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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

A new (Asian) hope

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

The new Lucasfilm Singapore headquarters is now fully operational.

FOR a building called The Sandcrawler, Star Wars fans may find the lack of Jawas there disturbing.

However, the Force was definitely strong with the new official headquarters of Lucasfilm Singapore. George Lucas himself had come to town to launch the building, together with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.

In the Star Wars universe, sandcrawlers are the giant, mobile homes used by the Jawas – those hooded little fellows with glowing yellow eyes who sold R2-D2 and C-3PO to the Skywalkers in Episode IV: A New Hope.

The Singaporean version of The Sandcrawler is a shining and hugely impressive building that retains the shape of the vehicle from which it draws its name, and leaves visitors with absolutely no doubt in their minds as to the building's occupants.

In a lush green park within the building compound, a serene-looking bronze statue of Yoda sits, his lips pursed in a slight smile as if in approval of Lucasfilm's spanking-new headquarters. Sculpted by Lawrence Noble, it is an exact replica of the Yoda statues that grace Lucasfilm's headquarters in San Francisco and the Big Rock Ranch building in California's Marin County.

(use next to or inset pic A) The Sandcrawler as used by the diminutive Jawas in Star Wars. - copyright¿ © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Sandcrawler as used by the diminutive Jawas in Star Wars.

Inside the seven-storey building, posters, statues and prop replicas from the Star Wars movies and other Lucasfilm works line the corridors. Even the elevators are modelled after the ones in the Death Star (you would half expect Darth Vader himself to appear every time the elevator doors whoosh open).

Designed by Aedas Architecture, The Sandcrawler received a Gold Plus Greenmark certification in Singapore and has won an impressive six architectural awards including the prestigious Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award for Best New Global Design.

Besides Lucasfilm Singapore, The Sandcrawler will also house the regional headquarters of The Walt Disney Company (South-east Asia) and ESPN Asia Pacific.

According to Lucas, the building is a culmination of years of hard work by the Lucasfilm team in Singapore, which was formed in 2005.

"This building signifies the possibilities we saw and realised when we initially launched the Singapore unit," Lucas said in his speech at the opening ceremony. "It's the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication, and I'm proud to be here for the opening. The building is everything I hoped it would be and I look forward to the day that I can sit in a theatre and see all of the amazing work that comes from the artists that work here."

Since its formation in 2005, Lucasfilm Singapore has grown into a digital entertainment powerhouse within the region, making significant contributions to the 2011 Academy Award-winning animated feature film Rango and the Emmy-winning television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

In addition, Industrial Light & Magic Singapore has contributed cutting-edge work on a myriad of blockbusters, such as the second, third and fourth instalments of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, the Transformers trilogy, Marvel franchises including Iron Man and The Avengers and the new Star Trek films, to name a few.

Filmmaking legend George Lucas and Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong walking past Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers and Darth Vader at the opening of The Sandcrawler in Singapore on Jan 16. - AFP / Roslan Rahman

Filmmaking legend George Lucas and Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong walking past Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers and Darth Vader at the opening of The Sandcrawler in Singapore on Jan 16. - AFP / Roslan Rahman

Return of the franchise

Now, enough about the building. Let's talk about Star Wars for a while.

A day before the official launch, Kennedy held court at a group interview with regional journalists and gave an intriguing (if vague) idea of what we can expect from the upcoming Episode VII, the proposed spin-off movies, as well as the future of the Expanded Universe as a whole.

"George was very clear about how it works. The canon he created was the Star Wars Saga, and right now Episode VII falls within that canon," she said. "The spin-off movies, or we might come up with some other way to call them, they exist within that vast universe of storytelling that George created. So there are endless opportunities. And those are standalone movies. There is no attempt to carry characters in and out of the Saga episodes.

"From a creative standpoint, it's a roadmap that George created that is pretty clear."

And what about the Expanded Universe, that rich, vast and somewhat messy mass of accumulated stories in comics, novels, videogames and other mediums?

"They all fall within the Star Wars universe ... and those are the ground rules that we will still abide by," she said.

Malaysians William Gallyot (left) and Lyon Liew are part of the multi-national team at Lucasfilm Singapore.

Malaysians William Gallyot (left) and Lyon Liew are part of the multi-national team at Lucasfilm Singapore.

Before joining Lucasfilm as president in 2012 (after the company was acquired by Disney), Kennedy was a prolific film producer whose credentials include ET, Empire Of The Sun and the Jurassic Park trilogy. She was also the CEO of Amblin Entertainment, a film and television production company she co-founded with acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, and her husband Frank Marshall in 1981.

The transition from being a film producer to running a studio has been easier than she expected. "My career has been focused primarily on making films, which I will continue to do because I also serve as producer on the new Star Wars films we are working on right now," she said. "But prior to that, I was running Amblin, and I find that many of the things involved with producing movies do align themselves with the skills needed to run companies.

"I felt this is a point in my career where I can take the skills I've had over the years producing movies and move that into many opportunities beyond just making motion pictures," she said.

The Empire takes root

According to Kennedy, the work coming out of Lucasfilm Singapore has been rivalling the work coming out of the company's more established offices in the United States, Canada and Britain.

"Even though Lucasfilm and ILM have been in existence for almost 40 years, very quickly, the team trained here in Singapore (is) reaching the point where the work coming out of Singapore is rivalling the work that is coming out of San Francisco, Vancouver and eventually the UK," she said.

Lucasfilm Singapore currently has over 360 employees, but eight years ago when Lucasfilm Singapore was formed, there were only 26 artists, and Malaysian animator Lyon Liew was one of them.

(FOR STAR2 USE ONLY)(MUST USE COPYRIGHT LINE)The Sandcrawler building that houses Lucasfilm Singapore is modeled after the iconic Sandcrawler vehicle seen in the Star Wars movies.  ⿿ © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Another view of the Sandcrawler building

Liew joined the company in November 2005 as a technical director. He started working on the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series and in April 2009, became the cloth simulation lead on the project.

"My job was to simulate all the clothing in Clone Wars, and make sure everything looked physically right. Yoda was one of the most difficult characters we worked on because when he fights, he jumps all over the place, and cloth simulation is difficult when he is going really fast," he said, adding that when he started on the job, he was thrown into an episode with Yoda. So basically it was do, or do not for him at the time. There was no try.

After a short stint away from the company in 2010, the Malacca-born Liew rejoined as a creature technical director, and has worked on The Avengers, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness, and currently, Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

"What I do (as a creature technical director) is add in skeletal and basic controls (for creatures), and add on anything else that has to do with it, like cloth and hair simulation, as well as muscle simulation," he said. "We don't build the creature, but work on what's around and inside the creature."

He also works on the creatures' rigid body dynamics. For example, when a giant robot crashes through a building, his unit does the destruction.The elevators in The Sandcrawler are modelled after the ones in the Death Star.

The elevators in The Sandcrawler are modelled after the ones in the Death Star.

Another Malaysian who is currently in Lucasfilm Singapore is William Gallyot, who joined in July 2010 through the Jedi Masters Training Program (JuMP), and was hired as a full-time texture artist in December 2010. He's currently working on an unnamed animated feature as a surfacing technical director.

"I work on the shades and textures for characters and environments that you see. First, we get a flat model from the modellers, and ... I make it more physically accurate before it is rendered," he said. "Skin, for example, should look like skin, and metals have different kinds as well, like rusty and shiny and so on."

For both Liew and Gallyot, joining Lucasfilm was a dream come true, especially since they both grew up on Star Wars.

"Lucasfilm is like the pioneer of the entire visual effects industry, and you always hope that you would one day get into the company after paying your dues," said Gallyot. "So getting in here so early – this is my first full-time job – was very exciting."

"Star Wars pretty much created this industry, so to be able to come and work on Clone Wars, an extension of Star Wars, was really quite special, especially for those of us who grew up here," said Liew.

So now they are already working for the leader in visual effects, where do they go from here?

"For me, it's not a question of where I want to go after this, but more about what project I want to be on. In Lucasfilm we get a lot of awesome stuff coming in, and that keeps us motivated," said Gallyot.

Of course, among those "awesome" things they mentioned are the new Star Wars movies, which the two of them are hoping to get on.

"That's one of the most exciting to look forward to now. We are so inspired to get on that movie ... most of us started off as Star Wars fans, so it's like coming full circle for us!" said Liew.

Revisiting Lizzie Borden

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Christina Ricci stars in the new Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax, which recounts the story of the 19th century Fall River, Massachusetts, woman who was tried (and acquitted) for the axe-murder of her father and stepmother.

This isn't the first time the brutal tragedy was the subject of a TV movie. On Feb 10, 1975, the ABC movie of the week, The Legend Of Lizzie Borden, offered Elizabeth Montgomery in a haunted, terrifying portrayal that was light years away from her best-known role as Samantha on Bewitched. Here are five things to know:

1. Montgomery was nominated for an outstanding lead actress Emmy in a special programme – drama or comedy. (She didn't win).

2. New York Times TV critic John J. O'Connor called the TV movie, "a complex and memorable creation."

3. The cast included contemporary and future TV series stars Katherine Helmond (Soap, Who's The Boss?), Ed Flanders (St. Elsewhere), Hayden Rorke (I Dream Of Jeannie) and Don Porter (Gidget).

4. In the version of the TV movie distributed for European audiences, Montgomery was shown nude as she hacked her parents (Borden disrobed to avoid getting bloodstains on her clothing). US audiences saw a much more discrete scene.

5. Montgomery and Lizzie Borden were sixth cousins once removed, both descending from 17th century Massachusetts resident John Luther, according to genealogists. — Newsday/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Adi Putra's royal flush

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Hard work, luck and looks shot former lighting technician Adi Putra to acting stardom.

SINGAPORE-BORN actor Adi Putra might be a marquee name in the television and movie industry today but his start in the entertainment scene was less than glamorous.

A former Pizza Hut delivery boy, 7-Eleven employee and air-conditioning technician, his first full-time job after completing national service was as a lighting technician for Singapore MediaCorp's Chinese television serials.

His days as the lowly crew guy on a film set charged with making stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee look good are long gone.

With a decade's worth of acting experience and more than 30 television dramas and over a dozen films to his name, the 32-year-old is now hot property in the entertainment scene in Malaysia.

Adi, who shuttles between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, now leads the lifestyle of an actor who has made good. He shares a terrace house in Ulu Klang with his producer wife Aida Yusof, 38, and four cars – three BMWs and a Satria Neo – are parked in the garage.

Man of many talents: Adi Putra knows that having long-term success in the Malaysian entertainment industry means branching out into more than just acting.

Adi Putra knows that having long-term success in the Malaysian entertainment industry means branching out into more than just acting.

You could attribute his success to a combination of hard work, luck and good timing. His handsome looks helped too.

In 2003, he joined a beauty contest organised by a Singaporean Malay lifestyle and entertainment magazine Manja and was crowned Mr Photogenic.

Acting came by chance. While working at MediaCorp, producer friends asked him to be an extra in television shows on Malay station Suria.

After that, he was offered his first major acting role as a gym instructor in Anak Metropolitan 2, a popular television drama centred on wayward teenagers.

His performance led to his nomination in the Most Promising Actor category at a Singaporean Malay entertainment awards ceremony Pesta Perdana in 2004 and another role in comedy drama Cinta Bollywood 2.

Then came the turning point in his life. Producer, director and actress Erma Fatima offered him a major role in Malaysian television drama Haryati 2.

Sensing the opportunity to make his mark on the much larger Malay acting industry across the Causeway, the 23-year-old Adi packed his bags and left for Kuala Lumpur.

After shooting was done in three months, he decided to stick around and try to break into the competitive entertainment industry in Malaysia.

The going was tough. He lived on the money he earned from Haryati 2 and when funds ran low, he slept on the streets, in mosques and at homes of friends.

Slowly, he started getting acting jobs and within two years, he became a familiar face in the industry there.

Looking back, he says: "It was a risky gamble and I knew that there were no guarantees that I would get more jobs after the first drama. But I firmly believed that my future was there in the Malaysian acting industry."

Today, he plays mainly leading roles in popular television soaps on Malaysian TV.

He is a box-office draw on the silver screen too. He stars in Malaysia's highest grossing film, 2011's gangster flick KL Gangster, which earned RM12mil. (The film also stars another Singapore-born actor who has made it big in Malaysia, Aaron Aziz.)

Naturally, Adi is in the follow-up, KL Gangster 2, which made headlines after pirates uploaded the film on the Internet and sold bootleg DVD copies a month before it screened in cinemas in October last year.

His leading role in Langgar, a crime movie released in April last year, earned him a nomination in the Best Male Film Actor category in Anugerah Skrin. He lost to Malaysian actor Shaheizy Sam.

Being a star means that his personal life is constantly in the spotlight.

In 2012, the Malaysian press went to town when they found out that he had filed for divorce. He retracted it shortly after.

He also made the news in September when a Malaysian businessman lodged a police report against him, accusing Adi of sending lewd pictures and text messages to his 30-year-old wife.

Adi says that he cannot comment on the case because it is still under police investigation but he will speak about it once the Malaysian police have concluded their findings.

He admits that he and his wife, whom he married in 2006, had "personal problems" in the past, but adds that their marriage today has never been better. They got married in April that year, six months after meeting on the set of a television drama Kerana Dosa Kelmarin which Aida was producing.

She says: "Some people might think six months is quick, but I felt like we had known each other for years. He had all the qualities that I admired, he was hardworking, disciplined and a good Muslim. I knew he was the one for me."

The couple has a daughter.

He sounds exasperated when he refers to tabloid stories about him. "I always get asked, how is your marriage? My wife and I, we just go through our daily lives and we don't let all the talk and gossip affect us."

Aida says that Adi is very much a family man and a doting father.

"He's always concerned about the baby, what she's eating, how she's doing, even while he's at work. And if the baby cries in the middle of the night, he wakes up to feed her."

Sometimes, he cooks at home, whipping up dishes such as mee goreng and sardin sambal, which he had learnt when he was a teen helping out in his technician father's sideline catering business.

Asked if she has ever had issues with him having plenty of female fans or the gossip linking him to many of his onscreen love interests, Aida responds with a laugh: "I'm in the entertainment business too, so I'm immune to all the attention that he gets. And I don't get jealous when he's acting in love scenes with other actresses because he's just doing his job."

Adi is not content with being a heart-throb actor and has ambitions to make it behind the camera.

Last year, he formed his own production house, Nur ADP, and took on triple roles – as producer, co-director and lead actor in the film adaptation of the best-selling religious drama novel Suami Aku Ustaz set to be released this year.

He knows that having long-term success in the Malaysian entertainment industry means branching out into more than just acting.

"KL Gangster might be the most profitable movie in Malaysia but I was just an actor in that film. If I was the producer, then I would have more reason to celebrate its success."

He has also invested in non-entertainment business ventures in Singapore and Malaysia, chief among them the bathroom products brand Tuscani and Islamic tourism agency Al-Qaswa.

Despite his packed schedule, Adi, who has an older sister, 41, and an older brother, 40, always sends a text message to his mother, Noor Banoo Khan, or talks to her at least once a day.

"He always keeps me updated on what he's up to, whether he's in the middle of a shoot or busy on some other project," says the 62-year-old housewife.

The doting mother has watched all his movies and television dramas. "I am thankful to God that my son is successful in his career. One thing about Adi, when his mind is set on something, he works hard to get it." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network


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