.

For over two weeks, the facts of how the group ended up in the cave, and the subsequent mobilisation of rescue workers around the globe has been a testament of just how powerful the human spirit can be – while the sudden and tragic death of one of the rescue divers underscored the seriousness of the situation.

Discovery’s Operation Thai Cave Rescue unpacks the human and scientific drama behind one of the most difficult and heart-palpitating rescues attempted in human history.

This special focuses on the triumph of the human spirit and the extraordinary scientific and technological innovations used to complete the rescue.

Featuring interviews with medical and mental health experts, renowned cave diving instructors and the world’s leading cave diving rescue experts, the film paints a full picture of what the boys and their rescuers were experiencing, and how these heroic divers could recover what was thought initially to be an impossible feat.

Operation Thai Cave Rescue will air on July 23 at 9.55pm on Discovery Channel (Astro channel 551).

Who runs the world

HOMEGIRL Zamaera (pix) remembers watching MTV Asia and dancing to Britney Spears when she was younger.

And just last month, the Malaysian rapper appeared on the music channel’s special episode premiere of Yo! MTV Raps, a revival of the iconic show dating back 30 years, which showcased the best of hip hop.

Representing Malaysia in a cypher with some of Asia’s top rappers, including fellow local Airliftz, Zamaera showed she was completely comfortable in her element with her hard-spitting, fast-talking bars.

The go-getter describes the experience as “kinda surreal” because as excited as she was, her main thought was still on her craft.

“I felt like it didn’t creep up [on] me [nor did I get] that feeling of ‘overwhelmingness’ until [the episode] actually had aired,” she said in a recent sit-down with theSun.

“They asked me to be part of the cypher, so I was excited to come up with something that could really showcase my style of writing and style of rapping.”

Her skill at wordplay in poems and short stories, plus a love for music, served as a catalyst to trying her hand at writing song lyrics, and this has since boosted her presence in the rap game.

“Me being in a male-dominated industry I think has only [served] as an advantage for me, because as a woman, you already get scrutinised by the public anyway.

“So you stick out like a sore thumb, but in a good way, you know.”

While there are already a number of local female rappers, like Kayda and Hunny Madu, the scene is ripe to house more.

“I really think that stemmed from the fact that there was no one person who wanted to step out and go like: ‘Ahhh, let me be a [rapper]’, you know?

“Cause once the first step has been taken, really, the second and the third are easier to [take].”

Zamaera currently has three singles to her credit – “I love all of them, like I will play them constantly in my head,” she said – with the most recent being the hard-hitting track with a fierce delivery, Still Callin’.

She paid tribute to the track’s producer, Aziquebeats, citing the importance of working in a team.

“I had given him a sample of a specific sound that I wanted, and the ending bit where it changes from the second verse he added it on his own – and I thought that was so genius.

“It’s about what they can bring to the table as well, ’cause obviously when you make a song, it’s not just the person who writes the lyrics … it’s the producers, the sound engineers.”

In fact, she acknowledges that the most difficult part of the artistic process is relinquishing control to a larger team, something she experienced while recording her debut EP in the US.

She explained: “When you start with yourself, you’re thinking about how you write the song, how you want the song to sound.

“[I’ve] never given so much control to a team of people ever, because out here, I know exactly what I want to sound like … then when I go there, I realise that everything that I thought I knew, I don’t know.”

Fans can hear Zamaera’s new material when she performs at the Good Vibes Festival at The Ranch in Gohtong Jaya, Genting Highlands, this weekend.

“Everybody, if you want to know, you gotta come to Good Vibes before four o’clock [on Saturday] ’cause that’s when I’m performing.”

At the festival, Zamaera is especially looking forward to seeing US R&B singer SZA perform.

“I feel so strongly [about] SZA, not only because of her music, but because her name is S-Z-A, [which] literally spells out my initials – Sharifah Zamaera Al Edros, S-Z-A. So, it’s like you might be my sister, you know, but I love SZA,” she said with an infectious laugh.

What’s for sure though is that the busy rapper hustles hard.

She finds the time to push out her mixtape DontZzOnMe on SoundCloud, and even has a rap series on social media where she does covers.

“That’s the whole point of me making this rap series,” she said. “It was to show everyone out there that you don’t need to wait.

“You don’t need to wait for somebody to call you and say: ‘Oh, we want you to perform for our show’ … for somebody to say: ‘I want to sign you to my label’.

“I used my iPhone. I recorded it. I edited it … you know, live by that Nike slogan – Just Do It – because if you’re waiting for the right circumstances, you’ll always be waiting.

“You have to nurture the talent, the talent doesn’t nurture you.”

Daughtry returns to rock KL

First and foremost I must commend the organisers IMC Live and the band Daughtry for perhaps the only concert I have ever attended that began on time.

At almost every other concert I have attended, the artistes would only go on stage half an hour (if you are lucky) – or hours (we are talking about you Bollywood) – later.

The show that was supposed to begin at 8.30pm started at 8.35pm (which is on time in Malaysia), with a recording of Daughtry’s song Just Found Heaven. Just when you thought the plan was to entertain the audience with an entire collection of the artiste’s songs before they take to the stage, the band led by former American Idol hopeful Chris Daughtry took to the stage, and gave a superb rock concert to the 1,000 strong crowd.

No doubt the concert venue, KL Live @ Life Centre was not huge, but the standing room space was filled with enthusiastic fans who really got the band going.

In fact, Daughtry performed as though they were in a stadium full of fans.

The band last performed in Malaysia 10 years ago, and at one point frontman Chris told the audience to spread the word about how how much they enjoyed to the show, so that the band would not have to wait another 10 years to hold a concert here.

Whether it was newer songs such as Just Like Heaven, Battleships, Deep Down, Long Way Down (the B-side version that Chris said he liked better) and Waiting For Superman, or older hits such as It’s Not Over and Home, Daughtry was in its element.

Chris is an excellent singer and with his great showmanship, the crowd was well and truly entertained.

One of the highlights of the night was the band performing a cover version of U2’s With Or Without You.

Chris’ vocals along with the crowd singing along, reminded us why he stood out from the other competitors during season 5 of American Idol, and how he still stands out as one of the best rock vocalists out there.

Hopefully the next time they are brought down, the show will be held at a bigger venue. They deserve it, and Malaysians need a good rock concert.

Portrait of a traumatic arrest in Traffic Stop

NOMINATED for an Academy Award for documentary short subject, Traffic Stop illuminates timely, resonant issues of race and law enforcement while offering an intimate portrait of one woman in the wake of her traumatic arrest.

The documentary, from the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning team of director Kate Davis and producer David Heilbroner, premieres on July 22 on HBO (Astro channel 411 / HD 431) at 8pm.

It will also be available on HBO On Demand (via Astro GO).

Traffic Stop highlights the events on June 15, 2015, when a car driven by vibrant, 26-year-old African-American schoolteacher Breaion King was pursued by a police officer in Austin, Texas.

As seen on the patrol car’s dash cam, Officer Bryan Richter closed in on King’s car over the course of several blocks, and eventually caught up with her in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, where she exited her car.

Ordered to return to her vehicle, the slender, 49kg King soon found herself in a brutal struggle with Richter, who was eventually joined at the scene by two other police officers, as dash cams and interior cameras recorded the events that followed.

Enroute to the county jail, handcuffed in the back seat of a backup police officer’s squad car, King engaged the officer in a surprisingly candid conversation about race.

A motivated, dedicated schoolteacher and dancer who had never been arrested before, King was raised by a single mother, who died when she was a teenager.

She’s proud of being the first in her family to buy her own home, graduate from college and get an MA, and aspires to earn a doctorate eventually.

Traffic Stop juxtaposes raw footage of King’s arrest and conversation with scenes from her everyday routine, offering a vivid portrait of a woman whose life is forever changed one afternoon by a sudden encounter with law enforcement.

In addition to its Oscar nomination, Traffic Stop won the Grand Jury Prize in the Shorts Competition at DOC NYC 2017.

Black Panther’s sister Shuri gets own spin-off comic

NEW YORK: In Marvel’s massively successful “Black Panther” film released this year, one of the major surprises was how the superhero’s sister, tech genius Shuri, stole the show. Now, she is getting her own comic book series.

Marvel Comics has announced a spin-off series, to begin in October, in which Black Panther is lost on a mission to space, and Shuri is looked upon to step up to fill the void left by her big brother in their mythical home nation Wakanda.

“The world fell in love with Shuri in the movie. Now, the Black Panther’s techno-genius sister launches her own adventures,” the publisher said, confirming news first published by news site Bustle.

British-Guyanese actress Letitia Wright earned praise for her portrayal of Shuri in the smash hit film, which critics agree was a groundbreaking moment for blacks on the silver screen.

While Shuri is not the first black heroine in the Marvel universe – Storm, one of the X-Men, has been around for decades – entire books dedicated to black female characters are rare.

Female Nigerian-American sci-fi author Nnedi Okorafor will write “Shuri.” She is already working for Marvel on its “Wakanda Forever” series, which focuses on the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces unit in the fictional nation.

According to Box Office Mojo, “Black Panther” has taken in more than US$1.34 billion (RM 5.43 billion), making it number nine on the all-time box office list. “Avatar” is the all-time champion at nearly US$2.8 billion (RM 11.36 billion). — AFP

China’s most expensive movie becomes epic flop

BEIJING: With a US$113 million (RM456.7 million) budget, the most expensive Chinese film ever made has become a flop of historic proportions, pulled from theatres on its opening weekend after bringing in a paltry US$7.3 million (RM29.5 million).

Alibaba Pictures’ special effects-heavy fantasy film “Asura” was intended as the first instalment in an epic trilogy inspired by Tibetan Buddhist mythology, part of a drive by authorities to promote works bearing elements of traditional Chinese culture.

The film cost 750 million yuan (US$113.5 million) to make, state media said, and opened on Friday, but Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan said it only took in just over US$7.3 million at the weekend.

By Sunday, the film’s official social media account posted a statement declaring that it would be removed from theatres as of 10pm that night.

“We express our apologies to all those who wanted to but won’t have the chance to see it,” it said.

Most of China’s biggest blockbusters to date have been made with half the budget lavished on “Asura”.

The estimated loss of US$106 million would make it the fifth-biggest flop in movie history worldwide, behind frontrunner “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” which suffered losses of US$125 million, according to data from website Box Office Mojo.

State media had touted the movie before it was released, with the China Daily hailing “Asura” as “the most hotly anticipated blockbuster of China’s competitive summer season.”

“It’s a very imaginative movie. We wanted the film to raise confidence in our own culture and train more domestic talent,” Yang Hongtao, chairman of Ningxia Film Group, one of the movie’s backers, told the paper ahead of Friday’s opening.

Six years in the making, the film was heavy on expensive visuals, featuring 2,400 scenes with special effects in its runtime of just 141 minutes, the paper noted.

Bankable Hong Kong actors Tony Leung Ka-fai and Carina Lau starred, while high-powered foreign talent — such as Oscar-winning Ngila Dickson, costume designer for the “Lord of the Rings” franchise — also took part.

Yet the film garnered a rotten 3.1 rating on Douban, China’s most influential user review platform.

“My god, it’s horrifying! It’s just a magnificent pile of excrement!” one user wrote.

Wildly different reviews on the country’s two largest ticketing platforms prompted a virulent retort from the movie’s production team, posted Friday to its social media account.

On opening day, “Asura” netted an 8.4 rating out of 10 on Alibaba-owned Tao Piaopiao. But on Maoyan, backed by Alibaba’s rival tech giant Tencent, reviewers had given it just 4.9.

The team accused Maoyan of using fake, paid reviewers to post 1-star ratings to artificially deflate the film’s score, calling the alleged move “despicable, foolish, and ludicrous.”

Many users dismissed the film’s team’s statement.

“It was garbage anyway,” one reviewer wrote. — AFP

Watch the trailer here:

Inside the mind of Robin Williams

A funny, intimate and heartbreaking portrait of one of the world’s most beloved comedians, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres same time as the US today on HBO (Astro channel 411 / HD 431) at 8am, with a same-day primetime encore at 9pm.

Told largely through Williams’ own words, the film celebrates what he brought to comedy and to the culture at large, from the wild days of late-1970s LA to his death in 2014.

Directed by Marina Zenovich (Emmy winner for HBO’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired), Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind reveals what drove him to give voice to the characters in his mind.

With previously unheard and unseen glimpses into his creative process through interviews with the man, as well as home movies and onstage footage, this insightful tribute features in-depth interviews with those who knew and loved him, including Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Pam Dawber and his son, Zak Williams.

The documentary showcases what made Williams so unique, ranging from his youthful days in the San Francisco Bay area, to his time in New York at The Juilliard School, to his rocket-propelled fame on TV’s Mork & Mindy, to his profound impact on the American cultural landscape.

This includes his landmark comedy show at the Metropolitan Opera, his Broadway debut in Waiting for Godot, his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, and his classic confessional bits about his alcohol and drug issues and 2009 heart surgery, which capture the spark that made him stand out across his four decade-career in entertainment.

Williams’ tragic suicide in 2014, which revealed he had been suffering from the disease Lewy Body Dementia, left fans around the world heartbroken.

The genius of Williams lay in his ability to make a room, a comedy club, a concert hall or the whole world laugh.

Johnny Depp, ex-managers settle financial lawsuit

LOS ANGELES: Johnny Depp has reached a settlement with his former business managers, his representatives said Monday, allowing the Oscar-nominated American actor to avoid a trial over his finances that promised paparazzi fervor.

A spokesperson said Depp, 55, was “pleased” with the confidential agreement reached with The Management Group, the company that handled his business affairs for nearly two decades.

He had sued the organization in January 2017 for US$25 million (RM101 million), accusing TMG of mismanaging his finances, taking out loans without his approval, and concealing his ruinous finances.

Beverly Hills-based TMG had filed a countersuit against the Oscar-nominated actor seeking unpaid fees and damages. The group alleged Depp’s lavish overspending had brought him to the edge of financial ruin, having dropped millions on a yacht, luxury cars, private planes and wine.

The agreement comes just before the trial was due to begin in August.

“The lawsuit taken out against The Management Group — and the subsequent settlement — is a further demonstration that Johnny is determined to take firm action to protect his personal and artistic reputation in the interests of his family and his career,” Depp’s spokesperson said in the statement announcing the deal.

According to the magazine Rolling Stone, Depp’s estimated US$650 million (RM2.62 billion) fortune has nearly all evaporated.

Depp and actress Amber Heard, 32, reached an out-of-court settlement in 2016 to end their 18-month marriage, agreeing that he would pay her US$7 million. — AFP