Transformers: The Last Knight

For F*** Magazine

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT 

Director : Michael Bay
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, Isabela Moner, Laura Haddock, Jerrod Carmichael, Liam Garrigan, Glenn Morshower. And the voices of: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Gemma Chan, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, Ken Watanabe, Omar Sy, Jim Carter
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 29min
Opens : 22 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

It might be hard to believe, but it’s been a whole decade since the first live-action Transformers movie clanged its way into theatres. In this fifth go-round, the Transformers have been declared enemy combatants and are hunted by the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF). Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is a wanted fugitive for aiding and abetting the Autobots, including Bumblebee. He rescues young orphan Izabella (Moner) from a firefight, and in the process, is gifted a talisman by an alien knight whose ship crash-lands on earth. Cade is summoned by Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), the guardian of a sect sworn to protect the Transformers’ secret history on earth. It turns out that the wizard Merlin (Tucci) was bequeathed a magical staff by alien robots; the mythical object long vanished. Cybertronian sorceress Quintessa (Chan) sends Optimus Prime (Cullen) in search of the staff, turning him against his long-time allies. With the help of Oxford literature and history professor Viviane Wembly (Haddock) and reluctant TRF soldier William Lennox (Duhamel), Cade and Burton must unravel an ancient conspiracy to prevent the destruction of earth.

No other franchise in recent memory has been more critic-proof than the Transformers films. This summer alone, we’ve witnessed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Mummy feebly attempt to kickstart would-be franchises, while this juggernaut based on Hasbro action figures trundles along. The Transformers movies have long been easy targets for critics, and this entry is particularly frustrating for us. The Last Knight does what this reviewer has always wanted from this series: it explores the alternate history built around the Transformers’ secret presence on earth – though it’s hard to imagine how giant alien robots can stay secret for too long. However, this ends up being expectedly ludicrous, with plot contrivances that beggar belief scattered throughout the film. It turns out that there is a Da Vinci Code-esque secret society entrusted with guarding said history, its members including William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, Harriet Tubman, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. How giant alien robots traipsing around are kept secret is anybody’s guess.

This film strikes us as a spectacular waste of resources – with its $260 million budget, it’s the most expensive Transformers movie yet. In a way, every big blockbuster is, but some are better at justifying that waste than others. The Last Knight unfolds on a spectacular scale, and like Age of Extinction, its story spans continents and millennia. The visual effects supervised by Scott Farrar are extensive and commendable, and the action set pieces are marginally easier to follow than in previous instalments. However, there are only so many ways one can depict giant robots punching each other, and there are only so many variations on a car chase. While rival car-based franchise Fast and Furious has been continuously inventive, the action in Transformers is concussive and numbing. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to tune out instead of staying focused on the mayhem onscreen.

We held out hope that this might be an improvement because screenwriter Ehren Kruger has been jettisoned, replaced by Iron Man and Punisher: War Zone scribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, and Black Hawk Down writer Ken Nolan. Alas, narrative coherence is in short supply and director Michael Bay’s oppressively juvenile sense of humour smothers anything resembling wit.

There’s a scene in which Megatron (Welker) negotiates the release of his Decepticon compatriots with lawyers seated at folding tables in the middle of the desert. We also find General Morshower poring over battle plans in the Pentagon basement, declaring “this is where I deal with the dark s***”. And yes, there are racial stereotypes aplenty – Bay is endlessly amused at those stuffy Brits, Hot Rod (Sy) has a thick French accent, gold chain-wearing Decepticon Nitro Zeus (DiMaggio) paraphrases Martin Luther King Jr. while being released from prison, and Decepticon Mohawk (Reno Wilson) is characterised as a violent street thug. Any accusations that critics are “reading into things” are rendered moot by Bay’s insouciant rejection of subtlety in any form.

Wahlberg may be a better fit as the franchise’s leading man than Shia LaBeouf was, but even then, Wahlberg’s getting annoying. It’s a relief, then, that this is supposedly his last Transformers film. By making the female lead an Oxford professor, the film goes down the predictable route of having Cade and Viviane bicker endlessly while being set up as a couple. Haddock is by far the best actress to have played the female lead in this series, but that’s a low bar. She’s also the least overtly sexualised and has the most agency of all the female leads in the series – but that’s also a low bar, seeing as Viviane struts around in tight dresses and stilettos for the first half of the film.

With Izabella and her sidekick, transforming Vespa Sqweeks, Bay appears to steer the film back to the “a kid and their X” roots, as embodied by Sam Witwicky’s friendship with Bumblebee in the first movie. This feels like an afterthought, and Izabella is one of several characters who feel like hangers-on.

After starring in HBO’s Westworld, Sir Anthony Hopkins hangs out with far bigger robots here. He looks to be having a grand old time, playing the eccentric earl with a twinkle in his eye. A lot of his dialogue is incredibly stupid, but it helps that it’s being uttered by Hopkins. Burton is given a sidekick in the form of an idiosyncratic robot butler named Cogman (Carter), who is frequently annoying and is pretty much a more annoying version of Rogue One’s K2-SO.

Duhamel, Morshower, Turturro and others return from the earlier movies, begging the question of why LaBeouf isn’t in this, at least for a little. Not that we want to see him in this at all, but given that Sam is Bumblebee’s best friend, it stands to reason that Bumblebee should seek him out over the course of this film.

To its credit, The Last Knight does feel shorter than its 150-minute runtime, and features a novel submarine chase that’s different enough from the standard action sequences we’ve seen from this franchise. It’s fine for blockbusters to be silly, but when nothing less than the end of the world is at hand, The Last Knight should be more impactful and less superfluous than it is.

Summary: Bombastic and bloated, The Last Knight’s convoluted mythos and tedious action is enlivened by the joyous presence of Sir Anthony Hopkins. Audiences with the fortitude to surrender to its thunderous stupidity might get a modicum of enjoyment out of this.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Despicable Me 3

For F*** Magazine

DESPICABLE ME 3

Directors : Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda, Eric Guillon
Cast : Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : PG

Supervillain-turned-doting-dad Gru (Carell) is back, with his wife Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel), and yes, the Minions (Coffin) in tow. In this instalment, Gru and Lucy face off against Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a dastardly, bitter former child star with an 80s pop culture and fashion gimmick. Gru faces upheaval when Valerie Da Vinci (Slate), the new chief of the Anti-Villain League, unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. The Minions, longing for the glory days of being on the wrong side of the law, revolt and leave Gru’s employ. During all this, Gru discovers a secret that his mother Marlena (Andrews) has been keeping from him for his entire life: Gru has a twin brother. Gru finally meets Dru (also Carell), who is eager to join his brother on his exploits and attempts to convince Gru to carry on the proud family legacy of villainy. Gru and Dru embark on a quest to steal back a priceless diamond from Balthazar, as Balthazar plots his revenge on the town that scorned him: Hollywood.

We’ll be upfront about it: Despicable Me 3 wasn’t exactly high on our list of summer movies we were looking forward to. One is likely to find more people who are annoyed by the Minions than who find them adorable, but it’s not just that. The first Despicable Me film was weird, inventive, subversive and full of heart. At that point, Illumination Entertainment was still an underdog. Now, with a string of box office successes under its belt, not to mention tons of Minions merchandise and even theme park rides, it all seems to have gone to the heads of producer Chris Meledandri and the other Illumination bigwigs. The studio appears to be heading down the Dreamworks path, and Meledandri has been instated as Universal’s equivalent to Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. Early in Despicable Me 3, we get a particularly mean-spirited swipe at Finding Nemo. This can’t help but recall the sly, slightly bitter digs at Disney that were snuck into the Shrek movies.

Kids in general are unlikely to care about animation studios jostling for supremacy, and kids in general are likely to enjoy Despicable Me 3. The animation is energetic, the gizmos and gadgets on display are over-the-top and imaginative, and there is so much slapstick. The main issue here is that the film isn’t character-driven at all. In the first film, the blossoming relationship between Gru and his young charges served as the film’s emotional core. Then, the Minions became the toyetic marketing sensation they are, and that got pushed to the background. One can sense directors Coffin (who also voices all the Minions), Balda and Guillon struggling with the question “how much of the Minions is too much?” For most of this film, the Minions are separated from Gru, accidentally entering a singing competition and then getting tossed into prison, where they spoof Jailhouse Rock. It’s all gag-driven, and there are several genuinely funny jokes here, but it ends up being scattershot.

“Long-lost twin brother” is a plot device screenwriters truck out when they’re all out of ideas. In this case, there’s an attempt to wink and nod at how it’s a bit of a cheat, but there’s still not enough to justify going this route. Carell gets to try a slightly different, higher-pitched voice as the irrepressibly cheerful Dru, and for all of five seconds, it’s funny that Dru has lustrous blonde locks, while Gru is bald. Despicable Me 3 tries for an emotional arc with Lucy struggling in her position as the girls’ adoptive mother, clashing with Margo in particular. While it’s an attempt to add depth to the story, it doesn’t become much more than just an attempt, and the conflict is resolved too easily.

Parker, along with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, has long been the gatekeeper of offending everyone for the sake of comedy. Parker and Stone have been especially savage towards what they view as the Hollywood elites, who will stop at nothing for a quick buck. As such, it seems like a sell-out move for Parker to take a role in the Despicable Me franchise, but the character is amusing. A delusional former child actor who obsessively grasps at the remains of his glory days is a familiar archetype, but the 80s gimmick is enjoyably silly. There are perhaps one too many snippets of songs from the era, including Take on Me, Bad, Sussudio and Physical, though.

There exist more desperate examples of attempts to keep floundering franchises afloat, and there’s still enough wit on display in Despicable Me 3. However, parents are likely to get increasingly impatient with these movies as more and more get made, when there are other animated films out there that older viewers will get more out of.

Summary: if Minions make you miserable, you don’t need us to tell you to give Despicable Me 3 a wide berth. There’s more emphasis on sustaining a lucrative franchise, less heart, and more animated zaniness to amuse the kids and annoy the adults.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hunter’s Prayer

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

Director : Jonathan Mostow
Cast : Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug References and Violence)

Sam Worthington was once a Terminator, and in this action thriller, he becomes a hunter. Worthington plays Lucas, a hitman in the employ of ruthless English magnate Richard Addison (Leech). Metzger (Compston), another one of Addison’s assassins, kills Martin (Eben Young) and Pamela (Stephanie Dooley) Hatto, torching their upstate New York home. Martin’s daughter Ella (Rush) is studying at a boarding school in Switzerland. Addison is eager to tie up loose ends, and sends his goons after Ella. Lucas takes it upon himself to protect Ella, who vows vengeance upon Addison. Because of Addison’s wealth and influence, he is untouchable. With Lucas as her guide, Ella goes to great lengths to wreak vengeance upon Addison, in a mission that takes the pair from Switzerland to France to the United Kingdom.

The Hunter’s Prayer is based on Kevin Wignall’s novel For the Dogs. The film was shot from late 2014 to early 2015, and appears to have sat on the shelf for a while. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard to look at the poster featuring Worthington and Rush looking serious in front of a rack of guns and not think “generic action thriller”. That same poster calls Jonathan Mostow, who helmed Terminator 3 and Surrogates, a “visionary director”, which is cause for stifling laughter.

Mostow adopts dreary post-Bourne spy movie sensibilities in telling what amounts to your typical hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold tale. The Hunter’s Prayer was shot in Hungary and England, but the European locations are deliberately deprived of substantial glamour, so this doesn’t come off as a scenic James Bond-style travelogue. The action sequences are nothing to write home about, with a cliffside car chase early in the film generating the most excitement.

The adjective “bland” is often used to describe Worthington, who seemed poised for superstardom after Avatar, but then James Cameron took too long in prepping the sequel. To his credit, Worthington takes the role of Lucas quite seriously, and musters up as much intensity as he can playing the tortured hitman. While Lucas is deadly and efficient, he is also shackled by a crippling drug addiction. Much as Worthington tries, the character is too bound by genre clichés to be distinct, or for the audience to care too much about him.

There’s a legacy of action films in which young girls play the lead or co-lead, including The Professional, Kick-Ass, Hanna and recently Logan. Rush won the role after the initially-cast Hailee Steinfeld dropped out due to scheduling issues. The Hunter’s Prayer is meant to be grounded, so Ella doesn’t possess any wild combat proficiency. She’s spoiled and sheltered, but is sympathetic because she’s been neglected by her father and packed off to boarding school. The trajectory of the bond that forms between Ella and Lucas is predictable, and while Rush isn’t outright annoying in the role, Ella should be easier to root for than she is.

Leech’s Addison is the typical corporate creep villain, a wealthy tycoon who delegates the dirty work to his minions. Leech does have some fun with the role and indulges in a spot of moustache-twirling, but like most everything about The Hunter’s Prayer, he just doesn’t stand out. There’s a hint of intrigue in the severe way in which Addison treats his son, but that isn’t sufficiently explored. Compston, whose Metzger is supposed to be an utterly scary henchman, isn’t as intimidating as he needs to be. Landecker’s crooked FBI agent is meant to add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings, but not enough is done with her insidiousness.

The Hunter’s Prayer has a little more polish than your run-of-the-mill straight-to-DVD action flick, but it’s an almost completely joyless enterprise. Whether it’s the bottled-up emotions, the inner conflict, the child who is ripped from their innocent existence or the car chases and shootouts, anything you’ll see in The Hunter’s Prayer has been done considerably better elsewhere.

Summary: Sam Worthington takes his role more seriously than he must, but that doesn’t help The Hunter’s Prayer rise out of the straight-to-video action flick doldrums.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Once Upon a Time in Venice

For F*** Magazine

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE 

Director : Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast : Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

           In this action comedy, Bruce Willis is a dick. A private dick. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has set up shop as a detective. Steve’s domain is the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and with the help of his beleaguered assistant John (Middleditch), Steve helps track down missing persons. The house of Steve’s sister (Janssen) is burgled, with Buddy, Steve’s beloved Parson Russell Terrier, among the stolen items. The culprit, a drug lord named Spyder (Momoa), holds Buddy hostage, demanding that Steve run several errands for him before he can have his dog back. With the help of John and surf shop proprietor Dave (Goodman), Steve must retrieve Buddy by any means possible.

Willis has been absolutely slumming it in direct-to-DVD action movies, continuing that streak with Once Upon a Time in Venice. The movie is written and directed by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, who wrote the Willis-starring Cop Out. It’s painful to watch Once Upon a Time in Venice strain so hard to be even remotely funny. This is listless, incoherent stuff which feels like it was rejected from a network TV comedy. The best set-piece, which involves Steve skate-boarding buck naked, takes place early in the movie, with nothing approaching that level of zaniness for the rest of its duration.

The premise and the posters try to sell this as a John Wick spoof, and Once Upon a Time in Venice would have been much better had it actually been an all-out parody of John Wick. There are also shades of the far more energetic and innovative Keanu, in which a hitman’s missing cat was the linchpin of the plot. Even with swearing, nudity and violence, Once Upon a Time in Venice fails to generate even a scintilla of excitement.

The cast that the Cullen Brothers has at their disposal is not too shabby. Willis is a shadow of his former A-lister self but his declining clout notwithstanding, he still was John McClane. One would think any filmmaker would be smart enough to play up that persona in an action comedy. Silicon Valley star Middleditch can play neurotic without being unbearably annoying, but in this movie, he’s saddled with dreadfully unfunny lines. The voiceover he performs is grating.

The dependable, talented John Goodman is completely wasted, and this movie makes poor use of Jason Momoa as well. He spends most of Once Upon a Time in Venice lounging around, participating in very few action scenes. Janssen shows up for a couple of scenes, and swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is only in this movie so she can go topless. She has a sex scene with Willis, who is 30 years her senior, which is as awkward as it sounds. Adam Goldberg plays a character named “Lou the Jew”, in one of several uncomfortable moments in which mild anti-Semitism is played for laughs. Kal Penn plays a store clerk in one scene, veteran character actor Christopher Macdonald shows up in a throwaway part, and for no discernible reason, there’s a David Arquette cameo.

At once a terrible comedy and a terrible action flick, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating to watch. It’s uninspired, often tasteless and awash in wasted potential. A silly, devil-may-care action comedy spoof of John Wick could have been, if nothing more, diverting entertainment. Once Upon a Time in Venice isn’t even in the same area code as entertainment.

Summary: A dismal demonstration of how low erstwhile movie star Bruce Willis has sunk, Once Upon a Time in Venice will test the tolerance of even the most hardened direct-to-DVD action movie connoisseur.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Colossal

For F*** Magazine

COLOSSAL 

Director : Nacho Vigalondo
Cast : Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre : Sci-Fi/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Coarse Language And Some Violence)

In this sci-fi dark comedy-drama, Anne Hathaway learns that the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic out-of-work writer whose irresponsibility has led to her boyfriend Tim (Stevens) breaking up with her. After getting kicked out of their house by Tim, Gloria moves back to Maidenhead, the small Midwestern town where she grew up. Her childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis) helps Gloria get back on her feet, offering her a job at his bar. Gloria becomes acquainted with Oscar’s friends Joel (Stowell) and Garth (Nelson), developing a romantic interest in Joel. When a giant bipedal reptilian monster appears out of nowhere to terrorise Seoul, Gloria comes to the startling revelation that she is controlling the creature. At a specific time every day, the monster materialises in South Korea, and mirrors Gloria’s physical actions. As Gloria processes this surreal turn of events, her personal relationships take similarly unexpected turns.

There is a film franchise centred on giant robots, which releases its fifth instalment this year and has the tagline “more than meets the eye”. While there’s often less than meets the eye with that film series, there’s far more to Colossal than one might think. Colossal comes from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who helmed the mind-bending Spanish-language film Timecrimes and the experimental techno-thriller Open Windows. Colossal’s zany premise of a kaiju that just happens to be controlled by a random American woman is only its first layer of weirdness. By the film’s end, it’s evident that this is not a movie that is weird solely for the sake of being weird. The film’s genre-defying nature plus its blend of comedy and genuinely unsettling drama might alienate some viewers, but it adds up to a uniquely compelling whole.

Colossal has been marketed as a quirky comedy; its trailer scored with light-hearted music and its cutesy poster depicting Hathaway scratching her head, with the monster standing behind her, doing the same. While the inherent absurdity of the premise does lead to some laughs, Colossal winds up in an unexpectedly dark, dramatic place. As characters’ back-stories and motivations come to light, things suddenly feel a lot more serious than they did earlier in the film. Rather than feeling like whiplash, this trajectory is earned. The story is gripping enough for this reviewer to go along with – even given an explanation for the film’s central phenomenon which requires more suspension of disbelief than usual.

The film’s budget is estimated at around $15 million, which is a paltry sum compared to summer blockbusters than can cost upwards of $150 million. Vigalondo smartly allocates his resources, and the visual effects spectacle holds up sufficiently well. The climactic sequence, which includes scenes of the South Korean army ushering panicked civillians to safety, is more riveting than this reviewer thought it would be.

Hathaway is goofy and endearing, but is also able to evince the hidden conflict within Gloria. The attractive woman whose life has spun out of control thanks to a drinking habit could well be the lead character of an insufferable sitcom, but like with other aspects of the film, Colossal takes that archetype and builds it out in a surprising way.

It’s difficult to meaningfully discuss Colossal without giving too much away, so skip past this paragraph if you’re worried about spoilers – we’ll try to be vague. This is likely the most depth Sudeikis has been able to display in his acting career. The Oscar character starts out as your standard ‘nice guy’ character, but the cracks begin to form. As defined in various think-pieces, the ‘nice guy’ is a man who gives the appearance of being thoughtful and caring while pursuing women, and who becomes bitter and resentful when his advances are rebuffed. The deconstruction of this trope as performed by Sudeikis is visceral, sorrowful and engenders just the right strain of uneasiness.

 

Stevens’ supporting role is a minor one, but he does get to retain his English accent. The friction that arises from the initial friendliness shared by Gloria, Oscar, Joel and Garth in the bar unfolds in believable fashion.

It is perhaps ironic that Colossal’s producers were sued by Toho Studios, who claimed the film was too similar to their flagship kaiju Godzilla. There are superficial similarities in that Colossal, like Godzilla, features a monster stomping about an Asian metropolis. However, the underlying allegory is completely different, and Vigalondo’s boldness in crafting a film that defies classification pays off, in that it is far from a jumbled mess. Colossal not only breaks the mould, it stomps on it with insouciant defiance.

Summary: Colossal is an odd beast, but the weirdness that fuels it belies surprising depth, salient social commentary and emotional resonance.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Viceroy’s House

For F*** Magazine

VICEROY’S HOUSE 

Director : Gurinder Chadha
Cast : Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Lily Travers, Om Puri, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith, Neeraj Kabi
Genre : Drama/History
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 8 June 2017
Rating : PG

Director Gurinder Chadha takes us inside the Viceroy’s House amidst the tumult of the Partition of India. It is 1947, and Lord Mountbatten (Bonneville), the last Viceroy of India, has arrived in New Delhi with his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Anderson) and their daughter Pamela (Travers). Mountbatten is tasked with overseeing the English withdrawal from India, after a 300-year presence in the country. As unrest among the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims erupts across the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Smith) of the All-India Muslim League champions the formation of Pakistan, a nation-state for the Muslim minority to call home. Mountbatten meets with Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi (Kabi), as the schedule for Independence is moved up.

In the meantime, Jeet Kumar (Dayal), a new arrival on the staff of the Viceroy’s House, falls in love with Aalia Noor (Qureshi), an assistant to Pamela. Jeet was a prison guard who was sympathetic towards Aalia’s blind father Ali Rahim Noor (Puri) when he was imprisoned. However, their love is forbidden because Jeet is Hindu and Aalia is Muslim. Furthermore, Aalia is promised to Asif (Arunoday Singh), who has just returned from combat overseas. With the tension manifesting itself within the over 500-strong staff of the residence, Mountbatten finds himself in a house, and a nation, divided.

The Partition is a historical event that has repercussions to this day, and this year marks its 70th anniversary. It is understandable that Viceroy’s House would be controversial, with some accusing the film of being revisionist history. Pakistani poet and member of the Bhutto political dynasty Fatima Bhutto decried Viceroy’s House as a “servile pantomime”. Director Chadha, who co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges, and Moira Buffini, took inspiration from the non-fiction books The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila and Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. This reviewer will admit to knowing very little about the Partition of India, and is frantically researching as he types. What we’re sure of is that as with every historical occurrence, there are a great many sides to the story. Chadha is cognisant of this, opening the film with the quote “history is written by the victors”. However, there’s a niggling lack of authenticity, a sense that this is a skewed point of view.

Viceroy’s House is an ambitious undertaking, because it attempts to neatly package deeply complicated politics and tragedy on a vast scale into a Merchant Ivory-style period piece. It’s clear that Chadha did not set out to misrepresent or offend anyone – in 2005, Chadha visited her grandfather’s home in Pakistan for the documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? This was the home he was forced to vacate when he was displaced during Partition. While Chadha’s personal connection to the story cannot be denied, there are times when it seems she has bitten off more than she can chew. Perhaps this story would be more suited to a miniseries format, as there so many players and moving parts.

While actual historical figures play an important role in the plot of Viceroy’s House, the romance between Jeet and Aalia is the audience’s way in. Both Dayal and Qureshi are lively, watchable performers and they lend this love story its sweet and moving moments, but it’s obvious that this fictional subplot was tacked on to add accessibility. There’s every chance that a relationship like Jeet and Aalia’s could have developed in the actual Viceroy’s House, but this is a device that’s recognisable from many earlier historical films. It’s not the best comparison, but think Jack and Rose in Titanic, or the recent film Bitter Harvest about the Holodomor genocide-famine in Soviet Ukraine. Instead of adding humanity, this sometimes-clumsily executed romance adds artifice.

The cast makes one wish this were a six episode-long TV event, because then we’d get more time to see the character dynamics play out. Mountbatten is depicted as a man of noble intentions, and that everything that went awry during the Partition was a result of him being kept in the dark. It seems most historians beg to differ. Bonneville is refined and respectable, but not terribly interesting. Anderson’s Lady Mountbatten is shown as striving to be inclusive and to understand the plight of everyday Indian people, eager to go beyond the walls of the House. Travers’ Penelope is a little bit of a spoiled princess, but ends up being pleasant to watch.

Smith is a charismatic presence as Jinnah, the film taking the effort to flesh out his arguments. Kabi is convincing as Gandhi, having also played the role in the television series Samvidhaan: The Making of the Constitution of India. Viceroy’s House marks one of the final film appearances of the late Om Puri, a towering figure in Indian cinema. As Ali Rahim Noor, Puri exudes good natured wisdom.

Throughout Viceroy’s House, one can sense the filmmakers tiptoeing through history, afraid to make any bold statements. The film is lovely to look at, with location filming in Rajasthan, India lending it high production values. However, it also feels distant and rigid. Even though this is a subject close to Chadha’s heart, it’s one that’s difficult to explore – let alone in the relatively brief 106-minute running time of the film. It’s a film about a fraught period in history which, any way one looks at is, is challenging to portray objectively and coherently.

Summary: Viceroy’s House appears to simplify and sanitize the complex conflict that precipitated the Partition of India, but it functions competently as a period drama.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spider-Man: Homecoming Singapore red carpet and press conference

For F*** Magazine

THIS IS HOME, TRULY: SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING STARS IN SINGAPORE
F*** meets Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon at the Spider-Man: Homecoming red carpet

By Jedd Jong

Three years after hosting Andrew Garfield and the other stars and filmmakers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a newly-minted web-slinging hero has arrived on our shores. Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned Leeds, graced the red carpet at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore on Wednesday, 7 May. F*** was there as attendees greeted the latest actor to don the red and blue bodysuit.

Singapore is the first stop for the Spider-Man: Homecoming promotional tour; the movie opens in around a month’s time. Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to the Spider-Man character, reached a deal with the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, leasing the character to the latter so Spider-Man could appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows Spider-Man to interact with the other heroes in the larger Marvel universe, something which fans have long been hankering for. The title not only refers to the American high school tradition of the Homecoming dance, but has the meta-fictional implication that Spider-Man is now back where he belongs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Marvel characters.

This incarnation of the character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, aiding Team Iron Man in their fight against Team Cap. Spider-Man: Homecoming depicts how Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s existence is irrevocably changed after his return from the monumental airport showdown in Leipzig. Peter deals with life as an average high-schooler, but yearns to fight crime alongside the Avengers. Peter’s mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) cautions him against biting off more than he can chew, but Peter is determined to prove his worth. Spidey battles Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who uses stolen alien technology salvaged in the wake of the Avengers’ battle against the Chitauri to create cutting-edge weapons and gear. The Vulture and his cohorts Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City, endangering Peter’s loved ones – especially his dear Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

Deejays Justin Ang and Vernon A, known collectively as ‘the Muttons’, were the emcees for the closed-door event, during which select fans and a contingent of cosplayers dressed as various versions of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman from across the Spider-verse got to meet Holland and Batalon. A stuntman dressed in the Spidey costume leaped onstage and posed for the cameras. The actors then took questions from the media at a press conference moderated by actor Adrian Pang.

Holland has starred in films like The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea, How I Live Now, Locke and The Lost City of Z – and he’s all of 21-years-young. He got his start in showbiz playing Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. When asked what his impression of Singapore was, Holland enthused that it was as if he had “flown to a better planet,” describing the country as “so modern and beautiful”. Holland and Batalon posted the requisite selfie taken in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel’s famous rooftop Infinity Pool on Instagram. Also seen in the photo was Harrison Osterfield, Holland’s best friend who worked as a production assistant on Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This is Batalon’s second movie credit; his first being the independent horror film North Woods. He described the experience as “surreal”, and that “every day felt like a dream.” Batalon plays Ned Leeds, who in the comics is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. The film alters the character such that he is Peter Parker’s best friend in school, and it was clear that Batalon and Holland shared an easy chemistry. “I hope to never wake up,” Batalon added wistfully. The scene in which Ned dons Peter’s Spider-Man mask was improvised by the two, and it got such a good reaction from the crew that director Jon Watts decided to build a scene around the gag.

Holland has been upfront about how big a Spider-Man fan he’s been since childhood. At the Empire Awards five years ago, when a reporter asked Holland which superhero he’d like to play, Holland answered “I’d like to be the Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, in ten years.” He didn’t know he’d get his turn much sooner.

When Holland heard that Spider-Man would be recast, he begged his agent to pursue the role. Holland weathered a protracted process of auditions and screen tests, eventually working his way to a screen test with Downey Jr. himself. “The further down the line I got, the closer I got to the part, the more I wanted it,” Holland shared earnestly. Funnily enough, Holland found out that he was selected for the coveted role via an announcement on Instagram. “My brother Harry, he’s quite savvy with computers, and he told me ‘dude, they’ve probably been hacked,’” Holland recalled. Shortly after learning the news of his casting, Holland received a call from Marvel Studios president Feige, making it truly official.

When Pang asked if Holland felt any pressure from taking on the mantle of such an iconic character, Holland gamely replied “I love pressure. Pressure is my thing, I find it a really good sort of fuel to motivate myself.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

What can fans get out of the movie that the previous big-screen versions of Spider-Man have yet to offer? “I don’t want fans to have to buy tickets to a movie they’ve already seen,” Holland declared. He asserted that Spider-Man: Homecoming “ground[s] the character in reality”. “We’ve seen the god, we’ve seen the billionaire and we’ve seen the scientist,” Holland reasoned, referring to Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. “Now it’s really time to see what would happen if a kid got superpowers.”

Audiences will get to see what happens for themselves, when Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in theatres in Singapore on 6 July 2017.

Photos by Ore Huiying, Getty Images for Sony Pictures, unless otherwise stated.

Baywatch

 F*** Magazine

BAYWATCH 

Director : Seth Gordon
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 June 2017
Rating : M18

Let’s dive into some ‘90s nostalgia that’s been given an irreverent update, to see if the water’s still inviting. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, who leads an elite team of lifeguards known as ‘Baywatch’, including C.J. Parker (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Hadera). Thorpe (Huebel), Mitch’s boss, assigns disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) to the team. Brody, alongside lifeguard hopefuls Summer (Daddario) and the nerdy Ronnie (Bass), joins Baywatch. Brody goes about pursuing Summer, while Ronnie nurses a crush on C.J. Brody’s cockiness creates friction between him and Mitch, throwing off the team’s finely-tuned synergy. In the meantime, wealthy developer Victoria Leeds (Chopra), who just might be using her fancy country club as a front for criminal activities, attracts the suspicion of the Baywatch crew. With a string of murders frightening beachgoers away, it’s up to Baywatch to restore order and bring back the fun under the sun.

For a film about such athletic characters, Baywatch is lazy – that is its primary shortcoming. The formula of adapting a TV series into an R-rated send-up of the source material worked wonders for 21 Jump Street, but when CHIPs tried to follow in those footsteps, it crashed and burned. Because the Baywatch TV series is generally viewed as a cheesy guilty pleasure, it stands to reason that there would be a lot to make fun of in a big screen pastiche. However, there’s very little wit on display, and not a lot of energy fuelling the rampant silliness. The plot is generic, many of the jokes miss their target, and the action sequences are underwhelming. A signature set piece involving a blazing yacht features markedly unconvincing computer-generated fire, and you’ll witness more impressive jet ski tricks at the Waterworld stunt show in a Universal Studios theme park.

With the budget of a big summer movie, Baywatch had the potential to go balls-out, indulging in over-the-top spectacle and comic action that wouldn’t have been possible in the TV show and the subsequent made-for-TV movies. It seems that Baywatch is pandering squarely to the dude-bro set, and many jokes are of the “ew, men touching other men, how gross!” variety. Yes, both the men and the women in the cast showcase their impressive physiques, but weirdly enough, there’s no female nudity. There’s male frontal nudity, but not from who you’d expect. Johnson himself promised “gratuitous boobs, bums, abs, whatever” when promoting the movie. Perhaps this was edited out at the last minute – but all the swearing and the aforementioned male nudity is intact, so it couldn’t have been to secure a more lenient rating.

Much of the film is riding on the brawny shoulders of Johnson and Efron, but both actors’ natural charisma only carries things so far. Johnson plays yet another no-nonsense noble hero who looks out for his team. He’s good at this, but there isn’t as much of the nigh-ridiculous, yet awesome near-superhuman quality he’s displayed in the Fast and Furious films.

Efron plays the same character he’s played in much of his recent career: the lunk-headed, vain hunk who’s a big show-off, but who eventually becomes sympathetic. Most of the back-and-forth between Mitch and Brody consists of the former calling the latter mocking nicknames, including one that’s pretty meta. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Johnson and Efron doesn’t reach the heights this reviewer hoped it would.

What would Baywatch be without women running in slow motion? There’s a fair bit of slow-mo jogging down the beach, but there’s also an effort to make the female characters more than mere eye candy. Daddario’s Summer is the most knowledgeable member of the team, while Hadera is lean and formidable as Stephanie, Mitch’s second-in-command. Rohrbach has the responsibility of filling the sizeable, uh, shoes left by Pamela Anderson. As C.J., she has enough of the blonde bombshell quotient, but lacks comedic chops.

Baywatch falls back on that hoary trope of the awkward geeky guy slobbering after the unattainable hot girl, and it’s often grating. The mere fact that Bass’ Ronnie is nowhere near as toned as the other characters is meant to induce laughter, and the character’s establishing moment involves him getting his private parts stuck in a deck chair. It’s yet another sign of the film’s laziness.

Chopra’s Victoria is a wannabe Bond villain – she even says the line “I’m not a Bond villain…yet.” Chopra brings industrial-strength strut to the role, but the character of the evil land developer is so played out that it’s boring, even if this archetype is usually male. She even has lumbering, suit-clad henchmen doing her bidding. There is some fun to be found in Victoria’s final showdown with Mitch and Brody, though.

Even when David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make their requisite cameos, it fails to enliven the proceedings, because there’s nothing particularly creative about their guest appearances. What could’ve been wickedly goofy, raunchy and exciting is instead a ho-hum production line comedy offering – not even the combined biceps of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron can haul this above mediocrity.

Summary: Instead of being risqué, action-packed and subversively funny, Baywatch sinks like a stone, even with several likeable cast members on board.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wonder Woman

For F*** Magazine

WONDER WOMAN 

Director : Patty Jenkins
Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 21min
Opens : 31 May 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

All the world’s been waiting for her, and at long last, here she is in a movie of her own. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is a demigoddess raised by the mythical Amazons on the island of Themyscira. Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen) wants to shield her from the outside world, while Diana’s aunt General Antiope (Wright) wants to train Diana into a warrior. When American pilot Captain Steve Trevor (Pine) crash-lands on Themyscira, Diana volunteers to escort him back to the outside world, against her mother’s wishes. It is the final days of World War I, and German General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) is working alongside treacherous chemist Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (Anaya), devising deadly weapons to use in the war. Diana befriends Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Davis), and goes to the front to end the war. Diana is accompanied by Steve’s ragtag band of operatives, including Sameer (Taghmaoui), Charlie (Bremner) and Chief (Brave Rock). However, the forces they face are beyond mere armies of men.

Wonder Woman made her first appearance in Sensation Comics in 1941, and a big screen solo outing for the superheroine is long overdue. After varied failed attempts to bring the character to the screen, DC has finally found success – and what a success this is. The DC Extended Universe has generally been greeted with scorn. Moviegoers heading into this movie can be roughly grouped into two categories: those who are eager to see this fail because it’s a DC film, and those who are cautiously optimistic. With Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins has crafted a movie that might stun detractors into silence. Working from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg (known in the comics sphere for Young Avengers and his Wonder Woman run), who rewrote earlier drafts by Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, Jenkins has delivered a worthy epic that does the iconic character great justice. The filmmakers demonstrate an innate understanding of what makes Wonder Woman tick, and eloquently articulate her motivations, laying out the events that shape her into the heroine she becomes.

Jenkins must have faced the dilemma of depicting an action heroine who’s all about peace, love and understanding: as the lyrics of the theme song go, “make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love”. On one hand, Diana stands for all that is good and pure, and on the other, she’s a bona fide badass who is formidable in battle. Wonder Woman navigates the quandary admirably, and gets surprisingly moving in the process. While the film doesn’t try to give a simple answer to why it’s in mankind’s nature to fight, it attempts to make sense of why conflict comes so naturally to us, and how someone from outside man’s world would process this. It’s also tonally assured: the scenes of war get the appropriate gravitas, but there is a healthy amount of fish-out-of-water comedy, though not so much as to take one out of it. Some took issue with Batman v Superman’s handling of philosophical issues, and Wonder Woman doesn’t get too bogged down with big questions as it serves up plenty of spectacle.

There’s a grandeur to the film, which takes us from the idyllic fantasy paradise of Themyscira to the gritty corpse-strewn battlefield of the Western Front. Aline Bonetto’s production design and Lindy Hemming’s costume design makes Themyscira a thoroughly-realised world, supplemented by location filming on the Italian coast. The statuesque Amazons are fantastical figures, yes, but their domain is immersive and believable. There is enough authenticity to the settings of London, Belgium and the Ottoman Empire, such that this works as a war movie. The action sequences are exciting and staged with finesse, the fight choreography incorporating Diana’s sword, shield, lasso and bracelets. They are just the right degree of showy, a dazzling blend of elegance and strength. When Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and charges brazenly through No Man’s Land, it’s wont to give viewers quite the buzz.

Gadot’s casting was met with considerable backlash, and if her turn in Batman v Superman made doubters eat their words, she’s back with a heaping second serving here. Gadot more than proves herself as the ideal embodiment of the superheroine. Diana starts out as an idealist, and Gadot parses the character’s status as an invincible naïf. Audiences at large are not as familiar with Wonder Woman’s back-story as they are the origin tales of Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, and it is told coherently and engagingly. Not only does Gadot truly come into her own as a leading lady in this film, but she looks absolutely fantastic doing it – in both the action sequences and the quiet dramatic moments.

In many comic book films, the romance tends to feel tacked on. This isn’t the case here. The strapping, roguish Steve Trevor is Diana’s primary link to man’s world, and the relationship between the two is crucial to the plot. Through Steve’s eyes, Diana sees both the good and the evil that man is capable of. Pine is charming as always, with a twinkle in his eye and never a hair out of place. It seems like a bit of a waste to cast him as Steve Trevor instead of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, since Hal is pretty much Captain Kirk. Still, it’s great that Steve is drawn with some depth, instead of being the standard dashing but boring hero. Owing to the respect he shows Diana, he’s as good a role model as she is.

Davis’ bubbly Etta Candy is true to how the character is portrayed in the comics, and as the designated comic relief, she stays a safe distance from being annoying. While Steve’s band of merry men all exhibit stereotypical traits, they get enough development. Taghmaoui is suave and amusing, Bremner has fun playing the wild-eyed Scotsman but also brings out the trauma that mars the character, and Brave Rock is steadfast and a comforting presence as Chief. While Huston and Anaya play largely generic villains, they serve the plot well and chew just enough scenery.

There was a lot riding on this film, with the fear that if it failed, it would spell doom for any female-led comic book movies going forward, just as Catwoman and Elektra sounded the death knell all those years ago. Those fears should be allayed, as this is a grand, heartfelt and rousing film. Despite its 141-minute running time, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel bloated and is light on its feet. At once refreshing and reminiscent of classic wartime romance films, Wonder Woman is a giant leap forward for the DC Extended Universe.

Summary: A soaring, inspiring adventure centred by Gal Gadot’s assured star turn, Wonder Woman is the movie long-time fans of the iconic superheroine have been waiting for.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

This Beautiful Fantastic

THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC

Director : Simon Aboud
Cast : Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 25 May 2017
Rating : PG

As Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey, Jessica Brown Findlay didn’t have to do much yard work. She’s making up for that in this comedy-drama, in which she plays Bella Brown. Bella is an aspiring children’s book author, who works in a library. She’s particular about keeping tidy, but not being an outdoorsy type, has never tended to the garden. Bella’s landlord gives her an ultimatum: get the garden in order, or get evicted. Bella’s cantankerous neighbour Alfie Stephenson (Wilkinson), who mistreats his housekeeper/cook Vernon (Scott), happens to be a gifted horticulturist. Alfie has great disdain for Bella because of Bella’s “crimes” against flora, but reluctantly agrees to help Bella clean up the garden, when Vernon quits because he’s tired of enduring Alfie’s abuse. Meanwhile, a young, absent-minded inventor named Billy (Irvine), who often visits the library to do research, catches Bella’s eye.

Writer-director Simon Aboud has pitched This Beautiful Fantastic as a contemporary fairy tale. Hardcore Anglophiles might be enamoured with this concentrated dose of twee – practically every review of this film will use the adjective ‘twee’. However, more cynical viewers will be painfully aware of how the movie is constantly tripping over itself in pursuit of charm and whimsy. It’s a pleasant film to look at and is ultimately a good-natured work, but the film cranks up the ‘adorkable’ factor to sometimes insufferable levels. The works of Roald Dahl appear to have had an influence on Aboud, specifically Matilda and Esio Trot. The “young person befriends grumpy old man” trope has been explored in the likes of Up and A Man Called Ove, with This Beautiful Fantastic delivering a largely typical take on that device.

Aboud does have a talented, likeable cast on hand, even if the characters hew too closely to recognisable archetypes. As the shy writer who would much rather get lost in a book than in the great outdoors, Findlay is fine. However, the character is defined more by her tics than by anything else. The prologue gives us Bella’s backstory, depicting her upbringing in an orphanage and establishing her Obsessive-Compulsive traits. It’s nothing to get worked up over, but the use of OCD to make a character seem peculiar but loveable is a tired device.

Wilkinson can play a curmudgeon in his sleep. He gets all the best lines, but it’s obvious that the crust which encases Alfie will gradually crumble away as the film progresses. The transformation he undergoes is all too abrupt, and while there’s meant to be tragedy behind why Alfie has ended up this way, these layers aren’t sufficiently fleshed out.

Scott seems miscast as Vernon, the awkward housekeeper and talented chef. Vernon is a beleaguered widower who has borne the brunt of Alfie’s invective so he can make a living and support his young twin daughters. Scott has made a name for himself playing supercilious, often sinister characters, and is unable to summon the unguarded sweetness that seems vital to a character like Vernon.

Then there’s Irvine, who seems to have stepped straight out of a sitcom. With unkempt hair, wire-rimmed glasses, a pencil tucked behind his ear, and barely balancing all his gear and books, all Billy is missing is a tattoo reading “nerd” inscribed upon his forehead. Irvine can be endearing, but is often annoying here – not obnoxiously so, but enough to be frustrated with. The love triangle between Bella, Vernon and Billy is not as big a part of the story as this reviewer feared, but still plays out as enough of a distraction from the gardening montages, which frankly aren’t all that interesting.

Instead of sweeping one up into a gently heightened world of wonder, This Beautiful Fantastic is at once too manufactured and too mundane to warrant complete surrender. It does not indulge in overt emotional manipulation and one can sense the earnestness behind it, but an excess of quirk and a lack of substance hampers the film from being the little gem it could’ve been.

Summary: This Beautiful Fantastic wants to be a delight and a curiosity, but even though it has its moments, the movie is too self-conscious and sometimes grating.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong