Gods of Egypt

For F*** Magazine

GODS OF EGYPT

Director : Alex Proyas
Cast : Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Bryan Brown, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 126 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

If there’s one constant throughout most ancient deistic mythologies, it’s that the gods have always got to drag poor mortals into their epic struggles. The god Osiris (Brown) is about to pass the crown to his son Horus (Coster-Waldau), the god of the sky. Osiris’ jealous brother Set (Butler), the god of the desert, crashes the coronation and snatches the crown for himself, gouging out Horus’ eyes and stealing away Horus’ companion Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love. Bek (Thwaites), a streetwise mortal, is hopelessly in love with Zaya (Eaton), who is forced to be a servant to chief architect Urshu (Sewell). Zaya gives Bek the plans to Set’s secret vault, and Bek sets about breaking in to steal Horus’ eye and return it to the god. Weakened and in exile, Horus reluctantly teams up with Bek, travelling to the domain of his grandfather Ra (Rush) the sun god to request that Horus’ powers be restored. Horus and Bek must call upon the expertise of Thoth (Boseman), the god of wisdom, to answer the riddle of the Sphinx and defeat the power-mad Set.

            If you saw the trailers for Gods of Egypt and thought “gee, this looks ridiculous”, you aren’t alone and you aren’t wrong. This fantasy flick overflows with gratuitous and consistently-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. The best thing that can be said about it is, well, it’s colourful. The plot point of gods falling from grace is faintly echoed by the way director Alex Proyas’ own career has tumbled. The once-promising helmer of The Crow and Dark City eventually went from that to I, Robot, to Knowing, to now this. Clash of the Titans but with ancient Egyptian deities is a fun premise on paper, but Gods of Egypt entirely lacks the resources to pull this off, even with a $140 million budget. Screenwriting duo Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless, whose less-than-inspiring credits comprise Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, spin a story that comes off as derivative. Despite referencing specific elements of ancient Egyptian mythology, the characters lack any defining identity of their own.

            Gods of Egypt has come under fire for its whitewashed casting – this is a film drawing on African mythology that features a predominantly white cast. Both director Proyas and studio Lionsgate have issued apologies for not considering a diverse cast, while also trucking out the expected “but it’s a fantasy film” defence. Yes, this is a silly, ultimately inconsequential movie, but what it sadly demonstrates is that even in 2016, white actors who are B-listers at best are preferred over actors of other ethnicities. Boseman has said he is thankful that as someone of African descent, he gets to portray the god of wisdom Thoth, but also conceded in the same interview that “people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.” Thoth is assisted by an army of duplicates of himself, so there’s a sad joke about how that evens the scales somewhere in there.

            Coster-Waldau, best-known as Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones, is a passable brooding hero. Thwaites, playing a character who’s essentially Disney’s version of Aladdin, is almost insufferably bland and frequently annoying. The stabs at buddy movie banter between Horus and Bek generally fall flat. Model/actress Eaton, who played Cheedo the Fragile in Mad Max: Fury Road, matches Thwaites in her woodenness. The relationship between Bek and Zaya is meant to be one worth charging the gates of the underworld for, but it really couldn’t be any less compelling. As the other main female character in the story, Yung fares only slightly better, Hathor serving primarily as further motivation for Horus to seek vengeance against Set.

Butler chomping the scenery as a snarling villain consumed with absolute domination is, at least, slightly more interesting than Butler playing a generic action hero, or trying his hand at romantic comedy. Rush’s appearance as Ra feels like a cut-rate version of Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the Thor movies, like a doctor-ordered dosage of prestige. It is somewhat amusing to see the Oscar-winner battle what can only be described as, forgive our crassness, a gargantuan cosmic toothed anus.

            Gods of Egypt is quite the misguided enterprise, at once extravagant and hollow. Any inventiveness its visuals might possess is undercut by the phoniness of it all. For example, while it certainly sounds cool to have all the gods stand nine feet tall, this “reverse-Hobbit” effect makes it seem like they’re never actually occupying the same space as the mortals they’re interacting with. You’re tired of reading this comparison, we’re tired of writing it and it’s a disservice to video games, but this movie looks like a video game. While Gods of Egypt feels like it’s going to be so bad it’s good and there is a fair amount of unintentional hilarity to take in, everything eventually blurs together and it’s more effort to endure than it’s worth.

Summary:Between the CGI mucilage, flat acting, uninspired story and a once-promising director just giving up, Gods of Egyptis an ungodly mess.

RATING: 1.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 
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Ride Along 2

For F*** Magazine

RIDE ALONG 2

Director : Tim Story
Cast : Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt, Tika Sumpter, Sherri Shepherd
Genre : Comedy/Action
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

It’s time to hop back in that Dodge Charger R/T with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, because crime officially has a new enemy: The Brothers-in-Law. It’s a week before the wedding between Ben Barber (Hart) and Angela Payton (Sumpter). When Angela’s brother James (Cube), an Atlanta police detective, travels to Miami to follow up on a lead, Ben convinces James to let him tag along, even though Ben is not up to the task. The duo team up with Miami homicide detective Maya Cruz (Munn) to track down A.J. (Jeong), a hacker who embezzled money from his former employer. Said former employer is Antonio Pope (Bratt), who appears to be a legitimate shipping tycoon and philanthropist but is secretly a treacherous, well-connected crime lord with the port commissioner in his pocket. James and Maya have to bring Antonio to justice while ensuring that Ben and A.J.’s tomfoolery doesn’t pull them down.

