Don’t Worry Darling review

Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast : Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine, Timothy Simons, Dita Von Teese
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 122 min
Opens : 22 September 2022
Rating : M18

It’s the buzziest film of the year. You’ve read the breathless headlines. You’ve seen the memes. You might have even seen the edited video in which Harry Styles appears to toss a goat into Chris Pine’s lap. But what’s left when you strip away all the hullabaloo?

It is the 1950s. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are a married couple living in the company town of Victory, California. Jack works for the Victory Corporation, headed by the charismatic and enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine), who is married to Shelley (Gemma Chan). He is forbidden from discussing his top-secret job with his wife. Each morning, the men get in their cars and drive across the desert to the company’s headquarters, where they go about their top-secret work. The women, including Alice and her best friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde), live a leisurely existence, shopping, lounging around the pool and taking dance classes. However, Alice begins noticing that something is amiss after fellow resident Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins acting erratically. She is convinced that there is more to Victory than meets the eye, as she becomes increasingly disturbed.

This is director Olivia Wilde’s second feature film after Booksmart and it is a different beast from that coming-of-age comedy-drama. Don’t Worry Darling is ambitious and sees Wilde play with some intriguing components, even if they might not all go together well. The design elements of the film are eye-catching, and the sunny locations are unique, in a time when a lot of movies look a little muddy. Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, an oft-collaborator of Darren Aronofsky, does excellent work here. There are times when the film does feel Aronofsky-esque.

Don’t Worry Darling features yet another compulsively watchable Florence Pugh performance. It makes sense that she was cast off the strength of her performance in Midsommar, in which she also played a protagonist caught in outwardly idyllic but ultimately sinister surroundings. She fully deserves to be one of the most sought-after young actresses of the moment, and in Pugh’s hands, Alice is very easy to root for. It’s not necessarily the most layered or interesting role, even though the film sets her up as being a complex character, but Pugh does quite a bit with it.

Chris Pine is clearly enjoying himself as a cult leader-esque figure, charming yet undeniably sinister.

It takes quite a while to get there, but the movie’s final act is propulsive and entertaining, even if it isn’t a fully satisfying pay-off for the set-up.

Don’t Worry Darling is often awkward and inelegant, altogether too obvious when its dread should be creeping up on the audience, rather than bonking them over the head. It seems caught between arthouse aspirations and a pulpier, more visceral, throwback B-movie side. The movie also feels considerably longer than its 122 minutes, and it seems to spend a lot of time attempting to establish that Alice senses something is wrong, without really offering much in the way of subtle clues or carefully timed moments to throw the audience off. Once the big reveal happens, it’s hard not to question the mechanics of everything, and audiences might be a bit too busy parsing the logic (or lack thereof) to engage with the movie.

Harry Styles is miscast. His performance brings to mind one of Stephen King’s criticisms of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining: the Jack Torrance character is supposed to start off as an ordinary family man and gradually unravel, but Jack Nicholson already seems deranged at the start of the film. It’s not quite the same thing, but Harry Styles has trouble playing unassuming, and seems to be simultaneously attempting to suppress his modern-day Britpop eccentricity, while also remembering that it is part of his brand.

I alluded to it up top, and it would be impossible to discuss Don’t Worry Darling without mentioning the inordinate amount of drama and controversy surrounding its production. From Wilde firing Shia LaBeouf, to being served divorce papers while presenting the film at CinemaCon, to the on-set relationship between Wilde and Styles, to the alleged rift between Wilde and Pugh, to LaBeouf saying he quit instead of being fired, to Styles allegedly spitting on Pine at the Venice International Film Festival, it’s been a lot. It is difficult to separate all this from the movie itself, and it may have influenced some critics who have been exceedingly harsh on Don’t Worry Darling.

Even if none of that had happened, it would already be intriguing that Wilde had decided to attach herself to a screenplay written by Shane and Carey Van Dyke, whose credits separately and together include the ‘mockbusters’ Transmorphers: Fall of Man, The Day the Earth Stopped, Titanic II and Paranormal Entity. Booksmart co-writer Katie Silberman rewrote the Van Dyke brothers’ script.

Summary: It’s difficult to separate Don’t Worry Darling from the flurry of behind-the-scenes controversy, but the movie itself is not quite the disaster that the general critical consensus is making it out to be. It could stand to be defter and more elegant, and perhaps it could have arrived at its exciting final act quite a bit faster, but Don’t Worry Darling has a pulpy quality to it and is sometimes entertaining. Florence Pugh does a remarkable amount of heavy lifting, almost enough to compensate for Harry Styles being miscast. It will be remembered more for the surrounding controversy than on its own merits, but there are things to recommend.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

DC League of Super-Pets review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jared Stern
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Keanu Reeves, Marc Maron, Olivia Wilde, Ben Schwartz, Thomas Middleditch, Jameela Jamil, Jemaine Clement, John Early, Daveed Diggs, Dascha Polanco, Keith David, Alfred Molina, Lena Headey
Genre: Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 106 min
Opens : 1 September 2022
Rating : PG13

It is apt that the acronym of “Warner Animation Group” is WAG, the thing dogs do with their tails, given that DC League of Super-Pets is fronted by two dogs. These and the other animals of the DC Universe take the spotlight in this animated comedy.

Krypto the Super-dog (Dwayne Johnson) is the lifelong companion of Kal-el/Clark Kent/Superman (John Krasinski), having accompanied the superhero from the planet Krypton to earth when they were both young. Krypto and Clark are inseparable, but Krypto begins to grow jealous of Clark’s girlfriend Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), to whom he is planning to propose. Meanwhile, the denizens of an animal shelter, including Boxer dog Ace (Kevin Hart), hairless guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon), potbellied pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), red-eared terrapin Merton (Natasha Lyonne) and red squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) are exposed to an otherworldly material, gaining superpowers. Lulu was formerly a test subject of the supervillain Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), and has her sights set on world domination. Ace, PB, Merton and Chip meet Krypto, eventually forming an alliance when Lulu’s machinations endanger the Justice League.

DC League of Super-Pets is clearly made by people with an affection for the comic book source material. It’s frequently funny, surprisingly warm and emotional, and filled with easter eggs and references that are a lot of fun to identify. Feature animation must strike a balance between appealing kids but not making adults feel like they’re being subjecting to torture, and this movie mostly finds that balance. The “jokes for the adults” are a little more sophisticated than one might expect, including a reference to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and a line about how billionaires tend to be fixated on rockets. Director and co-writer Jared Stern and co-writer John Whittington previously worked on The LEGO Batman Movie, and there are some similarities in the tone and sense of humour here. The movie is fun to look at, with the design of Metropolis drawing inspiration from the art deco illustrations of J.C. Leyendecker. The character designs also nod to the storied history of DC animation, from the Superfriends cartoon to the DC Animated Universe of the 90s and 2000s.

Unfortunately, the movie is sometimes prone to the smugness associated with the height of the Dreamworks Animation era, even if it never gets quite annoying as the worst moments in those movies. There are the requisite bodily function jokes, though not quite as many as the trailers indicate. There is also a bit of a struggle between the comedy and action modes, such that the superhero set pieces are not especially memorable. The movie’s ensemble cast of both animal and human characters means the focus is sometimes spread a little too thin. The movie is also often somewhat derivative of the two Secret Life of Pets movies, in which Kevin Hart had a voice role, and it is likely that DC League of Super-Pets wouldn’t have been greenlit without the success of those movies.

This is a movie that is co-produced by and starring Dwayne Johnson, so there is the valid fear that it might be a vanity project. However, Johnson’s voice suits the heroic Krypto well, and Kevin Hart is a good foil as Ace, coming off as less annoying than he does in many of his live-action roles.

A number of talented comedians fill out the voice cast, with Vanessa Bayer’s fangirl PB and Natasha Lyonne’s doddering Merton being especially likeable. Keith David, a familiar voice to animation fans, makes a vocal cameo as Dog-El, Krypton’s father. Apart from PB and Lulu, all the main animal characters are based on existing DC Comics characters.

The casting of the Justice League members is mostly inspired, with Keanu Reeves’ Batman being especially amusing. It doesn’t sound like anyone is slumming it, as can sometimes happen with big-name actors cast in animated movies.  

Summary: For those understandably worried about the future of DC movies, DC League of Super-Pets is an endearing and well-made distraction from those thoughts. Sure, there are plenty of cute animal antics, but also lots of jokes aimed at accompanying adults and DC fans. Dwayne Johnson leads a lively, smartly selected voice cast. Stick around for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Three Thousand Years of Longing review

For F*** Magazine

Director: George Miller
Cast : Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Aamito Lagum, Burcu Gölgedar, Matteo Bocelli, Kaan Guldur, Jack Braddy, Erdi Yasaroglu
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Run Time : 108 min
Opens : 1 September 2022
Rating : M18

George Miller has one of the most eclectic filmographies of any director currently working: between the four Mad Max movies, Babe 2: Pig in the City and the two Happy Feet movies, there’s a level of unpredictability to his choices. With Three Thousand Years of Longing, Miller’s first film since 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, he adds to that filmography a tale of an unlikely meeting between an academic and a mythical being.

Dr Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is a narratologist. She has dedicated her life to studying stories and the history of storytelling and travels the world attending academic conferences. The latest such conference brings her to Istanbul, Turkiye, where she is hosted by Prof. Günhan (Erdil Yasaroglu). While at the Grand Bazaar with Günhan, Alithea chances upon a peculiar blue and white bottle. Back in the hotel room, Alithea cleans the bottle and unleashes a Djinn (Idris Elba), trapped inside. He offers her three wishes, but Alithea is much more interested in learning about him. The Djinn regales Alithea with stories of his past and the circumstances that led to his incarceration. These include run-ins with such figures as the Queen of Sheba (Aamito Lagum) and Ottoman rulers Murad IV (Kaan Guldur) and Ibrahim (Jack Braddy). Alithea must make her three wishes to grant the Djinn his freedom, but as she becomes increasingly fascinated with him and his stories, what she might wish for is thrown into question.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is adapted from the short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt. This is an imaginative, vibrant and earnest movie, at once strikingly original and comfortingly familiar. The movie is a family affair for director Miller, who co-wrote the screenplay with his daughter Augusta Gore, and whose wife Margaret Sixel is the editor. Cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement for Mad Max: Fury Road, and he un-retires once more for this movie. The segments set in the past are exquisitely composed and bursting with colour and texture. There is a warmth and beauty to the story and Miller both delights in the details and has a light enough touch. It’s a story about stories, and how stories are a big part of what make us human.

The movie is reliant on vignettes, meaning the characters and stories are necessarily straightforward and archetypical. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult to connect to any of the supporting characters. The movie’s last act becomes disappointingly simplistic, with the story centred firmly on romantic attraction when the set-up hinted at a wide range of human emotions and relationships. After the bulk of the storytelling is over, everything from then on until the end of the movie feels like a let-down.

The movie rests on the interplay between Swinton and Elba, who make for an unexpected but fascinating pairing. The movie is at its most interesting in the earlier stages, when neither fully trusts the other and Alithea is wary of the Djinn because of her familiarity with stories about trickster figures who come bearing wishes.

Elba’s Djinn is at once powerful and vulnerable, susceptible to feelings of attachment and often undone by them despite his otherworldly abilities. Just the contrast between Elba’s and Swinton’s physiques and the way the actors hold themselves makes the frames that they share immediately interesting to look at.

Summary: Three Thousand Years of Longing is a whimsical, imaginative, lavish and heartfelt fairy-tale for grown-ups. It might not go quite far enough with its themes of the role human desires play in interpersonal relationships and in history, and its ending might be a bit too mundane and pat for some, but it is quite unlike most things in the cinema now. Director George Miller infuses the story with warmth and displays fine attention to detail. While the movie’s reach seems to exceed its grasp, especially as it moves into its final act, it is still wondrous to behold.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Nope review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jordan Peele
Cast : Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David, Terry Notary
Genre: Horror
Run Time : 130 min
Opens : 18 August 2022
Rating : M18

Jordan Peele has quickly established himself as a modern-day master of horror filmmaking, having won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, and following it up with Us. All eyes were on Peele to see where he would go next, and with Nope, Peele has our eyes pointed skywards.

Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer) are the children of Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David). The family business is Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, based in Agua Dulce, California and supplying horses for film and TV productions. The family is descended from the jockey featured in one of the very first motion pictures, depicting a galloping horse. The business has fallen on hard times, and after Otis Sr. dies in a freak accident, OJ sells several of the horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), the proprietor of the Western-themed Jupiter’s Claim theme park.

As mysterious activity takes place in the skies, OJ and Em decide they want to document the unidentified phenomena, producing irrefutable evidence of extra-terrestrial beings that will then make them rich and famous. Angel (Brandon Perea), a salesman at Fry’s Electronics, and Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a legendary cinematographer, get roped in to OJ and Em’s scheme. Meanwhile, Jupe plans an ambitious new show for his carnival called the Star Lasso Experience, one with the potential to go horribly awry. As the true nature of what is hiding behind the clouds is revealed, our heroes get more than they bargained for.

Given the increasingly corporate nature of big-budget filmmaking, it is rare to see directors get to make original movies on a grand scale. Peele’s prior successes have granted him “blank check” status, and it’s clear that he’s always motivated by a desire to explore certain ideas, instead of just making movies because that’s what’s expected of him. Peele’s knowledge of film history and love for the medium informs his work, leading to a textured, affectionately made result. This is Peele declaring how much he loves movies, while also laying out some of his frustrations with the current state of the industry. The actors are all charming, especially Keke Palmer, whose Em is neither damsel in distress nor gun-toting Ripley-esque heroine, feeling remarkably like a real person in a genre where characters are often very archetypical.

There are genuinely unsettling moments in Nope and some set-pieces that overflow with tension and dread, but for this reviewer, the best parts of the movie have nothing to do with the main UFO plot – or least, seem to have nothing to do with it at first. Much of the conversation about the movie surrounds a horrific flashback sequence detailing a supporting character’s tragic backstory. The movie works best if one knows as little about this as possible and has grim but insightful things to say about the monetisation of trauma.

Part of what made both Get Out and Us spine-tinglingly effective were the elaborate conspiracies Peele had constructed that provided the backdrop for both movies. By contrast, when we are given the explanation as to what is really going on with the strange object hiding in the cloud, it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. It makes sense within the framework of the movie and given the prior set-up, but there isn’t that feeling of everything clicking into place, of horrifying realisation, that some viewers might be hoping for from Nope. There is a lot of set-up, and several scenes of OJ and Em hanging out with Angel might seem a little pointless. Peele’s movies are at the centre of the ongoing debate about “elevated horror” and if attempts at making highbrow genre movies are worthy or pretentious. For audiences who have already dismissed Peele as high-falutin’, Nope is unlikely to change their minds.

Nope is Peele’s commentary on spectacle, on the role of spectacle in movies and audiences’ relationship to it. Inspired in part by Spielberg movies like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nope attempts to interrogate our love affair with big, glossy crowd-pleasers, while trying to be one of those movies itself. The movie’s cinematographer is Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has collaborated with Christopher Nolan on Interstellar, Dunkirk, Tenet and the upcoming Oppenheimer. Nope lays claim to being the first horror movie filmed in IMAX. There are some truly impressive shots in the movie, and it is unlike the production line spectacle moviegoers have become accustomed to. Given the news of overworked visual effects artists driven to their breaking point making the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, the nature of cinematic spectacle is something worth thinking over. Nope also has things to say about the ethics of the use of animals in entertainment, the cycle of exploitation in the name of profit, and how that relates to mankind’s presumed supremacy over nature and other forces.

Summary: Jordan Peele’s latest movie is positioned as an enigma, like with Get Out and Us. While it might not be as viscerally satisfying as those two movies, and especially Get Out, there’s a lot in Nope to unpack and explore. Peele’s love for movies and his knowledge of the history of filmmaking inform a movie that is about our relationship to spectacle. The movie’s most terrifying sequences seem mostly disconnected from the main plot, Nope is frequently frustrating, but also genuinely unsettling and beautifully shot.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bullet Train review

For F*** Magazine

Director: David Leitch
Cast : Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Michael Shannon, Logan Lerman, Zazie Beetz, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka
Genre: Action/Comedy
Run Time : 127 min
Opens : 4 August 2022
Rating : M18

Brad Pitt recently sparked rumours of his retirement, telling GQ, “I consider myself on my last leg.” Pitt subsequently allayed these fears, walking back his statement at the premiere of Bullet Train and saying he needs to “work on [his] phrasing”. If this movie is anything go by, Pitt still possesses plenty of movie star charm and action chops, even if the rest of it can be all a bit too much.

Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is an assassin called in as a last-minute substitute when a cohort goes on sick leave. Ladybug’s handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock) assigns him what seems like a simple snatch-and-grab job: get on a bullet train bound for Kyoto, retrieve a silver briefcase, and get off at the next stop. Ladybug’s task is complicated by the presence of competing assassins, including the Prince (Joey King), the duo of Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Yuichi (Andrew Koji), the Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio) and the Hornet (Zazie Beetz). The mission becomes a free-for-all and the carnage mounts.

Bullet Train is adapted from Kōtarō Isaka’s novel Maria Beetle and is directed by David Leitch, who knows his way around an action sequence. The director was a former stunt coordinator and stunt double, having been Brad Pitt’s double in movies like Fight Club, Ocean’s Eleven, The Mexican and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He later co-directed John Wick and directed Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw. Bullet Train is stuffed with bloody action sequences and sometimes, is entertaining and light on its feet. Some of the jokes land and there is an undeniable kinetic quality to the proceedings. There is an effort to build the world out and breathe life into the heightened milieu. There is also an assuredness to the tone and the movie never takes itself too seriously, even if it might go overboard with the winking and nodding.

Given that Bullet Train is set on, well, the titular mode of transportation, one would expect a tight, self-contained movie. Unfortunately, Bullet Train gets more and more bloated as it continues. There are multiple protracted flashbacks to provide the backstories of all our players, and sometimes it feels like the movie is fighting against its setting, eager to break out of the train cabin. All the diversions stem from a desire to create a textured world and to flesh the characters out, but they ultimately largely remain cartoon characters. There are running gags, including one character’s preoccupation with Thomas the Tank Engine, that eventually get grating. The director also seems to have imported a sense of smugness from Deadpool 2, which can make it difficult to connect to the story.

Other critics have called the movie reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, but what it most feels like is a serviceable but occasionally awkward live-action adaptation of an anime. The movie ends with a spectacular sequence – “spectacular” in the sense of prioritising spectacle. The movie already has a sense of deliberate artifice to it, but this set-piece sends things completely into the realm of the synthetic.

Pitt is a lot of fun in a role that ultimately isn’t very interesting. Ladybug’s main character trait is that he is in therapy and trying to leave his life of violence behind, so he spouts platitudes about positivity and optimism. Pitt sells all the action sequences and is likeable, but partially because he is wrestling for screen time with so many other actors, it never really feels like a vehicle for him in the way that his fans might expect it to be.

Joey King’s outwardly innocent character who is secretly a deadly killer is already an overplayed archetype, even though she gives a confident performance.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry are an amusing double act. Their dynamic mostly consists of them bickering with each other, and it gets old after a while, but they do play off each other nicely.

Hiroyuki Sanada pops up to lend the movie some gravitas. He is playing essentially the same character he usually plays in a Hollywood movie, but his earnestness is a welcome counterpoint to the film’s overall flippant attitude.

Several actors seem to be completely wasted, including Karen Fukuhara, who basically makes a cameo as a train crew member. Fukuhara has played Kimiko Miyashiro/The Female in The Boys and Katana in Suicide Squad, so it is frustrating that she could have easily portrayed one of the assassins instead.

Summary: Bullet Train packs in plenty of action and has its entertaining moments courtesy of a stacked cast, led by a breezily watchable Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, it wears the viewer down and strains under the burden of all its characters and subplots. Where it would work better as a lean, self-contained action caper, Bullet Train is instead overstuffed. It gets by on the cast’s charm, and many competently staged action sequences, even if the large roster means several actors get short shrift.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Thor: Love and Thunder review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Taika Waititi
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 119 min
Opens : 7 July 2022
Rating : TBA

Over the past several years, Taika Waititi has become one of the most dominant creative forces in Hollywood. Between winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, his involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars franchises, and the cult TV series What We Do in the Shadows and Our Flag Means Death, Waititi has a lot going on. Following the success of Thor: Ragnarok, which arguably launched him into the Hollywood big leagues, Waititi is back for the fourth solo Thor movie.

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels across the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy but is feeling empty and unfulfilled. He and Korg (Taika Waititi) return to earth, where New Asgard, under the rule of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), is in danger. Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a vengeful alien who has sworn to slay every god, has his sights set on Thor. To Thor’s surprise, he finds his beloved hammer Mjolnir, destroyed by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, now re-formed. Its wielder: his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has taken on the mantle of Mighty Thor. As Thor adjusts to this development, our heroes must defeat Gorr before the gods stand no more. Their journey takes them to Omnipotence City, home of various gods including Zeus (Russell Crowe) himself.

The discourse surrounding the MCU has gotten rather tiresome, and it usually loops back around to the movies being formulaic and feeling anonymous and prefabricated. That isn’t much of a problem here. Just as with Ragnarok, Waititi’s stamp is all over Love and Thunder. There’s plenty of personality and dynamism to the proceedings, and nary a sense of going through the motions. The movie has an ambitious scale but is focused on Thor’s character development, and links back to earlier movies in the series without leaving audiences feeling too lost. The story adapts the Jason Aaron run of the Thor comics, which introduces many memorable ideas and character arcs, including Jane becoming Thor and the villain Gorr the God Butcher. Waititi is working with strong source material, a game cast and endlessly inventive, eye-catching design. The movie plays with colour in fun ways, including having the Shadow Realm where Gorr calls home be rendered in black and white.

A major issue that this reviewer had with Thor: Ragnarok was that while it was ostensibly a buddy comedy, it was also a story about the destruction of Asgard and Thor experienced great loss over the course of the film. The overtly comedic tone undermined the more dramatic moments of the story. That problem is slightly less pronounced here, but still present. The Jane and Gorr arcs are both dark and do seem at odds with the overall light tone of the movie. There is also a lot of ground to cover, especially with Jane’s transformation into Mighty Thor, such that what played out over a significant amount of time in the comics feels compressed into this movie. Thor: Love and Thunder has many moving parts, and while the character arcs do work and many emotional beats do land, it still often feels somewhat flippant. The screenplay, written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, attempts to navigate a somewhat dense mythology and isn’t always successful.

It can be argued that Thor: Ragnarok was the first time Chris Hemsworth seemed truly comfortable in the role of Thor, despite appearing in four prior MCU films as the character. Love and Thunder sees him continue taking the approach of equal parts goofy and heroic, and while Thor is a big loveable lunkhead on the outside, Hemsworth also sells the feeling of loss and a yearning for fulfilment that is key to the character’s arc.

It seemed like Natalie Portman was out of the MCU for good, but Waititi convinced her to return as Jane Foster. This is the most she has gotten to do in one of these movies by far, and like the other actors involved, Portman actually seems to be having a good time. It’s just a bit of a shame that, as mentioned above, the circumstances leading to Jane becoming Mighty Thor feel rushed.

Christian Bale isn’t an actor one typically imagines enjoying himself on the set and having fun with the roles he plays, but he does seem to relish the villainous part. There are moments when the character is sympathetic, and others when he’s cackling and deliciously evil. Unfortunately, a bit like with Cate Blanchett’s Hela in Ragnarok, Gorr never feels truly, legitimately terrifying. This could be because the comedy elsewhere in the film undercuts the grave stakes.

Russell Crowe steals the show as Zeus. At first, it seems like just a lark, but the character has more to do beyond being a comic relief figure, and there is an unexpected degree of drama to the scene in which he appears.

Summary: Taika Waititi carries over the exuberant goofiness and visual dynamism of Thor: Ragnarok into Love and Thunder. Its 80s rock sensibility and largely amiable tone is hard to resist. However, the comedic components do often undermine the more dramatic and emotional moments, especially in a film that, as bright and silly as it is, does also deal with some fairly dark thematic material. Those who loved Waititi’s approach in Ragnarok are likely to also enjoy this movie, but for anyone who perceived that film to be tonally imbalanced, Love and Thunder has many of the same issues. And of course, stick around for a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez
Genre: Action/Adventure/Horror
Run Time : 126 min
Opens : 4 May 2022
Rating : PG13

The following review is spoiler-free

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues apace with an exploration of the Multiverse. Following the build-up from the Loki and What If…? series on Disney+ and Spider-Man: No Way Home, this entry leaps into the heady unknown as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and company traverse alternate planes of existence.

The combined events of WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home set the stage for this adventure. Doctor Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong), who took over as the Sorcerer Supreme from Strange, meet America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). This is no ordinary teenager: she has the power to punch portals in reality to travel between Multiverses, and she arrives to warn Strange of an oncoming incursion. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for help, but she has other plans. Strange and Chavez travel to other universes, meeting alternate versions of Strange. Strange must also reckon with his decision to leave the love of his life, Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), having never fully gotten over her. As our heroes face great unknowns and tangle with forces beyond their comprehension, the fate of the Multiverse hangs in the balance.  

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is into its 14th year of existence, garnering both supporters and detractors. While there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the impact of the franchise’s outsized success on the film industry, it’s hard to deny that these movies are broadly well made – something we get reminded of each time less successful attempts at comic book movies emerge. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continues that tradition while bending and twisting what these movies can be. It’s like one of those toys that springs back into shape after you’ve played with it. Screenwriter Michael Waldron, who was the head writer of Loki, crafts engaging and out-there scenarios while keeping the movie focused. The formula that underpins the movie prevents it from spinning too wildly out of control, while there is also room for plenty of weirdness and for director Sam Raimi to put his stamp on things. Audiences have come to expect big tentpole movies to be overlong affairs, so at 126 minutes, Multiverse of Madness doesn’t overstay its welcome.

As with so many other MCU movies, there is a lot of computer-generated imagery. Much of it is good, but not all of it works. As wondrous as these movies can be to look at, the artifice can sometimes take viewers out of it. In this movie, CGI is used to create trippy dreamscapes, but also big monsters that are not quite as charming as they would have been had they been done practically.

While actress Xochitl Gomez cannot be faulted, the America Chavez character feels almost entirely like she only exists as a plot device, even with some time taken to establish her backstory. She is very much the living MacGuffin of the piece, which is a bit of a shame considering the character’s potential, but there are places to go yet.

The speed at which the movie moves is often in its favour, but sometimes it gets in the way of some of the emotional beats and it can feel like we are being whisked from set-piece to set-piece. It’s a good thing that the set-pieces are all enjoyable.

Beyond the cameos and the references to the comics, the big highlight here is the return of Sam Raimi, who hasn’t directed a feature film since 2013’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. Raimi boarded Multiverse of Madness after the departure of Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange film. We’ve seen what happens when studio meddling gets in Raimi’s way, as evidenced by Spider-Man 3. As such, it’s a good thing that Multiverse of Madness often feels as much like a Raimi movie as it does an MCU movie. There is quite a bit of goofiness and one fight scene that’s instrumental to the story is pure, classic Raimi. The wildly kinetic camera, representing the point of view of the Evil Dead in the titular film, makes a return in a way. This is the closest to horror an MCU movie has come, to entertaining results.

Raimi is often mentioned in the same breath as Peter Jackson, in that both came from low-budget horror and wound up helming the biggest and most influential blockbusters of the time. It could be said that James Gunn is in the same mould. Multiverse of Madness makes a good case for the MCU as a sandbox, and it’s to Marvel Studios’ credit that this thoroughly feels like a Raimi picture.

Summary: An enjoyable excursion into realms unknown, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks a welcome return for director Sam Raimi. While containing all the MCU hallmarks, it is also unmistakably Raimi’s work, with several moments approaching horror movie territory. This is a rewarding watch for long-time fans of the MCU and those who have followed the WandaVision and What If…? series on Disney+, but the underlying story is straightforward enough that other audiences won’t feel completely stranded. Both reliably entertaining and just surprising enough, Multiverse of Madness gets a lot right.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Tom Gormican
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Sheen, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Neil Patrick Harris, Alessandra Mastronardi, Paco León, Jacob Scipio
Genre: Action/Comedy
Run Time : 107 min
Opens : 21 April 2022
Rating : NC16

In this metafictional action-comedy, Hollywood legend Nicolas Cage takes on the role he was born to play – Hollywood legend Nick Cage.

Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage) has been working steadily, but his days as a Hollywood A-lister are behind him. Cage is facing personal struggles too: he is newly divorced from his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and has a strained relationship with their teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). After failing to convince director David Gordon Green to cast him in a new project, Cage’s agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) convinces him to accept an invitation to appear at a billionaire superfan’s birthday party. Cage travels to Mallorca, Spain, where he is the guest of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), owner of an extensive collection of Nicolas Cage memorabilia. CIA operative Vivian (Tiffany Haddish), acting on intel that suggests Javi might be the head of an international arms smuggling ring, ropes Cage in to spy on Javi. Cage begins to live out what might as well be the plot of one of his movies.

Heavy on self-referential humour, the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent feels pre-laden with post-modern irony and cynicism. However, it is a surprisingly sincere, affectionate and heartfelt ode to Nicolas Cage. The screenplay by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten is tonally assured and frequently funny. Cage gives it his all, as is his wont, and is surrounded by a capable supporting cast. Pedro Pascal might be known for playing characters who are suave or quietly tough and is a revelation as a comedic force. His instinct and timing make him more than a match for Cage, and the duo is brilliant in scenes together. The Croatian filming locations, standing in for Spain, are also beautiful to behold. This is a movie that is just endlessly entertaining and joyous and could only have been made by people who truly love and appreciate the star and subject, much as he is often regarded as a joke.

The film suffers when it comes to the subplot about Cage’s personal life. The characters of Olivia and Addy are wholly fictional and not based on any of Cage’s real spouses or children. It is perfectly understandable that the movie would depart from real life in this area (it remains completely realistic otherwise). Unfortunately, it also means that the Nick Cage character is a lot less interesting because his eccentricities seem more surface-level, when part of the appeal of Cage as a real-life figure is that his eccentricity has permeated every part of his life.

The action sequences are serviceable, but nothing to shout about and they are not film’s focus.

On Reddit, the subreddit dedicated to Cage is called “one true god”. The actor’s persona makes him an ideal candidate for a film like this, a film that could only work with Cage at its centre. Over the course of his career, Cage has won a Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, been at the forefront of bombastic 90s action movies like Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air, has lately starred in a string of direct-to-video action movies and has become a favourite target of light-hearted online mockery. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent looks back at this unique career arc. One would argue that as much as people have made fun of Cage, a certain respect and admiration underpins that, and that is something The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent captures well. For as much as he is treated as a curiosity and is the subject of debate about what truly constitutes “good acting,” the consensus among film-lovers seems to be that Cage is a legitimately talented actor. A movie like this could only happen if he had enough of a sense of humour, and while Cage took some convincing, it is a wonderful thing that this movie exists.

Summary: A celebration of a unique personality who has had a wide-ranging, fascinating career, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is more than just a meme. Beyond its amusing, internet culture-friendly premise of Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself, this action comedy is surprisingly earnest and affectionate. Bereft of the mean streak and smug cynicism that underpins some metafictional humour, the movie wraps both hands around its star and subject. Cage is great and the supporting cast, especially Pedro Pascal, provides excellent support to his central performance. It’s also so funny you’ll laugh your face…off!

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Morbius review

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast : Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 105 min
Opens : 31 March 2022
Rating : PG13

The Low-Down: 1998 saw the release of Blade, a movie some credit with beginning the modern era of comic book movies. In a deleted scene from that film, the villain Michael Morbius made a cameo appearance, hinting at the possibility of a significant role in the sequel. This never materialised. 24 years later, Morbius makes his actual big screen debut.

Dr Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant haematologist who suffers from a rare genetic blood disorder. He has spent his entire life in search of a cure and has invented artificial blood along the way. Milo (Matt Smith), Morbius’ surrogate brother, also suffers from the same affliction. They were raised by Nicholas (Jared Harris), who runs a facility for patients suffering from rare diseases. Morbius’ latest attempt at a cure involves splicing bat DNA into his own genes, resulting in a form of vampirism. Alongside his colleague Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius must find a solution before he ends up killing even more people than he already has.

Morbius is a straightforward origin story that is easy to follow and isn’t as bloated as many other comic book movies. There are a few glimmers of style, and some sequences are moderately exciting. Jared Leto is also not nearly annoying as he could have been and has been in other roles. At least one actor seems to be having fun, and others provide dependable support. That’s about it, as far as positives go.

The movie might not be an unwatchable train wreck, but it is dull. For all the talk in the promotional materials about how Morbius is “one of the most compelling and conflicted characters in Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters,” there’s just not very much to him and the other characters in the film. It’s a bog-standard Jekyll and Hyde-style scenario, with very few links to the wider Marvel universe. The most significant piece connecting this to the other movies was already spoiled in the trailer. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless have written ho-hum fantasy action movies Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, as well as the disastrous Gods of Egypt, so it’s not exactly a surprise that Morbius doesn’t have the strongest screenplay.

Furthermore, there’s not a lot about this that is visually distinct, and the action sequences involving slow-motion and streaks of vapour representing Morbius’ echolocation powers often look laughably artificial. None of the set pieces are especially memorable. Not unlike Venom and to a greater extent its sequel Let There Be Carnage, Morbius is also hamstrung by a PG13 rating, meaning this is a vampire movie that can only show very limited amounts of blood. The film’s ultimate villain is also patently underwhelming.

Morbius is ostensibly the third film in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. This is a universe that is not directly linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but after the Multiverse-fracturing events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, characters could cross over. Apparently, there is a Spider-Man swinging about somewhere out there in this universe, though it remains to be seen if it is a Spider-Man we’ve already met in a previous movie. Venom was an unlikely box office success despite being a movie about a Spider-Man villain that completely omitted Spider-Man himself. It is unlikely that Morbius will achieve similar success, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Kraven the Hunter and the two other films in this universe set to be released in 2023.

Summary: Morbius is a mediocre comic book movie that is formulaic and dull. Jared Leto gives a perfectly serviceable performance, but the titular character is intended to be mysterious and conflicted when what we get instead feels like a sanitised Jekyll and Hyde story. Most of the supporting characters are created for the film instead of being drawn from the Marvel comics source material, making it feel like there isn’t a substantial link between this and the other movies in the franchise. Especially after the triumph of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Morbius feels like Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has one hand tied behind its back. Stay for two mid-credits scenes that very awkwardly attempt to tie this movie in with the larger franchise.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Batman review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast : Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Colin Farrell
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 176 min
Opens : 3 March 2022
Rating : PG13

In 1979, a young man named Michael E. Uslan purchased the film rights to the DC Comics character Batman. It seemed like nobody wanted to make a Batman movie, and it took him ten years for that film to come to fruition. Today, it feels like we get a new Batman movie with some regularity. With every new iteration comes a new take, defenders and detractors; a new actor in the cowl audiences must warm to or despise. That time has come again.

It is Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) second year on the streets of Gotham City as the masked vigilante called the Batman. A serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts leaving cryptic notes addressed to Batman at the scene of his crimes. While most of the Gotham City Police Department is suspicious of Batman, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) views him as a trusted ally. The Riddler’s clues lead to the Iceberg Lounge, a nightspot operated by Oz Cobblepot/The Penguin (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man of powerful mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who works at the Iceberg Lounge as a waitress, wants to get to the bottom of her roommate and friend Annika’s (Hana Hrzic) disappearance, believing the Penguin and Falcone to be involved. Following the Riddler’s trail of bodies and clues, Batman unravels a far-reaching conspiracy that implicates those closest to him.

Director Matt Reeves has a proven track record, having most recently helmed Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes. Reeves demonstrates a mastery of tone, presiding over a take on Batman that is dark, rich and layered, like a decadent, particularly vengeful chocolate cake. Building on a storied legacy in the comics and on screen, The Batman is a smart adaptation, keeping what works and whittling away what doesn’t. With cinematography by Greig Fraser and production design by James Chinlund, Reeves’ Gotham City is one that neither feels too much like a theme park or like it exists on a soundstage, nor is it just Pittsburgh. Michael Giacchino’s Batman theme might sound simple, but its relentless drive effectively puts audiences in the headspace of this version of the character. The Batman hits the sweet spot, getting so many things right when it is dangerously easy to get a lot wrong. More than just a sensory feast, The Batman boasts an intricate, compelling story with a tantalising mystery at its core.

As is often the case in Batman movies, Batman himself is far from the most interesting part, although there is a strong effort made to get into the character’s head. The film might also alienate audiences looking for typical blockbuster thrills, because it is not action or spectacle-driven, even though there are well-crafted action sequences in it. If one already has Bat-fatigue, The Batman might not be the cure, despite this version of Bruce Wayne often looking like the lead singer of The Cure. There are also some who will mourn the version that could have been, a solo Batman film starring Ben Affleck and featuring Deathstroke as the main villain. This is great, but that could have been worthwhile too.

Robert Pattinson’s casting was met with considerable scepticism, in addition to scorn from those unable to disassociate him with Twilight (exposing their own fragility in the process). Pattinson acquits himself well as a brooding, tormented Batman, in the early days of working through his considerable pain. Haunted and intense, this is a Batman who only ever has dark (k)nights of the soul. He is also a detective, a side of the character the movies have largely overlooked. Pattinson’s reclusive, sullen Bruce Wayne is far from the billionaire playboy façade the character traditionally dons, but he could come out of his shell yet.

Zoë Kravitz is a spectacular Catwoman, coming the closest to how this reviewer pictures the character. She effortlessly essays Selina Kyle’s intelligence and knack for survival, and completely owns the screen whenever she appears. It’s only natural that the cat burglar should steal the entire movie.

For those whose only impression of the Riddler is Jim Carrey (or maybe Frank Gorshin too), Paul Dano’s terrifying portrayal will be something alien. However, this is another way in which the film is smart about the way it adapts the material. While basing the Riddler on the Zodiac Killer could come off as unnecessarily edgy, it works within the context of the story. The riddles themselves are also a great deal of fun, the movie getting a lot of mileage out of puzzles with multiple solutions.

Jeffrey Wright is a steadfast, dependable Jim Gordon. One of the most satisfying elements of the film is the partnership between Batman and Gordon and the way they work as a team.

Colin Farrell may seem like completely oddball casting as the Penguin, but Farrell once again proves that he is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. The prosthetic makeup frees him from those constraints. The Penguin is not the focal point of the movie, but this gives the effect that many comic books do, of a villain who could pop up as the main threat in another story and who plays a strictly supporting role here.

This film does not dedicate a great deal of time to the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Andy Serkis), but there are moments when we glimpse just how important Alfred is to Bruce and vice versa.

One of the risks Reeves takes is telling a Year Two story: this is not strictly an origin story, but neither does it feature an established Batman surrounded by a fully-formed milieu and supporting cast. The main points of reference appear to be Batman: Year One, Batman: Earth One and Batman: The Long Halloween. The iconography hasn’t yet arrived at the place audiences are familiar with – Reeves is promising that eventually, the Batsuit, the Batmobile and various other elements will reach a place where they are more strongly recognisable, but as it stands, the rough-hewn nature of the iconography does work for the story.

Summary: It’s a little funny how this tale about a Batman in his second year is such a fully formed film. Carefully designed and constructed, intelligently written and beautifully acted, The Batman will likely win over scores of doubters. Director Matt Reeves demonstrates an innate understanding of what works about the character, crafting a story that has a satisfying conclusion but also hints at exciting things to come. Robert Pattinson is a haunted, intense Batman while Zoë Kravitz probably captures the essence of the Catwoman character better than any actress before her. Many might have been asking: do we really need another Batman movie? This movie is almost three hours long, and I only wanted more.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong