Cap’s Night Out: Team Cap Light-Up and Fireworks at Marina Bay Sands

CAP’S NIGHT OUT
Team Cap takes over the Marina Bay Sands skyline
By Jedd Jong


There has been considerable build-up to the finale of Team Cap’s visit to Singapore, so one could excuse us for being underwhelmed by the end result. Team Iron Man had thrown down the gauntlet, with Robert Downey Jr. lighting up the Eiffel Tower in gold and red, complete with glowing ‘eyes’ and an ‘arc reactor’. “Team Cap…I mean, how do you come back from that?” Downey said after the big reveal in Paris. “You are toast!”

Stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), with co-director Joe Russo, answered the challenge with a multimedia display and fireworks show at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort on the night of 22ndApril. Clips from the film were projected onto the ArtScience Museum and the spine of the hotel’s first tower, complemented by pyrotechnics. The show lasted around six minutes, starting and stopping intermittently.


Team Cap only made their way to the podium on the Helix Bridge 45 minutes after the event was scheduled to begin. Access to the bridge was tightly controlled, following the zealous fan turn-out for the Blue Carpet event the previous night. Most of the media weren’t allowed onto the same pod as Team Cap; F*** was one pod away. Safety was a concern, seeing as the bridge has a limited weight capacity. There were also rumours that Evans had been cranky the previous day, with some taking his attire at the Blue Carpet premiere (the same shirt he wore to the press conference, as opposed to Mackie’s and Stan’s three-piece suits) and his much later arrival compared to the director and other actors as indication that he was reluctant to walk the Blue Carpet.

If one had happened to pass by the Marina Bay waterfront and were catching the display from afar, it would’ve passed muster, but the fans and media weren’t so impressed. This reviewer overhead a fan asking her friends, “can we all agree that Team Iron Man won?” as they were filing out after the show.

The promotional tour rivalry will come to a head with Team Iron Man and Team Cap coming face-to-face at the film’s upcoming premiere in London.

Captain America: Civil War is in theatres 28 May 2016.

Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong

Action figure is the writer’s own. 


Captain America: Civil War

For F*** Magazine

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Director : Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast : Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Emily VanCamp, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 27 mins
Opens : 28 April 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Earth’s mightiest heroes are torn asunder in this, the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following calamitous incidents in New York, Washington D.C., Sokovia and Lagos, the politicians of the world seek to establish a governing body to supervise the actions of the Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey) agrees to sign what becomes known as ‘The Sokovia Accords’, while Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) refuses to comply. Sam Wilson/Falcon (Mackie), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch (Olsen), Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (VanCamp), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) take Rogers’ side. Backing up Stark are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany), and new additions T’challa/Black Panther (Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland). In the meantime, Rogers is still tracking down Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Stan), his childhood friend who was brainwashed into becoming a ruthless killing machine. Then there’s the enigmatic Dr. Helmut Zemo (Brühl), who seeks details on one of the Winter Soldier’s past missions to enact a treacherous scheme. If the world’s heroes are too busy fighting one another, who will protect everyone else?


             It’s generally agreed upon that 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is among the strongest entries in the MCU thus far. It’s an intense political thriller with lavish action spectacle and a resonant emotional component woven into a concinnate whole. With that film’s directors Joe and Anthony Russo and its writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely returning for Civil War, we had appropriately high expectations. Civil War is not so much a standalone Captain America movie as it is Avengers 2.5, packing in quite a number of characters from the MCU and introducing a couple of new ones. There are lots of moving parts and the story comes off as disjointed. The film gets off to a wobbly start, lacking particularly striking imagery or an impactful action sequence to open with. The source of the conflict at the heart of the film is established clearly enough, but Rogers’ and Stark’s resentment for each other doesn’t get enough room to really simmer to a boil.

            In the comics, the Civil War event centred on secret identities and superhero registration. Since secret identities have largely been a non-issue in the MCU, collateral damage has become the catalyst for conflict. There are some pretty high stakes and the film wants us to take the rift between the MCU’s two biggest heroes very seriously, but not at the expense of quips and general joking about. There are many humorous moments that do land and a reference to Empire Strikes Back had this reviewer doubling over with laughter. Cap, Falcon and Bucky also share a real ‘bro’ moment that’s quite endearing. However, there are several instances where the one-liners result in a sense of flippancy, undermining the gravity of the situation at hand.

            Both Evans and Downey have become very comfortable with their roles as Captain America and Iron Man respectively. There is a valiant attempt at having both parties make valid points, though the film tends to side with Cap because, well, he’s in the title. There’s plenty of snarky back-and-forth jibes, but the ideological disagreements get no room to breathe. There’s not very much to say about the performances of all the returning cast members, since the characterisation is generally consistent with how they’ve been drawn in previous films. Stan continues to be eminently sympathetic as Bucky – half puppy, half killing machine. Vision and Scarlet Witch share a few scenes together, as a nod to the characters’ romance in the comics, but these come off as superfluous. The budding romance between Cap and Agent 13 feels extremely tacked on. There are plenty of references to previous entries in the series, with an emphasis on Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, so one wouldn’t quite be able to make head or tail of this going in blind.

            Fans will be pleased to know that both Black Panther and Spider-Man are handled as well as possible. Boseman brings a stern dignity to the role of the Wakandan prince who is both royalty and costumed crime-fighter, the requisite outsider with no prior link to the Avengers. Stark ropes in teenage science whiz and vigilante Peter Parker. Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man feels very true to the spirit of the character: the wisecracks, the wide-eyed awe, the pubescent awkwardness, it’s all there in the right amounts. Marisa Tomei briefly shows up as Parker’s Aunt May, and the Spider-Man scenes have increased our anticipation of the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming all the more. The design of the suit is divisive: while it harks back to the more traditional artwork of the likes of Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr., the slightly old-fashioned spandex look doesn’t quite fit in with the established MCU aesthetic, especially since it’s established that Stark designed the suit for Parker.

            The “villain problem” that has plagued most MCU movies continues here. Helmut Zemo, who is markedly different from the costumed supervillain of the comics, is portrayed as a sly manipulator lurking behind the scenes for his own ends, pulling the marionette strings and fanning the flames of internecine strife. Unfortunately, Brühl makes so little of a mark that this reviewer had to go back to write this paragraph after completing the review, initially forgetting the need to elaborate on the villain.

            The standout action sequence is, naturally, the full-on clash between the two factions set at an airport in Leipzig. The scene is packed with fun visual gags and moments engineered to get the audience on their feet, cheering. It’s quite a shame then that the rest of the action sequences, perhaps barring the climactic brawl, are generally unmemorable. The heavy use of shaky-cam and breakneck editing means we can’t take in the choreography or get a good sense of who’s doing what in the middle of a fight.

            There’s a lot in Civil War that works fine and the people making these movies have enough experience under their belts to not make a complete fumble of things. However, because many of us are experiencing comic book movie fatigue, it takes a lot more than general competence to get us truly excited. There’s ultimately very little in Civil War that’s actually truly novel. It’s a victory, but far from a flawless one.

Summary: The introduction of Spider-Man and Black Panther into the MCU are highlights, but Civil War’s lack of cohesiveness and the hard-to-follow fight sequences prevent it from being the earth-shattering event it’s pitched as.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


            

Bastille Day

For F*** Magazine

BASTILLE DAY

Director : James Watkins
Cast : Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, José Garcia, Eriq Ebouaney, Thierry Godard, Kelly Reilly
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 92 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Nudity and Violence)

Two actors often named as prospective James Bonds become unlikely partners in this action thriller. Michael Mason (Madden), an American eking out an existence as a pickpocket in Paris, finds himself implicated in a bomb attack. Zoe Naville (Le Bon), whose boyfriend built the bomb, is tasked with planting the explosives, but has a crisis of conscience. CIA agent Sean Briar (Elba) goes off in pursuit of Michael, a wanted fugitive after he is caught on security footage apparently planting the bomb. French Minister of the Interior Victor Gamieux (Garcia) decrees that the upcoming Bastille Day parade will go ahead as planned, in spite of the heightened threat level. Wanting to tie up loose ends, the terrorist leader Rafi Bertrand (Garcia) targets Michael, Briar and Zoe. In the meantime, Briar’s fellow CIA operative Karen Dacre (Reilly) uncovers a conspiracy within an elite task force of the French police, as societal tensions mount and rioters overrun the streets.

            What really is little more than an adequately diverting spy flick takes on a sobering quality in the wake of the November 2015 Paris terror attacks – production occurred before the tragedy. In this regard, Bastille Day shares similarities with London Has Fallen. Bastille Day is markedly less ridiculous, though there’s still the “Americans save the day” quotient and a huge pile of fairly silly action movie clichés. Our hero is a hard-nosed secret agent whose introductory scene has him being berated by his superiors for being a loose cannon, and the guy he has to team up with is a ne’er-do-well thief whose skills come in handy when the pair are after the bad guys. “Briar, this isn’t Baghdad, it’s Paris,” a CIA official chides. “Red wine, the Louvre, Louis Vuitton.”

            The film’s attempts at being topical are far from subtle, but are not as ham-fisted as in many other recent action films. The ways in which the perpetrators of the attack manipulate the masses into forming angry mobs, including blaming a local mosque and posting calls to arms on social media, seem sufficiently logical. However, one would have to work extra hard to stifle laughter when the terrorist mastermind proclaims to his cronies, in all seriousness, “the hashtags will tip it over.”

            Our two protagonists serve as foils for each other: Briar is prone to reckless violence and is an old-school action hero of the “punch/shoot everything” variety, while Michael’s modus operandi is devilish sleight of hand. It’s easy to buy the physically imposing Elba beating up the bad guys and dishing out a one-liner or two, but Briar is all brute force, and Elba is at his most watchable when he’s exercising his brand of suavity – an opportunity he’s denied in Bastille Day.

Game of Thronesheartthrob Richard Madden plays a guy who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time – but when you’ve got that pretty a face, who needs luck, right? Madden trained with professional pickpocket/entertainer Keith ‘The Thief’ Charnley, who called the actor “a natural” with “a very light-fingered touch”. Indeed, the sequences where Madden struts his artful dodger stuff end up more exciting than most of the action scenes.

Le Bon looks worried and on the brink of tears through the whole film, as the stock “woman who’s been dragged into some nasty business because she didn’t know any better” character. For what it’s worth, she does have a role to play in the climactic face-off. The villains, led by Godard as Rafi Bertrand, are relatively unremarkable and the twists and turns in their scheme, especially the revelation of their actual motive, are predictable.

The stunts, which include a rooftop foot chase and a bank siege, aren’t anything to shout about – but the production values definitely pass muster. Crowd scenes in low-to-mid-budget action movies can often look phony, but the finale involving a throng of protestors being held back by riot police manages to be convincing. Bastille Day is very much your standard-issue post-Bourne spy action movie, packed with tropes and characters that will be immediately recognisable to genre fans. It scrapes by on Elba’s charisma, even if he doesn’t actively showcase it – and that brisk 92-minute running time certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Summary: Bastille Day is formulaic but watchable, though its depiction of Paris besieged by terrorists will understandably affect those still raw from the recent real-life terror attacks.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
           

            

Painting the Town Blue – Captain America: Civil War Blue Carpet

For F*** Magazine

PAINTING THE TOWN BLUE

Team Cap takes Marina Bay Sands by storm
By Jedd Jong

To call it a ‘crowd’ would be a gross understatement. On the evening of Thursday 22ndApril, throngs of fans showed up to try to catch a glimpse or, better yet, a coveted selfie with or autograph from the stars of Captain America: Civil War. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) were overrun with eager folks armed with homemade signs and cheering at the top of their lungs, some of whom had arrived as early as 10 hours before the scheduled start of the event.
That glorious Scott Pilgrim reference though.
In what must have been a heart-breaking move for any DC fan, a black curtain was set up in front of the DC Super Heroes café that overlooked the Blue Carpet area, out of deference to Marvel. It is perhaps an apt metaphor for how Marvel is pummelling the Distinguished Competition at the Multiplex.
A highlight of Team Cap’s visit to Singapore, stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier) with co-director Joe Russo walked the Blue Carpet. Deejay Glenn Ong and model/actress Stephanie Carrington were the evening’s hosts, with actor Paul Foster providing back-up on the Blue Carpet. The event was kicked off with the finals of a cosplay competition, with an enthusiastic Indonesian gentleman sporting accurate Tony Stark-esque facial hair drawn on and eyewear beneath his Iron Man helmet taking the top prize.

Stan looked more comfortable than he did at the press conference that morning, rocking a striking turquoise suit, with Mackie going for a more classic option. Evans looked like he rolled out of bed, wearing the same shirt and trousers he wore to the press conference – but one could stand to be a little sloppy if one possessed even a fraction of Evans’ pulchritude.
The sale of packages priced at $688 and $1288, including access to the Blue Carpet, had become the talk of the town. It was later clarified that the majority of Blue Carpet passes were being distributed to invited children and teenagers as part of Disney and MBS’ corporate social responsibility initiatives; these children would be invited on stage later. Other recipients included contest winners and VIPs. A limited number of Blue Carpet passes were then bundled together with products like collectible t-shirts, figurines and a one-night stay at the MBS hotel.
A considerable number of lucky fans who had arrived early enough to stake out a good spot lining the Blue Carpet were able to get the attention of the stars, who made every effort to sign as many autographs and take as many selfies as time would allow. Mackie even leapt over the barricades to reach fans standing several rows back, with Russo following suit. Even though the measures to prevent the average fan from attending weren’t as extreme as previously thought, the layout of the Blue Carpet did make it difficult for those who weren’t journalists or pass-holders to get very close to the stars.

The under-privileged children who were beneficiaries of MBS’ social outreach programs were welcomed onstage, and some got to ask the stars and director their questions. It’s difficult not to be a cynic in the face of such a blithely manipulative display on the part of a big corporation, but the children did seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves and a boy was overwhelmed with joy when Stan carried him up and swung him around.
Team Cap was presented with artwork by artists Elvin Ching, Guo Junwei, Noval N. Hernawen and Soefara Jafney which incorporated characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe into prominent Singapore landmarks.
The Team Cap festivities culminate on the night of 22nd April, which will see MBS lit up in red, white and blue, with an accompanying fireworks display as an act of one-upmanship aimed at Team Iron Man, who set a tough act to follow by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red and gold with glowing blue ‘eye’s during their Paris tour.

Photos by Tedd Jong 

In Civillised Company – Captain America: Civil War Team Cap Singapore Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

IN CIVILLISED COMPANY

Team Cap and co-director Joe Russo touch down in Singapore to talk Captain America: Civil War
By Jedd Jong
 
 
                It seems our tiny city state has been in a bit of a tizzy, ever since Marvel announced that Singapore would be one of the stops on the promotional tour for Captain America: Civil War, the 13th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). A brouhaha erupted over the obscenely high ticket prices that were being charged for premium access to the blue carpet – the passes, priced at $688 and $1288, did not even guarantee actually meeting the celebrities, and a discussion on the exploitation of geek interests for profit spread across social media. It was later clarified that these were package deals, and fans were welcome to line the blue carpet in the hopes of a selfie or autograph for free.
 
 
 
                This morning, stars Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and director Joe Russo, one half of the Russo Brothers filmmaking team, fielded questions from the local and regional press at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, including F***. Deejay Glenn Ong moderated the press conference, as Team Cap laid out their plans for domination.
 
                Civil War sees the Avengers fractured after politicians around the world propose a governing body to keep superhero activity in check, so as to prevent the wanton collateral damage the Avengers have incurred in the past from happening again. Half the team sides with Iron Man, who is for regulation, while the other backs Captain America, who is against it. Stars Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine) and Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter/Agent 13), with co-director Anthony Russo, threw down the gauntlet by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red and gold with blue ‘eyes’ during their press tour in Paris. Presumably, VanCamp was brought in as a replacement for Scarlett Johansson, seeing as Agent 13 really is on Team Cap in the movie.
 
                “I saw what Downey did in Paris, and it was great, but I think we can really do something special here in Singapore and show ‘em it’s all about Team Cap,” Evans declared. He was referring to the plan to light up the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort in red white and blue; the light-up will be accompanied by a fireworks display. “The more buzz, the more energy that can be created, the conflict between the two camps is going to help the film,” Evans said, tacitly conceding that the rivalry is obviously manufactured to keep the sales machine going.
 
                The Russo brothers return to the MCU after helming the much-loved Winter Soldier movie. They are also signed on for both parts of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War cinematic epic, which will see the Avengers finally come face-to-face with their ultimate foe, the intergalactic warlord Thanos. Russo cited the interplay between the characters as a key component in the MCU, saying “I think this movie has more character interaction than any movie that has preceded it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Civil War is couched as a culmination of plot lines that have been fomenting across the earlier Avengers and Captain America movies, with Russo promising a film that’s “Heart-breaking but also a great deal of fun and “a well-rounded experience at the movies.”
 
                “It’s a Steven Soderbergh-level of cast,” Russo said of the ensemble he and his brother presided over. “Marvel has done an amazing job of filling out the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some of the best actors in the world, it makes my job very easy.”
 
                “They have a wonderful understanding of cinema,” Evans said, returning the praise. “A lot of directors don’t always want to reference other movies, but Joe and Anthony are true cinephiles.”
 
                The Russo Brothers are known for their work on television comedies like Arrested Development and Community. They slipped Community cast member Danny Pudi into The Winter Soldier, and Jim Rash has a cameo in Civil War. Russo drew a parallel between shooting comedy and staging action sequences, saying “When you execute a comedic gag, there’s a lot of correlation to action: spatial relationships on screen, editing, rhythm.” Russo acknowledged the “incredible support” rendered to them by the Marvel Studios brass, calling the visual effects team “unbelievable”.
 
                In order to decide who would be on whose side, the Russo Brothers sat in a room for months with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to hash out the story beats. “We went through the cast we had available us and the cast we didn’t have available to us and we thought very hard about who would line up against who based on their motivations up to this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Russo added that “surprises for the audience” were on the agenda too.
 
 
 
                Throughout the press conference, Stan seemed the most withdrawn, while still projecting a certain sweetness, whereas Mackie was gregarious and game. Perhaps Stan was freshly defrosted from Winter Soldier hibernation. Mackie was handy with the disses aimed at Team Iron Man, like so many bullets from flip-out submachine guns. “We try to get to know the culture that we’re in, eat the food and meet the people,” Mackie said, tacking the colloquial Singaporean interjection ‘lah’ onto the end of a few sentences. “Whereas Team Iron Man, they’re more about just going from the press conference to the spa, and then from the spa to their jet, stuff like that. We hitchhike. They hang on to me, I put on the jetpack and we go straight across.”
 
                In the film, Falcon’s get-up is referred to at one point as a “bird costume.” Mackie reacted with mock indignation when a reporter reminded him of this, replying “say that one more time, homie? I’m described as what?!” When egged on to denigrate Team Iron Man’s outfits, Mackie offered that Stark himself looks like “a coke can”, that Vision looks like “someone just drew over him”, that War Machine resembles “a trash can” and that Black Panther’s suit seems like it’s made of “Michelin car tyres.” He could not bring himself to insult Black Widow, whom he described as “perfect.”
 
 
                When quizzed on how they get in superhero shape for the films, Evans said there was no magic bullet, “Any type of secret workout, diet, doesn’t really work,” he insisted. “We go to the gym, we pick up heavy stuff, we put that down, we do that until we can’t do that anymore and we get big.” Sounds so easy when he puts it that way, doesn’t it? Mackie jests that Evans really is an Ultimate Frisbee enthusiast. Evans admonishes him, saying that his quip is bound to get lost in translation down the line and invariably get taken seriously by somebody.
 
                The film pushes the relationship between Rogers and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 further along, with Rogers learning that she’s actually the niece of Peggy Carter, the co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. who fell in love with Rogers during his WWII days. Evans stated that it “follows in the lineage of what Cap considers his home to be with Peggy Carter, and Sharon Carter is kind of an incarnation of something familiar.” He said he is intrigued by the suggestion of a romantic bond between Cap and Black Widow, which Mackie objected to, since he has his eye on Black Widow. “They come from different backgrounds and find comfort in each other at different times of distress,” Evans reasoned. “I always thought that would be a really interesting dynamic to pursue, but at the same time, it’s very sweet and very pure that they’ve kept it platonic.”
 
 
 
                Russo delivered the closing salvo of the press conference, calling Civil War an “incredibly important” entry in the canon. “Winter Soldier changed the external structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. I think that this movie changes the psychology of the Marvel Universe in a very significant way,” Russo continued. Teasing what’s to come, he said that “the ramifications of Civil War are not over, they’re going to carry over significantly into Infinity War.” So, from the ashes of war, there is rebuilding to be done.
Captain America: Civil War opens in cinemas 28 April 2016
 
F***’s coverage of the Team Cap festivities in Singapore will continue.
 
Photos by Tedd Jong

 

Midnight Special

For F*** Magazine

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL 

Director : Jeff Nichols
Cast : Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Jaeden Lieberher
Genre : Sci-Fi/Drama
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

As kids, many of our parents would’ve told us were special. We either believed it but stopped as we got older, or never believed it in the first place. Well, Alton (Lieberher) is a genuinely special kid, gifted with superhuman abilities and revered by a religious cult in Texas led by preacher Calvin Meyer (Shepard). Alton’s father Roy Tomlin (Shannon), alongside Roy’s childhood friend Lucas (Edgerton), escapes from the cult and Roy is accused of kidnapping Alton. Alton’s mother Sarah (Dunst) has been expelled from the cult and has not seen her son in two years. The family are reunited but far from safe as government agents and enforcers from the cult alike pursue Alton. In the meantime, NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Driver) discovers that Alton possesses classified government knowledge that would ordinarily be impossible to acquire, and attempts to determine where Alton derives his powers from. 

Midnight Special is a sci-fi drama that has been described as being redolent of Amblin Entertainment films of yore, movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While the plot elements superficially come off as X-Files-esque – a creepy cult, an unearthly child, government agents on the kid’s tail – writer-director Jeff Nichols is aiming for anything but a conventional thriller. Midnight Special is very much a slow burn and what initially starts off as an intriguingly ominous mystery drops off into a generally uninteresting road trip before building back up to a mind-bending conclusion. The film’s juxtaposition of the fantastical and the mundane, set mostly in rural American locales, reminded this reviewer of Looper, which also featured a child with incredible powers. There are also shades of many a superhero tale, and Alton is seen reading issues of Superman and Teen Titans.

Nichols wrote the film as a meditation on becoming a father. When he was coming up with the story for Midnight Special, Nichols’ then-8-month-old son had a febrile seizure; this was a sobering moment that struck Nichols and his wife. Indeed, the bond between parent and child is Midnight Special’s driving emotional force; Nichols taking great care in avoiding full-on schmaltziness. There’s a detachedness to Midnight Special that works both for and against it; in steering clear of the cheesiness of its influences, the film also sacrifices a degree of warmth. The moments of spectacle are judicious and the special and visual effects serve the story well (apart from a few shots of phony-looking helicopters). There’s an intimacy but also a tacit sense of scale surrounding the story, with the National Guard scurrying about as afore-mentioned helicopters buzz overhead.

This is Shannon’s fourth collaboration with Nichols, and the director clearly brings out something in him we don’t see very often. Shannon is one of those actors who generally projects menace even when he’s not playing a villainous role, so to see him as a steadfast, protective Papa Wolf and to see him excel at it is one of the best things Midnight Specialhas going for it. Dunst brings a shattered, haunted quality to Sarah – physically, she is free from the control of the cult, but its tendrils are still wrapped around her mind as she makes up for the two years she should’ve spent with her son that were taken from her. Edgerton’s Lucas is the muscle; his connection to Roy and Sarah not made readily apparent. The character’s primary function in the plot is to argue with Roy over the proper way to guard over Alton.

Lieberher may not be one of those child actors whose performance is so transcendent as to leave everyone gushing over it, but he tackles the challenge of making Alton seem strange without going full-tilt creepy. It can be seen as a metaphor for caring for a child who is on the Autism spectrum or who has other developmental disorders – these children often feel they do not belong in the world, and their parents must construct a bespoke world for them. Driver is exceedingly likeable as the stock nerdy character amongst all the G-men and military types who sees something nobody else does. He apparently received the news that he was cast in Star Wars during his first day on the set of Midnight Special.

One man’s fascinating is another’s frustrating – this is very true of Midnight Special. Nichols draws the viewer in with what promises to be one corker of a mystery, only to lose us in the middle, before pulling us back in for a spectacular finale which, while not a cop-out per se, still leaves a great many questions unanswered. Ambiguity can be used either with intent or as a cheat and the ending is far from satisfactory. Midnight Special will be the starting point for many a post-movie family conversation; it’s far from light and fluffy but is ostensibly a family film at the end of the day. It might result in more head-scratching than self-reflective pondering, though.

Summary: Midnight Special’s pacing issues and difficulties in delivering a satisfying conclusion do not entirely nullify its introspective approach to the sci-fi drama genre, with Michael Shannon in particular delivering a heart-rending performance.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Criminal

For F*** Magazine

CRIMINAL 

Director : Ariel Vromen
Cast : Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Michael Pitt
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

Like most moviegoers after the release of Deadpool, this action thriller finds Kevin Costner with Ryan Reynolds on the brain. Costner plays Jericho Stewart, a hardened criminal who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child, making him the ideal candidate for a top secret experimental procedure. When CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) is incapacitated in London while tracking down hacker Jan Strook (Pitt), CIA station chief Quaker Wells (Oldman) enlists the help of neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Jones). Dr. Franks has spent 18 years developing a way to implant the memories of a dead person into a living human being. Jericho is coerced into completing Bill’s mission, but things do not go according to plan. Jill (Gadot), Bill’s widow, has to come to terms with the fact that a complete stranger now possesses her husband’s memories. Even though he wants nothing to do with the mission, Jericho must prevent a flash drive that Strook has from falling into the hands of ambitious anarchist Xavier Heimdall (Mollà).

            Criminal plays a lot like a high-concept 90s action movie repackaged in a strait-laced, post-Bourne espionage thriller style. The sci-fi tinged concept of memory implants is akin to the face-swapping plot device in Face/Off, albeit slightly more plausible. There’s no eye-catching bombast, but the slightly overwrought names like “Jericho Stewart”, “Quaker Wells” and especially “Xavier Heimdall” seem like they belong in a Bond movie. Criminal boasts a cast that is more star-studded than one would expect for a thriller with a relatively low budget, estimated at a mere $31.5 million dollars. Even though there are many moments that reminded this reviewer of any number of direct-to-DVD action flicks, the production values are sufficiently high and there’s a visual effects sequence involving a submarine that looks surprisingly good. The shootouts and car chases are far from inventive, but the action keeps things chugging along.

            Even though it’s largely generic, Criminal does possess a unique trait: it’s protagonist is, well, a criminal, with completely disregard for human life. He’s not a charming rogue, he’s not a conflicted hero; he’s a heartless, emotionless brute. Naturally, some character development occurs as the personality of his “memory donor” intrudes into Jericho’s mind. Jericho is introduced chained up in a prison cell, sporting scraggly long hair and a beard, being recruited against his will for a clandestine mission – not unlike Sean Connery’s character in The Rock. Incidentally, the screenwriting team of David Weisberg and the late Douglas S. Cook also penned The Rock. Suffice it to say that Costner is no match for Connery in the charisma department, but the character’s resourcefulness and violent unpredictably help mitigate Costner’s blandness somewhat.

            The supporting players, Oldman and Jones in particular, definitely seem above this material and not very much is asked of them. Oldman’s Quaker Wells stands about the situation room fretting and gets to throw his signature yelling fits. Jones frowns and looks worried. Perhaps some viewers might find that their presence subconsciously lends this silly action movie some prestige. Reynolds is in this for a very brief amount of time since, well, his character’s death is the catalyst for the plot. It’s a little funny to see Reynolds in another mind swap flick so shortly after Self/Less. Gadot is called upon to emote and she does sell that sense of loss, anger and confusion with the little screen time she’s given. Mollà is basically being discount Javier Bardem here, with his character’s motivation outlined via an interview with Piers Morgan. Actor/stunt performer Scott Adkins shows up as the right hand man to Quaker, but alas, he doesn’t get to bust any of his famous martial arts moves.

            This reviewer derived an extra level of enjoyment because a large portion of the cast has been a part of movies based on DC Comics. Just imagine: Jonathan Kent is implanted with Hal Jordan’s memories thanks to a procedure invented by Dr. Two-Face, Hal Jordan’s widow is Wonder Woman, his boss is Commissioner Gordon and the henchwoman on Jonathan Kent’s tail is Faora. It’s evident that the plot, even with its sci-fi elements and ticking clock, wasn’t compelling enough to hold our full attention. There are attempts at being topical – Edward Snowden is name-dropped – but these are ham-fisted rather than helping make the movie seem relevant. It’s somewhat ironic that a film with the plot device of memory implants will not remain in anyone’s mind for long, but its competently directed by Ariel Vromen, it doesn’t look cheap or messy and the central character is (or at least starts out) fairly different from run-of-the-mill action heroes.



Summary: Criminalis about as generic as its title suggests, but the action is decent if unremarkable and the A-listers in the supporting cast help to prop it up. 

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Mr. Right

For F*** Magazine

MR. RIGHT 

Director : Paco Cabezas
Cast : Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, RZA, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund, Katie Nehra
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language And Violence)

From Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Giglito Killers and Please Kill Mr. Know-It-All, ‘hitman screwball comedies’ could be a subgenre unto its own, albeit one that hasn’t exactly yielded works of outstanding quality. The latest entry in this quirky bunch is Mr. Right, starring Sam Rockwell as the title character. Mr. Right is a loopy but scarily efficient contract killer, who, abiding by a twisted morality, has decided to turn the tables on those who hire him by killing them instead of the intended targets. He runs into Martha (Kendrick), a young woman still hurting after a bad breakup with her cheating boyfriend. The duo develop a fondness for each other and Mr. Right is ready to give up his unsavoury career to be with her. Unfortunately, his mentor-turned-nemesis Hopper (Roth) is on his tail, and Mr. Right also finds himself embroiled in a gang power struggle between brothers Richie (Mount) and Von (Ransone). Martha must ask herself this: “is it a deal-breaker if people are constantly shooting at my boyfriend, and that he’s shooting back?”

            Mr. Right is directed by Paco Cabezas, from a screenplay by Max Landis. Landis has quickly become one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood, with his scripts for Chronicle, American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein getting produced in quick succession with several more high-profile projects to follow. More jaded industry watchers (i.e. most of them) will attribute Landis’ success to the fact that his father is director John Landis. The younger Landis has displayed a markedly unlikeable attitude in interviews and social media interactions, so it’s no surprise that Mr. Right is glib and smug the whole way through. The action-romantic-comedy is aiming to be edgy and subversive, but is bogged down by clichés from both the action and the rom-com genres from the get-go: we counted at least three pop songs in the opening 10 minutes. There’s a nervous energy and some of the jokes do land, but the complete lack of sincerity makes it hard to connect to.

            Both Rockwell and Kendrick are immensely watchable actors and on the surface, it would seem Mr. Right plays to both their respective strengths and yet, it isn’t the best use of their talents. The set-up of a relatively normal gal falling for an enigmatic, dangerous assassin doesn’t take hold because both Martha and Mr. Right come off as over-the-top caricatures. Kendrick turns the adorkable hyperactive cutie thing up to 11, which is overwhelming rather than endearing. Rockwell has the unique ability to be simultaneously slimy and charming, but at the end of the day, we’re supposed to root for the couple to be together, instead of merely cocking our heads at their off-kilter chemistry. The aim is apparently for a less abusive Joker-and-Harley-Quinn-esque relationship to blossom, and while it’s obvious that the filmmakers want to steer clear of a standard rom-com progression, Martha and Mr. Right’s romance still unfolds in a predictable general pattern.

            As the main antagonist, Roth is pretty entertaining, putting on a goofy Alabama accent when his character is in disguise as an FBI agent. There’s meant to be an extensive personal history between Hopper and Mr. Right and to the film’s credit, there isn’t a lengthy exposition scene where said history is spelled out to the audience. However, their contentious relationship over the years doesn’t get satisfactorily fleshed out; their big confrontation nowhere near as explosive as it should be. The mobsters, with their Jersey drawls, slicked-back hair and patent leather jackets, are generally too goofy to be truly threatening. The big surprise here is RZA as beleaguered hitman Steve, who finds himself stuck with a rickety old shotgun while the other guys get automatic weapons. RZA is one of those rappers who also fancies himself an actor, the results thus far ranging from dull to laughable. He actually has considerable charisma here.

            Mr. Right has its moments when the cynical humour and slick action click into place, but for the most part, it is stuck feeling firmly like the work of people who are way too pleased with themselves for their own good. Because of its undercurrent of flippancy, which often mutates into an overcurrent, there’s not very much to grab onto. The in-your-face silliness might be viewed as some to an antidote for the po-faced action thrillers that are the norm now, but Mr. Right doesn’t earn our suspension of disbelief. Those in search of a satisfying, sure-footed action-comedy won’t find their match in Mr. Right.



Summary: Despite its quirky, charming leads, Mr. Right’s indulgent, misplaced sense of nihilistic irony quickly becomes unbearable.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Miracles From Heaven

For F*** Magazine

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN

Director : Patricia Riggen
Cast : Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez, Queen Latifah, Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler, John Carroll Lynch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : PG
Watching a child suffer through a chronic illness is torturous for any parent, and Christy Beam (Garner) knows what the process is like. Christy and her husband Kevin are the parents of three daughters: Abbie (Sharbino), Anna (Rogers) and Adelynn (Fansler). Anna begins having severe stomach pains and doctors are initially unable to diagnose her, causing Christy and Kevin much anguish. Eventually, it is discovered that Anna suffers from an incurable stomach condition known as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, leaving the 12-year-old girl unable to digest food. Christy and Anna fly out to Boston to seek the help of Dr. Samuel Nurko, a renowned paediatric gastroenterologist. As the expensive treatment and flights out to Boston begin to empty out the family’s bank account, Christy finds her faith wearing thin, and is also troubled by some congregation members in her church who blame Anna’s illness on sin in the lives of Christy and her family. She finds herself asking the age-old question: “where is God in times of crisis?”

            Miracles From Heaven is based on the real-life Christy Beam’s memoirs of the same name, subtitled “A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing”. It’s no secret that the story has a happy ending, with Anna coming back from a near-death experience in which she meets with God, with her illness completely cured. This is exactly what it says on the tin, packed with inspirational uplift and aimed squarely at evangelical Christians. Director Riggen’s previous film was The 33, based on the true story of the trapped Chilean miners. That film was overly schmaltzy and cheesy, as is Miracles From Heaven. Lest we sound like crusty-hearted monsters, it is affecting whenever one sees a child in discomfort, let alone suffering from as painful an illness as the one that afflicts Anna. However, the treacly gloss, clunky dialogue and multiple moments of unintentional hilarity severely undercut the emotional heft of the story.

            The main production company involved in making Miracles From Heaven is Affirm Films, an imprint of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Now, we’re aware that what we’re about to say will sound very cynical indeed, and yes, most if not all movies are made with the hope that they will turn a profit. However, it’s impossible to ignore that the main reason Miracles From Heaven got made is that faith-based films made on a small budget have become box offices successes in the U.S., with recent examples God’s Not Dead and War Room outpacing more costly films in sales. 2014’s Heaven is For Real, from the same producers as Miracles From Heaven, also turned a significant profit, making $101.3 million on a $12 million budget. Once the commercial impetus becomes clear, one can’t help but find the movie at least a little insincere.

            Garner lends the movie some star power and puts in a competent, if not spectacularly powerful performance as the steadfast, loving mother who puts it all on the line for her daughter’s well-being. The Texas twang comes and goes, but Garner is investing enough of her energy in the part that the performance works. The three daughters do come off as precocious Disney Channel moppets, with the oldest having the sole defining trait of being a soccer player. Rogers is reasonably convincing as a kid in quite the state of misery, and scenes of her in treatment are difficult to watch. Dependable character actor Lynch is fine as the stock cheery pastor, who incorporates prop comedy into his sermons. Derbez goes all Patch Adams as Dr. Nurko – it’s cringe-worthy, but as a performer he does have a warmth and likeability to him. Latifah makes a brief appearance as a kindly Boston waitress who befriends Christy and Anna. It doesn’t make much difference to the story, but it’s worth noting that the real woman on whom Latifah’s character was based is white.

            Leaving aside how difficult it is to get invested in a story knowing exactly how it ends, Miracles From Heaven contains nothing of substance that would make a sceptic even briefly consider turning towards faith. Riggen zeroes in on the tear ducts at every given opportunity, and the undercurrent of unsubtle emotional manipulation means the remarkable true story is never given a chance to speak for itself.

Summary: Heavy-handed and often unintentionally funny, Miracles From Heaven sees a solid turn from Jennifer Garner and some genuinely affecting moments get lost in the predictable, pandering shuffle.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Boss

For F*** Magazine

THE BOSS 

Director : Ben Falcone
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Annie Mumulo, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Bates
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual References and Coarse Language)

Melissa McCarthy has become one of the most in-demand comedic actors in Hollywood, and her latest starring vehicle sees her in a position of power as the 47th wealthiest woman in the United States. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a business mogul and popular financial guru who gets knocked down a few pegs when she’s convicted of insider trading. Starting from scratch after her release from prison, she has nowhere to stay except with her former assistant Claire Rawlins (Bell). The long-suffering Claire has moved on to a new job, trying to provide for her daughter Rachel (Anderson). Michelle hatches a business plan to create a brownie empire off Claire’s secret family recipe. Michelle’s long-time nemesis and former lover Renault (Dinklage) is bent on preventing Michelle from getting back on her feet. Michelle has to learn to become equal partners with Claire, the woman she used to boss around, if her plan is going to succeed.

            The Boss is directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer. Falcone previously directed McCarthy in Tammy, and the couple also co-wrote The Boss with Steve Mallory. Mallory is a friend of theirs from the comedy troupe Groundlings, and Michelle Darnell is based on a character McCarthy developed during her time at the Groundlings. This sounds like a bunch of friends having a laugh – while there’s no rule saying that a bunch of friends having a laugh cannot produce a solid movie, The Boss comes off as flimsy and self-indulgent. There must be hundreds of smarter, sharper comedy scripts floating around Hollywood, but this gets made because of the clout McCarthy has garnered, and due to the influence of producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

            While McCarthy is undeniably talented, like every actor out there, she has certain strengths and weaknesses. She’s at her best as the scrappy, brash underdog who musters up the gumption when it counts the most. The Michelle Darnell character is obnoxious, confrontational and generally unpleasant. Her sappy backstory – that she bounced around foster homes living a childhood of rejection – is intended to mitigate Michelle’s repulsive behaviour to those around her, especially those trying to help her. It comes off as lazy writing and there’s the promise that the character will be forced to eat her humble pie and change her ways, but any redemption is half-hearted at best. Around half the jokes consist of Michelle blurting out something grossly inappropriate in the presence of children, while the adults gasp and the kids ask “what’s ‘girl-on-girl’?” Rachel seems to get along with Michelle almost immediately, overcoming her initial suspicions of her mother’s former boss with convenient ease. Again, pretty lazy writing.

            Bell is a charming performer whose sunny disposition has served her well in other comedic roles. She does get a few scenes in which the chemistry she shares with McCarthy approaches funny – there’s an extended gag in which Michelle is giving Claire advice about what bra she should wear out for a date where some passable physical comedy is on display from both actors. However, it’s all too clear that this is McCarthy’s show and she’s not going to let anyone steal it from her.

Dinklage, a consummate scene-stealer if ever there was one, is criminally underused as the main antagonist. He is entertaining with the little screen time he gets, but the character is little more than Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, complete with a Smithers in the form of his lackey Stephan (Timothy Simons). The actors who were considered for the role which would become Dinklage’s include names as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock. This indicates there wasn’t really a strong idea for who the villain would be, other than a name actor. Bates gets even shorter shrift, appearing as Michelle’s spurned mentor Ida Marquette in two scenes. Dave Bautista showed up in the teaser trailer, but has apparently been cut from the finished film.  

            The Boss has a very sitcom-esque premise: powerful woman used to having things her way has to move in with her beleaguered assistant and shenanigans ensue. Because the germ of the idea feels so much like something you’d see on network TV (that would get cancelled after one season), the swearing and brazen sexual humour feel like they’ve been shoehorned in to make this an edgy, R-rated comedy – and edgy, The Boss absolutely is not. McCarthy’s numerous detractors are highly unlikely to be swayed by her latest starring vehicle, which comes off as little more than a flat, cynical exercise.

Summary:Playing a noxious, unlikeable character whose actions are given the flimsiest excuse, Melissa McCarthy’s comedic skills are largely wasted in The Boss.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong