Jesse Eisenberg plays stone assassin in ‘American Ultra’

Oscar-nominated young actor Jesse Eisenberg, whose previous roles have included “Now You See Me,” “The Social Network,” and “Zombieland,” was the filmmakers’ first choice to play the slacker-turned-superspy in the intriguing thriller American Ultra.

In the film, a stoner and his girlfriend’s sleepy, small-town existence is disrupted when his past comes back to haunt him in the form of a government operation set to wipe him out.

As action heroes go, Mike Howell (Eisenberg) is an unlikely contender. He is completely dependent on his girlfriend, unable to cook a simple meal without starting a fire. He has been hired and fired from the same rundown convenience store more times than he can remember, and he gets arrested for possession so often that the police are on a first-name basis with him.

“We knew it had to be Jesse,” says producer David Alpert. “You just buy him as an innocent, small-town stoner. The action is completely unexpected coming from him, but not unbelievable. Jesse gives the character a grounded emotional intelligence even as the whole weight of a secret CIA program lands in Liman to try to kill him.”

Mike is a laid-back young man who becomes a little befuddled and confused when too many things happen at once. He’s happy to stay home, smoke weed in bed and make out with his girlfriend. Taking out bad guys sent to terminate him is not on his radar screen. The role places Eisenberg, an actor who often plays the smartest guy in the room, squarely outside his comfort zone.

“Jesse is such a sharply intelligent actor, but he was able to sort of dumb himself down for this role in ways that make him almost unrecognizable,” says director Nima Nourizadeh. “He was just great at all of the things I needed for this movie. Jesse took on such a gentle, unassuming quality in his hands, he can do comedy and he can do drama. He is so touching in the most emotional scenes of the film and then he throws himself into some real kick-ass action.”

Eisenberg was quick to sign on after reading the script. “I’d never read anything like it,” he says. “The characters felt totally real, the situations are surprising and the way we deal with them seems very truthful. Mike and Phoebe are totally accessible, so people can live vicariously through them. Mike is also an artist who has created this comic book about a monkey he calls Apollo Ape. When he becomes the target of an evil government plot, what happens to him is like an Apollo Ape story-it’s a stoner fantasy come to life.”

Max Landis’ script keeps the humor completely genuine, says the actor. “Putting this very passive guy in the middle of an intense and violent world creates the potential for a lot of comedy. Mike is thrust into situations where he has to defend his and his girlfriend’s lives.

As the confrontations become increasingly more complicated and frightening, he becomes more deadly, but he has no idea how or when he learned to do these things.”

American Ultra will be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting October 28, 2015.


M, Q, Moneypenny got James Bond’s back in ‘Spectre’

In Columbia Pictures’ new 007 action adventure SPECTRE, trust and danger are “all in a day’s work” for the trusted colleagues of James Bond in the MI6, namely M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).

As 2012’s Skyfall drew to a close, the filmmakers introduced the man who would take over the role of the iconic character M: actor Ralph Fiennes inheriting the part from Dame Judi Dench. “I’m very aware of the legacy,” says Fiennes. “I grew up with Bernard Lee’s M and then Judi Dench made such a fantastic impression. She brought a real toughness that I’m keen to carry on.”

Fiennes grew up an avid reader of Ian Fleming, John le Carré and Graham Greene and feels that the character of M is moulded by the image of the Cold War spy. “And though I know that’s not our era,” he says, “I feel this M is a child of that spy-slash-film world. Sam Mendes follows the demands of the Bond franchise but also allows us the opportunity to give more shade to our characters. With M there is a doubt and uncertainty that you get in the literature of that period.”

M’s doubt and uncertainty arises early on in SPECTRE when he comes under serious pressure from within the intelligence services. “M’s role as the head of MI6, as well as the Double-0 section – where you’re licensed to kill – is under threat,” says Fiennes.

“There is a rethink of how the security services manage themselves. Andrew Scott plays the role of C, or Max Denbigh, who is the head of MI5. He is about to head up a merger of MI6 and MI5. In this merger, C will become the boss. So we’re looking at the possibility of the Double-0 section being nixed, which will mean that Bond and M will be out of a job.”

Ralph Fiennes plays M in ‘Spectre’.

For actor Andrew Scott, the pressure exerted by Max Denbigh/C is a delight to play. “Not only is he stewarding the merger between MI5 and MI6, he is also in the opinion that one man in the field, even someone like Bond, cannot really compete with the huge technological advances that we’ve made in the 21st century.”

The ideas extolled by C not only threaten Bond and M, but also their support team, Moneypenny and Q, two long-running characters who were reintroduced to the series in Skyfall.

“I felt relieved that the previous film was such a success, and that people have accepted me in the role,” says Ben Whishaw who returns as Q. “That was a relief, and so I felt some degree of confidence but also the character is in a different place in this film. All the characters are, in fact, because of what’s happening with their jobs, and their environment.

“This merger is happening and there are big changes going on. Everyone’s futures are being called into question, so everyone feels scrutinised and under pressure.”

In spite of the threat to his position, Q proves himself a real friend to 007 and puts his neck on the line. He disregards orders in a bid to help Bond achieve his own mission objectives.

“I think that there’s a respect for Bond,” Whishaw says of his character’s relationship with 007. “He is still slightly wary because Q sees that Bond has this strange magnetism and power over people and indeed over Q himself. So Q has to try and control that. Yet there is a great loyalty towards him as well.”

Naomie Harris plays Moneypenny in ‘Spectre’.

Also returning from Skyfall is Moneypenny, brought to the screen for a second time by Naomie Harris. After accidentally shooting Bond during the early stages of Skyfall, she surrendered her position as a field agent to work for Fiennes’ character.

“Moneypenny in this film is behind the desk again; she’s not out with Bond in the field,” Harris explains. “She is still assisting him, but this time doing something much more secretive.”

One of the key themes in SPECTRE is the issue of trust, and that is brought to the fore in the Bond-Moneypenny relationship. Early on in the narrative, when 007’s trust in his organisation is diminished, he still believes in Moneypenny.

“What’s really great about SPECTRE is that their relationship has really developed and they’ve become a lot closer. They really trust each other,” Harris says of Moneypenny and 007.

“And Bond is someone who doesn’t really have friends as such. That he would class Moneypenny as his friend is a real honour for her and she feels really proud of that. He’s not someone that you get close to very easily. Of course, there is still a lot of flirtation on both sides.”

In “Spectre,” a cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.

Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.

As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.

Opening across the Philippines on November 6, 2015, Spectre will be distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.


Liam Hemsworth teams up with Kate Winslet in ‘The Dressmaker’

Liam Hemsworth, whose versatility landed him major and notable roles in various film genres such as the highly successful “The Hunger Games” franchise, “The Last Song,” “The Expendables 2,” “Paranoia” and “Empire State” brings his acting range in his latest movie The Dressmaker opposite Kate Winslet along with two-time Emmy Award winner Judy Davis and multi-awarded actor Hugo Weaving (best known for his role in “Matrix” as Agent Smith).

“The Dressmaker” brings Hemsworth to his birth country Australia, where his character Teddy, lives in a small town called Dungatar.  The town, it’s a wicked amalgam, a small town that could be anywhere in the world, that despite its fantastical vision and eccentric occupants, is built around deep truths about human behaviour.  Every character in Dungatar is involved in either covering up or contributing to the tragic events of the past that affected Tilly (Winslet) and Molly (Davis).  Some of them are not awful, but they’ve all committed some rather heinous acts that they’re trying to forget about. When Tilly comes back they’re forced to remember. The citizens of Dungatar see Tilly as a threat to their status quo, to the semi-peaceful existence they have established. They banished her when she was a little girl, blamed her for a murder, and the very fact that she’s come back means they’ll have to face all the bad things they did to her in the past.  Except for Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth), who treats Tilly in an endearing way and falls in love with her.

The love story that develops between Teddy and Tilly is tender and unexpected – in many ways the two are like chalk and cheese. Tilly has lived in Europe, she’s worldly, elegant, savvy, she has an emotional past. Teddy is a stolid footballer, uncouth, younger than her, who may not have ever ventured out of Dungatar, but they share a level of smarts, and he instantly falls in love with her.

Producer Sue Maslin says: “Casting the role of Teddy was probably the toughest decision – finding an actor that could bring both the charm and the masculinity to the role. We wanted an Australian actor, but somebody who was going to have credibility with audiences internationally as well. Liam Hemsworth certainly embodied the physicality of the role and the sensitivity. You could not find a better Teddy, he’s just utterly charming, utterly gorgeous, laconic, a larrikin- all of the things that Teddy embodies, so it was an absolute delight working with him.”

While director Jocelyn Moorhouse shares, ” I Ioved the scenes where Kate and Judy were physically fighting each other, but I also have to admit the scene where Liam gets measured by Kate for his new suit, always makes me smile.”.

Liam Hemsworth, who plays Teddy, says he connected to the character on reading the script “because he reminded me of a lot of people I grew up with, of my grandpa in particular – a hard working Australian guy, someone who just gets on with it, very positive and quirky, a fun loving kind of spirit. Teddy is a little different to most of the people in Dungatar because he has a little more ambition and wants to get out and see what the rest of the world looks like. I felt like I knew this guy really well and I felt like I knew exactly how it should be played.”

Kate Winslet says: “Teddy is a sincere man, he has no airs and no graces, he looks like a right scruff pot most of the time but in many ways, he’s exactly what Tilly needs. He’s what she’s never experienced – someone who really appreciates her and sees her for who she is. He’s truthful and pure. It’s a very sweet endearing relationship.”

The Dressmaker opens November 4, 2015 in Philippine theaters as released and distributed by Axinite Digicinema.