The Brothers Grimsby

For F*** Magazine

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Director : Louis Letterier
Cast : Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 82 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : R21 (Sexual Humour)

Sacha Baron Cohen asks the question: “what if James Bond had an idiot brother who kept getting in his way?” Baron Cohen plays Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a ne’er-do-well football hooligan from the English town of Grimsby with a wife (Wilson) and 11 children. Nobby has spent 28 years searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Strong); they were separated as children when Sebastian was adopted by a wealthy family. Sebastian is now an elite secret agent with the Tiger’s Tail, an offshoot of MI6. The brothers finally reunite, but it’s under less-than-ideal circumstances as Nobby bungles Sebastian’s latest mission. When Sebastian is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and branded a rogue agent, he can only count on analyst Jodie (Fisher) and is forced to trust his irresponsible, dim-witted brother Nobby. The crime syndicate Maelstrom is out to assassinate philanthropist Rhonda George (Cruz) and it’s up to the super-spy and his not-so-super brother to foil the plot.

            The film is released in the U.S. as The Brothers Grimsby but is originally titled Grimsby. There’s a cultural specificity to a lot of the humour and there are broad stereotypes of working-class English folk aplenty. Baron Cohen, never known for playing it safe, also revels in exceptionally crass gross-out humour, several comedic set-pieces boasting jaw-dropping levels of wince-inducing crudeness. Baron Cohen’s subversive brand of comedy can often come off as mean, and the “gotcha!” humour of Borat or Brüno often comes at the expense of well-meaning bystanders.

Weirdly enough, The Brothers Grimsby doesn’t feel as mean-spirited as other Baron Cohen works. It’s an assault on good taste in general, more than any demographic in particular. That said, the residents of the real-life Grimsby have understandably taken umbrage with the film’s portrayal of their town as violent and litter-strewn. The jokes about sexual assault, AIDS and gun violence might be uncomfortable to more sensitive viewers, but it’s a Sacha Baron Cohen enterprise after all and he’s all about dancing on toes. The sentimental through-line of a brotherly bond is meant to be sappy on purpose, but it works as a fine counterpoint to the over-the-top jokes and a tiny bit of genuine sweetness does come through.

 Louis Letterier, a graduate of Luc Besson’s stable of directors, has mostly helmed also-rans action flicks such as The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans (2010). He brings a Hollywood slickness to The Brothers Grimsby and there’s even some globe-trotting involved, with our heroes travelling to South Africa and Chile. Letterier employs the gimmick of having the action scenes be viewed from a first person perspective, by way of footage captured by Agent Sebastian Graives’ high-tech contact lens. Unfortunately, a lot of the fight sequences are choppy, with an excessive use of shaky-cam and quick cutting.
Baron Cohen might be front and centre, and he’s believable as a dumb, uncouth football hooligan who really has a heart of gold, but the casting coup here is Strong. With his intimidating stature, intimidating voice, intimidating face, intimidating everything really, Strong is not typically known for his comedic chops. He very gamely throws himself into the role, which allows him to kick ass but also frequently requires that he doff all dignity and just let the humiliation wash over him. The main issue with the casting is that Sebastian is supposed to be Nobby’s younger brother – Strong is 52 and Baron Cohen is 44.

            This already looks like a vanity project, so it’s a good move on Baron Cohen’s part to not have his real-life wife Fisher portray his onscreen wife; Fisher instead plays the helpful MI6 analyst who updates Sebastian over his earpiece. Wilson audibly struggles with the accent, but then again Baron Cohen isn’t even aiming for the right accent, putting on a Yorkshire dialect instead of a North East Lincolnshire one. Cruz contributes a dash of class and Adkins busts a martial arts move or two as the lead henchman.



            The Brothers Grimsby goes for all-out shock value, but it trades in tropes seen in numerous comedies in which unlikely, under-qualified regular guys are suddenly thrust into duty as secret agents. It’s not as charming or even as funny as last year’s Spy, and it’s certainly a whole lot more self-indulgent. There are multiple times when the film disappears up its own ass, so to speak, getting too carried away with the filthy jokes. However, it clocks in at a very brisk 83 minutes and zips along with an irreverent energy that this reviewer found difficult to resist. If “Johnny English, but absolutely not for kids. At all” is what you’re after, The Brothers Grimsby does fit the bill.

Summary: Gloriously, unabashedly crass and gross, The Brothers Grimsby is sufficiently fast-paced and funny, with Mark Strong delivering one of his best performances yet.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Capitaland Malls Be the Hero launch: Batman v Superman statues and Batmobile replica

BE THE HERO (OR DON’T BE, YOU DON’T OWE THIS WORLD A THING) 

I covered the launch of the Capitaland Malls Be the Hero exhibit, comprising three life-sized statues and interactive game corners at Bugis+ and a life-sized replica of the Batmobile as seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over at Clarke Quay, on the night of 4th March.

The launch was hosted by actor/deejay Bobby Tonelli, and kicked off with two teams of stuntmen, one wearing Batman shirts and the other wearing Superman shirts, brawling as if it were a football hooligan riot. Capitaland’s head of marketing Steve Ng, Warner Bros. Singapore’s Marketing Director Diane Chan and Pacific Licensing Studio Partner, Director Wallace Tay helped remove the tarps on the statues of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Later, cosplayers who had dressed as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were invited to pose in front of the statues.

We later adjourned to Clarke Quay, where street performers were warming up the crowd for the big event. The new Batmobile, which marries the sleekness of the Batman ’89 car with the militarised robustness of the Tumbler from the Dark Knight trilogy, sat under a white sheet in a pavilion. A light show comprising patterns projected onto the sheet preceded the tarp being reeled back with the Batmobile unveiled.

The Be The Hero exhibits run from 4 March to 3rd April 2016.

Find out more here.

London Has Fallen

For F*** Magazine

LONDON HAS FALLEN

Director : Babak Najafi
Cast : Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Charlotte Riley, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence And Some Coarse Language)

The city of London: between being decimated by a tungsten rod fired from orbit in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and having Dubai’s Burj Khalifa plonked down on it by aliens in the upcoming Independence Day: Resurgence, it seems Hollywood’s been saying “screw Britannia!” Another round of U.K. landmark destruction is preceded by the untimely death of the British Prime Minister. World leaders, including U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart), arrive for the state funeral. In the lead-up to the funeral, a brutal, intricately-planned terrorist attack cripples London, and Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is the only thing keeping Asher alive. Back in Washington D.C., Vice President Alan Trumbull (Freeman) receives a video message from terrorist mastermind Aamir Barkawi (Aboutboul), claiming responsibility for the attacks. Asher and Banning have to rendezvous with MI6 agent Jacquelin Marshal (Riley) as the chaos escalates and terrorists overrun London.

            London Has Fallenis the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, a film that was generally regarded as taking itself way too seriously, hilariously jingoistic, containing slipshod visual effects work but boasting a decent amount of brutal action. London Has Fallen contains all those traits and kicks them up to 11. There’s an increased sense of scale and the location shooting in London itself means the production values here are an improvement on those of its predecessor. However, in scenes including the destruction of Chelsea Bridge and a sequence in which the presidential helicopters Marines One, Two and Three are evading terrorists’ rockets, the visual effects work is nigh laughable.  
The over-the-top bombast is supposed to be thrilling, but there will be many audiences who will have a difficult time deriving entertainment from seeing terrorists blow up a city, particularly given the tragic frequency with which such incidents occur in real life. Paris, Beirut, Tunis, Istanbul, San Bernadino and Jakarta amongst others were all recently attacked and furthermore, the trailer for London Has Fallen was released during the week of the tenth anniversary of the 2005 7/7 London bombings. We don’t mean to get all self-righteous and this reviewer is a big action movie junkie, but the way London Has Fallen presents itself as topical while revelling in dated action movie tropes, with a one-man army stabbing bad guys and dispensing one-liners, is a little uncomfortable.

It’s pretty funny that this flag-waving, chest-thumping celebration of American jingoism is directed by a Swedish director of Iranian descent and stars an actor who is completely incapable of disguising his unmistakably Scottish brogue. As far as London Has Fallenis concerned, all world leaders are entirely expendable – ersatz versions of Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and François Hollande bite the dust in quick succession – all except for the American president, of course. The primary villain, a Middle-Eastern arms dealer, seems like a C-grade reject from the TV series Homeland. And yes, drone strikes are a plot point, because total predictability is the name of the game here. At the very least, the villainous scheme is an order of magnitude more plausible than that of the North Korean baddies in Olympus Has Fallen, though that’s still not saying much.
Butler and Eckhart lead a good number of actors who reprise their roles from Olympus Has Fallen. Sure, Butler is completely unbelievable as an American, but he and Eckhart develop a watchable buddy chemistry and Butler’s rough-around-the-edges quality makes him easier to buy as an old-school action hero than other actors out there. Many attempts at badass quips simply come off as silly, but the guy looks like he knows what he’s doing when he’s firing a gun. Bassett isn’t in much of the film and Freeman, Forster and Leo simply sit around the Situation Room back at the White House; their scenes looking like they were all filmed in one day. Jackie Earle Haley as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff is puzzling casting, since the actor isn’t allowed to display any of the quirky energy he’s known for. Riley’s MI6 agent could’ve been a scene stealing character, but God forbid anyone other than Butler kick a significant amount of ass.

Is London Has Fallen enjoyable at all? Yes. It’s fun to guffaw at the clunky lines of dialogue, to appreciate some of the action sequences for being well-executed and others for looking hilariously phony and to pretend that it’s still the 80s-90s, cheering on the clench-jawed hero who charges in guns a-blazing. The clichés are so on-the-nose – for example, Banning’s wife Leah (Mitchell) is pregnant with their first child, pining for the safe return of her husband – it’s impossible to assume the filmmakers didn’t go into this with at least the slightest modicum of self-awareness. Most of all, it’s enjoyable in its thunderous stupidity and those 99 minutes go by fairly quickly.


Summary: This action thriller is often breathtakingly dumb and the “terrorist attacks in the name of entertainment” angle is problematic in this day and age, but the sheer lack of subtlety is enjoyable in its own right. U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Race

For F*** Magazine

RACE 

Director : Stephen Hopkins
Cast : Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice Van Houten, Barnaby Metschurat, William Hurt
Genre : Biography/Drama/Sport
Run Time : 135 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : PG

            Rousing tales of athletes overcoming all odds in pursuit of ultimate triumph: audiences have seen them a hundred times, but we keep coming back for more. There certainly is competition for the title of “most powerful and inspiring” true story in sporting history, but that of Jesse Owens arguably leads the pack.

James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens is a promising track and field star enrolled in Ohio State University, where coach Lawrence Snyder (Sudeikis), a former Olympic hopeful, takes Owens under his wing. Training religiously in between his studies and working a part-time job, Owens goes on to break three world records at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is poised to be part of the U.S. Olympic team. International Amateur Athletic Federation chairman Avery Brundage (Irons) fights a boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, as Jeremiah Mahoney (Hurt), president of the Amateur Athletic Union, believes that American participation will indicate an endorsement of Nazi ideology. In the face of bigotry at home and the stoking of the fires of World War II in Europe, Owens must chase his dreams and bring home the gold.

While Owens was the subject of a 1984 made-for-TV movie starring Dorian Harewood, it’s somewhat puzzling that there hasn’t been a theatrically-released biopic made about him until now. All the ingredients for a supremely compelling story are right there, and it seems like a natural awards contender project, so it’s also somewhat puzzling that it’s being released in March, right after the Oscars actually take place. The film’s title, Race, tells you most of what you need to know about its approach. While Owens’ identity as a black man in the 30s definitely figured heavily into his career, the movie seems more concerned with being a political statement than actually shedding light on the person himself. Instead of the racial politics of the era being a backdrop to the biographical drama, it’s the other way around.

For a film about one of the most famous runners of all time, Race is often flat-footed, its handling of the talking-point big issues earnest but clumsy. There’s a predictable formula to Owens’ journey but then again, this is a sports movie and said formula exists for a reason after all. While general audiences might be fuzzy on the minutiae of Owens’ life and times, they should have a rough idea of the basics: he represents the U.S. in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, clinches four gold medals and leaves Hitler and the Nazi regime with egg on its face, discrediting the notion of non-Aryan inferiority. At 135 minutes, Race is definitely too long. Excessive time is dedicated to the subplot of whether or not the U.S. will boycott the Olympics, and the question of Owens’ participation in the Games is played for suspense, when we all know he did end up on the team. The establishing shots of Berlin are accompanied by almost-comically ominous music and there’s a lot of effort taken to demonstrate that the Nazis were evil. Well, duh.  

Young Canadian actor James, who replaces the initially-cast John Boyega, ably carries the film with a steadfast portrayal of Owens. Owens is gifted but also disciplined, yet far from superhuman and infallible. There’s a nervous energy and a welcome lack of cockiness, since star athletes are often portrayed as hybrid underdog divas. While the film surrounding him can come off as rote, there is a freshness and honesty that James brings to the table. Unfortunately, as is often the case with films of this type, the romantic subplot with Ruth (Shanice Banton), the mother to Owens’ daughter, feels largely extraneous.
The role of coach Snyder is the first major dramatic part for Saturday Night Live alum Sudeikis, and it’s always a gamble when a comedic actor wants to convince audiences that he’s got range too. As characterised here, Snyder is like any number of coaches in inspirational sports flicks past: his glory days are behind him, he’s haunted by previous failures, he sees the potential in a young person and takes it upon himself to guide said young person towards success, and of course, he’s strict but ultimately well-meaning. It’s a competent performance but one that sometimes calls attention to itself, Sudeikis occasionally giving off “look at me, I’m a serious actor now!” vibes.

Irons is reliable as usual; the subplot of Brundage’s dealings with the Nazis in the lead-up to the Olympic games might seem off to the side of Owens’ personal journey and is sometimes boring, but Irons himself isn’t. German actor David Kross is supremely sympathetic as German long-jumper Luz Long, who defies the Nazis he represents by befriending Owens.

To this reviewer, the most interesting character by a long shot is Leni Riefenstahl (Van Houten), the director tasked with filming the Games for posterity. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (Metschurat) looks down on her, but Riefenstahl is undeterred by him and resolute in her artistic vision. Even though she has a relatively small role in this story, it’s fascinating to see how Riefenstahl presented Owens’ victories to the world against the wishes of her superiors. This is a pioneering filmmaker whose reputation was forever tarnished because of her close association with the Nazis and seeing her depicted in Racemade this reviewer want to watch a full biopic centring on Riefenstahl. There have been several attempts at such a project but none have come to fruition.



Race did bring this reviewer to tears, but the heart of this remarkable true story about a real American hero does often get lost in the shuffle of racial politics, historical procedure and established sports drama tropes. Hopkins helmed the far more unconventional biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, but his credits also include Predator 2, Lost in Space and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. There’s the sense that he’s going through the motions with Race, and while a Jesse Owens biopic that is less preachy yet more passionate is easier said than done, that’s the treatment the historical figure deserves.

Summary: The Jesse Owens story is too compelling to mess up entirely and Race does attempt to do its subject justice, but Stephan James’ excellent lead performance gets crowded out by heavy-handed preachiness; a certain spark missing in the storytelling.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Zoolander 2

For F*** Magazine

ZOOLANDER 2

Director : Ben Stiller
Cast : Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold, Sting, Christine Taylor, Olivia Munn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billy Zane
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual References)

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Derek Zoolander (Stiller) strut his male supermodel stuff. Does that Blue Steel still offer the same structural support? Personal tragedy has driven Zoolander into hiding. A terrible accident that claimed the life of Zoolander’s wife Matilda (Taylor) also damaged the face of Zoolander’s friend and fellow model Hansel McDonald (Wilson), additionally damaging the pair’s friendship. Interpol Fashion agent Valencia Valentina (Cruz) is investigating a string of assassinations in which the pop star victims snap pre-death selfies that match Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” expression. In Rome, she ropes in Derek and Hansel to assist her. The duo is in Italy as the guests of avant garde designer Alexanya Atoz (Wiig) and are hoping to make a comeback on the runway. Zoolander discovers that his estranged son Derek Jr. (Arnold), residing at an orphanage in Rome, is the target of an ancient conspiracy and that Zoolander’s long-time nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), now locked away in maximum security fashion prison, has a hand in this evil plot.


            2001’s Zoolanderhas attained semi-cult status in that it’s too widely known among mainstream filmgoers to be an actual cult movie, but is still sufficiently oddball in its sensibilities. People still quote the catchphrases and attempt the Blue Steel pout. There has been demand for a sequel, but not “tear down the studio gates” levels of demand. As unlikely a comparison it may be, Zoolander 2 reminds this reviewer of 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. To put things in perspective, the DVD of Zoolander has Stiller in character narrating how an interactive DVD menu works. With Zoolander 2, it’s more of the same, but ends up being too little too late. Most involved seem to be committed to the silliness, but the vibe that Stiller has switched on “autopilot” mode is hard to shake. It turns out that the flashy production values and a veritable conga line of celebrities making guest appearances serve to distract from the lack of any real invention or comic energy, which is a little sad to realise.

            We have nothing against stupidity in general and if a comedy wants to go all-out, full-tilt dumb in the name of entertainment, we’re all for it. However, it’s been repeatedly proven that one gets more mileage with wit, rather than witlessness, as fuel in the comedy gas tank. Zoolander 2 is not completely unfunny and there are attempts, however half-hearted, at satire – a “completely biodegradable” boutique hotel boasting “farm to table wi-fi” pokes fun at hipster sensibilities. Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo as the androgynous, unclassifiable modelling sensation known as “All” dares to step on a few toes and laugh in the face of political correctness, but it lacks the same impact that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface had in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder had something to say about Hollywood’s excesses while being outrageous and funny. With Zoolander 2, it seems like “when unable to write joke, default to cameo” was the mandate carved on the production office wall.

            Director/star/co-writer/co-producer Stiller has repeatedly made us wonder “is it still a vanity project if the person whose vanity it serves repeatedly makes a fool of himself?” Short answer: yes. Those who were charmed by Zoolander’s profound lack of intelligence the first go-round will likely be fine with Stiller’s reprisal of the role, seeing how he snaps back into it with such ease. Wilson’s performance lacks energy, but perhaps that can be explained away as Hansel’s more laid-back demeanour. The Oscar-winning Cruz is not exactly known for her slapstick comedy chops, but she gamely tackles the part of the eye candy cop on a mission, displaying sexy confidence in spades as she embraces the silliness. Ferrell has to share scenery-chewing duties with Wiig, who devises an unintelligible, non-specifically European accent for her character.

            If you’re up for a game of “name the cameo” with a group of pals, Zoolander 2 will be a rewarding experience. Otherwise, it’s close enough to the original but too engineered and lacking in spontaneity to reach any heights of humour. When the jokes (zoo)land, they land, but when they don’t, they flop out of the screen with a deafening, awkward thud. This time, the Magnum’s chamber is half empty, and a couple of the remaining rounds are blanks. Still, when it comes to comedies running on unadulterated stupidity, we’ll take this over those painful Friedberg and Seltzer ‘parody’ movies (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie et al) any day of the week.




Summary: If it’s wanton shenanigans and famous faces you’re after, Zoolander 2 has got you covered. But when it comes to actually inspired humour, this sequel comes up disappointingly short.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
           

The 88th Academy Awards: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Year

For F*** Magazine

The 88thAcademy Awards: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Year
By Jedd Jong

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
for Bridge of Spies

The culmination of the 2015-2016 awards season, the Academy Awards ceremony, took place on 28thFebruary at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The Oscars may be often labelled “stale” and “lame”, but this year, a balls-to-the-wall, high octane, genuinely insane action movie took home the most trophies – an anomaly, to say the least. Mad Max: Fury Road bagged six little golden men, with Spotlight and The Revenant taking two each. And yes, it was sixth time lucky for Leonardo DiCaprio, whose hitherto fruitless Oscar pursuit has finally concluded with rousing victory.

The night contained two significant surprises: a Best Supporting Actor win for Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance when it was assumed that Creed’s Sylvester Stallone would emerge victorious, and Best Picture for Spotlight, with The Big Short pegged as the favourite because it won the Producer’s Guild Award. Also unexpected was Ex Machina’s victory in the Best Visual Effects category over the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ex Machina was by far the film in that category with the lowest budget. Double Negative, the main effects vendor on the film, has a facility in Singapore which was responsible for a portion of the Oscar-winning effects work.
Best Picture: Spotlight
For the first time, a ticker listing the names the winners would like to thank scrolled at the bottom of the screen. The winners who went over time with their thank you speeches were chased off by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
Host Chris Rock
The lead-up to the ceremony was fraught with controversy, as fiery discussions regarding the lack of diversity in the acting nominations swirled. Host Chris Rock, who also presided over the 77th Oscars in 2005, got his chance to address this right out the gate. The majority of his material was dedicated to this issue. After a highlight reel of 2015’s films played, Rock took the stage, opening with “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage!”
He admitted that he thought about quitting after facing considerable pressure to do so, justifying his decision to remain as host with “the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart!” Rock pointed out that there probably were no black nominees for long stretches of the 50s and 60s, saying “Black people didn’t protest the lack of nominees in the 60s because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who was going to win Best Cinematographer!”
“The ‘In Memoriam’ segment will just be black people who got shot by the cops this year,” Rock said to gasps. It was the edgiest he got before backing away from said edge. “Rocky takes place in a world where white athletes are as good as black athletes, so Rocky is a science fiction movie,” he said, dubbing CreedBlack Rocky”. Throughout the ceremony, Rock referenced convicted record producer Suge Knight, with an actor playing Knight wheeled into the hall accompanied by police officers and strapped to a Hannibal Lecter-esque gurney. In a taped segment, Whoopi Goldberg played a janitor who steals Joy Mangano’s thunder in Joy, Leslie Jones replaced the bear mauling DiCaprio in The Revenant, Tracy Morgan was a “Danish Girl” munching on pastry and Rock himself was a black astronaut whom NASA decides to just leave on Mars.
Tracy Morgan as the Danish Girl in a sketch
To say the ceremony was politically-charged would be an understatement. Another taped segment featured Rock visiting a local movie theatre in Compton, California to interview moviegoers, where the predominantly black audiences had not heard of any of the films nominated for Best Picture, but had all watched Straight Outta Compton. In a segment entitled the “Academy Awards Black History Month Minute”, Angela Bassett spoke of an “actor, producer, comedian, musician,” who starred in the likes of Enemy of the State and Shark Tale, with the implication being that the figure in question was Will Smith, who had boycotted this year’s ceremony alongside his wife Jada Pinkett. It was a bait and switch, and she was referring to Jack Black instead.
Taking a more serious tack, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the director of the Academy, said in her speech that “concrete action” was being taken to re-evaluate the membership of the organisation, giving the imperative that “Each of you is an ambassador who can help influence others in this industry. It’s not enough to listen and agree.” She did not specifically explain what said measures were.
Best Original Song nominee Lady Gaga performing Til It Happens to You
In addition to issues of race, sexual assault on college campuses received attention. Vice-President of the United States Joe Biden made an appearance to introduce Lady Gaga, who performed the song Til It Happens to You from the documentary The Hunting Ground, a song she wrote with Diane Warren. As Gaga’s stirring performance at the piano drew to a close, she was joined on stage by a number of male and female survivors of sexual assault. Each had words and phrases such as “It happened to me”, “not my fault” and “survivor” written on their arms in sharpie. The song lost to Writing’s on the Wall, the Bond theme by Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes.
Best Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu,
The Revenant
Noted conservationist DiCaprio slipped an environmental message into his acceptance speech, recounting how 2015 was the warmest year on record and that Global Warming caused the production to venture from Canada to Argentina in search of snow. “Climate change is real, it is happening right now,” DiCaprio proclaimed. “We need to work collectively right now and stop procrastinating.” He encouraged viewers to withdraw their support for big corporations known to be major polluters.
Similarly, The Big Short writer Adam McKay exhorted “if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires: Stop!” McKay and Charles Randolph shared the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; McKay was also nominated for Best Director but lost to Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The director of The Revenant took home his second Best Director Oscar in as many years.

In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu quoted a line from The Revenant: “They don’t listen to you. They see the colour of your skin.” He highlighted the opportunity to “make sure for once and forever that the colour of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.” The last time a director took home back-to-back Oscars was when Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).
The In Memoriam segment, which featured tributes to actors Leonard Nimoy, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee and David Bowie in addition to behind the scenes figures like cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, composer James Horner and film critic Richard Corliss, was set to Dave Grohl’s acoustic rendition of Blackbird by the Beatles.
Best Actress Brie Larson,
Room
While last year’s ceremony feature a wacky performance of Everything is Awesome from The LEGO Movie as a light-hearted break from the heaviness of hot-button political issues, the closest this year’s ceremony came to that was the appearance of Star Wars droids C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8. “Actually, I do not look like him. He happens to look rather like me,” the worrywart Protocol Droid said in reference to the golden Oscar figure. The Minions, and Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, would later take the stage to present the Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature awards.
BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO
When it came to the theme of “comedians keeping it real,” Louis C.K. stated flatly that the nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject would never go on to the fame and fortune of their counterparts nominated for other categories. “These people will never be rich for as long as they live,” he said to laughter. “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic…it’s going to give them anxiety to keep it in a crappy apartment.” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy took home the prize for her film The Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about the victims of honour killings in Pakistan.
Best Documentary Short Subject:
The Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
DiCaprio was not the only winner who had waited a while for his moment of glory. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, 87, had been nominated five times prior and was presented with an honorary Oscar in 2007. Morricone spoke in Italian, with a translator on-stage interpreting. He gave a special acknowledgement to fellow nominee John Williams. Morricone, who the Best Original Score Oscar for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, has written the iconic scores for films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Missionand Cinema Paradiso.
When the time came to introduce the accountants from Price Waterhouse Coopers, three young Asian children walked onto the stage. “Anyone who’s offended by that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” Rock quipped. Rock also had his daughters’ girl scout troupe going through the audience selling girl scout cookies, in an obvious riff on Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza-ordering bit two years prior.
Sacha Baron Cohen presented in character as Ali G, alongside Olivia Wilde. “how come there’s no Oscar for very ‘ardworking yellow people with tiny dongs?” he wondered aloud in the character’s signature ‘Jafaican’ accent. “You know, the minions!” Ali G also gave props to “The amazing black bloke from Star Wars – Darth Vader!” Introducing Best Picture nominee Room, he remarked “Now check out a movie about a room full of white people!”

Presenters Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali Gi and Olivia Wilde
The night’s one moment of swearing came courtesy of Mad Max: Fury Road sound editor Mark Mangini. “F*** yeah Mad Maxxers!” he cheered.
While the jokes were certainly weighted with political intent and host Rock kept an undercurrent of tension as he attempted to bring the funny, this proved to be a bearable and relatively memorable ceremony. Besides the entire film industry getting a slap on the wrist for failing to be more inclusive, the 88th Academy Awards will also be remembered as the year a post-apocalyptic action adventure drove away with six trophies and Leonardo DiCaprio clinched that coveted statuette.
THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS AND NOMINEES
BEST PICTURE

Spotlight WINNER
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The RevenantWINNER
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR

Leonardo DiCaprio, The RevenantWINNER
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl


BEST ACTRESS

Brie Larson, RoomWINNER
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mark Rylance, Bridge of SpiesWINNER
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Alicia Vikander, The Danish GirlWINNER
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay:
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy,
Spotlight
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Spotlight, by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – WINNER
Bridge of Spies, by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Ex Machina, by Alex Garland
Inside Out, by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley; original story by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
Straight Outta Compton, by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay – WINNER
Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
Carol, Phyllis Nagy
The Martian, Drew Goddard
Room, Emma Donoghue
BEST COSTUME DESIGN

 Mad Max: Fury Road,  Jenny Beavan – WINNER
 Carol,  Sandy Powell
 Cinderella,  Sandy Powell
 The Danish Girl,  Paco Delgado
 The Revenant,  Jacqueline West
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Mad Max: Fury Road, production design by Colin Gibson; set decoration by Lisa Thompson – WINNER  Bridge of Spies, production design by Adam Stockhausen; set decoration by Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
The Danish Girl,  production design by Eve Stewart; set decoration by Michael Standish
The Martian,  production design by Arthur Max; set decoration by Celia Bobak
The Revenant,  production design by Jack Fisk; set decoration by Hamish Purdy
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin – WINNER 
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared,  Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Revenant,  Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki – WINNER 
Carol, Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
Sicario,  Roger Deakins
BEST FILM EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel – WINNER
The Big Short, Hank Corwin
The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight, Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
BEST SOUND EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David White – WINNER 
The Martian, Oliver Tarney
The Revenant, Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario, Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Matthew Wood and David Acord
BEST SOUND MIXING

Mad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo – WINNER 
Bridge of Spies,  Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
The Martian, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
The Revenant, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett – WINNER 
Mad Max: Fury Road,  Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
The Martian,  Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
The Revenant,  Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Bear Story,  Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala – WINNER 
Prologue,  Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team,  Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
We Can’t Live without Cosmos,  Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Inside Out,  Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera – WINNER 
Anomalisa,  Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
Boy and the World,  Alê Abreu
Shaun the Sheep Movie,  Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,  Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – WINNER 
Body Team 12,  David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Chau, Beyond the Lines,  Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,  Adam Benzine
Last Day of Freedom,  Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Amy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees – WINNER 
Cartel Land,  Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone?  Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Stutterer,  Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – WINNER 
Ave Maria,  Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Day One,  Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay  (Alles Wird Gut),  Patrick Vollrath
Shok,  Jamie Donoughue
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Son of Saul, Hungary – WINNER 
Embrace of the Serpent,  Colombia
Mustang,  France
Theeb,  Jordan
A War, Denmark
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Writing’s on the Wall from SpectreWINNER
Music and lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey
Music and lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
Manta Ray from Racing Extinction
Music by J. Ralph and lyric by Antony Hegarty
Simple Song #3 from Youth
Music and lyric by David Lang
Til It Happens To You from  The Hunting Ground
Music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone – WINNER
Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
Carol, Carter Burwell
Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams
Photo credits: A.M.P.A.S.

Thanks to HBO Asia