            While 2014’s Ride Along was generally dismissed by critics, it was a surprise box office hit and a sequel was to be expected, even if there wasn’t a particularly high demand for it. In addition to stars Cube and Hart, director Tim Story and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi are back for the follow-up. Ride Along 2 comes off as even more of a cut-rate Bad Boys than the first film. The action sequences are nominally more elaborate than before and stunt coordinator/second unit director Jack Gill of the last three Fast and Furious films stages competent if unmemorable pursuits and explosions. A scene in which Ben imagines he’s playing a Grand Theft Auto-style videogame to get through a car chase is a somewhat clever visual gag, if clumsily executed. In addition, Ben has a run-in with a downright embarrassing computer-generated alligator, which looks like it’s a second away from singing and dancing and teaching kids how to spell. The Miami setting means we get lingering shots of bikini-clad women in some attempt at PG-13-level titillation. It very much wants to be a Michael Bay film, but Ride Along 2 doesn’t have the budget for it.

            Hart may be extremely in demand as a comedic actor, but his shtick can be grating and the Ben Barber character is basically Scrappy-Doo, overeager and under-qualified. Hart is energetic and spontaneous but often obnoxious. He and Cube play off each other well enough, but it’s the tired “one’s silly, the other’s stoic” buddy cop routine without a new spin on the formula. Munn is the stock tough gal with little defining personality and since one shrill, diminutive comic apparently wasn’t enough, Jeong is on hand to shriek and squeal. Bratt’s Antonio Pope is as formulaic a villain as they come: the story’s set in Miami, so of course he’s a wealthy drug kingpin. He also possesses considerably less presence than Laurence Fishburne did as the big bad of the first Ride Along.

            If you enjoyed the first Ride Along movie, the sequel is more of the same with a touch more action. Neither Ben nor James have developed very much since the events of the first film and their dynamic remains essentially the same. It’s fitfully amusing but while this certainly isn’t the most unnecessary sequel out there, it still doesn’t justify its existence. It’s predictable, generic, feels like it was made on autopilot and is often quite irritating.

Summary:Delivering action and comedy that is equally uninspired, Ride Along 2 trundles along with a flat tire.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Zootopia

For F*** Magazine

ZOOTOPIA

Director : Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Cast : Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG

Cat Stevens told us “baby, baby it’s a wild world”, and the makers of this animated film have taken this to heart. In a world populated entirely by a variety of anthropomorphic mammals, Judy Hopps (Goodwin) is a principled, spirited young rabbit from Bunnyburrow. She has her heart set on becoming a police officer, even though her parents (Hunt and Lake) would prefer her to become a carrot farmer like them. Hopps gets inducted into the Zootopia Police Department, but Chief Bogo (Elba) has little faith in her abilities. While on the case of a missing otter, Judy crosses paths with Nick Wilde (Bateman), a red fox con artist. They have to overcome their natural animosity to work together in solving a spate of mysterious disappearances, as societal tensions between “prey” and “predators” bubble over.


            Zootopia’s marketing campaign seemed to indicate a film that might be too cutesy for some audiences’ tastes, appearing like it would serve up an endless parade of anthropomorphic animals performing adorable, amusing antics. To this reviewer’s surprise, Zootopia ends up far deeper than it initially appears, gamely and sensitively tackling the themes of prejudice and tolerance in the context of an animated family film. Directors Howard, Moore and Bush tread very fragile ground and ensure that Zootopia doesn’t come off as preachy or painfully on-the-nose in delivering its message to impressionable kids. At the same time, there’s plenty of wit and visual invention on display and the liveliness of the presentation helps ease the audience into the surprisingly mature allegory at the heart of the film.



            Walt Disney Animation’s entirely computer-animated films got off to a rocky start with Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, the studio still firmly stuck in Pixar’s looming shadow. With the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6, suffice it to say that things have improved. The army of animators involved in breathing life into Zootopia have done a marvellous job, with impeccable fur textures and environmental effects in every frame. The characters are expressive, with just the right blend of human and animal traits combined to sell the anthropomorphism. There is a thoroughness to the way the world has been conceived, with a distinct animism to the architecture and plenty of clever visual gags emphasizing how animals of drastically different scales and sizes co-exist in the same milieu. With the pop culture allusions that include winks at The Godfather and Breaking Bad for the parents in tow, there’s a degree of Dreamworks-ness at work here, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

            This is essentially a buddy cop movie, of the “one’s a cop and one’s not a cop” subset. It sticks very closely to established tropes: our hero is a kind-hearted but tough straight arrow, her foil is a charming rogue lacking in scruples, the police chief is unconvinced that the rookie has what it takes, colourful characters including organised crime elements show up and there’s a mystery to unravel. Even though Zootopia is comprised of familiar story components, the setting does lend it a freshness.



            Goodwin, who has a connection to Disney in the form of starring as Snow White in the TV show Once Upon a Time, gives Judy an eagerness that never crosses over into being annoying. She’s literally wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Bateman is a dab hand at the smooth talker shtick, but there’s more to Nick than his conman façade and Bateman and Goodwin deliver some moving emotional beats. Elba’s unmistakable baritone is always a joy to listen to, and this year, we’ll also get to hear his voice work in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory.

Veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche turns in a side-splitting Marlon Brando impression as Mr. Big, the arctic shrew mafia don. This reviewer was worried that Shakira’s presence as the pop star Gazelle would be too gimmicky, but the character is used judiciously and her main appearance is in a musical number during the end credits. Some big laughs come courtesy of Raymond S. Persi, who voices the sloth Flash. Kristen Bell has a vocal cameo as Flash’s colleague Priscilla, a fun inside joke seeing as Bell is famously, endearingly obsessed with sloths.



            There’s certainly more than meets the eye with Zootopia. While it’s perfectly enjoyable on the level of an animated adventure comedy with the jokes flying at a steady pace, it also eloquently and thoughtfully comments upon issues of race and diversity, without feeling like it’s merely hopping on some kind of social justice bandwagon. The self-aware comedy sometimes veers into Shrek territory, but pop culture references only account for a portion of the humour. While not on the same level as last year’s Inside Out, Zootopia does a commendable job of packaging challenging themes for younger audiences without being condescending or tripping up over itself.

Summary: Entertaining, funny, visually engaging and thought-provoking, Zootopia is so much more than silly talking animals.

RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


Trumbo

For F*** Magazine

TRUMBO 

Director : Jay Roach
Cast : Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Dean O’Gorman, David James Elliott, Christian Berkel
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 124 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Coarse Language)

How agonising would it be to write something so spectacular and widely-lauded, yet be forcibly denied credit? This reviewer wouldn’t know because he’s never written anything nearly that good, but Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) certainly knew that feeling.

It is the late 1940s in Hollywood and Trumbo is highly in demand as a screenwriter. He is a member of the American Communist Party, he is one of the “Hollywood ten”, a group of screenwriters subpoenaed to testify before Congress. Trumbo is ostracised as his relationship with his wife Cleo (Lane) and three children is put under immense strain. Trumbo becomes a target of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren) and his disavowed by his friend, actor Edward G. Robinson (Stuhlbarg) so Robinson can protect his own career. Trumbo is unable to find work after being blacklisted, so he lets his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Tudyk) take credit for Roman Holiday, which eventually wins an Academy Award. Gradually, rumours begin to swirl surrounding Trumbo’s clandestine ghost-writing. As the likes of Kirk Douglas (O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Berkel) hire Trumbo to craft screenplays for them, Trumbo inches closer to finally getting the credit he is due.


            It’s no secret that Hollywood loves movies about itself, and as a biopic about a prominent Hollywood figure, set against the backdrop of Cold War political turmoil, Trumbo does come off as Oscar bait. It’s a noble story of a stridently principled and talented man who risks everything to stand by his ideals. It is the hope of the filmmakers that audiences at large will find something in this story to identify with, because Trumbo often plays a little too “inside baseball” to be readily accessible. It’s not a difficult story to understand and Dalton Trumbo does deserve to have his story told, but if one isn’t that big a cinephile, specifically of the era in Hollywood during which Trumbo and his peers were active, Trumbo can be difficult to get into. This might sound disparaging and rest assured we don’t mean it that way, but Trumbo does feel like a film made for HBO. Director Jay Roach and star Cranston will next collaborate on one such HBO film, the Lyndon B. Johnson biopic All The Way.

            John McNamara adapted the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook into this film. It seems that any writer tackling a script about a titan in the same field would be painting a target of considerable size on his own back. Adding to the risk is the fact that such revered classics as Roman Holiday, The Brave One and Spartacus are not only referred to, but are key components of the story. There is a righteous indignation that McNamara brings out in his script, but Trumbo says in a speech that there were “no heroes and villains” while the witch-hunt for “commies” was ongoing, yet several characters do feel exaggerated in the name of artistic license. Director Roach is known for helming comedies such as the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents trilogies as well as Borat and The Campaign. Perhaps the closest he’s come to directing a drama is the HBO film Game Change, about Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential bid. While there are no obvious missteps in his direction, perhaps the material could have benefitted from a defter touch.

            The ace up Trumbo’s sleeve is Trumbo himself, brilliantly portrayed by Cranston. For audiences who only knew him as bumbling dad Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston made the world collectively drop its jaws with his staggering, indelible Walter White in Breaking Bad. Cranston’s Trumbo is not a boring hero, he can be frustratingly stubborn and ornery but that twinkle in his eye and the spark of true giftedness draws us to him.

Leading the supporting cast, Lane is wonderfully convincing as a woman of the 50s. She handles the role, particularly the scenes in which Cleo confronts her husband about being swallowed up by his ghost-writing and becoming hostile towards his family, with strength and grace. Elle Fanning portrays Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola, and her relationship with her father is contentious but understandably so. Louis C.K. and Alan Tudyk, both more often associated with comedic roles, both deliver solid dramatic turns. O’Gorman and Berkel’s impressions of Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger respectively are entertaining and just broad enough. Goodman is charismatically boorish and Mirren chomps down on the role of the catty, flamboyant gossip columnist with great relish.



            Trumbo is a biographical drama set in Hollywood with a talented actor in the lead role just waiting for the kudos to roll on in. In that regard, it’s a safe albeit not especially satisfying awards season offering. For those already enamoured with the period, the 50s style and décor might be eye-catching, but director Roach doesn’t do quite enough to hook the audience in and transport them right into the thick of 50s Hollywood. There’s earnestness aplenty, but a disappointing lack of pizazz.

Summary: Star Bryan Cranston is firing on all cylinders, but because it is only moderately successful at breathing life into the history it depicts, Trumboholds the audience at arm’s length.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

For F*** Magazine

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI 

Director : Michael Bay
Cast : John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Alexa Barlier, David Costabile
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

It is 2012, the year after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Libyan Civil War. Idealistic ambassador Chris Stevens (Letscher), who is stationed in the Libyan city of Tripoli, makes a visit to Benghazi. On the evening of September 11th, a group of Islamic militants stages an attack on the American diplomatic compound where the ambassador is staying and the CIA “Annex” building situated nearby. A team of six Global Response Staff (GRS) security contractors hired by the CIA undertakes a desperate defence of the grounds as all hell breaks loose. This team comprises Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods (Dale), Jack Silva (Krasinski), Mark “Oz” Geist (Martini), John “Tig” Tiegen (Fumusa), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Schreiber) and Glen “Bub” Doherty (Stephens). These men, veterans of the Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces, defy the orders of their Chief (Costabile) to stand down as they repel the scores of attackers in a last-ditch attempt.

            A series of title cards begin the movie, the last one before the title itself declaring “this is a true story”. Not “based on” or “inspired by”, but a definitive “is”. Any time a film depicting an actual event is made, debates on its accuracy are bound to ensue. Given how relatively recent the Benghazi attacks were and the impact the incident still has on the American political landscape, what with this being an election year and all, the firestorm around 13 Hours is fiercer than usual, even if Hillary Clinton isn’t even mentioned in the film.

Furthermore, the man at the helm of the film is Michael Bay, who famously dismissed film critics’ opinions of him by saying “I make movies for teenage boys”. While there obviously aren’t any clanging robot testicles to be found in this film, it’s still abundantly clear that the director lacks the nuance and finesse to fashion a gripping, thought-provoking depiction of the Benghazi attack. Bay has proudly, gleefully put military hardware on display in many of his previous films, boasting that he was the first to film certain aircraft or types of weaponry for the big screen. Therefore, it seems less likely that he’s motivated by noble intentions and more likely that he’s motivated by a desire to play with big, loud, shiny toys.

            Screenwriter Chuck Hogan adapted Mitchell Zuckhoff’s book 13 Hours for the screen. Zuckhoff, who wrote the book with the surviving members of the security team, stands by their version of events and has fired back at the CIA officials who claim the movie contains multiple major inaccuracies. A key plot point, that the team was ordered to stand down by the CIA station chief in Benghazi, has been denied by the CIA. Bay has claimed that the film has no political agenda, but the marketing campaign aimed squarely at conservative audiences says otherwise. Bay made an appearance on The O’Reilly Factorand trailers were scheduled to run during the live broadcast of Republican debates. 13 Hours is couched as a celebration of courageous unsung heroes and is dedicated to the memory of the two security contractors who died fighting the attackers. This comes off as disingenuous and while this reviewer certainly cannot vouch one way or the other, it’s hard to shake the sense that a true story has been squeezed into the mould of a generic action movie.


            The film clocks in at 144 minutes, with the actual attack not happening until around the 45-minute mark. It stands to reason that all this time spent with the characters before the chaos ensues will help us get to know them better. Not quite. The men are shown having Skype conversations with their family back home and there’s a flashback set to a sappy piano score in which Jack’s wife pleads with him to quit his private military contractor job. We even get a burning family photo fluttering to the ground later on. Bay and Hogan resort to reductive shorthand: we’re supposed to cheer for the muscle-bound, gun-toting bearded dudes and jeer at the paunchy, bespectacled bureaucrat. The lesson here is that in the end, all the Yale and Harvard-educated intelligence agents in the world cannot compare to good old-fashioned action heroes blasting the bad guys to bits. Yee haw!


            The most worthwhile element of the film is Krasinski’s performance. Somewhat following in the footsteps of Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd, Krasinski is an actor known primarily for comedic roles who has completely transformed himself into an action hero. The difference between Krasinski and those two is that Jack Silva isn’t a wise-cracking rogue and some serious acting chops are called upon in addition to the running and gunning. Whatever faint glimmers of sincerity the film possesses are courtesy of Krasinski.

            There is possibly a hint of self-awareness here: earlier on in the film when the team are relaxing, they’re watching Tropic Thunder, a satirical comedy about clueless Hollywood types making a war movie and getting caught in actual danger. Typically, action movies are escapist entertainment and yes, it is certainly possible to imbue an action movie with deeper meaning, but Bay has not accomplished that here. With Bay, it’s clear who the victor in the war between flash and substance always will be.

Summary: A subject as complicated as the Benghazi attacks needs a defter directorial touch and doesn’t need to be as stuffed with action movie clichés as 13 Hours is. There are attempts at deeper meaning, but viewers who will come away most satisfied are fans of vehicles exploding and flipping over.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

             

Brooklyn

For F*** Magazine

BROOKLYN 

Director : John Crowley
Cast : Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1 hr 52 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scene)

One heart is torn between two lands in this historical romance. Said heart belongs to Eilis Lacey (Ronan), a young woman from the small Irish town of Enniscorthy. Eilis’ older sister Rose (Glascott) arranges for Eilis to go to Brooklyn in search of better prospects, Eilis leaving Rose and their mother (Jane Brennan) behind. Father Flood (Broadbent), a priest active in the Irish community in Brooklyn, arranges for Eilis to stay in a boarding house run by the landlady Madge Kehoe (Walters). Father Flood also enrols Eilis in bookkeeping classes at a night school. Eilis meets and soon falls in love with Tony Fiorello (Cohen), a plumber from an Italian family. When Eilis returns to Ireland after a family emergency, she begins spending time with eligible bachelor Jim Farrell (Gleeson), a mutual acquaintance of Eilis’ best friend Nancy (Eileen O’Higgins). The small Enniscorthy community, unaware that Eilis is already in a relationship with an American boy, expects her and Jim to end up together. Eilis begins to re-evaluate the future she has planned, feeling the pull of home and of the promise of a bright future in Brooklyn.

            Brooklyn is based on the novel of the same name by Irish author Colm Tóibín, adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby. This is not a particularly grand story, but the intimacy and honesty of the tale draws one in. Director John Crowley has crafted a drama that is earnest and wonderfully devoid of cynicism. It’s a throwback to a bygone era without being self-conscious and it captures the period in eminently relatable fashion. While Eilis is meant to represent any number of young Irish girls stepping across the pond to forge new lives in America, the story doesn’t sacrifice the character’s individuality in the process. Its portrayal of the immigrant experience is quietly stirring and thoughtful rather than overtly political. Tonally, Brooklyn hits all the right marks to make a maximum impact: there’s a pervading melancholy that achingly conveys what it feels like to be homesick, but the film never becomes dreary and Hornby’s script contains well-placed moments of wit and humour.

            Ronan reminds us yet again why she’s among the finest performers of her generation, Brooklyn capitalising on her talents in the best way possible – she gets to use her delightful natural Irish brogue, for one. The blend of impish charm, raw vulnerability and emotional depth that Ronan brings to the role of Eilis is ever so appealing. The audience is in her corner from minute one and it is satisfying to see the initially tremulous Eilis’ confidence gradually increase as she becomes accustomed to her new life in Brooklyn. As an Irish-American herself, Ronan says she identifies strongly with Eilis’ journey. With this role, Ronan has become the second-youngest actress to be nominated for two Oscars. One hopes that many more projects like Brooklynfind their way to her.

The film’s portrayal of young love is clear-eyed and just sentimental enough, Cohen endearingly awkward and just sweet as can be as Eilis’ suitor Tony. The “aww shucks” factor he brings to the part comes off as genuine and wistfully romantic without straying into sappiness. We’re cheering for Eilis and Tony to stay together, so Gleeson has an uphill battle in making Jim seem like anything more than a nuisance. His measured dignity ensures there is an actual conflict as to who Eilis ends up with. Walters and Broadbent are perfectly cast as the stern, traditional landlady and the kindly priest respectively. Eilis’ housemates are sometimes catty, but the girls do form a certain camaraderie. A scene in which two of them teach Eilis how to twirl spaghetti without making a mess, in preparation for Eilis’ visit to Tony’s house for dinner, is amusing and heartfelt.

            Brooklyn is comprised of several conventional narrative elements, but it ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. This is a relatively simple story that is absolutely captivating, a romance that is sweet but not cloying, a drama that is heart-rending yet not manipulative. The specificities of the setting and the care taken in realising the 50s Brooklyn and Enniscorthy locales imbue the movie with texture and authenticity. It’s old-fashioned but steers clear of stifling stodginess and is resonant even if one doesn’t have a personal connection to the specific culture and period depicted. Lyrical, engaging and sincere, Brooklyn is a work of disarming beauty.

Summary:Personal and richly humane, Brooklyn is a small tale gracefully told, carried by a glowing, transcendent performance from Saoirse Ronan.

RATING: 4.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Jane Got a Gun

For F*** Magazine

JANE GOT A GUN

Director : Gavin O’Connor
Cast : Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook, Alex Manette, Todd Stashwick, James Burnett, Sam Quinn
Genre : Action/Drama/Western
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

In Marvel’s ongoing Thor comics series, Jane Foster is the current wielder of Mjolnir. In this western, Jane Hammond (Portman) wields more conventional weapons. It is 1871 in New Mexico territory and Jane lives with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Emmerich) and their daughter Kate. When Ham rides home seriously wounded after a gun battle with the Bishop Boys gang, Jane has no choice but to turn to her ex-fiancée Dan Frost (Edgerton) for protection. John Bishop (McGregor), a notorious outlaw from Jane’s past, has returned to torment her. Dan is still broken after losing Jane to another man, but he resolves to help Jane protect her family and her home as the Bishop Boys come a-knocking.



            Jane Got a Gun was plagued by numerous production problems, and it will be remembered more for its behind-the-scenes tumult than on its own merit as a film. The original screenplay by Brian Duffield was a hot property, landing on the Black List of best-liked screenplays in Hollywood back in 2011. Natalie Portman was attached to star and produce, with Lynne Ramsay of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame directing. Severe disagreements led to Ramsay dropping out on the first day of principal photography, with a bitter legal battle ensuing. Warrior director Gavin O’Connor was roped in to replace her, but the film’s troubles were just beginning. Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper were all attached at different points and Edgerton ended up switching roles from the villain John Bishop to the ex-fiancée Dan Frost. The release date was shifted back multiple times, with distributor Relativity Media dropping the film and The Weinstein Company later acquiring it.

            For all the drama involved in getting the film made, one would expect it to, at the very least, be bad in an interesting way. No such luck. Jane Got a Gun is soporific and dreary, sorely lacking in a key element of any revenge story: passion. It looks, feels and sounds like a western, but there’s so little energy and momentum behind it. The title suggests a fun genre piece with a feminist twist, perhaps something akin to Kill Bill in the American frontier. Some of the expected ingredients are there, including a tragic back-story and a score to settle with an old enemy, but it’s so plodding and self-serious that getting invested in Jane’s tale is quite the task. It’s sometimes a pretty movie to look at, but most of the time it’s visually dull: the picture is sepia-tinted, then the flashbacks appear to have another layer of sepia tinting on top of that and this stylistic touch ends up creating even more distance between the audience and the story.

            Portman may be playing the titular protagonist and has championed the film through the myriad obstacles it faced in getting made, but Jane Hammond will not go down as one of the great ass-kicking female characters in cinema history. There’s some emotional impact to Jane’s tortured past, but her supposed transformation into a gun-toting damsel no longer in distress is underwhelming. The love triangle between Jane, Ham and Dan bogs the movie down in melodramatics instead of creating any fireworks and nothing unconventional comes of the dynamics between the three characters. The villain in a revenge western should get to chew a good deal of scenery, but McGregor has too little screen time and too little material to work with, unable to create a particularly intimidating or striking villain. With Padmé, Obi-Wan and Owen Lars in the same movie, it’s a mini Attack of the Clones reunion.



            Jane Got a Gun has a round or two in the chamber: the climactic standoff brims with tension and the sombre atmosphere is sometimes effective. It is morbidly fascinating to read about how a straight-forward western got mired in so many production troubles and it is admirable that last-minute replacement director O’Connor was able to salvage it all. However, in the aftermath of this hullabaloo, all Jane Got a Gun has to show for it is mediocrity.

Summary: Dour and slow, Jane Got a Gun fails to make good on its promise of a fun genre piece starring a dynamic female lead.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Finest Hours

For F*** Magazine 

THE FINEST HOURS 

Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, John Ortiz, Josh Stewart
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 118 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Venture into the tumultuous waters of Cape Cod to witness of one of the most harrowing rescues in maritime history in this historical disaster drama. It is February 1952 and the S.S Pendleton, a T2 oil tanker, is caught in a severe storm off the Chatham coast, breaking clean in twain. Bernie Webber (Pine), a newly-engaged Coast Guard crewman, is dispatched by Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Bana) to take his tiny lifeboat out to sea to rescue the Pendleton’s crew. Bernie takes Richard Livesey (Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) with him. Aboard the severed stern section of the Pendleton, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) is forced to take charge, devising a method to keep what’s left of the ship afloat as long as possible. Bernie’s fiancé Miriam Pentinen (Grainger), along with the townsfolk of Chatham, await the safe return of Bernie, his crew and the men of the Pendleton, as their odds of survival grow slimmer by the minute.

            The Finest Hoursis based on the book of the same name, subtitled “The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue”, by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. Director Craig Gillespie has delivered a resolutely old-fashioned adventure drama, harking back to the days “when men were men”, so to speak. While there’s definitely a certain dignity to The Finest Hours in its celebration of heroes who aren’t widely known to non-maritime history buffs, it’s also something of a drag in parts. There are individual sequences that are genuine nail-biters featuring convincing visual and special effects work, but in between those, there’s a curious dearth of momentum or urgency, particularly since this revolves around a time-sensitive rescue attempt. In fact, it’s only around 45 minutes into the film that Bernie and his crew actually get into their lifeboat and set sail.

            
While Pine is more Abercrombie pretty boy than Old Hollywood rugged, there’s a matinee idol quality to him that makes him an ideal candidate to portray the determined, courageous hero in a period adventure piece. That “Bawston” accent he’s attempting is iffy, though. The film doesn’t begin on the high seas, but rather by establishing the romance between Bernie and Miriam, hoping that this will be the emotional anchor. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly compelling romance and this element of the film has been dramatized the most from how things really unfolded. Miriam is portrayed by Grainger as a headstrong, proactive woman, but when she charges into Cluff’s office to demand that he makes Bernie turn the lifeboat around, it comes off more as an annoyance than a loving act of concern. The trope of the worried significant other back home pining for our hero’s safe return is often unavoidable in films of this type, and the attempts to add to this are generally unsuccessful.

            Casey Affleck’s demeanour is not as traditionally masculine and heroic as that of his older brother Ben, but he does sell the role of someone who has to think fast and work hard under pressure. As the boss from out of town who is not generally well-liked, Bana has sufficient gravitas but noticeably wrestles with the character’s southern accent. The performances are generally serviceable but ultimately, there isn’t enough to distinguish most of the crew members of the Pendleton, or the men with Bernie in the lifeboat, for that matter.

            Michael Corenblith’s production design and Louise Frogley’s costume design bring a level of authenticity to The Finest Hours and in the grand scheme of movies billed as “based on a true story”, The Finest Hoursmakes relatively minor deviations from established history. This is director Gillespie’s second film for Walt Disney Studios, following sports drama Million Dollar Arm, also based on a true story. While The Finest Hours is Gillespie’s most ambitious film on the technical front, it pushes no boundaries in its narrative. The startlingly intense and immersive scenes of the tiny lifeboat getting ravaged by immense waves are thrilling, but the film never quite reaches the rousing, inspirational heights it’s aiming for.



Summary:Harking back to the disaster dramas of yesteryear, The Finest Hours has its riveting moments but the story, as remarkable as it is, ends up insufficiently impactful.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

Deadpool

For F*** Magazine

DEADPOOL 

Director : Tim Miller
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, Leslie Uggams
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 1 hr 49 mins
Opens : 11 February 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes and Violence)

There’s an actual Deadpool movie and we’re reviewing it; this is a real pinch-me moment for any comic book fan. This X-Men spinoff centres around the invulnerable, trigger-happy, wisecracking, fourth wall-breaking antihero Deadpool. When mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he volunteers for an experimental procedure to cure him and grant him regenerative super-powers in the hopes that he can live out the rest of his days with the love of his life, Vanessa (Baccarin). Ajax (Skrein), one of the operatives in charge of his transformation, intends to torture Wade and lease his services to the highest bidder. Reborn as Deadpool, Wade seeks vengeance against Ajax and fears he won’t be able to win Vanessa back after being horribly disfigured, supported by his bartender friend Weasel (Miller) and blind landlady Al (Uggams). In the meantime, Colossus (Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Hildebrand) of the X-Men are out to recruit Deadpool to join their band of do-gooders.

            There’s definitely an underdog quality to the Deadpool movie. For years, it seemed just out of reach, no matter how hard star/producer Reynolds lobbied for it to get made. Despite repeated attempts by Fox execs to suppress it, it’s seen the light of day and was definitely worth the wait. First-time feature film director Tim Miller helms the movie with admirable confidence and the brash, tongue-in-cheek tone is very faithful to the character’s portrayal in the comics. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of Zombieland fame have crammed the script with more smart-alecky pop culture references and snicker-inducing double entendres than you can shake a katana at. While this is still very much a straight-forward origin story decked out with bells and whistles, it is refreshing amidst the current landscape of comic book blockbusters which run the risk of feeling samey-samey. There’s a leanness to Deadpool that serves as a counterpoint to the bloat of more conventional franchise entries.

            Deadpool makes it known loud and proud that he’s far from a straight-arrow, nice guy superhero. He’s crass, cocky and all-around unpleasant, which means it might not be particularly easy to get audiences who aren’t already acquainted with his shenanigans to be in his corner. However, it is easy to see why Reynolds has such an affinity for the character, who like him, hails from Canada. Reynolds has been in a string of flops with most attempts at pushing him as an A-list leading man falling flat, and Deadpool is just the right material for his particular talents. To put it bluntly, Reynolds can sometimes come off as a bit of a douche, what with that smirking, handsome mug of his. Deadpool is unapologetically, 100% a douche. Surprisingly, Reynolds is also able to imbue the character with a decent amount of pathos and the sequence in which Wade is being tortured as he undergoes his transformation is genuinely affecting. There’s also a fight scene in which Reynolds gamely goes completely nude.

            The film’s limited budget means not being able to shell out for a star-studded supporting cast, a fact which is acknowledged as part of the self-aware humour. While the character is thinly-drawn, Baccarin is alluring as Vanessa and more than able to keep up with Reynolds’ non-stop snarking. A montage of Wade and Vanessa’s eyebrow-raising lovemaking proclivities is just the right combination of being a turn-on while also being hilariously uncomfortable. Colossus, with skin of metal and a heart of gold, provides plenty of laughs as well, despite the digital animation used to bring him to life falling a little short of the standard set by bigger-budgeted superhero movies. Miller’s comedic shtick can sometimes be annoying (see Transformers: Age of Extinction), but he tones things down and is able to sell Weasel as a comforting, familiar presence.

Alas, the film’s weakest point is its villains, with Skrein unable to bring much charisma or menace to the role of primary baddie Ajax. As Ajax’s henchwoman Angel Dust, MMA fighter Gina Carano stands around looking tough and throws punches when required. With his healing factor and formidable arsenal, Deadpool never actually faces a significant level of threat from his antagonists, but battling the bad guys consciously takes a back seat to the character strutting his irreverent stuff.



            Deadpoolgleefully crosses the line at any given opportunity, revelling in the violence, nudity and profanity like nobody’s business. It adheres to plenty of tropes we’ve seen before in comic book character origin stories, but there’s definitely a new spin on things here to enjoy. Sure, there are audiences who will find Deadpool too smug and obnoxious for their tastes, which is completely understandable. And there will teenagers who will emulate the character’s unsavoury manner, thinking it’s the definition of cool. But if you’re experiencing comic book movie fatigue (and really, who isn’t at this point?), Deadpool is a delightfully naughty shock to the system. And yes, stick around for the de rigeur post-credits stinger which hints at things to come, albeit in the movie’s own offbeat way.



Summary:A fan-favourite character finally gets his due. While not as unconventional as it would like to be, Deadpool is what fans have been waiting for and is enjoyable in its wholehearted embracing of the source material.

RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong  

“I’ve already broken three WALL-Es before you!” 


Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

For F*** Magazine

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

Director : Burr Steers
Cast : Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 11 February 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence)

Something is rotten in the state of England – human flesh. It is the 19th Century and a plague has befallen the nation, resulting in zombie hordes. Country gentleman Mr. Bennet (Dance) has ensured that his five daughters are trained in martial arts and weaponry to defend themselves against zombies, while Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is more concerned that they marry well. When the wealthy and single Mr. Bingley (Booth) purchases a nearby house, Mrs. Bennet sends her daughters to the first ball where Bingley is expected to appear. The girls defend the party from a zombie attack, and attraction sparks between Mr. Bingley and the eldest daughter Jane (Heathcote). Meanwhile, the second eldest daughter Elizabeth (James) clashes with Bingley’s friend, noted zombie slayer Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Riley). Meanwhile, local militia leader George Wickham (Huston), who had a falling out with Darcy, takes a shine to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Darcy must overcome personal pride and societal prejudices to battle the zombie menace and discover their true love for each other.

            Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on the 2009 parody novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who combined Jane Austen’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice with zombie fiction elements. A film adaptation has been in the works since even before the novel’s publication, with Natalie Portman set to star as Elizabeth and David O. Russell directing. Alas, the end result doesn’t have quite that level of pedigree, with 17 Again’s Burr Steers writing the adapted screenplay and directing. Portman remains as a producer. Across the development process, it ended up that Grahame-Smith’s follow-up novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got a film adaptation first.

            While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was criticised for being too self-serious, Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesacknowledges its inherent absurdity more readily. It’s not a dour affair and there is a great deal of winking self-awareness to be had, which led to this reviewer laughing more than he anticipated to. However, it’s quickly all too apparent that this is built on just one joke, that zombies are having their heads blown to bits amidst all the Jane Austen refinement. This is how the idea was conceived: an editor at Quirk books literally compared a list of “fanboy characters” like ninjas, pirates, zombies and monkeys with public domain classics like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and Wuthering Heights. Sounds arbitrary, doesn’t it? This laziness comes through and the novelty factor proves insufficient in sustaining the film.



            We’ve had Charlize Theron with a bionic arm driving a giant oil tanker across a post-apocalyptic wasteland and Emily Blunt in a mech suit fighting aliens, so kickass heroines are in vogue. In this film, the Bennet girls were trained in a Shaolin monastery and are proficient in various forms of combat. In one scene, two of the sisters engage in sparring practice while gushing over Mr. Bingley, speaking the original Austen dialogue. It’s pretty fun.



James makes for an adequate plucky, wilful protagonist and the actress demonstrates her awareness of the type of film she’s in. The Cinderella and Downton Abbeystar is perfectly convincing as an aristocratic 19th Century English woman fighting social norms, albeit a little less convincing as a formidable zombie killer. Riley’s Mr. Darcy is brusque and brooding, clad in a leather duster. Unfortunately, Riley and James share little chemistry and there’s no flow to the progression of their relationship. Matt Smith showcases good comic timing as the bumbling clergyman Mr. Collins, heir to the Bennet estate. In Austen’s original novel, George Wickham turned out to be a liar and conman, if not an out-and-out villain. Things end a little differently here. Huston’s pulchritude has a slight tinge of menace, which makes him suited to the role. Dance is a welcome presence as the kindly yet strict Bennet patriarch, but his Game of Thrones co-star Lena Headey gets all too little screen time as the eyepatch-wearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.



Many readers have used charts and diagrams to follow the interwoven relationships in Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trips up when it tries to get through the plot of the story as quickly as possible so it can get to the next zombie attack. The genre mashup isn’t as seamless and confident as it needs to be to fully sell the conceit. Furthermore, the action sequences aren’t particularly memorable. It’s also lacking the raw sex appeal of, uh, Colin Firth.

Summary: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not the unmitigated train-wreck it could’ve been, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that all the premise should sustain is a mock trailer on Funny or Die.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong